Protesters arrested outside DC airport as fight for voting rights bills escalates

EXCLUSIVE: Over a dozen people were arrested outside Reagan National Airport in D.C. on Friday, after protesting for federal voting rights legislation currently stalled in Congress and the banning of the U.S. Senate filibuster.

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Twenty-six protesters were arrested outside Reagan National Airport while demanding voting rights protections for Black Americans, and other citizens set to be impacted by a wave of voter suppression laws.

Over a dozen people were arrested outside Reagan National Airport in D.C. on Friday, after protesting for federal voting rights legislation currently stalled in Congress and the banning of the U.S. Senate filibuster.

Demonstrators sit outside Terminal B/C at the Reagen National Airport. (Photo: Marconja Zor)
Demonstrators sit outside Terminal B/C at the Reagan National Airport. (Photo: Marconja Zor)

Demonstrators peacefully sat side by side blocking the roadway and traffic outside of terminal B/C while singing and chanting for voting restrictions signed into law in dozens of states across the country to be lifted.

Friday’s demonstration also marked the 56th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War. Civil rights leaders, social activists and citizens are decrying proposed voting restrictions, which critically impact Black and brown Americans, at the state level. Social justice leaders feel this step of escalation is necessary in order to dramatize the urgency of this matter.

Since the 2020 election handed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the White House, ousting former President Donald Trump — who along with Republicans continues to push falsehoods that there was voter fraud in the last election — at least 18 states have passed into law some form of voter restriction, according to analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice. Over 400 such bills have been proposed in 2021 so far.

With the 2022 midterm elections quickly approaching, advocates are concerned that Democrats could miss the opportunity to pass federal voting protections which would not only jeopardize their ability to win future elections but also disenfranchise vulnerable populations, particularly voters of color.

The Freedom Friday March commenced just before 10 a.m. on Friday were civil rights leaders, advocates, college students, various media outlets and press gathered in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Southwest D.C.

People greeted each other with handshakes and hugs of familiarity, as many of the organizers and demonstrators protested together the entire week. Words of encouragement and hope were offered among the group, as bottles of water were passed out in weather upward of 90 degrees.

Voting rights demonstrators gather at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial statue. (Photo: Marconja Zor)
Voting rights demonstrators gather at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial statue. (Photo: Marconja Zor)

The organizers included Faith for Black Lives Chairman Reverend Stephen A. Green, Black Voters Matter Co-Founder Cliff Albright, Wisconsin State Rep. David Bowen (D), Tennessee State Rep. London Lamar (D), activist and motivational speaker Ty Hobson-Powell, and Until Freedom leaders Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour.

Demonstrators made their way from the MLK Memorial to the Arlington Memorial Bridge, just as past civil rights leaders have, singing “Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”

Reverend Stephen Green voiced his concerns on voting restrictions while leading the group across the Arlington Memorial Bridge. 

“What we are seeing is an unprecedented assault on access to the right to vote. Not only is it increasing restrictions on voter ID laws in certain states, but they are putting restrictions on mail-in ballots, which we saw overwhelmingly used during the pandemic, that allowed many African American seniors to vote through absentee balloting,” Green told theGrio. “Ohio, for example, they are putting only one drop-off ballot in every county.”

Reverend Stephen Green  is detained by police during Freedom Friday March for voting rights, theGrio.com
Reverend Stephen Green is detained by police during Freedom Friday March for voting rights (Photo: Marconja Zor)

The For the People Act, which was introduced by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D), seeks to ensure the expansion of voting rights and the banning of partisan gerrymandering. The bill was passed in the U.S. House in March but was blocked in June by Senate Republicans with the filibuster — a Senate tool that allows the minority party to prevent or block a bill to be voted on without a 60-majority approval.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, seen by Democrats as a companion bill to the For The People Act, seeks to restore protections that were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ty Hobson-Powell, founder and director of policy at Concerned Citizens DC, is hoping to see voting rights protections in the spirit of the initial 1965 Voting Rights Acts restored; protections that granted all American citizens equal access to the ballot box. 

Democrats and activists point to Sept. 30 as a crucial deadline for Congress to pass the For The People and John Lewis Acts. That date marks when the U.S. Census Bureau will deliver population results from the 2021 Census, which will be used to determine the redrawing of congressional districts. Without legislation barring gerrymandering, lawmakers in Republican-controlled state legislatures are expected to redraw maps to their political advantage.

“As we are approaching the gerrymandering deadline, we are approaching a situation where lawmakers may ultimately be able to pick their voters instead of the other way around and we are right here calling for the voting rights protection so that voters can choose who they would like to represent them,” said Hobson-Powell.

(Photo: Marconja Zor)

The group of demonstrators marched through the first level of Reagan National Airport and eventually made their way outside to the terminal roadway, of what would be their final protest stop of the day. There they were met by officers and onlookers. After being asked to unblock the road where they sat, singing civil rights anthems, protesters were arrested in multiples. No one was harmed during detaining.

Civil Rights lawyer, Lee Merritt, who has represented the families of Ahmaud Arbery and Atatiana Jefferson, is known as a Movement Attorney; an attorney who is present at demonstrations to ensure that protesters’ rights are protected. Merritt spoke with theGrio outside of the airport.

“I am here today to show support [for] the marchers and more specifically their cause. A lot of Texas delegation came to D.C. over the past 30 days, as Texas has moved to push forward their voter suppression law, and we’ve asked for help from the federal government for the John Lewis Act and For the People Act, and to end the filibuster,” said Merritt.

“I’m so proud of the community of folks who are standing for those causes and I’m here to stand with them and make sure their rights are legally protected.”

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