The family of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on the day commemorating his life and legacy on the need to strengthen voting rights in the United States — with some deriding specific Democratic Party lawmakers for failing to recognize the seriousness of the matter in their prolonged defense of the Senate filibuster.
Leading a peace walk in Washington, D.C., on Monday, King’s family, including his 13-year-old granddaughter, directed much of their criticism toward two centrist Democrats, Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), who have said they won’t support changes to the filibuster rule in order to pass voting rights legislation.
“Senator Sinema, Senator Manchin, our future hinges on your decision,” Yolanda Renee King said, “and history will remember what choice you make.”
“Our rights are on the line. This fight is personal for me — it’s our future,” she added.
King’s son, Martin Luther King III, also addressed the two right-wing Democratic lawmakers, noting that the King family didn’t buy their arguments that protecting the filibuster would help to heal political divisions in Washington, and that the idea likely would not have been supported by the civil rights icon himself, were he alive today.
“They think the real problem isn’t that our rights are being stolen — they think the real problem is a disease of division that can be cured with some optimism and conversation,” King said. “My father worked to bring people together…. But he knew that when someone is denying you your fundamental rights, conversation and optimism won’t get you very far.”
“You were successful with infrastructure, which was a great thing,” King added, referencing the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed last year. “But we need you to use that same energy to ensure that all Americans have the unencumbered right to vote.”
Democrats are forging ahead with a plan to force the issue of filibuster reform to be addressed later this week, as they continue to push legislation meant to strengthen voting rights and combat restrictive laws that Republican-led states across the nation are enacting. The plan, however, is all but doomed to fail due to continued opposition from Manchin and Sinema to changing the Senate rule.
Still, many Democrats say it’s necessary to showcase where Republican senators stand on the issue of voting rights — and to perhaps highlight where their own centrist members stand, too.
“We all have to be recorded at this moment in time about where are we in protecting the right to vote,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) over the weekend.
Last week, Sinema tried to insist that she is not opposed to a “legislative response” to state-level voting restrictions, but she also said she cannot “support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division.”
On Monday, Sinema also tweeted a message in recognition of the federal holiday.
“Today we remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Sinema wrote.
That social media post was largely met with derision from several quarters. Many political observers pointed out that King himself was no defender of the filibuster, particularly when it came to recognizing and protecting the right to vote.
“I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting,” King said himself in 1963. “They won’t let the majority of Senators vote.”