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USA: Dossier: celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Friday 21 January 2022, by siawi3

. A Sobering MLK Day
. King Remained Hopeful to the End
. As We Honor Dr. King, We Must Remember What He Truly Stood For
. As Dr. King Understood, The Right to Vote Is Both a Moral and a Practical Imperative
. ’No Celebration Without Legislation’: King Family Leads Voting Rights March
. Progressives Counter Cherry-Picked Quotes With MLK’s True Legacy
. Where MLK’s Vision Is Starting to Be Realized



JANUARY 17, 2022

A Sobering MLK Day


That arc of the moral universe is looking especially long right now—but one can also tell a more hopeful story.
This was supposed to be the week President Biden and the Senate leadership would celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by announcing a plan to suspend the filibuster and at last enact voting rights. Instead, the legislation appears blocked, at least for now. These failures feed on themselves, producing the picture of a failed administration.

But it took several tries to enact the original Voting Rights Act of 1965, which in turn came a century after African American men were supposedly guaranteed the right to vote. It’s too easy to pronounce both voting rights and the Biden administration dead in the water, as the media seem to revel in doing. There is also a hopeful story to tell.

Let’s get the dismal story out of the way first. Biden’s two signature plans are stymied—voting rights and Build Back Better. The omicron surge has everyone panicky, and taking out frustrations on the administration’s not-always-clear policies. The partisan Supreme Court piles on.

Politically, attention keeps getting focused on Democratic disarray, personified by Sens. Manchin and Sinema, rather than on the Republicans who are the main source of the unremitting blockage. The economy is having its most robust economic growth and job growth in decades, but inflation that is mainly the result of supply shocks gets most of the attention.

Without voting rights legislation, Republican voter suppression will only increase, all but guaranteeing a blowout in the 2022 midterms. Right?

Well, maybe. If we let it happen.

The alternative story is that the blockage of voting rights will produce a massive mobilization, as it did in 1964 and 1965. That mobilization is one of the prime reasons we celebrate Dr. King.

In those years, there was an outpouring of young people to make sure people voted. The same could happen in 2022.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act, for which John Lewis bled, has been gravely weakened by the Supreme Court’s gutting of its preclearance provision. But the Justice Department still has plenty of residual powers to challenge flagrant suppression of the right to vote.

Don’t we owe it to John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. to keep struggling until we overcome?



King Remained Hopeful to the End

January 17, 2022

Dedrick Asante Muhammad says Martin Luther King Jr. was clear-eyed that America must embrace radical change, which won’t come from the powerful but from the “naïve and unsophisticated.”

Photo: Martin Luther King Jr., front row and second from left, at the March on Washington on Aug, 28, 1963. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons)

By Dedrick Asante-Muhammad

2022 has begun with melancholy, as our country sees the pandemic reach new heights. Meanwhile our crises of climate, democracy, and inequality seem more entrenched than ever.

All this uncertainty is taking a toll, but uncertain times are far from unprecedented. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to an equally uncertain time and found hope in recognizing the necessity of radical change.

As we celebrate the U.S. national holiday dedicated to King, I always encourage people to take some time to look at his writings — and I especially do this year. In moments like these, I like to revisit one of King’s last essays, “A Testament of Hope,” which sounds as relevant today as the day he wrote it.

“Whenever I am asked my opinion of the current state, I am forced to pause,” King wrote. “It is not easy to describe a crisis so profound that it has caused the most powerful nation in the world to stagger in confusion and bewilderment.”

Sound familiar?

“Today’s problems are so acute because the tragic evasions and defaults of several centuries have accumulated to disaster proportions,” King continued. These interrelated problems, he continued, have “now merged into a social crisis of almost stupefying complexity.”

King specifically named “war, inflation, urban decay, white backlash, and a climate of violence” alongside “race relations and poverty” as the cascading crises of his day. To that list we could add the pandemic and climate crisis today.

Even more than half a century ago, King believed that the time for small, incremental changes had passed. “The luxury of a leisurely approach to urgent solutions — the ease of gradualism — was forfeited by ignoring the issues for too long,” he wrote.

“When millions of people have been cheated for centuries, restitution is a costly process. Inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, inadequate health care — each will require billions to correct,” King warned. “Justice so long deferred has accumulated interest and its cost for this society will be substantial in financial as well as human terms.”

But for a country weighed down by segregation, inequality and the Vietnam War, King also knew that the costs of injustice were greater — something that feels even more true today.

“If we look honestly at the realities of our national life, it is clear that we are not marching forward,” he wrote. “We are groping and stumbling; we are divided and confused.”

In the face of these “deeply rooted evils” and “systemic rather than superficial flaws,” King offered a remedy: the “radical reconstruction of society itself” — and praised the dissenters who called for it, often at great cost.

