In Texas, activists from the Poor People's Campaign embarked on a four-day, 27-mile "March for Democracy" on July 28, 2021 to demand that Senate Democrats end the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation. (Photo: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber/Twitter)

In Texas, Poor People's Campaign Kicks Off 27-Mile 'March for Democracy'

"At this time, when our voting rights are being denied and when economic justice is being denied, we must call out the immoral obstructionism of Congress," said Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis.

In Texas, activists from the Poor People's Campaign embarked on a four-day, 27-mile "March for Democracy" on Wednesday to demand that Senate Democrats counteract the GOP's assault on voting rights and the GOP-led assault on low-wage workers by repealing the filibuster and enacting the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the For the People Act, a $15 federal minimum wage, and protections for undocumented immigrants.

"Maybe it is a poetic irony that on the... first day of hearings on the violent insurrection of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, we are beginning a march for democracy," Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, said at a press conference Tuesday. "Ours is not an insurrection, but a moral resurrection."

On Wednesday, Barber toldKHOU that "the day that the For the People Act is passed is the day everything that the Texas Legislature is doing becomes illegal," a reference to the ongoing attempt by the state's Republican lawmakers to pass legislation that would make it even harder to vote.

After fleeing the state earlier this month in order to deny their Republican colleagues the quorum needed to ram through a sweeping voter suppression bill, Texas Democrats, many of whom traveled to Washington, D.C., implored U.S. Senate Democrats to act immediately to safeguard the franchise from the GOP's attacks.

In contrast to the Lone Star State's Democratic lawmakers who are risking arrest to prevent Texas from becoming the latest jurisdiction to enact voting restrictions this year, Senate Democrats have continued to fail to take meaningful action to protect U.S. democracy.

In an opinion piece published Tuesday in the Austin American-Statesman, Barber explained that "our moral march to Austin this week is about showing the nation that Black, white, and brown people in Texas are standing together to demand that the Democrats who hold a majority in the U.S. Senate take action to enact the policies they ran on."

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and his Republican colleagues "have been quick to point out that the changes they propose are nothing like the Jim Crow-era poll taxes and literacy tests that were used to prevent poor Black and brown people from voting," wrote Barber. "But they also know that the surgical removal of a few thousand voters in key districts is enough to maintain control of state government and Texas' congressional delegation to Washington, D.C."

"This targeted voter suppression," Barber noted, "is what I call 'James Crow, Esquire.' It is the 21st-century form of voter suppression that the For the People Act was written to prevent."

Barber continued:

When Republicans in North Carolina employed similar tactics just after the Supreme Court gutted the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act in their 2013 Shelby decision, I led the campaign to challenge that law as president of the North Carolina NAACP. We learned that the question should never be whether proposed changes to election laws would make voting as restrictive as it was in a past era when we all agree voter suppression happened. The question we must ask is why anyone wants laws that make it more difficult for some people to vote.

An overwhelming majority of Americans want living wages, universal access to healthcare, and common-sense immigration reform. But none of these popular policies are embraced by the corporately funded extremists who have taken over the Republican Party. When Senate Republicans locked arms to block debate on federal voting rights protections, they made clear that they are willing to use the filibuster to subvert the will of the majority of Americans...

So-called moderate Democrats say they do not want to push forward without Republicans because whatever they pass will simply be overturned if the majority changes in 2022. But capitulation to the Republican voter suppression scheme being carried out in plain sight almost guarantees that Democrats will soon find themselves in the minority. This is why we demand action to protect voting rights and action to raise the minimum wage--which the current administration and Democratic majority ran on.

During Tuesday night's press conference, Barber stressed that "what we see happening here is happening all over the country. Texas is like the canary in the mine."

Although the deadly coup attempt carried out on January 6 by supporters of then-President Donald Trump failed, Trump's "Big Lie" that the 2020 election was stolen from him has been "weaponized," in the words of author and voting rights expert Ari Berman, to fuel a nationwide wave of voter suppression bills.

Between January and mid-July, right-wing lawmakers in 49 states introduced more than 400 bills that would make it harder for millions of Americans, especially people of color and other Democratic-leaning constituencies, to vote, or would empower election officials to overturn the will of voters.

"Capitulation to the Republican voter suppression scheme being carried out in plain sight almost guarantees that Democrats will soon find themselves in the minority."
--Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

Since the beginning of this year, Republican-controlled legislatures--invoking the supposed need to shore up so-called "election integrity"--have enacted a combined total of 30 voter suppression laws in 18 states, according to the latest tally from the Brennan Center for Justice.

Like Barber, the Brennan Center has argued that the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would increase ballot access nationwide and effectively neutralize the state-level onslaught being waged by the increasingly authoritarian GOP.

In addition to establishing minimum electoral standards and curbing the corrupting influence of big money in politics, the For the People Act would require states to adopt independent redistricting commissions to combat partisan gerrymandering. But the House-passed bill, which is popular among voters across party lines, remains in peril ahead of next month's congressional recess.

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has so far refused to advocate for repealing the Senate's 60-vote filibuster rule that stands in the way of enacting voter protections at the federal level.

Although Biden criticized Republican state lawmakers for disenfranchising voters during a speech two weeks ago, he did not mention the filibuster--even after the Senate's GOP minority deployed the anti-democratic tool last month to block debate on the For the People Act.

Barber and other religious leaders and activists were arrested during a demonstration outside the U.S. Senate building following the GOP's filibuster of the bill, as Common Dreamsreported.

This week's March for Democracy comes amid a monthlong "season of nonviolent direct action" organized by the Poor People's Campaign to pressure the U.S. Senate to end the filibuster and pass legislation that begins to address the crises of worsening inequality and growing right-wing authoritarianism before August 6, the 56th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act.

If all 50 members of the Senate's Democratic caucus plus Vice President Kamala Harris were on board, they could, with a simple-majority vote, abolish the filibuster or at the very least reform it by, for example, exempting voting rights bills from the 60-vote rule.

However, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have continued to insist--despite mounting evidence of legislative gridlock--that preserving the anti-democratic tool fosters bipartisan cooperation and that eliminating it would cause more dysfunction.

After he and 38 others were arrested on Monday during a sit-in outside Sinema's Phoenix office, Barber explained that the refusal of conservative Democrats to support filibuster reform is enabling Senate Republicans to obstruct not only the restoration of the gutted Voting Rights Act and passage of the For the People Act, but a whole host of additional measures that are popular with the electorate.

Other widely supported policies that have been undermined through a combination of Republican intransigence and Democratic acquiescence, noted Barber, include raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, providing undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship, and confronting the climate crisis.

"I'm the granddaughter of undocumented immigrants, a proud daughter of social justice warriors, and the mother of two public school children. I have personally experienced poverty, homelessness, and low wages," Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, said Tuesday.

"At this time, when our voting rights are being denied and when economic justice is being denied, we must call out the immoral obstructionism of Congress," Theoharis continued. "We must demand the full protection of rights and dignity of all 11 million undocumented people."

"We march for our children," she added. "We march for our elders. We march for our families and our partners and our communities. We march so that we can move, as we say in our movement, forward together and not one step back."

The March for Democracy, which began in Georgetown, will end on Saturday with a rally at the state Capitol in Austin, where a caravan of 151 cars will mark the 151st anniversary of the passage of the U.S. Constitution's 15th Amendment that prohibited disenfranchisement on the basis of race or previous condition of servitude.

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