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Florida Dems Call Out Politicians Quoting MLK On Holiday But Support Voter Restrictions

MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) - Some Florida Democrats are calling out politicians who are quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the holiday, but support voter suppression.

"It is shameful that across the country –and Florida is of course no exception– elected officials at every level are quoting and tweeting about Dr. King today, but choose to stand in the way of progress forward the other 364 days of the year. This moment calls for real ACTION on voting rights," said state Senator Shevrin Jones in a statement.

He went on to say it was important for people to let their voices be heard.

"I urge everyone to get off of the sidelines, engage in the process, and call on the U.S. Senate to urgently pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and Freedom to Vote Act. Without voting rights for every American, nothing else – be it the promise of economic opportunity, quality education, safe housing, access to healthcare – is possible," he said.

The Florida Democratic Party echoed Jones' sentiment.

'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,' Dr. King said. His legacy compels us to act, to vindicate our rights, fight for economic freedom and protect our democracy. Today, we continue to face voting rights attacks from our Governor and legislature and a disregard for meaningful action to improve the economic conditions of our people, shielded by cultural wars meant to distract us," its executive director Marcus Dixon said in a statement.

Dr. King Jr.'s family has a message for Democratic lawmakers who refuse to stop their Republican counterparts' voter suppression efforts yet intend to shower praise on the slain civil rights leader's legacy this holiday weekend: Save it.

King's son and the members of more than 80 grassroots organizations recently stressed that there ought to be "no celebration without legislation."

Their statement arrives at a time when racial justice activists are intensifying their calls for President Joe Biden to demand that Senate Democrats alter the chamber's rules and pass voting rights legislation -- before the GOP makes it impossible to have fair elections.

"President Biden and Congress used their political muscle to deliver a vital infrastructure deal," Martin Luther King III said. "And now we are calling on them to do the same to restore the very voting rights protections my father and countless other civil rights leaders bled to secure."

More than six decades ago, his father spoke about the fundamental importance of the right to vote.

"So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself," King Jr. said in his "Give Us the Ballot" speech in May 1957. "I cannot make up my mind -- it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact -- I can only submit to the edict of others."

Organizers had gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, for the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom -- which drew nearly 25,000 supporters -- to push lawmakers to uphold the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

King Jr. was the last to speak. But his words to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Congress were powerful.

"The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition. And so our most urgent request to the President of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote," King Jr. said.

"The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition. And so our most urgent request to the President of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote," King Jr. said.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first federal civil rights legislation passed since Reconstruction, authorized the government to take legal measures to prevent citizens from being denied voting rights. But it wouldn't be until 1965 that Congress would pass the Voting Rights Act.

Though King Jr. called the law "a great step forward in removing all of the remaining obstacles to the right to vote," fear and voter intimidation tactics persisted in some jurisdictions.

Today, his family and other civil rights leaders continue a battle many thought American voters had won.

"Like those who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, we will not accept empty promises in pursuit of my father's dream for a more equal and just America," Martin Luther King III said.

He repeated these sentiments last Tuesday, saying to CNN, "We will not be satisfied -- any of us, in a number of communities -- until we have the John Lewis bill as well as the Freedom to Vote bill passed."

Lawmakers in at least 19 states passed 34 laws between January 1 and December 7 of last year that make it harder for people, especially Black Americans and other people of color, to vote, per New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice. These laws limit absentee ballots and impose additional ID requirements, among other things.

And yet, despite such obvious political machinations, Democratic lawmakers have failed to pass legislation that might protect the sanctity of the ballot box.

In the 50-50 US Senate, Republicans have choked off the two Democratic-sponsored bills: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. Democrats don't have the 60 votes necessary to overcome the filibuster and advance most legislation, a situation that's led progressive Democrats and activists to call for the elimination of a tool that's long been used to thwart racial equality.

But Democrats don't have the votes required to end or reform the filibuster, either. Further, they face obstruction within their party. Apparently unmoved by the erosion of US democracy, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have said, repeatedly, that they have no interest in changing the filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said last Thursday that the Senate will take up voting rights legislation on Tuesday. Even so, voting rights advocates have made plain their frustrations with Democratic leaders, many of whom have moved at a glacial pace to protect the rights of the constituents who in 2020 and 2021 delivered wins to the one major party not committed to assaulting multiracial democracy.

(©2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report.)

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