“Today’s dissenter tells the complacent majority that the time has come when further evasion of social responsibility in a turbulent world will court disaster and death,” he said. “America has not yet changed because so many think it need not change, but this is the illusion of the damned.”

Although King knew that change wouldn’t be easy, he was actually hopeful about it.

“Humanity has the capacity to do right as well as wrong. The past is strewn with the ruins of the empires of tyranny, and each is a monument not merely to our blunders but to our capacity to overcome them… That’s why I remain an optimist, though I am also a realist, about the barriers before us.”

King’s “Testament of Hope” is based on a realist’s assessment of the need for political, economic, and moral change. King is clear-eyed that America must embrace radical change — which won’t come from the powerful but from the “naïve and unsophisticated.”

Hope in radical change, for many of us, seems out of place during this time of tension. Yet there has been incredible change over the last few years. Rather than return to our dysfunctional past, King’s “Testament of Hope” points to the need to embrace and advance that change.

As we begin 2022, I find this message as important as ever.

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad is the chief of Race, Wealth and Community at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

This op-ed was distributed by



American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968) addresses a meeting in Chicago, Illinois, May 1966. (Photo: Jeff Kamen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

As We Honor Dr. King, We Must Remember What He Truly Stood For

It would be easy for us to assume that he was universally admired and respected by the Establishment during his lifetime. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Bernie Sanders

January 17, 2022

The following is excerpted from an email Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sent to supporters on Martin Luther King Day, January 17, 2022.

Today, all across this country, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, one of the great leaders in American history.

He went deep into American society and, with extraordinary courage, exposed what he called the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.”

We celebrate the work of a man who was a political revolutionary; a man who helped lead the struggle to end segregation and racism; a man who stood with workers and the poor against powerful economic interests; a man who fought for peace and human brotherhood against the forces of war and militarism. He was a man who, throughout his too-short life, maintained a transformative vision for what our country and the world can become.

But, today, as the nation honors Dr. King’s legacy, it would be easy for us to assume that he was universally admired and respected by the Establishment during his lifetime.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In 1964, Dr. King was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, one of the most prestigious awards on earth. He was famous all over the world and highly praised for his extraordinary work on civil rights. Many leaders, at that point in their lives, would have relished the praise and rested on their laurels. But that’s not what Dr. King did.

In 1967, he took on President Lyndon Johnson and the entire political establishment with vigorous opposition to the war in Vietnam. He gave a brilliant anti-war speech at the Riverside Church in New York and helped lead marches and demonstrations against the war. The politicians, big money interests, and editorial writers were not happy. He was no longer their hero.

During that period Dr. King did what almost no other political leader of his time was doing. He went deep into American society and, with extraordinary courage, exposed what he called the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.”

He said that he could not be true to himself and his values if he remained silent while seeing poor people getting napalmed in Vietnam.

He said he could not be true to himself if he was telling young African-Americans to be non-violent in the struggle for civil rights, while at the same time the United States was the major purveyor of violence in the entire world.

That was courage.

And let us also not forget where Dr. King was when he was assassinated. He was marching with exploited sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee who were underpaid and working under terrible conditions.

And what was the major project Dr. King was working on during the last months of his life? A poor people’s march. He was attempting, in the richest country on earth, to bring low-income Americans—Black, White, Latino, Native American, Asian American—to the nation’s capital in order to change national priorities. He was asking why, in a country with such incredible wealth, did we have so many people living in poverty? He questioned why we were spending so much on the military, when so many people lacked the basic necessities they needed to live a full and healthy life?

That was then.

And here we are now.


While there is no question that we have made some real progress on a number of the injustices that Dr. King struggled against, there is an enormous amount of work that remains to be done.

Today, you will no doubt see politicians and pundits on television and social media talking about what a great man Dr. King was.

But while they do, many of them are working overtime to suppress the vote and undermine American democracy.

They are voting for huge increases in military spending while hundreds of thousands of Americans are homeless.

They are voting against providing low-income workers with a living wage while the richest people become phenomenally richer.

They are refusing to pass legislation which guarantees health care for all while some 60,000 people a year die because they lack the medical care they need.

Let us realize that a great nation is judged not by the size of its military budget, but how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable citizens.

Today, as we honor Dr. King, my hope is that we will truly remember what he stood for.

Let us stop the voter suppression and allow people to fully participate in our democracy.

Let us invest in jobs and education, not jails and incarceration.

Let us realize that a great nation is judged not by the size of its military budget, but how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable citizens.

Let us guarantee health care as a right for every man, woman, and child in this country.

Let us have, as Dr. King stated, a “better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.”

So today, as we celebrate the extraordinary life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us not just celebrate the man, but remember the values and vision that motivated him.

The struggle continues.

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. Sanders ran to become the Democratic Party presidential nominee in both 2016 and 2020 and remains the longest-serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont’s at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York.



