It was not so very long ago that Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina led the charge against this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday that we now celebrate. Today, that congressional fight has largely faded from memory as we celebrate the powerful words Dr. King spoke. In Selma. In Detroit. In Washington. From the many great speeches: I have a dream…; Now is time to make real the promise of democracy… so many great words flood our social media threads on this day. We remember the greatness but forget what he fought for. Dr. King’s marches began because of segregation and voting rights. This past year, the rights he fought for have been under attack like no time since he began the fight.
In 2021, the state legislative push to restrict access to voting was not only aggressive — it was also successful. Between January 1 and December 7, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions. These numbers are extraordinary: state legislatures enacted far more restrictive voting laws in 2021 than in any year since the Brennan Center began tracking voting legislation in 2011. More than a third of all restrictive voting laws enacted since then were passed this year. And in a new trend this year, legislators introduced bills to allow partisan actors to interfere with election processes or even reject election results entirely.
Unfortunately, the momentum around this legislation continues. So far, at least 13 bills restricting access to voting have been pre-filed for the 2022 legislative session in four states. In addition, at least 152 restrictive voting bills in 18 states will carry over from 2021.
Liberty and Justice for All?
Who are we? Are we really who our founding documents say we are, or are we only patriots when it serves us? Gerrymandering, redrawing districts and attempted coups make me afraid of what that answer might be.
How will you honor the memory of a man who believed in the America we could be? My ask this week is that you spend some time reading the article on voter suppression from the Brennan Center, and that you contact your congressional representatives. After that, ask at least 3 friends to do the same. If you’d like additional information on voting rights and redistricting (wtheck do we do that for anyway??), head to Ballotpedia and use the dropdown menu on the left.
You Can Make a Difference
Although we teach all to often only about the great speeches in schools, Dr. King’s legacy is far greater than the words he spoke. MLK was not just a Nobel prize winner, not just a man of great words. He was a man of action, arrested 29 times and finally assassinated, shot in the face at the age of 39 for leading the nation into the constitutional promiseland of liberty and justice for all. He was a true patriot who gave his life for his country. If you want to honor his legacy, skip the quote post and instead, post a copy of your protest letter. That would be a celebration worthy of a King.