Dr King and other US civil rights leaders can't be resting well
Police arrest activists outside the US Capitol during a rally for voters' rights on Capitol Hill January 18, 2022, in Washington, DC. (PHOTO: AFP)

It's almost painful to watch the current heated debate in the United States on voting rights reform.

And the fact that this is playing out now — when that country celebrated the life of civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr on Monday — makes the debate even more stark as Dr King, more than 60 years ago, fought hard for his country to embrace the concept of equality among races and the right of blacks to vote.

In fact, we note that on Monday, during what was labelled a peace walk in Washington, DC, marchers echoed demands made by Dr King and his followers at a rally in that city in 1963: “What do we want? Voting rights! When do we want it? Now!” they chanted.

Many of the people in that crowd on Monday carried posters with Dr King's image and his now famous appeal to “Give us the ballot!” — a demand on the United States Government to enforce black Americans' right to vote nationwide, including in the then heavily segregated South.

An Agence France Presse report quotes a Reverend Wendy Hamilton, who was among the marchers, as saying, “We march because our voting rights are under attack right now. As a matter of fact, our democracy is very fragile.”

Rev Hamilton was, of course, referring to the fact that some states in that country have passed laws that Democrats have insisted make it more difficult for approximately 55 million Americans to vote. In response, Democratic legislators are urging the US Senate to pass a Freedom to Vote Act, which passed in the House of Representatives last week.

However, the Bill, we are told, faces an uphill battle as US President Joe Biden has been trying to win support from two Democratic Party senators to change a procedural rule that would allow Congress to pass the law without Republican support.

President Biden is arguing that the Bill is vital to protect American democracy against Republican attempts to exclude black and other predominantly Democratic voters through a spate of recently enacted laws at state and local levels.

On Monday, Dr King's daughter, Bernice King, used a social media platform to appeal to the Senate to pass the Bill, saying: “If these state voter suppression laws persist, the America my father dreamed about will never come to be.”

Additionally, US Vice-President Kamala Harris urged senators to pass the Bill in honour of Dr King's legacy, noting that the slain civil rights leader pushed for racial justice, economic justice, and the freedom that unlocks all others — the freedom to vote.

The vote, we are told, should be taken today, and it will be interesting to see the outcome. However, whichever way it goes the entire situation has again demonstrated that the United States remains a deeply politically polarised country. That is most unfortunate, especially given America's leading role in the international community.

Dr King and the other stalwarts of the civil rights movement who are no longer with us and who did so much to raise public consciousness and, indeed effect some amount of change, cannot be resting well at this time.

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