Anti-poverty advocates urge Congress to act on voting rights, minimum wage, filibuster

By Ariana Figueroa, Michigan Advance

The Poor People’s Campaign announced on Monday the beginning of a weeks-long push calling on Congress to end the Senate filibuster and pass voting rights legislation.

The anti-poverty campaign, “A Season of Nonviolent Moral Direct Action,” will run each Monday until Aug. 2. Advocates are urging Congress to enact the sweeping “For the People Act,” an elections overhaul which passed in the House with the backing of Democrats but was blocked by Republicans in the Senate.

Advocates also want the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, which was gutted in a 2013 Supreme Court decision, and passage of an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

On Monday, the campaign focused on a massive call-in to every member of the U.S. Senate.

“This is not just a Black civil rights issue,” Bishop William J. Barber II, the co-chairman of the Poor People’s Campaign, said. “It’s also an issue for everyone who cares about democracy. Our democracy is at stake.”

Barber called on President Joe Biden to travel to Arizona and West Virginia to make the case there for ending the filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation. Two Senate Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, have publicly voiced their opposition to eliminating the filibuster, a Senate procedural requirement that a bill meet a 60-vote threshold to advance rather than a simple majority.

“Which side are you on?” Barber asked, referring to Sinema and Manchin. “What is happening in the Senate is an attack not just on Black people, but on everyone, especially poor and low-wage people, and on democracy itself.”

Throughout the year, Democrats have held multiple hearings on voting rights, with the most recent one about the “John Lewis Voting Rights Act” named in honor of Lewis, a civil rights icon and longtime Georgia congressman who died last year.

The  act would restore a pre-clearance formula set by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was struck down by the Supreme Court. The pre-clearance formula required states with a history of implementing discriminatory voting laws to get federal approval before making any changes to voting laws.

According to the Brennan Center, as of May, Republican legislators have introduced 389 bills with restrictive voting provisions in 48 states. Of those, 22 bills have been enacted, with 61 bills in 18 states still pending.

Barber also urged the president to visit Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called a special session to pass a restrictive voting law. State Democrats are planning to flee the state for several weeks to prevent a quorum to block the special assembly.

They are making their way to Washington, D.C. to lobby congressional Democrats to pass the “For the People Act.”

The Biden administration has raised concerns about states passing restrictive voting laws and recently directed the Justice Department to file suit against Georgia’s new law.

Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris also announced that the Democratic National Committee will spend $25 million to protect voting rights.

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