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U.S. Capitol Hill Police officers escort one of the hundreds of clergy and working people arrested outside the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on August 2, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Hundreds Arrested in DC Demanding Voting Rights, End to Poverty, and Death of Filibuster

Clergy and low-wage workers with the Poor People's Campaign are also calling on Congress to treat the nation's immigrants with respect.

Jessica Corbett

Leaders of the national Poor People's Campaign and Rev. Jesse Jackson were among hundreds of people arrested in Washington, D.C. during a direct action Monday led by clergy and low-wage workers from across the country.

The "Moral Monday" event—which follows last week's 27-mile, four-day march in Texas, one of several states where GOP lawmakers have attacked voting rights this year—elevated demands for congressional action to protect ballot access and improve the lives of working people.

Participants in the action chanted "Which side are you on?" and "What do we want? End the filibuster! When do we want it? Now!"

Campaign co-chair Rev. Dr. William Barber II said the action was directed at lawmakers including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who are denying Democrats the simple majority necessary to abolish the filibuster and advance key legislation without the GOP.

"Which side are you on?" asked Barber. "Get on the justice side! Get on the freedom side! Get on the side of voting rights and economic justice! This is your moment."

The campaign has five specific demands for Congress, with a deadline of August 6, the 56th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the last day before the Senate's planned recess:

  • Restoration of the full Voting Rights Act;
  • Passage of the For the People's Act;
  • An end to the filibuster;
  • An increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour; and
  • Fair and respectful treatment of the nation's 11 million immigrants.

"We are witnessing a political insurrection to achieve what domestic terrorists failed to do on January 6," said Barber and fellow co-chair Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, referencing the right-wing attack on the U.S. Capitol. "We are demanding an end to the filibuster to protect democracy and enactment of policies that the vast majority of Americans support."

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, lawmakers in 49 states have introduced over 400 voter suppression bills this year—and at least 30 measures across 18 states have passed.

Citing some of those figures, Barber and Theoharis said that "we see the connection between this attack on voting rights and all of the other issues that impact the 140 million poor and low-income people in this country."

The campaign, which has targeted U.S. senators with a national call-in day and other direct actions in recent weeks, vows to protest at state capitals "if their demands aren't met, beginning with ending the racist and retrogressive filibuster so the government can govern."

Theoharis said she was "proud" to be arrested with Barber and Jackson, while Barber tweeted that "even at 79 years old, Rev. Jesse Jackson is a general in this nonviolent moral army for justice, truth, and love. I'm honored to stand again with him in these D.C. streets to protest the filibuster and for voting rights and economic justice."

Religion News Service's Jack Jenkins reported that "as Jackson is taken away, cheers erupt," and posted on Twitter photos of the long line of people waiting to be arrested:

Along with people in wheelchairs and walkers, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Ezra Levin, co-executive director of the advocacy group Indivisible, were among those arrested Monday.

Levin tweeted that "everybody but the cops are wearing masks" and highlighted the participation of relatives of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the Voting Rights Act into law in 1965.

Luci Baines Johnson, one of the late president's daughters, reportedly told the crowd that "today we are in crisis" and called for the passage of the For the People Act as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The demonstration came as more than 100 state lawmakers from across the country converged on D.C. to join Texas Democrats who fled Austin to block voter suppression legislation. Echoing recent demands from advocacy groups, the legislators are calling on the Senate to delay their scheduled summer recess to pass the House-approved For the People Act.

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