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On MLK Day weekend, King family to rally for voting rights

“No celebration without legislation,” said Martin Luther King III of the January holiday.
Image: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., Feb. 12, 1965.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., Feb. 12, 1965.Horace Court / AP file

Martin Luther King Jr.’s family is planning to commemorate the January federal holiday in a new way next month: pressuring Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation.

“No celebration without legislation,” said Martin Luther King III, vowing to use his father's memory to press Congress and the White House to get voting rights bills across the finish line. “Just as they voted for a bill to deal with infrastructure, bridges, and all of the things that go along with infrastructure we are now saying use that same effort, that same focus, to pass the John Lewis bill and the Freedom to Vote Act.”

Both pieces of legislation have been blocked by Senate Republicans, and Senate Democrats have so far declined to change the rules that require 60 votes for most bills to advance. The Senate is evenly split at 50-50.

Meanwhile, some states are imposing new restrictions on access to the ballot box: At least 19 states enacted such laws last year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, and Republican lawmakers have begun to lay the groundwork for similar legislation in next year’s legislative sessions.

The King family is joined in their campaign by more than 75 groups, including including National Action Network, National Urban League, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, SEIU and MoveOn. Many of the groups have been lobbying for months for congressional action; King also led a March on Washington in August in support of federal voting legislation.

“We really believe this is a once in a generation opportunity to restore, protect, and expand his father’s legacy,” said Arndrea Waters King, who is married to Martin Luther King III.

The family plans to march across bridges in Arizona and Washington, D.C., over the holiday weekend next month, a nod to the historic civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

On Jan. 15, family members will rally in Arizona, the home state of Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who has opposed changing the Senate’s filibuster rules. Two days later, family and supporters will march across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in the nation's capital before linking up with the annual D.C. Peace Walk to commemorate the holiday.

Asked if President Joe Biden was doing enough, Martin Luther King III said, "I don't think any of us is doing enough, quite frankly."

At a Democratic National Committee event Tuesday evening, Biden said, "We have to focus on the single most sacred right we have: the right to vote."

"Each and every time Senate Republicans blocked the way. They’re afraid, even just to debate the bills,” he added.