Eight years before the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered a speech advocating for the right to vote, especially for African Americans. His speech in 1957 was as valid then in as it is today.
Our democracy will continue to be weakened as long as we continue to live with the legacy of slavery, white supremacy, institutional racism, and oppression.
In 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting – far more than in any other year in the last decade. More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions. So far this year, at least 13 new bills restricting access to voting have been pre-filed in four state legislatures.
Speaking at the Lincoln Memorial during the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, Rev. King said:
”Give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights … Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of good will … Give us the ballot and we will place judges on the benches….who will do justly and love mercy …Give us the ballot and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May 17, 1954 [Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka].”
As we remember Rev. King on Martin Luther King Day, we echo his call: Give people the ballot!
We need federal laws that can supersede state laws that restrict people’s access to the ballot. Two such bills have already been passed in the House but are stalled in the Senate. We urge senators to vote for the Freedom to Vote Act (S.2747) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (S.4) without further delay.
As Quakers and other people of faith, we affirm that our democracy can live up to its potential only if the government ensures open access to public office and electoral processes; and safeguards the integrity of the voting process without raising unnecessary barriers.
Our democracy will continue to be weakened as long as we continue to live with the legacy of slavery, white supremacy, institutional racism, and oppression. Far too many people today – African Americans, other people of color, and people living in low-income neighborhoods – continue to have their voting rights restricted and subverted as it was during the Jim Crow days.