King family calls for MLK Day of demonstrations to pressure Biden, Democrats on voting rights

EXCLUSIVE: “You show up for the bridges now show up for the people!” Arndrea King, president of Drum Major Institute, said sternly of President Biden in an interview with theGrio.

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Members of the King family are calling for the national holiday that honors civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to be a day of action as activists try to apply ultimate pressure on President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats to pass voting rights reform before it’s too late.  

In an effort to turn up the heat on Biden and members of his party to finally pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For The People Act (or its compromised version, the Freedom to Vote Act) Arndrea King, the wife of Martin Luther King III and the president of the Drum Major Institute, told theGrio that the organization is calling for MLK Day on Jan. 15 to be a day of “no celebration without legislation.”

Martin Luther King III, the son of Martin Luther King Jr, and his wife Arndrea Waters King attend the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial October 16, 2011 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

As hundreds of bills are being proposed by Republican legislators across the country ahead of next year’s 2022 midterm elections, civil rights leaders have been tightening their grip on the White House and Hill lawmakers, particularly around 13 U.S. senators who had not yet indicated their full support of eliminating or amending the filibuster in order to pass legislation to protect voting rights for Black and minority voters, according to a Senate report card conducted by the NAACP.

Mrs. King said this moment is important and that President Joe Biden needs to act with urgency to support an end to the filibuster, which is impeding passage of voting rights protections.

“You show up for the bridges now show up for the people!” King said sternly of President Biden.

The day of action calls for demonstrators to gather in solidarity on various bridges across the nation. 

“We are coming together at symbolic bridges. We’re hoping that it will be replicated across the country to really bring home the point of the symbolism of bridges in the Black community,” King told theGrio.

“We are standing at bridges very clear with the historical reference to what bridges mean to our community,” she added, referring to infamous bridges like the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis was nearly killed by police in Selma, Alabama while protesting for the right to vote on what is known in history as Bloody Sunday.

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) speaks to the crowd at the Edmund Pettus Bridge crossing reenactment marking 55th anniversary of Selma’s Bloody Sunday on March 1, 2020 in Selma, Alabama.(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“Obviously these 450 pieces of [voter suppression] legislation that have been proposed just since January of this year are literally ways to silence Black and Brown voices.”

After months of protests and meetings with civil rights leaders in Washington, President Biden signaled on Wednesday that he understands the urgency of passing voting rights legislation, even indicating that he would push his prized Build Back Better plan to 2022 in order to do it.

“If we can get the congressional voting rights done, we should do it. If we can’t, we’ve got to keep going. There’s nothing domestically more important than voting rights,” said Biden, according to Washington Post White House reporter Sean Sullivan.

That’s a far cry from what White House sources initially indicated. White House officials had quietly acknowledged that their strategy did not allow for movement on voting rights before BBB, a comprehensive social spending plan, was passed into law. White House officials had feared any pressure they applied on Senate leaders regarding voting rights would halt any progress on finally passing Build Back Better, which includes items popular with most Americans like the extension of the child tax credits

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant following a meeting with his COVID-19 response team, including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and Anthony Fauci (R), Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to the President, at the White House on November 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The announcement for MLK Day comes as other civil rights leaders are holding meetings and calls with senators to pass voting rights legislation. 

The NAACP has put 13 Democratic and Republican senators on notice for lack of action or urgency on the matter of voting rights. Derrick Johnson, head of the NAACP, told theGrio that those 13 senators received an incomplete because “they have not affirmatively stated that they will support voting rights protection even if it means a carve out or removal of the filibuster.”  

Two of those senators, Senators Gary Peters and Sheldon WhiteHouse have changed their position since the NAACP report card, Johnson said.

Meanwhile, prominent Democrats in Washington are also turning up the volume on the urgency of voting rights reform. Vice President Kamala Harris, during a recent interview with SiriusXM’s Signal Boost co-hosts Zerlina Maxwell and Jess McIntosh, said “the most critical battles before us right now is what we must do to protect the integrity of the right to vote.”

The vice president added, “We’ve got to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and we’ve got to pass the Freedom to Vote Act because we need the tools to be able to fight against what these states are trying to do.”

On the Senate floor on Tuesday, Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia delivered a renewed push for passage of voting rights reform in America with an impassioned speech that was praised by the Democratic base.

Sources in the civil rights community and inside the White House have said that one of the biggest hurdles in the Senate to passing any voting rights bill, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is “softening” on the filibuster, which he had previously opposed eliminating or modifying.  

A civil rights leader who did not want to be identified told theGrio, “Manchin does not want to be viewed as racist” as the face of the new voting rights movement, much like it was decades ago, is Black. 

In the past days and weeks, President Biden has been meeting with Senator Manchin. The president’s primary focus of the meeting with Manchin was to pass Build Back Better, but other topics are said to have been discussed. 

As Democrats begin to express more loudly that they understand the urgency of protecting the right to vote, rounds of voting rights protests and subsequent arrests continue to get louder and stronger, particularly as more prominent names get involved. Earlier this week, Reverend William Barber and his organization Poor People’s Campaign marched to demand that Democrats pass both voting rights and Build Back Better. Dozens were arrested during the Monday demonstration. 

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