PHOENIX — As the nation prepares to mark Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, some of his family members are spending it in conservative-leaning Arizona to rally support for languishing federal suffrage legislation .
Martin Luther King III; his wife, Arndrea Waters King; and their daughter Yolanda Renee King, 13, participated in a grassroots campaign for voting rights in Phoenix on Saturday. They marched with local activists and supporters of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, a predominantly black church, and spoke about the importance of “no celebration without legislation”.
“Our daughter has fewer voting rights than she had when she was born,” King, the civil rights leader’s eldest son, said in an interview. “I can’t imagine what my mom and dad would say about that. I’m sure they turn over and over in their graves over this.
Arizona is one of 19 states that passed more than 30 state voting laws in the past year – including a ban on giving voters water in long lines and stricter requirements for signing ballots – which King called “draconian”. They make it harder for people, especially people of color, to vote, he said.
Another reason the family chose to appear in Arizona is to send a message to Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat.
President Joe Biden had implored Sinema and Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, to end the filibuster that requires the support of 60 of 100 senators to pass most laws.
But Sinema poured cold water on the suffrage legislation on Thursday, making it clear in a dramatic Senate speech that she would not change the filibuster rules so she could move forward. The filibuster, she said, forces bipartisan cooperation. Otherwise, the Republicans could just repeal and replace each time they come to power.
“We must tackle the disease itself, the disease of division, to protect our democracy,” Sinema said, prompting disappointment from fellow Democrats.
Sinema was mocked by some of the hundreds of people attending Saturday’s rally after the Reverend Warren Stewart, a prominent black clergyman and activist, said she was among “”those… who would hide behind the proceedings “.
The rally took place in Eastlake Park, which for decades during segregation was a gathering place for unwelcome black people in other parts of the city.
According to King, Simena cannot simultaneously voice support for the bills and block their path.
“History will remember Senator Sinema, I believe wickedly, for her stance on filibuster,” he said.
The King family appeal brings a particularly powerful voice to an increasingly tense campaign to pressure Sinema to change her mind. Progressive groups have put up billboards and aired TV ads, and activists have even harassed Sinema in a bathroom at Arizona State University and at a friend’s wedding where the senator officiated.
Congressional Democrats have drafted election legislation that would usher in the biggest overhaul of U.S. elections in a generation by removing barriers to voting enacted in the name of election security. The legislation would also reduce the influence of big money in politics and limit partisan influence in the drawing of congressional constituencies.
It also includes the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill that would bolster civil rights-era voting law and honor the legacy of the late Georgia congressman.
Supporters had hoped the legislation would move forward by the MLK recess. Still encouraged, King urged people to take action, such as signing petitions or calling their senators. The party is “not a traditional celebration where you kick back, eat barbecue and relax,” he said. “It’s about working.”
The Reverend Jesse Jackson, who worked closely as a youth with Martin Luther King Jr., said Friday he was concerned about the current lack of political consensus on suffrage. Previously, Republicans and Democrats in Washington voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965, with both parties acknowledging the landmark nature of the legislation.
“The right to vote was the crown jewel of the civil rights struggle,” Jackson said in a phone interview, adding that “we are in dire straits.”
Ultimately, he agrees with King family members who are pushing for MLK Day celebrations to take on a different tone until Congress acts on the voting rights bills. .
“There’s no time to celebrate,” Jackson said. “Now is the time to demonstrate, to march in large numbers. We cannot just be silent observers in this fight. ———
Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper and Paul Davenport in Phoenix and Aaron Morrison in New York contributed to this report.