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voting rights protest

Activists take part in a voting rights protest in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. on November 17, 2021. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

'The Time Is Now': 200 Activists Arrested While Demanding Biden, Congress Defend Voting Rights

"We are here today to send a message that President Biden must take action now to ensure the promise of our democracy and protect our freedom to vote."

Brett Wilkins

Activists on Wednesday took to the streets of Washington, D.C., where organizers said around 200 people were arrested while demanding the passage of key voting rights legislation, an end to the filibuster, and bold action from President Joe Biden in defense of an imperiled democracy.

"This movement is about ensuring that the arc of the moral universe continues to bend toward justice."

"This movement is about ensuring that the arc of the moral universe continues to bend toward justice," People for the American Way president Ben Jealous said in a reference to a famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote as he spoke outside the White House prior to his arrest.

Demonstrators called for the passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—both of which were recently sunk by Senate Republicans via the filibuster—as well as statehood for Washington, D.C., an end to partisan gerrymandering, and other democratic reforms.

The League of Women Voters (LWV), one of the demonstrator's organizers, said "roughly 200" activists were arrested at the event.

Speaking of Biden, LWV president Deborah Ann Turner told protesters, "We helped get you into office, and now you need to make good on your promise."

"Redistricting is underway without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act and the midterm elections are around the corner," said Turner, who was arrested at the demonstration. "We are here today to send a message that President Biden must take action now to ensure the promise of our democracy and protect our freedom to vote."

Speaking at the event before his arrest, Rev. Dr. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and president of Repairers of the Breach, called on Biden to "fight against the filibuster because the filibuster is being used to fight against us and to bring down democracy."

Barber asserted that "Republican extremists" including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "changed the filibuster to put Supreme Court justices on the bench for life."

"Now they... and two Democrats are using the filibuster to destroy and undermine the life of this democracy and the daily lives of people," he added, a reference to obstructionist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and another arrestee on Wednesday, said in a statement ahead of the demonstration that "our democracy is facing an existential crisis."

"We need political leaders to do everything they can to head off that existential threat," he continued. "And that means we need to do everything we can do, as well."

"We are witnessing before our eyes the coming together of a proto-fascist movement that has a categorically different disdain for democracy than anything we've seen in generations," Weissman warned. "This is connected with [former President Donald] Trump, to be sure, but it runs deeper than Trump. It is evidenced not just by the January 6 insurrection, but by the entire effort to promote the Big Lie."

"There's a lot we have to do to counter this rising fascistic strain," Weissman stressed. "The first and most important thing is to strengthen and firm up our democracy. That's why it's imperative that we win passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act."

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