Photo: In November of 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr votes as his wife, Coretta Scott King, waits her turn in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo: Bettman / via Getty Images)

As Dr. King Understood, The Right to Vote Is Both a Moral and a Practical Imperative

The battle before us is a “now or never” fight for democracy in this nation.

Jeffrey C. Isaac

January 17, 2022

Voting rights and electoral fairness are currently the most contested issues in our extremely polarized political system. And the best way to advance these essential values is to make clear the inextricable link between the moral and the practical.

The Republican party, and tens of millions of those citizens who support it, are now following the logic of the “Stop the Steal” rhetoric of disgraced, twice-impeached, former President Trump. Maintaining that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen (but, miraculously, the many elections that they won were not stolen), and claiming that the Democrats are determined to commit election fraud in the future, they are committed to changing state elections laws to make it harder to vote and easier for their party leaders to overturn “stolen” elections. And they are also committed to opposing any effort to protect voting rights and non-partisan elections through federal legislation.

“We should remember that King’s courageous effort to make real the promise of American democracy always joined the moral claim to equal voting rights with the practical understanding that voting rights were a means and an instrument whereby ordinary citizens could mobilize political power so as to make the world a better place to live decent and meaningful lives.”

They must be defeated. Defeating them is necessary in order to “vindicate” the slim “victory” that Democrats claimed in 2020, and to make possible more decisive victories in the future. Failure is not an option if even the most threadbare version of constitutional democracy is to be saved.

The approach of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has been an especially appropriate moment for the question move to center stage. In their addresses last week, both President Biden and Vice President Harris made explicit the connection between current Republican voter suppression efforts and the history of Jim Crow, and between Democratic support for federal legislation—the John Lewis Act, the Freedom to Vote Act—and the civil rights movement.

Toda’s commemoration of King is a wonderful occasion to recall his own emphasis on the centrality of voting rights. Colbert I. King does a great job of this in his recent Washington Post piece, “Martin Luther King Jr.’s words on voting rights resonate all too well today.”

The piece, which centers on King’s important 1957 speech, “Give Us the Ballot,” powerfully emphasizes the moral demand for human dignity underlying King’s advocacy. But it misses one important element of King’s actual defense of voting rights: the indissoluble link between voting rights and all other rights, and the way that without the right to vote, citizens are disabled from voicing their concerns and from protecting themselves from abuse and injustice.

In his speech, King insists that “The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.” He then immediately segues to the consequences that would follow from the protection of voting rights:

Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.

Give us the ballot (Yes), and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the South (All right) and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence.

Give us the ballot (Give us the ballot), and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs (Yeah) into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.

Give us the ballot (Give us the ballot), and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill (All right now) and send to the sacred halls of Congress men who will not sign a “Southern Manifesto” because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice. (Tell ’em about it)

Give us the ballot (Yeah), and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy (Yeah), and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who will, who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the Divine.

Give us the ballot (Yes), and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May seventeenth, 1954. (That’s right).

King regards the ballot as a symbol of equality and dignity, but also as a tool for the political redress of grievances, an actual means by which disenfranchised citizens, in this instance Black citizens, can improve the conditions of their lives through the exercise of political power.

It is this dimension of voting rights that is often given insufficient attention by those who center their advocacy on the essential, but insufficient, moral claim. And it is this dimension of voting rights that might actually move people now to act, to defend their rights and to exercise them in 2022 and 2024—if they can be helped to see what was obvious to King: that the vote, if treated as one crucial democratic means of political mobilization among others, has the power to bring real change, and the denial of the vote is a way for those in power to prevent such change.

If we are have to have any hope of turning back the tide of Republican authoritarianism, masses of voters who are now skeptical or indifferent need to be convinced of this.

King, in emphasizing in his speech the practical dimension of voting rights, was continuing a long rhetorical tradition in the struggle for Black civil rights.

A very similar argument can be found in a brilliant though underappreciated essay by Ida B. Wells-Barnett, “How Enfranchisement Stops Lynchings,” published in June 1910 in Original Rights Magazine.

Wells-Barnett begins, in her very first sentence, by observing that “the Negro question has been present with the American people . . . since 1619.” Briefly describing the violence and degradation associated with the enslavement of Black people, she quickly arrives at the disturbing truth that slavery’s abolition did not produce freedom for Blacks:

The flower of the nineteenth century civilization was the abolition of slavery, and the enfranchisement of all manhood. Here at last was squaring of practice with precept, with true democracy, with the Declaration of Independence and with the Golden Rule. The reproach and disgrace of the twentieth century is that the whole of the American people have permitted a part to nullify this glorious achievement, and make the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution playthings, a mockery and a byword; an absolute dead letter in the Constitution of the United States.

