Thousands marched across the District Saturday to call for D.C. statehood and increased protections for voting rights.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III, the son of the 1960s civil rights leader, led the March On for Voting Rights from McPherson Square to the National Mall. The event, held on the 58th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, rallied civil rights leaders in the midst of increased scrutiny of voting rights across the country.
“Stand up and fight back,” Sharpton said during his speech. “Don’t you get tired. Don’t you get weary. We can win.”
Figures like Mayor Muriel Bowser called on Congress to admit the District as a state and to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, named after the late congressman and civil rights leader. Bowser called on the Senate to pass the statehood bill after the House of Representatives approved it earlier this year.
“So many Americans don’t know our plight,” Bowser said. “We are Americans. We pay taxes. We pay more taxes than 22 states and more per capita than any one of them. We send our people to war to fight for democracy.”
King and Sharpton led protestors past the White House, Black Lives Matter Plaza and the National Museum of African American History and Culture before settling into the National Mall for more than three hours. Sharpton said they chose to have the U.S. Capitol building as the march’s backdrop instead of the Lincoln Memorial — where the 1963 march ended — to remind attendees to engage with their representatives.
About 20,000 people attended the march, The Hill reported.
Lula Carter said she decided to participate in the march to let her representatives and senators know that they need to pass long-due protections for voting rights that were pushed for in 1963.
“Believe it or not, after 58 years, we’re still fighting for the same rights that our older generations of my family and others brought forward 58 years ago,” she said while marching down 15th Street. “And it’s sad that we’re still doing the same thing today.”
A spotlight has shone on the battle over voting rights since the 2020 presidential election last year, with more than a dozen states enacting bills that increase restrictions for voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
The voting rights bill named after Lewis, the former congressman, passed the House last week and awaits action in the Senate. If passed, the bill would revise the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and mandate that certain jurisdictions with past histories of racial voting discrimination receive approval from the U.S. Justice Department before changing their voting laws.
Freshman Abbie Chipps attended the kick-off event at McPherson Square with several other freshmen from GW. She said she had attended activist events in her hometown of Seattle, but this is the first time she has researched the push for D.C. statehood.
“It’s really important for us to show our support for those who actually live in Washington, D.C. beyond just four years,” Chipps said.
Brady Dye, a sophomore at Howard University, said the march was one of the first large-scale in-person events he has attended since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“It’s weird after a year and a half of a pandemic, but it’s nice to be able to be at an event like this, feel good, speak out about something I believe in,” he said.
Dye said he hopes the march will encourage lawmakers to “do the right thing” and end the filibuster in the Senate.
The voting rights bill is considered unlikely to pass the Senate with Republicans standing in opposition and able filibuster the bill, preventing a vote. Moderate Democratic senators like Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) have resisted calls to end the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation.
“If they end the filibuster that opens up a whole world of possibilities,” Dye said.