Honoring the suffragists, women in white march for voting rights
Women marching for voting rights in Washington DC today. | video screenshot

WASHINGTON—Honoring the suffragists, hundreds of women adorned with white sashes and prominent supporters all marched on Capitol Hill on July 17, demanding lawmakers protect, strengthen and enlarge voting rights, raise the minimum wage and end the filibuster.

And, like many suffragists on a similar march during World War I, they got arrested for “illegally” stepping into the street, too.

The marchers were members of the Poor People’s Campaign, its leaders the Revs. Liz Theoharis and William Barber II, and their backers, including Communications Workers Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens.

They stepped off their latest drive for voting rights and also for elevating the issue of ending poverty on the 173rd anniversary of the opening of the first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, N.Y. The July 19 event was the latest in the campaign’s current “Moral Mondays” marches to influence Congress.

Unlike the all-white Seneca Falls conclave, this march, like the Poor People’s Campaign, covers all the poor and near-poor in a multiracial country. It demands the protection and expansion of that right to vote too—and a lot more.

Marchers emphasized the campaign’s whole platform, including raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and combating “systemic racism, ecological devastation, militarism, and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism,” the campaign said beforehand.

But voting rights and democracy head the list  “We’re not asking for more. We’re just asking—rather, demanding—our rights,”  Marianne Smith, a campaign state leader from Oklahoma, told the crowd.

They also demand an end to the filibuster, the arcane Senate rule racists, notably Republicans, use to block voting rights, civil rights, and pro-worker legislation.

Denial of voting rights “is targeted, surgical racism,” as is “economic justice denial” against the nation’s estimated 140 million poor and near-poor, Barber added.

“When our democracy is under attack and voting rights are being denied, we’re calling out the U.S. Senate” to right that wrong, Theoharis declared.

The marchers demanded Congress, and particularly the Senate, act by August 6, the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the measure they particularly want to strengthen. “We have fewer voting rights now than we had 56 years ago,” Barber said.

“Black women, white women, women of color, trans women, LGTBQ women…women of faith, women not of faith” are all marching for those causes, and for passage of the full For the People Act, S1/HR1, the comprehensive elections and political reform bill, Theoharis added.

“And 173 years later, we’re still fighting for this,” she said. “Pitiful,” said one voice in reply from the crowd.

Whether the senators, most of them white men—especially among the Republicans—will pay attention is another matter. In the evenly split Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., last month marshaled all 50 Republicans to block even the start of debate on the For the People Act. Their votes ensured a filibuster would begin if needed.

McConnell and the rest of the Republicans, including woman Republicans, show no signs of listening to their constituents, whom opinion polls show overwhelmingly back political reform. That reform would strengthen voting rights, make voting easier, and curb the big clout of corporate money in politics. All those ideas, and more, are in the For the People Act. It also would override repressive anti-Black, anti-people of color GOP-enacted state voting laws, in 14 states and counting.

The GOP filibuster threat also looms against other people-oriented legislation, including raising the $15 minimum wage, Barber and other speakers added.

“It’s a tool for those who don’t want everyone voting because they know that if everyone votes, they’d have to pack up their bags and go home,” he said.

“How can they suppress the vote? What are they scared of?” asked Tanya Fogle of Lexington, Ky.

One other key threatened bill: The Protect The Right Organize (PRO) Act, the comprehensive pro-worker labor law reform legislation. The Poor People’s Campaign supports the right to organize without employer interference and illegal intimidation and firings, too. The PRO Act, however, was not on the immediate demand list of what the marchers want Congress to act upon by August 6.

“There are three weeks before Congress takes its summer recess,” said Steffens, one of a parade of speakers who each, in two-minute segments, discussed parts of the campaign platform. In that time, she added, “We’re calling for an immediate end to the filibuster, for protecting our voting rights and for raising our wages to at least $15.”

That’s in line with CWA’s own pro-democracy campaign, launched almost a decade ago, which made eliminating the filibuster a key plank, since a minority of senators, representing a smaller minority of the U.S. population, use the talkathon threat to stop everything they want in its tracks.

Besides the Poor People’s Campaign and CWA, other groups in the D.C. march and peaceful civil disobedience included members of the Service Employees, the Women’s March, Unite Here, MoveOn, Code Pink, Indivisible, the Democracy Initiative, representatives of the Quakers, the Presbyterians and Pax Christi, and United For Respect, a group of Walmart and Amazon workers.

Video of the press conference and the following march, including the arrests for peaceful civil disobedience, is here:

The long campaign aims to elevate the issues of eliminating poverty and guaranteeing political rights to the top of the U.S. agenda while demonstrating the political clout of the poor of all races. Other segments included other marches in D.C., campaigns in state capitals, and a scheduled 27-mile march from Charleston, Texas to the state capital, Austin, Texas, from July 27-30.

That march, the campaign says, will echo the famous Selma-to-Montgomery, Ala., civil rights/voting rights march of 1965, forever burned into U.S. memory by the vicious beatings of the marchers by Alabama law enforcement officials at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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