Recounting the betrayal of the promise of Reconstruction, Wells-Barnett immediately draws the connection between the practical sufferings of Black citizens and the denial of their right to vote:

The Negro has been given separate and inferior schools, because he has no ballot. He therefore cannot protest such legislation by choosing other law makers, or retiring to private life those who legislate against his interests . . . His only weapon of defense has been taken from him by legal enactment in all of the old Confederacy—and the United States Government, a consenting Saul stands by holding the clothes of those who stone and burn him to death literally and politically.

With no sacredness of the ballot there can be no sacredness of human life itself. For if the strong can take the week man’s ballot when it suits his purpose to do so, he will take his life also. Having successfully swept aside all the constitutional safeguards to the ballot, it is the smallest of small matters for the South to sweep aside its own safeguards to human life . . . Therefore, the more complete the disenfranchisement, the more frequent and horrible has been the hangings, shootings and burnings.

Lynching, of course, is the evil that occupies her attention, here as elsewhere. But the central argument of this essay is not that lynching is the awful consequence of American racism, but that lynching, the most extreme form of injustice, can be stopped by the enfranchisement of Black citizens. And her prime example is her own experience, as an investigative reporter and as an activist, in the fight against lynching in Illinois, the state in which she lived.

Reviewing the wave of lynchings in that state, including the notorious Springfield race riot of 1908, Wells-Barnett focuses on the 1909 lynching of a Black man, William “Froggie” James, in Cairo, Illinois, and on the political response to the event, which she had helped to mobilize through her public writing. Her point: the Black citizens of Illinois organized themselves, exercised their voting rights in that state, and they made a difference. She points out that “The Negroes of Illinois have taken counsel together for a number of years over Illinois’ increased lynching record. They elected one of their own to the state legislature in 1904, who secured the passage of a bill which provided for the suppression of mob violence.” And she then points out that this bill— the Mob Violence Act of 1905—became the basis on which the Republican Governor of the state, Charles Deneen, a supporter of civil rights, acted decisively to fire the Cairo sheriff, and to declare, loudly, that “mob violence has no place in Illinois.”

Wells-Barnett quotes at length from the powerful statement made by Governor Deneen, in which he declared that he would use his executive authority to enforce civil rights law and to punish those who violate it. No Pollyanna, she notes that this declaration has provoked resistance. She nonetheless argues that it appears to represent the “death blow” to lynching in the state.

Her message: what is happening in Illinois can happen everywhere in the country: if the enfranchisement of Blacks, as announced in the Constitution, is protected, then Blacks can use their voting power to contest and end racial injustice. A very big “if.” But one that she believes achievable.

Indeed, like King, Wells-Barnett herself was reiterating a long-standing argument for Black enfranchisement, that had earlier been made by none other than Frederick Douglass himself. In his 1872 “Give Us the Freedom Intended for Us,” one of his many withering critiques of the failings of Reconstruction, Douglass stated this sharply:

The elective franchise without protection in its exercise amounts to almost nothing in the hands of a minority with a vast majority determined that no exercise of it shall be made by the minority. Freedom from the auction black and from legal claim as property is of no benefit to the colored man without the means of protecting his rights. The black man is not a free American citizen in the sense that a white man is a free American citizen.” The reason? Without the right to vote, “he cannot protect himself against encroachments upon [his] rights and privileges.

The denial of the right to vote, Douglass insists, is an affront to the dignity of Black citizens. But perhaps even more importantly, it is a way of enforcing a virtual enslavement, by depriving Blacks of the “means of protection” necessary to secure their safety, their education, their property, and their livelihoods.

The idea that voting rights are an essential means of citizen self-protection has been central a central theme for a great many democratic activists in U.S. history.

Susan B. Anthony, in her famous 1872 speech, “Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote?,” rehearses a litany of ways that the denial of voting rights on the basis of sex sustains the general subordination of women, and disenfranchises them from speaking and acting for themselves in the broader public world. “We all know,” she insists, “that the crowning glory of every citizen of the United States is, that he can either give or withhold his vote from every law and every legislator under the government. . . . There is, and can be, but one safe principle of government-equal rights to all. And any and every discrimination against any class, whether on account of color, race, nativity, sex, property, culture, can but imbitter and disaffect that class, and thereby endanger the safety of the whole people.”

Perhaps the most ringing statement of this theme can be found in Eugene V. Debs’s 1894 speech, “Liberty: Speech at Battery D, Chicago.”

Speaking to a crowd of supporters after his release from a six-month jail sentence for his activities, as leader of the American Railway Union, during the Pullman strike, Debs observed: “I stand in your presence stripped of my constitutional rights as a freeman and shorn of the most sacred prerogatives of American citizenship, and what is true of myself is true of every other citizen who has the temerity to protest against corporation rule or question the absolute sway of the money power. It is not law nor the administration of law of which I complain. It is the flagrant violation of the Constitution, the total abrogation of law and the usurpation of judicial and despotic power. . .”

