Religious leaders arrested in Capitol while demanding restoration of Voting Rights Act

It's the second week of the six-week revival of the Poor People's Campaign.

Rev. William Barber and Rev. Jesse Jackson begin their march into the U.S. Capitol, May 21, 2018. (CREDIT: Kira Lerner)
Rev. William Barber and Rev. Jesse Jackson begin their march into the U.S. Capitol, May 21, 2018. (CREDIT: Kira Lerner)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Revs. Jesse Jackson, William Barber, and other prominent religious leaders were arrested for demonstrating in the U.S. Capitol on Monday, demanding the restoration of the Voting Rights Act and the end of racial gerrymandering.

Dozens of others were also arrested across the country as part of the second week of protests organized by the revival of the Poor People’s Campaign, a movement that originated in 1968 with Martin Luther King Jr. at the helm. The campaign, a coalition of progressives and faith-based organizations, plans to hold demonstrations and risk arrest every Monday for six weeks.

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At a rally ahead of the demonstration in the Capitol Rotunda, Barber drew a connection between systemic racism and policies that suppress voters of color.

“America’s democracy was under attack long before the 2016 election by racist voter suppression and gerrymandering, which are tools of white supremacy designed to perpetuate systemic racism,” he said. “These laws target people of color but hurt Americans of all races by allowing politicians to get elected who block living wages, deny union rights, roll back Medicaid, attack immigrants, and underfund public education.”

Throughout the six weeks, Barber and the other organizers hope to draw attention to the policies and laws that keep 140 million Americans trapped in poverty. On Monday, voting advocates highlighted how racial gerrymandering, voter ID laws, an other suppressive voting measures keep people of color from gaining political power.

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Since 2010, 23 states have passed voter suppression laws, the Poor People’s Campaign noted, including redistricting laws and measures that block certain voters from the polls, like cuts to early voting days and opportunities, voter ID laws, and purges of the voter rolls.

Jimmie Hawkins, a pastor with an African American Presbyterian church in North Carolina, testified in court hearings in 2015 against North Carolina’s voting law that an appeals court later found targeted black voters with “almost surgical precision.” On Monday, he joined the demonstration to argue that lifting Americans out of poverty involves eliminating voting laws like the one overturned in his state.

“Those who have the most to lose when they are not unable to vote should not have barriers placed before them when they try to vote,” he said.

A demonstrator on the Capitol lawn. (CREDIT: Kira Lerner)

David Goodman, whose brother Andrew was murdered by the KKK 54 years ago next month while he was participating in the Freedom Summer, also spoke at the rally about the voter intimidation and suppression his brother was fighting.

“Here we are, again, dealing with the same issue,” he said, pointing to the Supreme Court which gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. “The struggle for which my brother died for is not over.”

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As they marched, two by two, from the Capitol lawn into the rotunda, the demonstrators held signs reading, “Voter Suppression = The True Hacking of Our Democracy” and remained silent because, as Barber and Jackson noted, people in power want them to be silenced.