January 15, 2024

Honor MLK Through Exercising Your Right to Vote


by Jeana Whitaker

Sixty years ago, in the summer of 1964, thousands of students and a coalition of civil rights groups gathered in Mississippi intent on registering African American voters.  They were met with unyielding violence as people were beaten, attacked, and murdered. Homes, businesses, and churches were bombed and burned to the ground.  Not to be deterred, people kept moving and fought for the right to vote without fear of intimidation.

A year later, in March of 1965, in an effort to register voters in Alabama, 600 people marched 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery.  They, too, were confronted with violence as state troopers wielding whips, nightsticks, and tear gas rushed the group on the Edmund Pettus Bridge (named after the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan) and fervently attacked and beat them until they retreated.  This spurred over 2,000 people to head to Selma and join the protesters in another march two weeks later.  They walked for four days and slept in fields until they reached the state capitol just to register to vote. 

Finally, in August of that year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which guaranteed all citizens of the United States the right to vote, was passed by Congress.  It outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting.

International Voter Registration Day and Dr. King’s Birthday Converge

It’s no accident that International Voter Registration Day and Dr. King’s birthday converge on the same day. It serves as a poignant reminder that throughout our history, the right to vote has been something that people have died to attain, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Republicans have been working to suppress voter engagement in minority communities for many years.  From creating poll taxes and mandatory literacy tests during the days of Jim Crow laws to the death threats faced by election workers counting legal votes and gerrymandering district lines, Republicans will not stop trying every available tactic to keep people from voting.  This is why it is essential that every American of voting age partake in the voting process.  If Donald Trump, “the day-one dictator,” is put back into office, we may lose our democratic system and our right to vote altogether.

Dr. King called the right to vote “one of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.” Fifty years before Donald Trump’s big lie of a stolen election, King said those who oppose voting rights are people who “gain prominence and power by the dissemination of false ideas and by deliberately appealing to the deepest hate response within the human mind.”  Yet, regardless of the danger and the sacrifices, King encouraged all Americans to “keep moving amid every obstacle.”    

The Right to Vote is the Cornerstone of Democracy

The fight for every American to have the opportunity to vote and participate in our democratic government is not something just from the history books.  It is an enduring fight that we cannot ignore.

Two years ago, President Biden stood before students at Atlanta University and reminded them that protecting the right to vote is the cornerstone of democracy.  “Recognizing the fundamental right to vote is the right from which all other rights flow, “ he said.  “The goal of the former president and his allies is to disenfranchise anyone who votes against them. Simple as that.  The facts won’t matter; your vote won’t matter.  They’ll just decide what they want and then do it.”

Less than two weeks after President Biden’s speech, Republicans blocked the John Lewis Freedom to Vote Act, which would have restored the protections from discriminatory practices that were stripped away by the Supreme Court in 2013.  Since Trump’s defeat in 2020, Republicans have passed laws in various states to further suppress minority communities, including making it illegal to give someone water while they stand in line to vote, reducing the number of ballot drop-off locations, and restricting how and when Americans living abroad can cast their ballots.  If you live overseas, it’s important to register to vote and request your ballot early to ensure your vote counts.  Democrats Abroad is here to help with the process of registration and requesting your ballot, regardless of party affiliation. 

To keep democracy alive, to honor MLK and all that was fought for during the civil rights movement, and to keep your rights as an American, no matter where you live, it is essential that you exercise your right to vote.  Please register to vote and request your 2024 ballot today.  Democracy needs your vote.

RSVP today to join us for a special conversation celebrating the life and work of Martin Luther King.
Go to VoteFromAbroad to register to vote and request your ballot for the 2024 U.S. election.