But he then turns, on a dime, to the political potential possessed by ordinary American citizens:

Above all, what is the duty of American workingmen whose liberties have been placed in peril? They are not hereditary bondsmen. Their fathers were free born – their sovereignty none denied and their children yet have the ballot. It has been called “a weapon that executes a free man’s will as lighting does the will of God.” It is a metaphor pregnant with life and truth. There is nothing in our government it cannot remove or amend. It can make and unmake presidents and congresses and courts. It can abolish unjust laws and consign to eternal odium and oblivion unjust judges, strip from them their robes and gowns and send them forth unclean as lepers to bear the burden of merited obloquy as Cain with the mark of a murderer. It can sweep away trusts, syndicates, corporations, monopolies, and every other abnormal development of the money power designed to abridge the liberties of workingmen and enslave them by the degradation incident to poverty and enforced idleness, as cyclones scatter the leaves of the forest. The ballot can do all this and more. It can give our civilization its crowning glory – the cooperative commonwealth. . . .”

Debs was a brilliant orator. He was exaggerating the power of the ballot, and he knew it, and his audience, still bitter with the memory of the Pullman strike’s suppression, knew it too. But only by half. Because while the ballot surely cannot produce results with the certainty, and the immediacy, of “God’s lighting”—the performative “Let there be light!””—the right to vote is a right that can be mobilized by those in need to make themselves heard, and to pressure politicians to listen, and to punish those who refuse to listen.

As Michael Waldman argues in his excellent 2016 book, The Fight to Vote, the struggle of disenfranchised groups to obtain, protect, and exercise the right to vote has been perhaps the defining thread of U.S. history. And this struggle has always involved both a moral claim and a practical demand to be heard and to be heeded, a demand that the problems of ordinary citizens be addressed by the government that claims to govern in their name.

NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, where Waldman has long served as president, is one of a number of civil society organizations currently leading the fight to educate the public about the threats to voting rights and democratic elections and the ways to counter these threats. If you go to its website today, you will encounter a public appeal for support—and this support is one very worthy investment—headlined with these words, in boldface: “It’s Now or Never for Democracy.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

The Republican party is doing its very best to bend the “moral arc of the universe” towards reaction and injustice. It will take real effort to keep Republican efforts at bay much less to move things forward.

And as we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., we should remember that King’s courageous effort to make real the promise of American democracy always joined the moral claim to equal voting rights with the practical understanding that voting rights were a means and an instrument whereby ordinary citizens could mobilize political power so as to make the world a better place to live decent and meaningful lives.

Only by remembering this lesson, and acting on it, might it be possible to turn back a rising tide of authoritarianism in 2022 and 2024.
Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Jeffrey C. Isaac is James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. His books include: “Democracy in Dark Times”(1998); “The Poverty of Progressivism: The Future of American Democracy in a Time of Liberal Decline” (2003), and “Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion” (1994).



Photo: Yolanda Renee King, Arndrea Waters King, and Martin Luther King III lead the annual D.C. Peace Walk: Change Happens with Good Hope and a Dream across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge for Dr. Martin Luther King Day on January 17, 2022 in Washington, D.C.(Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

’No Celebration Without Legislation’: King Family Leads Voting Rights March

“I will not accept empty promises in pursuit of my father’s dream,” said Martin Luther King III.

Andrea Germanos

January 17, 2022

With the Democratic Party on the verge of failure in Congress, the family of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday joined with other civil rights advocates and faith leaders in Washington, D.C. to demand lawmakers pass national voting rights legislation.

The MLK Day action comes amid a wave of voter suppression efforts advanced by Republican-controlled state legislatures and ongoing obstruction from right-wing Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to change the rules of the filibuster—the Senate’s 60-vote threshold rule that critics have dubbed a “Jim Crow relic” used to block key democracy reforms.

The event comes just ahead of a planned effort by Senate Democrats to advance a House-approved bill that combines the Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will attempt to use a procedural workaround to overcome GOP opposition, but that will only be possible if Manchin and Sinema end their objections to a filibuster carve-out.

The Deliver for Voting Rights campaign, the group behind Monday’s march, states that Congress must seize the “historic opportunity” to protect voting rights.

“From the Civil War to the Jim Crow era, the filibuster has blocked popular bills to stop lynching, end poll taxes, and fight workplace discrimination,” the campaign says. “Now it’s being used to block voting rights. The weaponization of the filibuster is racism cloaked in procedure and it must go.”

“There’s no time to wait,” they added. “We honor Dr. King with action.”

Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law—one of the partners of the voting rights campaign—rejected a “sanitized, watered-down recollection of Dr. King” that “is wholly divorced from the reality of his life” and stressed that the slain rights leader’s “service was about activism—an engaged leadership that brought our country closer to its stated ideals.”

