WASHINGTON – Thousands of voting rights advocates took to Washington’s National Mall on Saturday, demonstrating against new restrictions in several states that would restrict the ability to vote and calling for federal laws against states imperiling people’s ability to vote.
Marches took place across the country on the 58th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In D.C., speakers, marchers and activists did not hesitate to link the current battle with the legacy of the civil rights fight from nearly six decades ago. This extended to several Jewish-American leaders who joined the rally and highlighted the Black-Jewish alliance during the civil rights era while talking about the urgent need to preserve voting rights today.
“I march for voting rights in the footsteps of [Rabbi Abraham Joshua] Heschel, who marched with Dr. King. I march for voting rights in the names of [Andrew] Goodman, [James] Chaney and [Michael] Schwerner – two white Jewish men and a young Black person who marched together and gave their lives for the right to vote,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, referring to the “Mississippi Burning” murders of 1964.
“I march because on January 6, our capitol was assaulted by a seditious mob of racist, white supremacists, Confederate flag-waving people that were wearing antisemitic garb, who threatened our democracy. And I march because I know that our safety comes in our solidarity and the redemption of this nation,” he told the crowd. “Despite 400 years of systemic racism, despite 400 years of legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and voter suppression, despite all of that – our redemption will come through our democracy,” he added.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that there are currently over 500 anti-voting rights bills in state legislatures, stemming from former U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to undermine the 2020 election.
“That Big Lie isn’t bigger than us. It isn’t bigger than Martin Lither King’s dream. That’s why we’re fighting for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the For the People Act, statehood for D.C., for good union jobs, for quality education for all. To fight for Dr. King’s dream and to build a more perfect union,” said Weingarten, whose wife, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, was recently tapped by U.S. President Joe Biden to serve on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Democrats are pushing various legislative bills, including the John Lewis act, aimed at combating laws in states like Texas, Arizona, Florida and Georgia by restoring parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and requiring the Justice Department to again police changes to voting laws in states with a poor history of voter restriction. (The Supreme Court froze this practice in 2013.)
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They are also pushing for, among other measures, the For the People Act, which would expand voting rights, target the influence of money in politics via campaign finance reform and ban partisan gerrymandering.
One of the main organizers of the rally was Vanessa Wruble, a Jewish activist who withdrew from the Women’s March in 2018 over concerns about antisemitism within the group’s leadership. National organizations supporting the march included the Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reform Judaism, the National Council of Jewish Women and The Workers Circle.