WASHINGTON – Tens of thousands of people were rallying on Saturday (Aug 28) in Washington and dozens of other US cities to protest against laws in several Republican-led states that critics say will make it harder for minorities to vote.
The date selected for the rallies – in cities from Seattle to Atlanta – was not picked at random: It was on Aug 28, 1963, that a quarter-million people descended on Washington for a massive civil rights rally highlighted by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I have a dream” speech.
“We will make history on Saturday” by picking up “the torch for justice my father and so many others carried,” said the rights leader’s son Martin Luther King III, one of several speakers slated to address the rally in Washington.
People began gathering early in the capital city under a blazing sun.
“I just feel like we just kind of went backwards,” said Rikkea Harris, a 25-year-old student who had travelled from Colorado with her father, Rickey Harris, to take part in the rally.
Americans should “do their part in trying to knock down all these voting suppression laws that they’re putting in across the country,” said Rickey Harris, who is 65.
In 1965 the US Congress adopted the Voting Rights Act, meant to ban discriminatory election measures.
But some states, mainly in the South, nonetheless passed often technical changes that ultimately made it harder for African Americans – who tend to be reliably Democratic – to vote.
That process accelerated sharply as Donald Trump hammered away at the unsubstantiated allegation that massive voting fraud had cost him victory in the November 2020 presidential election.
Since January, at least 18 states have adopted a total of 30 restrictive election laws, with dozens of others under consideration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit public policy institute.
Those laws range from a requirement to have a fixed address in order to register to vote to a ban on the drive-through voting that was popular in some states last year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Organisers of Saturday’s protests, who have denounced what they called “racist, anti-democratic voter suppression laws,” are demanding that the US Congress pass legislation to block such voting restrictions.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has passed two draft laws to limit such restrictions, but they are given virtually no chance of passing the closely divided Senate.
On this day last year, thousands of people gathered in Washington to mark the 1963 anniversary and to demand – only months after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis – an end to police violence against African Americans.