“Dr. King’s activism taught us that those who care about freedom must take action to shake loose equality from whatever stands in the way, including cynicism and complacency with the status quo,” said Hewitt. “In that spirit, and on this day of remembrance, we will redouble our efforts to defend voting rights and save our democracy.”

After a morning “Peace March” kicking off from the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, event organizers were set to hold a noon press conference with speakers including Drum Major Institute president Arndrea Waters King, Poor People’s Campaign co-chair Rev. Liz Theoharis, and Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown.

In a statement Monday, Brown referenced MLK’s remark that “voting rights are the foundation stone of political action” and his legacy “inextricably tied to his lifelong dedication to protecting Black voting rights.”

“There is a cruel hypocrisy that, today, the United States Senate has taken a vacation day to acknowledge Dr. King’s legacy while two critical voting rights bills—the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—languish on the Senate floor,” said Brown. “Even when Dr. King’s children have called for this to be a day on, not off. Martin Luther King III has said there can be ‘no celebration without legislation.’ And Bernice King asked us to use this day to advocate for changing the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation. And so we are.”

Despite some “incredible progress over the years,” Brown lamented recent “dangerous Supreme Court decisions, a wave of state-level voter restrictions, and Senate inaction—particularly from Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—[that] threaten to turn back the clock on election freedom and our ability as a community to build power and make gains economically and with criminal justice reform.”

“Today is not just a holiday; it’s a call to action on voting rights,” she added. “If Senate Majority Leader Schumer and the rest of Senate Democrats really want to honor Dr. King’s legacy, then they must pass federal voting rights legislation immediately. And if the Republicans continue to perpetrate the big lie and aid in this slow-motion insurrection, the Senate Democrats must go it alone and carve out an exception to the filibuster to pass the legislation now.”



U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)—flanked by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), left, and Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), right—speaks at the U.S. Capitol on December 8, 2021. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Progressives Counter Cherry-Picked Quotes With MLK’s True Legacy

Calling out those who have “weaponized” his words “to justify legislated white supremacy,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley said King “was a radical dreamer with a bold vision for revolutionary change.”

Jessica Corbett

January 17, 2022

As the FBI, right-wing political figures, and others came under fire Monday for engaging in the annual trend of dishonoring Martin Luther King Jr. by sanitizing his beliefs, progressives in Congress worked to honor his legacy of fighting for a more just society.

“Let us not just celebrate the man, but remember the values and vision that motivated him.”

Sharing some of her remarks from a 2019 MLK event, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) highlighted that the assassinated civil rights icon “spoke openly about American imperialism, unionization and labor rights, economic issues, and more,” and faced intense backlash.

“People say that the sacrifice that King made was with his life, which is true but… it wasn’t just the end of his life,” Ocasio-Cortez said at the time. “The way he lived his life was a sacrifice. He was called a communist. He was targeted. He was wiretapped by the FBI.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) similarly directed attention to “the Dr. King you don’t often hear about,” pointing out that he was an “anti-war, anti-poverty socialist radical who was denounced by newspapers, pundits, and politicians of all stripes.”

Omar shared a clip from King’s historic address condemning the Vietnam War—delivered on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was killed. Speaking from the Riverside Church in New York City, he asserted that “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.”

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society,” he said, “when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Historian and New York University professor Thomas J. Sugrue opined about King in 2019 that “there is probably no figure in recent American history whose memory is more distorted, whose message is more bowdlerized, or whose powerful words are more drained of content.”

Echoing that sentiment on Monday, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) tweeted that “each #MLKDay, some will cherry-pick quotes from Dr. King and reduce his legacy to that of a peaceful protestor with a dream. He was indeed a prophetic leader and early architect of the civil rights movement—but there’s much more to his story.”

“We often see excerpts from ’I Have a Dream’ weaponized and perverted to justify legislated white supremacy,” the congresswoman continued, referencing one of his famous speeches. “But the truth is Dr. King was a radical dreamer with a bold vision for revolutionary change. A disruptive movement builder seeking to upend an unjust status quo.”

The U.S. holiday to remember King comes amid mounting concerns about U.S. democracy, which have fueled the push to pass a pair of federal voting rights bills. MLK’s family on Monday led calls for the Senate to abolish the filibuster to advance the legislation.

Along with sharing clips and quotes from King, progressive lawmakers reiterated their demands to enact the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“I’m following the lead of the King family,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “Rather than celebrating, I am organizing—calling on my colleagues in the Senate to do the right thing and honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by passing voting rights legislation.”

“Every time we pick up the mantle and keep up the fight for social, racial, and economic justice—including defending the sacred right to vote—Dr. King’s dream lives on,” declared Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “Today, we honor his life and legacy, and we are called to fight back against the forces of hate.”

