Thousands expected in Washington, D.C., to march for voting rights

Thousands are expected to flock to Washington, D.C., on Saturday to mobilize for voting rights as Congress and several states consider laws that could change access to the ballot. 

Organizers for March On for Voting Rights said the event is a way to demand “that elected officials protect democracy, denounce voter suppression and ensure fair, easy access to the vote for all through the passage of comprehensive federal legislation,” according to their website.

Aug. 28 also marks the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On that day in 1963, more than 200,000 people marched in Washington, D.C., and witnessed Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. That event is widely credited with helping pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

On Tuesday, House Democrats marked the anniversary by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act with 219 votes supporting the bill, and 212 votes, all cast by Republicans, against. This legislation is part of a larger Democratic effort to strengthen voting rights across the country. 

The For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act were introduced in Congress in 2019 and 2021, respectively. Since their introductions, both pieces of legislation have been voted on along party lines. The For the People Act awaits deliberation in the Senate with Republicans threatening to use the filibuster should it pass.

“One of the fears I have is that the idea of democracy itself is becoming a partisan idea,” said Andrea Hailey, CEO of Vote.org, a group that works to ensure enfranchisement and one of Saturday’s organizing groups. She added that if the John Lewis Act does not pass the Senate, it would be “a great blow to our democracy.”

Meanwhile on Thursday, the Texas House pushed forward a bill to restrict access to the polls that would have an outsize impact on marginalized groups, including people with disabilities and people of color, Democrats said. If the bill, which has the support of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, passes the Texas Senate, it will restrict mail-in voting, eliminate some early voting options, add criminal penalties for violations and empower partisan poll watchers.

“Voting rights are just totally and completely under attack across this country,” said Andrea Pringle, political and strategic campaigns director for March On. “Since January, 30 states have enacted 18 voting laws that take us back to the Jim Crow era.”

Hailey likened all of the policy proposals to a coordinated attack across the nation. It’s in response to the highest voter turnout the country has seen in over 100 years. But Hailey stressed that attacks on voting rights don’t just affect one group.

“These laws — people are talking about them as if it’s only affecting one group, but it’s really affecting everyone,” she said. “When you start cutting back early voting or access to drop boxes, that is something that affects everyone.”

The Drum Major Institute, a civil rights organization founded by King in 1961; labor union Service Employees International Union; 51 for 51, which is working toward statehood for Washington, D.C.; and Future Coalition, a youth-led organization focused on enfranchisement and climate, are among the dozens of organizations behind Saturday’s events in the nation’s capital and several affiliated marches nationwide.

Similar to the Women’s March’s multi-city approach, 85 marches will take place in cities and towns across the country.

“Marching is a form of nonviolent protest, so we’re marching to shine a light on the truth,” Pringle, stressing the importance of this movement, said. “So this Aug. 28 is a national day of voting rights actions.”

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