Martin Luther King Prayer Vigil and a Message to Mitt Romney

9 mins read

Last night, the NAACP of Utah held a prayer vigil on the eve of Martin Luther King Day.

I was honored to be asked to speak, and I had a message for Senator Romney.

“On May 17, 1957, Dr. King spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 

He implored the president and Congress to ensure voting rights for African Americans and indicted both parties for betraying the cause of justice. 

“The Democrats have betrayed it by capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic process of southern Democrats.” 

Today, it’s Senators Joe Manchin and Kristen Sinema betraying justice for a Senate rule meant to enshrine the rights of the minority party while state legislatures across the country are trying to crush the minority vote. 

Dr. King went on to say, “Republicans have betrayed it by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of the right wing.” Things haven’t changed in the last 65 years. 

Today we are poised to step backwards in the fight for civil and voting rights. The retreat is evident right now across the country in the push to pass radical anti-voting laws and the Republican effort to make it harder for people to vote and to have that vote counted. 

Not only have anti-voting rights schemes reached dangerous proportions on the eve of Martin Luther King Day, so has radical right-wing rhetoric. 

Last year 34 bills in 19 states were enacted attacking the right to vote. Hundreds more have been introduced in state legislatures with the bottom line to disenfranchise black and brown voters. 

Dr. King called for a “President and members of Congress to provide a strong moral and courageous leadership for a situation that cannot be permanently evaded.”

Today, we have a lack of moral courage in our elected officials here in Utah. Senator Romney was raised by his father: George Romney, a champion of civil and voting rights. Who went not only against his own party, but his faith as well to uphold his moral convictions. 

George Romney supported voting rights. His words spoken in 1964 still ring true today: “Just as some have misused the banner of states rights we are also confronted in America with some who would confuse liberty and license. Without concern for the facts, they sow seeds of hate, suspicion and violence. They would make a charge of disloyalty about those who disagree with them. The rights of some must not be enjoyed by denying the rights of others. Neither can we permit states rights at the expense of human rights.” 

It seems George Romney was speaking directly to his son at this moment right now. Senator Romney, it is time to live up to your father’s legacy and protect the right to vote. 

Senator Romney’s actions this past week are reminiscent of the white moderate in Dr.. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” A senator who claims to support voting rights but stands against the only vehicle that secures voting rights is no better than the white moderate of Dr. King’s day that is “more devoted to order than justice.” 

Throughout our history, Americans, led by Black leaders such as Martin Luther King and John Lewis, have protested, marched and even sacrificed their lives to be able to cast their ballot. Every senator who fails to rise up and protect the right to vote will contribute to the irreversible fall of American democracy. Each senator must choose what side they are on: that of the American people or the side of the anti-voter laws silencing the voices of Americans across the country. Failure to deliver voting rights legislation to the American people will put senators on the wrong side of history

And once again, here we are, still fighting for the right to vote. And once again, that fight is being led by Black community leaders. Betty Sawyer and Darlene McDonald are just a few here locally. Then there are the leaders like LaTosha Brown, Stacey Abrams, Cliff Albright and the King family that is carrying on the family legacy.

I am here today because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And I am here to say that in this fight, you have allies by your side. 

We are on the cusp of passing the most comprehensive voting right reform since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. We are in this position because of the sit-ins at the White House, where hundreds were arrested fighting for this bill. We are in this position because 45 faith leaders staged a hunger strike to make this bill the number 1 priority.  We are in this position because activists from across the country have stood up and said no more, we need voting rights now. 

The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act will safeguard our democratic freedoms for generations to come. It will ensure that voters can safely and freely cast their ballots, protect against election sabotage, stop partisan gerrymandering, and limit the influence of dark money in politics so that billionaires can’t buy elections.

Last week we saw some maneuvering that will allow the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act be brought up for debate in the Senate without being subjected to the filibuster. So starting on Tuesday, senators will have to go on record where they stand on voting rights. They will also have to go on record as to whether they will protect the right to vote or they will let a Senate rule stand in the way of progress.

Now the pundits and naysayers like to say that this bill is already dead, before a single vote has been cast. 

They like to say that there is no way we can get this done. To those I say: No transformative piece of legislation has ever been easy. It does not come without a fight. 

Martin Luther King did not give up.

John Lewis, bloodied and beaten, did not give up. 

And we will not give up. The right to vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool in a democratic society. And that is why people are fighting so hard to take that vote away. 

So it is time for us to get into trouble, necessary trouble, good trouble. Call Romney, call Lee, call your state representative and let no one silence your voice or take away your vote.” 

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