King “taught us that the dream of freedom could only be realized when every person has a fair and equal vote at the ballot box,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). “We must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act now, and we must abolish the filibuster to do it.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) asserted that “the best way to honor the pillars of equality and anti-racism” that King fought for is to pass the two bills, which are designed to “stop the GOP’s voter suppression tactics.”

MLK’s daughter and others have, in recent days, shared his remarks about the filibuster in 1963 amid debates over federal civil rights legislation.

“I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting,” King said. “They won’t let the majority of senators vote. And certainly they wouldn’t want the majority of people to vote, because they know they do not represent the majority of the American people.”

Noting those comments, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said: “Let’s honor Dr. King’s words and legacy with action. I’m working to reform the filibuster so the Senate can forge ahead and pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”

Tweeting excerpts from his 1957 “Give Us the Ballot” speech, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) warned that King’s legacy “is being taken for granted.”

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said in a lengthy statement about King that “as our nation faces vicious attacks on the right to vote, we’re especially reminded of the lessons he left us.”

Bowman continued:

In his letter from Birmingham jail, he responds to those who called his nonviolent direct actions ’untimely’ and ’unwise,’ saying that, ’We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.’ In our mission to protect our right to vote, we cannot take ’no’ or ’wait’ as an answer.

We know from our history that when people and institutions tell us ’wait,’ it oftentimes means never… With over 262 voter suppression bills introduced in 41 states already, we can’t afford to waste any more time... It is time to end the filibuster and protect our right to vote.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in an email to supporters, wrote that “as the nation honors Dr. King’s legacy, it would be easy for us to assume that he was universally admired and respected by the establishment during his lifetime. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

After highlighting some of the icon’s actions in service of his “transformative vision for what our country and the world can become,” Sanders explained that “my hope is that we will truly remember what he stood for.”

“Let us stop the voter suppression and allow people to fully participate in our democracy,” the senator wrote. “Let us invest in jobs and education, not jails and incarceration. Let us realize that a great nation is judged not by the size of its military budget, but how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable citizens.”

“Let us guarantee healthcare as a right for every man, woman, and child in this country. Let us have, as Dr. King stated, a ’better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children,’” he added. “Let us not just celebrate the man, but remember the values and vision that motivated him.”



Where MLK’s Vision Is Starting to Be Realized

Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a racially integrated America might still be far off. But some cities are finally atoning for past racial sins and enacting policies to dismantle segregation.

Photo: Kavon Ward reacts while her husband Mitch Ward holds up a fist before bill signing.
Kavon Ward, founder of Justice for Bruce’s Beach, and her husband Mitch react before the Sept. 30 signing of a bill that would help clear the way for Los Angeles County to return a piece of coastline to the descendants of a Black family from whom it was taken nearly a century ago. | Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP Photo


01/17/2022 07:00 AM EST

Sheryll Cashin is a law professor at Georgetown University, a POLITICO Magazine contributing editor and the author of White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality.

In championing nonviolent protest to dismantle Jim Crow segregation, Martin Luther King Jr. always reminded his audience of his ultimate vision for America: “the creation of the Beloved Community,” a world in which all people could live together “as brothers in community, and not continually live with bitterness and friction.”

For King, the Beloved Community was not a utopian abstraction but a realistic — if radical — vision for racial integration and reconciliation that a critical mass of committed citizens could achieve. Getting there required gathering information about existing systems of injustice and educating others about them. Then, through direct action, a coalition of humans normally driven apart by the ideology of white supremacy could work together to dismantle its structures and render former enemies, ideally, friends.

This vision seems impossible in America in 2022, at a time when democracy is under assault, disinformation and toxic polarity reign, and the coalition that elected President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris struggles with internal disagreements over policy priorities and how “woke” to be in confronting a legacy of racial oppression. After a century of systemic racial discrimination in housing and other areas, America’s system of residential caste is still often tolerated, if not reified, with public policy that concentrates poverty in some areas and wealth in others.

And yet, there are places that buck these trends. On this MLK Day, it’s worth paying attention to the local communities where processes of racial reckoning similar to those imagined by King are occurring. More than any other governments to which voters send representatives, cities are taking the lead in atoning for past racial sins and trying to disrupt ongoing segregation that creates opportunity for some and denies it to many others.

These communities might be exceptions, but they offer inspiring examples of what can happen when people of good will commit to this work — a reminder of what a true celebration of MLK might look like. Much more than a day of service, this holiday is an annual call to individuals to do more than display beautiful signs valuing Black lives, science or love. One needs to act, in coalition, to show it.

Why are cities leading? As with the civil rights era sit-in movement, in which Black Americans across the South demanded to eat, shop and go where they wanted, there is a long tradition of advocacy for creating radical change by starting close to home. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, a geographer and prison abolitionist, has called for “abolition geography,” which “starts from the homely premise that freedom is a place.” For Gilmore, this means “being in the world trying every little thing” to establish a new social order in the places where we live.

