‘We have to make sure that the things that we have fought for don’t get taken away’

Illustration by Emma Crevier

By Ken Coleman, Michigan Advance

Some Michigan residents were among thousands rallying Saturday in the nation’s capital to protest a recent legislation they say suppresses voter rights, particularly for people of color and young people.

The Rev. Charles Williams II, Michigan National Action Network chair, addressed the gathering in Washington, D.C.

“In 2021, we’re going to keep this fight alive over our bodies,” said Williams. “We will not allow them to take our vote. We will not allow them to ignore our cause.”

The event, called the March on for Voting Rights, took place on the 58th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his seminal “I Have a Dream” speech. 

The event was organized by the National Action Network led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Similar events were held in Atlanta, Miami and Phoenix.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4,), named for the late Georgia U.S. House member and civil rights leader, is designed to restore the Voting Rights Act. It passed along party lines by the U.S. House on Tuesday, with no Republicans voting for the measure. It now heads to a divided Senate, where Democrats do not have the votes to stop a filibuster from Republicans. A previous version of H.R. 4 passed in the U.S. House last session, but stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Additionally, 18 states have enacted 30 laws this year that will make it harder for Americans to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy organization with offices in New York City and Washington, D.C. 

In Michigan, Senate Republicans introduced a 39-bill package in March. Measures included an aim to bar unsolicited mass mailing of absentee ballot applications, ban pre-paid postage on absentee ballot envelopes for absentee ballots, constrain the hours people are allowed to drop off their ballots in boxes and require video surveillance of drop boxes across the state.

State Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), vice chair of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, attended the event with her daughter and tweeted about the event.

Girlchild & I getting into #GoodTrouble sitting on the steps to the Lincoln Memorial watching & listening to the speakers on this historic day at the #MarchForVotingRights#MarchOnWashington pic.twitter.com/ig4TAWggrO

— State Senator Erika Geiss (SD06) (@SenErikaGeiss) August 28, 2021

Geiss told the Advance on Monday that voting rights remains an important issue in America.

“We keep saying that we don’t want to keep having these same fights in the future, but it also means that we have to remain vigilant. We can’t be complacent,” said Geiss. “We have to make sure that the things that we have fought for don’t get taken away.”

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, has said the state bills could potentially expose voters who sent in a copy of their photo ID for an absentee ballot to identity theft. Benson also criticized the bill’s erasure of signed and sworn affidavits, saying the erasure of the provision will “only increase the number of votes that never get counted.”

Joe Madison, a former Detroit NAACP executive director and current Washington, D.C.-based national radio talk show host, moderated the weekend event. During the rally, Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and Detroit native, called on the U.S. Senate to act on H.R. 4. 

“If you can find the political will to put $2 trillion into Afghanistan for 20 years, there is no way in hell why we should get an excuse to why you can’t protect the vote?” he said.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: [email protected]. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.