Voting rights protests return in Washington after Biden finally passes infrastructure law

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EXCLUSIVE: Black Women’s Roundtable and union groups convened on Tuesday to push President Biden and Democrats to end the filibuster and pass voting rights protections

“We are going to get out in this cold,” says activist Melanie L. Campbell in the wee hours of the morning as she prepared for a day of rallying and marching from the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

Campbell, who was arrested this past summer during a Black women-led voting rights protest, as previously reported by theGrio, led yet another voting rights march on Tuesday with the issue of economic justice also a part of the demonstration’s advocacy agenda.

Campbell, who heads the public policy advocacy group Black Women’s Roundtable, was arrested alongside Congressional Black Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, and a small group of others, for peacefully protesting for voting rights inside of the U.S. Senate building.

Activists rallying for voting rights
Activists rallying for voting rights and the infrastructure bills protest as they block the doors of the Hart Senate Office Building at the U.S. Capitol October 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

This time around, Campbell was supported by a coalition of unions. Many of the union leaders who were invited to the White House for President Joe Biden’s signing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act joined Campbell and others for Tuesday’s march.

Another march is scheduled for Wednesday. The two-day demonstration is intended to remind the Biden White House of its promise to begin work on passing voting rights legislation after infrastructure is signed into law. The first part of Biden’s infrastructure agenda has now been signed and the second part of the infrastructure framework, the Build Back Better Act, also known as the human infrastructure bill, is expected to be signed into law no later than the end of next week.

Demonstration participants are hoping their rallies will move the most powerful in Washington to finally pass U.S. House and Senate voting bills, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which is named in honor of the late U.S. Congressman and civil rights phenom John R. Lewis.

Since former president Donald Trump, who was handily defeated by Joe Biden thanks to record voter turnout, falsely claimed that there was voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election — which has been dubbed ‘The Big Lie’ by Democrats and the national media — 19 states have passed at least 33 laws making it harder to vote, according to legislation tracking conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice.

On Wednesday, Ben Jealous of The People For The American Way will be protesting and rallying in front of the White House again. A fews weeks ago, Jealous, along with the League of Women Voters, protested outside the White House, which resulted in over 60 people being arrested, including Martin Luther King III. Before that march, there were a smaller number of arrests at another demonstration that included actress and activist Alyssa Milano.

Jamal Bryant, Alyssa Milano, Ben Jealous and voting rights activists
(Photo: Courtesy of Ben Jealous)

As for Wednesday’s anticipated peaceful demonstration, Jealous says over 70 people are expected to attend and likely see arrests.

President Biden does not expect to be at the White House during this week’s protest as he’s traveling on a legislative victory lap for the first phase and passage of his Infrastructure Act.

Democrats and President Biden face criticisms from voting rights advocates who have decried their inaction on the passing of the pair of voting rights bills meant to address nationwide laws from Republicans curbing access to the ballot.

The president has failed to make any move on pushing for Senate Democrats to end the filibuster, a legislative tool that allows the minority party to delay a vote, essentially overriding the majority on a legislative issue. For months, congressional and civil rights leaders have rallied and risked arrest to bring attention to what they see as a civil rights crisis on the issue of voting rights protection for Black, minority and vulnerable populations.

Escalating the urgency for the White House and lawmakers to prioritize the passing of voting rights legislation, radio host and civil rights leader Joe Madison is now on day 9 of a hunger strike. Madison, 72, has vowed to not eat solid food until the voting rights laws are passed in Congress and signed by Biden.

Joe Madison speaks during A People’s Town Hall hosted by SiriusXM Urban View at Mother Emanuel Church on February 27, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Jeff Gentner/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Joe Madison speaks during A People’s Town Hall hosted by SiriusXM Urban View at Mother Emanuel Church on February 27, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Jeff Gentner/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

“This is a moral as well as a political cause. Just as food is necessary to sustain life, the right to vote is necessary to sustain democracy,” Madison told theGrio.

Emblematic of the political tactics used by statewide Republicans, the GOP-controlled Georgia legislature passed a gerrymandered state senate map that gives Republicans a 59% advantage in seats — which is a major disadvantage for state Democrats, who’ve accused their GOP colleagues of handicapping Black and other nonwhite voters.

President Biden won the Peach State with nearly 50% of the vote. It’s because of this 50-50 split among voters in the 2020 election that Democrats have accused Republicans of strategically and unfairly using the redrawing of maps to win elections that would otherwise be competitive had they not relied on gerrymandering.

If Democrats in Washington were to successfully pass the now stalled pair of voting rights bills, any changes to voting laws on the state level would have to be approved through pre-clearance — a process that was gutted from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Voting Rights Rallies Held In Washington DC
People attend a pre-rally for the “March On for Washington and Voting Rights” on August 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

In response to the recent gerrymandering in Georgia, Bernice King, the daughter of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., called on President Biden and Democrats in Congress to end the filibuster in order to put teeth back into the landmark legislation that her late father worked tirelessly to make law.

In her tweet, King called out Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a moderate Democrat who has been an obstacle to passing voting rights legislation and has rejected calls to end the filibuster.

“This is urgent. Abolish the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation. @SenSchumer @Sen_JoeManchin,” said King.

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