Similarly, in his groundbreaking work Black Reconstruction in America, W.E.B. Du Bois coined the phrase “abolition democracy” and argued that slavery and supremacy could not be abolished without creating new democratic institutions. Applying this to cities, the idea is that polities unfettered by structures that suppress popular will can be true laboratories for democracy, particularly innovation on racial equality — a progressive version of the federalism more often espoused by the right.

Photo: A pedestrian passes a sign that reads "Matter is the minimum. Black lives are worthy. Black lives are beloved. Black lives are needed."
Pedestrians pass a sign in Evanston, Ill., a Chicago suburb that created a reparations program in the form of housing grants to Black families who experienced housing discrimination. | Shafkat Anowar/AP Photo

To date, this kind of innovation has taken place primarily in progressive cities that are not hampered by their state legislatures. Most such places have diverse populations, with a critical mass of culturally dexterous whites who join with Asian, Black, Indigenous, Latino and multiracial voters to create political majorities that advocate for fairness and equity.

Among the examples that give me hope: Los Angeles County, with the support of state legislation, recently returned prime, oceanfront property known as Bruce’s Beach to descendants of a Black American couple from whom the land was wrongly taken a century earlier. Nearby Santa Monica recently gave priority for access to new affordable housing to descendants of the roughly 600, mainly Black families that were displaced from their homes by the mowing of Interstate 10 through their neighborhoods in the 1950s. Evanston, Ill., created a program of housing reparations for Black families intentionally harmed by racist practices and exclusionary zoning from 1919-1969. It was the first concrete policy resulting from the city council’s 2019 resolution “to end structural racism and achieve racial equity.”

Even more radically, in 2018 Minneapolis repealed its single-family home zoning — a policy that maintains race and class segregation across the country in part by keeping affordable housing out of affluent communities. Under Minneapolis’ new law, duplexes and triplexes can be built in any neighborhood throughout the city. Before this transformation, 70 percent of land in the city was zoned only for single-family homes, part of Minneapolis’ legacy of extreme racial segregation. Advocates laid the groundwork for this sea change, which passed by a vote of 12-1 in the city council, through widespread education about the city’s history of redlining and intentional segregation. The city also now permits more apartment buildings to be built near transit stops and has adopted “inclusionary zoning” requiring that 10 percent of new apartment units go to moderate-income people. And Minneapolis has increased funding to combat homelessness and subsidize low-income renters.

A man takes a photo on a smartphone of a historic plaque marking Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

A visitor snaps a photo of a historic plaque marking Bruce’s Beach in April. Los Angeles County recently returned the oceanfront property to descendants of a Black American couple from whom the land was wrongly taken a century earlier. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

Other places, such as Louisville, Ky., have staunchly promoted school integration rather than give up on it. There is an emerging movement, as well, toward promoting racial equity in city budgeting and disrupting a long history of disinvestment in Black and minority communities. And, despite a national rise in homicides, several majority-Black communities — including Newark, N.J., Gary, Ind., and Savannah, Ga. — reduced violent crime from 2019 to 2020 through social experiments including universal basic income pilots, hiring former offenders to help defuse gun violence and deconcentrating poverty by moving tenants out of high-rise public housing to higher-opportunity neighborhoods. Cities like these have learned that applying a lens of care, rather than predation, to people trapped in violence-torn “hoods” can be more effective and less costly than mass policing and incarceration.

On a symbolic but still powerful note, many cities including New Orleans and recently Richmond, Va., have removed statues from public spaces that exalted Confederate traitors to the Union and stood as symbols of white supremacy.

Progressive cities are not perfect. Like all innovators, they make mistakes. But places that acknowledge truth and wrestle with past and present policies that diverge from America’s professed ideals should be applauded for trying. This might be small comfort to people who live elsewhere and feel their dreams of freedom are deferred. But there is hope that this movement can grow: With tools like the website Mapping Inequality, many citizens or coalitions can learn about their local history of segregation and redlining, and spread the awareness that is so critical to building political momentum for change.

The driving force behind the building of King’s Beloved Community is, and must be, agape love — a joyful, conscious decision to bestow care, unconditionally, on others. In a powerful essay, the late author-activist bell hooks argued that such a sentiment is critical for change — that without “an ethic of love shaping the direction of our political vision and our radical aspirations, we are often seduced, in one way or the other, into continued allegiance to systems of domination.” To use the word “love” in a movement for racial justice is to demand a radically new, empathetic seeing of those who are persistently dehumanized.

The power of multiracial democracy in certain cities does not negate the need for broader fights to continue, especially as toxic division and voter suppression undermine American democracy. As MLK Day reminds us, the work of racial reckoning and reconciliation continues. For those willing to imagine what a Beloved Community might one day look like, America’s cities are a good place to start.