Hours after the 2021 March On For Washington and Voting Rights ended on Saturday, TuJaim Berry sat on a bench at the National Mall looking exhausted after a long day of marching in the D.C. heat. In the distance was the National Monument on her left and the U.S. Capitol on her right.
Berry, who traveled to D.C. from Neptune, New Jersey, remembers voting for the first time at age 18.
“It felt very liberating,” says Berry. “It was something that I always wanted to do, exercise my right as a voter.”
In 1963, more than 200,000 people gathered here for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was then that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Two years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But 58 years after the original March on Washington, thousands marched in D.C. and cities across the country, including Phoenix, Miami and Atlanta, concerned about suppressive voting laws being passed in state legislatures. Speakers, including Dr. King’s granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, called on Congress to pass federal legislation protecting voters from discriminatory actions that would make it difficult for the most vulnerable populations to access the ballot. Though the House of Representatives passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancing Act along party lines on Aug. 24, most Senate Republicans are firmly opposed. Republicans have successfully blocked the For the People Act, which would end gerrymandering, increase transparency in campaign finance and increase access to mail-in voting.
For Berry, the new voting laws being passed in state legislatures amount to simple logic.
“If you can prevent individuals from voting then you get the majority of people you want in office,” she notes. But Berry adds that despite the obstacles that are being created, “I think it’s important for people to exercise their vote. I think it’s their duty and their right.”
But for Sirad Zahra of Boston, Saturday’s March on Washington was an opportunity to speak truth to power. She’s an organizer with the group Mass Action Against Police Brutality, which works on behalf of families impacted by police violence. They are fighting to hold accountable cops who kill.
As the sun set, she and two others loaded protest signs in a truck. Just blocks away from the White House, Zahra, in a white shirt and baggy pants, said, “Prosecution of the police is at the forefront of what we do.
“We call it voting with our feet, because there’s so many people out here who will go check their ballot, go home and wait and wait and wait and wait for years and years and there’s absolutely no change,” says Zahra.
But, the activist believes, “if you put enough political pressure on the forces nationally, locally, they have to answer to us. They have to answer to the people.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Darryl Hammary, who drove from Asbury Park, New Jersey, to attend the March. After a long day he sat on a bench less than a mile from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, wearing jeans and a Black Lives Matter T-shirt. Two men with March on Washington security T-shirts stopped to see if he wanted to load his material — a box of masks and packages of water — on their cart.
For Hammary, traveling to D.C. was about honoring those who were at the Lincoln Memorial nearly six decades ago and those who didn’t make it. There’s much at stake, he notes — freedom, justice, equality.
“People spent their [lives] fighting for our right to vote. They died. They got beat up, jailed, everything else. You follow me?,” asks Hammary. “So, if they sacrificed their [lives] for us to vote, it’s not our right, it’s our responsibility to vote.”
Copyright 2021 Capital & Main
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