PHOENIX — As the nation prepares to mark the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., some members of his family are spending it in conservative-leaning Arizona to mobilize support for languishing federal voting rights legislation.
Martin Luther King III; his wife, Arndrea Waters King; and their daughter Yolanda Renee King, 13, took part Saturday in an on-the-ground campaign for voting rights in Phoenix. They marched with local activists and supporters from Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, a predominantly Black church, and speak about the importance of “no celebration without legislation.”
“Our daughter has less rights around voting than she had when she was born,” King, the civil rights leader’s oldest son, said in an interview. “I can’t imagine what my mother and father would say about that. I’m sure they’re turning over and over in their graves about this.”
Arizona is one of 19 states that have passed over 30 state voting laws in the last year — including a ban on giving water to voters in long lines, and stricter ballot signature requirements — that King called “draconian.” They make it harder for people to vote, especially people of color, he said.
Another reason the family chose to appear in Arizona is to send a message to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat.
President Joe Biden had implored Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, to end the filibuster that requires support from 60 of 100 senators to pass most legislation.
But Sinema poured cold water on the voting rights legislation Thursday, making clear in a dramatic speech on the Senate floor that she would not alter filibuster rules so it could move forward. The filibuster, she said, forces bipartisan cooperation. Otherwise, Republicans could just repeal and replace whenever they rise to power.
“We must address the disease itself, the disease of division, to protect our democracy,” said Sinema, drawing disappointment from fellow Democrats.
Sinema was jeered by some of the hundreds of people attending Saturday’s rally after the Rev. Warren Stewart, a prominent Black clergy member and activist, said she was among "those ... who would hide behind procedure.”
According to King, Simena cannot simultaneously express support for the bills and block their path.