"Voting is the foundation stone for political action.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On Monday, Americans across the country will celebrate two major national events: Martin Luther King Jr. Day (MLK Day) and the 57th U.S. Presidential Inauguration.
Each MLK Day, we honor the invaluable contributions to democracy made by Dr. Martin Luther King, the only non-president to have a federal holiday dedicated in his honor. King is largely responsible for passage of the monumental Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 – legislation the League has long championed – which insures that no federal, state or local government can prevent individuals from voting based on race or ethnicity.
This year, MLK Day will be celebrated as an estimated 600,000-800,000 people will gather in the nation’s capital to witness the 57th U.S. Presidential Inauguration. A tradition since George Washington’s inauguration over 200 years ago, the ceremony will present the public swearing-in of President Barack Obama as well as the President’s Inaugural Address.
As we honor these two milestones on Monday, we must remember that Dr. King’s work is not yet done. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, roughly 21 million Americans are at risk of becoming disenfranchised as a result of ongoing voter suppression and intimidation tactics. The League continues to fight for voters’ rights: In September, I testified on Capitol Hill against attempts to weaken laws that protect voters’ core constitutional right to vote and fundamental American values, and Leagues across the country helped ensure that hundreds of thousands of voters could cast their ballot this past election cycle.
In his January 2009 Inaugural Address, President Obama noted, “…[E]verywhere we look, there is work to be done.” Today, this assertion still rings true. In his acceptance speech following Election Day, Obama acknowledged the issues faced by voters across the country, some of whom waited in lines for up to nine hours. “We have to fix that,” he said. The League couldn’t agree more, and we’ve identified four concrete solutions.
It has been nearly half a century since the passage of the VRA, yet we are still engaged in Dr. King’s fight for the right to vote, and his work remains more important than ever. As we approach Inauguration Day, we call on President Obama to hold to his promise and work to strengthen voters’ rights, and we urge you to join the fight as well.