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Editorial, 1/16: MLK Day is good time to talk voting rights

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Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Rally and March

Siblings Makhi (from left), Azciá and Malik Fleming lead marchers to the Capitol as part of the 25th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Rally and March on Monday.

“Let us march on ballot boxes, march on ballot boxes until race baiters disappear from the political arena ... Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.”

So spoke Martin Luther King, Jr. on March 25, 1965, rallying protesters on the final day of the march from Selma to Montgomery to defend democracy from racism, physical assault and efforts to suppress and prevent voting.

The march, which began earlier that month with “Bloody Sunday,” during which the late Rep. John Lewis was beaten and bloodied by white Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, was an effort to pressure President Lyndon Johnson and Congress to enact national voting rights legislation.

Voting rights, for King and his followers, and, in reality all Americans, are civil rights and, with the self-determination of our democracy, a fundamental human right.

The march from Selma, and King’s determined activism, worked as Johnson proposed and the Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory practices designed to keep Blacks away from the polls, including bureaucratic impediments like poll taxes.

Sadly, King’s rallying cry from 57 years ago presciently rings true today as our democracy is again under assault from those who refuse to accept the results of an election and are attempting through the courts and legislation to roll back the Voting Rights Act and make it harder for many to vote.

The fight for voting rights and free, fair elections, King said, in another speech, is incumbent on Americans, who for decades proclaimed the United States as the world’s beacon of democracy.

“America must begin the struggle for democracy at home. The advocacy of free elections in Europe by American officials is hypocrisy when free elections are not held in great sections of America.”

Appropriately, President Joe Biden cited King as he challenged the country’s elected leaders to do the right thing for democracy as the U.S. Senate considers new voting rights acts and state legislators, including those in Nebraska, confront legislation aimed at restricting and suppressing the vote.

“Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?” Biden asked in his Georgia speech last week. “Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? This is the moment to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.”

Individual citizens should ponder Biden's query as well. And, as we remember King on the holiday established in his honor, we should heed his rallying cry and again pressure Congress and the Legislature to preserve, protect and defend our precious right to vote and our democracy.

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