Marching for Voting Rights in D.C. (photos)

“The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another….”

These words were written by Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, whose pen famously helped pave the way for American independence.

Washington, D.C., was the epicenter of a national show of force on Saturday, Aug. 28, as activists demonstrated around the country in support of voting rights. On this date 58 years ago, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial which preceded by two years the passage of the the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark law forbidding racial discrimination in voting.

In 2013, voting rights took a major step backward as the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County vs. Holder, in a 5-4 decision, struck down a formula at the heart of the Voting Rights Act that required certain states and localities with a history of discrimination against minority voters to have any changes relating to voting cleared by the federal government before going into effect. In his opinion on Shelby, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “The conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.”

But the Chief Justice’s words were instantly contradicted by a wave of state-level restrictions on voting that have only picked up pace since the 2020 election cycle. Recent legislative proposals have taken an uglier turn from voter suppression to the realm of voter nullification by granting partisan state legislators the right to overturn election results.

Congress has the power to alter this course, however. The For the People Act would mitigate the effect of many state-level restrictions; and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would protect voters by preventing new discriminatory laws from being implemented. Both have passed the Democratic-majority House, but Republicans show every intention of killing them in the Senate unless there is a change to filibuster rules which require a supermajority of 60 votes for passage.

Many marchers also called for D.C. statehood as a means of securing their rights. In their call to march, DC Vote said, “It’s been 58 years since the March on Washington when Dr. King shared his dreams of equality, civil rights, and justice with us. Now, our voting rights are once again under attack. Since January, 48 states have introduced 389 bills that amount to shameful, outright voter suppression, and many have already become law. The For the People Act, which would take major steps to strengthen our democracy, is stalled in the Senate. And we still don’t have Statehood for the 700,000+ residents of DC.”

American democracy may indeed be at a crossroads. To echo the words of Thomas Paine: “these are the times that try men’s souls.”

And the stakes could not be higher. 


View Jeff Malet’s photographs from the “March On for Voting Rights” in Washington, D.C., by clicking on the photo icons below.


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