Cliff Albright and LaTosha Brown, co-founders of Black Voters Matter, issued this statement on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day:

“Today, we honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who once said that ‘voting rights are the foundation stone of political action.’ Dr. King’s legacy is inextricably tied to his lifelong dedication to protecting Black voting rights. It was the basis for his first Lincoln Memorial speech in 1957 – years before his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech – where he called on leaders in Washington to ‘give us the ballot.’ It was the basis for his 1965 arrest, along with those of more than 250 other activists, in Dallas County, Alabama simply for registering to vote. 

“And so, there is a cruel hypocrisy that, today, the United States Senate has taken a vacation day to acknowledge Dr. King’s legacy while two critical voting rights bills – the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act – languish on the Senate floor. Even when Dr. King’s children have called for this to be a day on, not off. Martin Luther King III has said there can be ‘no celebration without legislation.’ And Bernice King asked us to use this day to advocate for changing the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation. And so we are.

“But we should not still be fighting this fight. More than half a century after Dr. King’s passing, local and national voting rights organizations are still mobilizing our communities against the same disenfranchisement, voter suppression tactics, and Senate filibuster that he and a generation of freedom fighters took on in the sixties. Our movement has made incredible progress over the years, including unprecedented Black voter turnout in the 2020 elections. But dangerous Supreme Court decisions, a wave of state-level voter restrictions, and Senate inaction – particularly from Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema – threaten to turn back the clock on election freedom and our ability as a community to build power and make gains economically and with criminal justice reform. 

“Furthermore, let’s not be fooled by this so-called recent attempt at bipartisanship through a renewed push for the passage of the Electoral Count Act. Let’s be clear: There is no substitution for real election and voting rights reform in this country – plain and simple. And we will not sacrifice our need for voting rights to the golden calf of bipartisanship. 

“Today is not just a holiday; it’s a call to action on voting rights. If Senate Majority Leader Schumer and the rest of Senate Democrats really want to honor Dr. King’s legacy, then they must pass federal voting rights legislation immediately. And if the Republicans continue to perpetrate the big lie and aid in this slow motion insurrection, the Senate Democrats must go it alone and carve out an exception to the filibuster to pass the legislation now.”