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St. Pete rallies, marches for improved voters rights

Mark Parker



Community activist Corey Givens Jr. gives a rousing recital of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech. Photo by Mark Parker.

Dozens of people descended on City Hall in St. Petersburg Saturday to rally and march for voters’ rights.

The event was part of the nationwide March On for Voting Rights campaign and coincided with the 58th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and legendary “I Have a Dream” speech. Similar marches and rallies were held in over 40 cities across the country, with prominent leaders such as Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III taking part. The event in St. Petersburg featured local politicians, with mayoral candidate Ken Welch speaking to the crowd, along with State Representative and congressional candidate Michele Rayner.

Community activist Corey Givens Jr. opened the rally with a rousing recital of King’s famous speech.

“For me, being a part of the voting rights march was not an option, it was an obligation,” Givens told the Catalyst. “An obligation to ensure that our democracy and our voting rights remain protected. An obligation to the people who cannot march for themselves, and an obligation to the legacies of Dr. King and Congressman Lewis.”

The March On for Voting Rights campaign demands that legislatures across the country end their push for more restrictive voting laws and that Congress passes the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Restoration Act. Many in the crowd in front of City Hall carried signs bearing slogans such as “voting should be easier – not harder,” and “enough is enough.”

Dominique De Laet, a local grassroots activist and self-described immigrant, said that “our democracy as we know it is at stake, and if we don’t fight back, it will be taken away from us.”

One slogan for the rally was “necessary trouble,” and Welch said, “it doesn’t get any more necessary than this.” He told the crowd during a brief address that if they let their voting rights be undermined, then human rights, civil rights, rights to save on affordable housing, and rights to healthcare will also suffer.

“I’m proud to stand with you here today, thank you for the work that you are doing, and let’s press on,” said Welch to a round of applause.

Rayner was the final speaker of the evening and said, “the history and foundation on which they stand” were not lost on her. She added that similar to August 28, 1963, “we are at a pivotal moment in our nation.”

“A moment we must decide who we are going to be,” said Rayner. “A point where we have to choose between comfort or progress, equity or inequity, unobstructed access to the ballots, or full-scale voter suppression. We have a choice today. We have a dream to fulfill, or we can let that dream die in darkness.”

Rayner said today’s leadership wants to keep people in darkness – even concerning Covid-19 statistics. She said today’s leaders also “want to take us back to when black and brown folks were brutalized and killed in the streets, and their blood cried out for justice, but it fell on deaf ears.”

She also lamented officials who are “making it a crime to lawfully assemble” and said that Dr. King would have been arrested and jailed for his actions today. She said despite “their racist, anti-democratic agendas … we will not let nobody turn us around.” She called for the passing of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and ending the filibuster, which she called “nothing more than a Jim Crow relic.”

“We will not be moved; we will not be turned around. We will be relentless in our quest for justice and fulfillment of ‘The Dream,’” Rayner said to rousing applause from the crowd before the march began.

The For the People Act, or H.R. 1, seeks to expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the monetary influence in politics, ban partisan gerrymandering and create new ethics rules. On March 3 of this year, the bill passed the House of Representatives along party lines. On June 22, the first vote was held in the Senate, where Republicans blocked it with a filibuster. Some Senate Democrats expressed support for abolishing the filibuster for the bill, but others expressed reservations about doing so, including President Joe Biden.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 would restore and strengthen parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, certain portions of which were struck down by two Supreme Court decisions. Notably, it would require that states clear certain changes to their voting laws with the federal government before enacting them. It passed the House of Representatives on Aug. 24, and will now need approval by the Senate before it is sent to Biden to sign it into law.




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