Poor People’s Campaign hearse spotlights death of voting rights
The Poor People's Campaign is conducting a 27 mile Selma style march in Texas for voting rights this week. | Courtesy of the Poor People's Campaign

AUSTIN, Texas—When the Poor People’s Campaign completes its 27-mile four-day trek through the Texas heat on July 31, an ends at the state capitol building in Austin, a hearse will lead the way.

In its coffin will be copies of 400-plus GOP bills bills from radical rightists, filed in 48 states, killing voting rights –including the draconian measure Texas’s ruling Republicans seek to impose on Black and especially Brown people in the Lone Star State.

And behind the hearse, carrying the marchers on their final leg of the journey, will be 151 cars, symbolizing the 151 years since Congress enacted the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

That amendment declares “The right to vote in the United States or any state shall not be denied or abridged on account of race, color, creed or previous condition of servitude.”

The hearse appearing in Austin will be the latest development in a month-long campaign of peaceful protests, civil disobedience and occasional peaceful arrests of voting rights marchers.

The campaign will reach one peak on August 2 in D.C., but other events will follow that, until Congress rights the wrong and restores and strengthens the right to vote—and takes other measures to aid the nation’s 140 million poor and near-poor.

“Texas is like the canary in the coal mine” for the rest of the U.S. on voter suppression, thus violating the Constitution, says the Rev. William Barber II, founder and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.

His statement could easily apply to other aspects of the corporate and right-wing war on the poor: High jobless rates among Spanish-speakers, the racist Border Wall, environmental pollution from the state’s dominant oil industry and even the blizzard-caused blackout which shut the state down early this year.

But this time, Barber’s “army,” to use another speaker’s word, is battling against state repression of voting rights and for congressional passage of the For The People Act, nationwide. It staged demonstrations for those twin causes in dozens of state capitals on July 26, too.

The For The People Act would make voting easier, more-transparent and more representative of real voters. It would also lessen–if not remove–the political clout of corporate special interests. It also would override all the GOP and racist-pushed state voter repression statutes.

“This is about race, this is about class, this is about demographics and this is about geography,” Barber adds. “This not a time for politicians to be ‘moderate’ or to bow to extremists afraid of people voting.

“Otherwise we descend from democracy to autocracy.”

“We’re telling the legislature voter suppression bills have no place in our democracy,” Jason Lee of the Texas Right To Vote Coalition added at the same pre-march press briefing on July 21.

On July 31, speakers will be a long line of Texans “will be those impacted” by the state GOP’s current and planned voter suppression laws, said Barber. Also speaking: Advocates for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients. A Texas federal judge recently stopped DACA application processing nationwide.

Some, like Lee, spoke out at the preview press briefing. And voting rights won’t be their sole topic.

“Every day we wake up to attacks, an eviction crisis, attacks on Black people, poor people, on immigrants, and the denial of Medicare and Medicaid to them,” said Texas Poor People’s Campaign co-chair Stephanie Swanson.  That includes environmental attacks on the poor, she added: “I grew up close to the Houston Ship Channel,” which is lined with polluting refineries. “I had lung cancer at age 33.”

“We’ve been caught in a Medicaid gap because we earn just a dollar too much to be eligible, but not enough to pay for insurance,” said her co-chair, Denita Jones.

The Texas trek starts today, July 27. Yesterday, Barber, his co-chair, the Rev. Liz Theoharis and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the longtime civil rights leader, focused on federal voting rights legislation in a Phoenix, Ariz., event. There, they campaigned for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the For The People Act (HR1/S1).

Like other Poor People’s Campaign actions, the Tucson event drew union and worker support. The Communications Workers, the Arizona AFL-CIO, the state’s Working Families Party were among the groups supporting, sending participants, or both.

The demonstration was outside and inside the Tucson office of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. She’s a Democratic fence-sitter on the For The People Act. Sinema also supports retaining the filibuster, the racist-inspired Senate rule which allows right-wing Republicans to kill legislation—including the For The People Act and the Protect The Right To Organize Act—just by threatening to talk it to death.

“Any politician supporting the filibuster is standing with the Chamber of Commerce,” Barber said.

Sinema’s also skeptical about other Poor People’s Campaign immediate goals: Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the Lewis Act, to restore and strengthen the original 1965 Voting Rights Act. That law was to protect minorities against ballot box discrimination and intimidation in states with histories of it—such as Texas and Arizona.

For their peaceful sit-in at Sinema’s office, Barber, Theoharis and Jackson and others were arrested and led away in handcuffs after their rally, march and protest.

But it was left to one of the Texans to make the real, macabre connection between voter suppression laws and an even bigger threat to democracy.

“This war on democracy and truth,” including the war on voting rights for Blacks, browns, women, youth and the poor “has been declared by the relatives of the seditionists who tried to overthrow our democracy” by invading the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the Rev. Frederick Douglass Haynes III of the National Baptist Convention said.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.