Washington (AFP) - Members of Martin Luther King Jr's family joined marchers Monday in Washington urging Congress to pass voting rights reform as the United States marked the holiday commemorating the slain civil rights leader.
King's son Martin Luther King III spoke at the march, warning that many states "have passed laws that make it harder to vote" more than half a century after the activism of his father.
The march's message was aimed at boosting support for the Freedom to Vote Act currently before the Senate, and which passed in the House of Representatives last week.
But the bill faces an uphill battle as President Joe Biden negotiates with two holdout senators in his own Democratic Party to change a procedural rule that would allow Congress to pass the law without Republican support.
Biden argues the bill is vital to protecting American democracy against Republican attempts to exclude Black and other predominantly Democratic voters through a spate of recently enacted laws at state and local levels.
Marchers at Monday's Peace Walk echoed demands made by MLK more than 60 years ago as they chanted, "What do we want? Voting rights! When do we want it? Now!"
Many carried posters printed with King's image and his famous 1957 appeal to "Give us the ballot," which called on the federal government to enforce Black Americans' right to vote nationwide, including in the heavily segregated South.
"We march because our voting rights are under attack right now," pastor Reverend Wendy Hamilton told AFP at the demonstration.
"As a matter of fact, our democracy is very fragile," said Hamilton, a local politician in Washington, whose residents themselves do not have full representation in Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, such as Terri Sewell from Alabama and chairwoman Joyce Beatty from Ohio, also spoke at the march -- as did King's 13-year-old granddaughter Yolanda Renee King.
King's daughter Bernice King also took to the social media platform to call for the Senate to pass voting reform.
"If these state voter suppression laws persist, the America my father dreamed about will never come to be," she wrote.
At the White House, Vice President Kamala Harris urged senators to pass the Freedom to Vote Act in honor of King's legacy.
King "pushed for racial justice, for economic justice and for the freedom that unlocks all others: the freedom to vote," she said.
She denounced bills under consideration or already passed in state legislatures that she said could make it harder for 55 million Americans to cast ballots.
"To truly honor the legacy of the man we celebrate today, we must continue to fight for the freedom to vote, for freedom for all," Harris said.
Biden and Harris last week visited the crypt where King -- who was assassinated in 1968 at age 39 -- and his wife, Coretta Scott King, are buried in Atlanta.
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Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has positioned himself to be Donald Trump's favorite toadie in his bizarre quest to pretend he's one of the defeated president's sons. He's usually the first Republican to parrot all of Trump's most outrageous lies and conspiracies.
But with all his legal drama, Gaetz might as well be related to Trump.
Indeed, the far-right, conspiracy-spouting Congressman's legal woes got worse this week when his ex- girlfriend testified to authorities. That disclosure left NBC reporter Marc Caputo believing that Gaetz will ultimately be indicted.
When this broke, the ex-girlfriend was talking to another woman who was talking to prosecutors that felt the woman may have recorded the call and may have patched in Matt Gaetz at the time and prosecutors suspect he tried to elicit or entice or suborn obstruction of justice and his ex-girlfriend may have participated in that. That was the basis of her getting an immunity deal; ‘don’t charge me for this and I’ll tell you the things you want to know," said Caputo.
He went even further:
“Exactly what she told them is key but what’s important to note here is that she’s an important bridge that unlocks the case or unstalls it. It was stuck in neutral. Now the case is clearly going forward. I can’t promise he’s going to be indicted but the chances are higher."
Watch the entire interview below:
Ed Barnette long ago realized that affordable child care and paid sick leave, among other resources, would be essential to helping West Virginians build better lives and save what’s left of the middle class.
He just never expected that when America was finally on the cusp of providing these essentials, West Virginia’s Democratic senator would join pro-corporate Republicans in blocking the way.
“It’s almost like he forgot where his roots are,” fumed Barnette, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5668, which represents hundreds of workers at the Constellium plant in Ravenswood, West Virginia. “He comes from a blue-collar state. When you say ‘West Virginia,’ the first thing you picture is a worker with a hard hat.”
“Surely, he won’t do it,” Barnette recalled saying to himself in the days before Manchin decided to withhold his vote and block the bill. “He did, and I just thought, ‘Damn it! You’re supposed to be working for us.’”
Barnette rejoiced last fall when Congress passed a historic, $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Like other states, West Virginia urgently needs improvements to its roads and bridges, schools and airports, energy systems, locks and dams, and communications networks.
But Barnette understands that the infrastructure legislation will have the biggest impact—and create the greatest number of manufacturing and construction jobs—only in conjunction with the $2 trillion Build Back Better bill.
Build Back Better would provide access to affordable child care and pave the way for more parents, especially more single parents, to enter the workforce. It would ensure workers receive up to four weeks of paid family medical leave, so they could battle life’s challenges while continuing to support their families.
And it would provide universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds, putting all of America’s children on the road to productive lives.
Just as important, Build Back Better would boost funding at the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), positioning the agency to better address safety risks workers face every day as well as crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other enhancements, the additional resources would enable the agency to hire more inspectors so the agency can investigate additional complaints, develop new safety standards and save lives.
Build Back Better also would increase the penalties that employers face for violations, making them more likely to address hazards proactively. The current low penalties merely encourage corporations to risk workers’ lives.
“I definitely think we need a stronger OSHA,” Barnette said. “It’s the difference between life and death with some employers.”
In addition, the legislation would incentivize the development of emerging industries, like clean energy and electric vehicle production, that would help to revitalize American manufacturing, create good-paying jobs and better position the nation to lead the world economy.
Whether it’s assembling electric vehicles, making batteries or manufacturing the components for solar panels, West Virginia has union workers with the work ethic and enthusiasm to get these industries up and running, noted Dallas Elswick, a former chemical worker and USW member from Nitro, West Virginia.
"The union workers made this country,” Elswick said. “Everybody knows that. And there’s a need for development here. There’s a big need.”
The House passed Build Back Better in November. The bill needed the support of all 48 Democrats and two Independents to pass the Senate, so President Joe Biden and congressional leaders worked tirelessly to get Manchin on board.
Senator Charles Schumer, the Senate majority leader, repeatedly spoke with him. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talked with him, too.
Biden spoke with Manchin by phone and had him over to the White House. Biden also went so far as to host Manchin at his Delaware home to talk through the transformative nature of the bill, even though the legislation’s potential to level the playing field for working Americans is clear for all to see.
He abandoned single parents, unable to afford child care, to poverty. He threw seniors, struggling to pay for prescriptions and health care, under the bus. He slammed the door on workers eager for new industries and jobs.
Barnette and Elswick are among millions in West Virginia and around the country calling on Manchin to do the right thing and embrace Build Back Better.
“We may not get an opportunity to do this ever again,” Elswick said of the sweeping changes offered by Build Back Better. “For him to do what he did is unbelievable.”
Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).
This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.T