September 7, 2021
Upon the death of beloved civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis, many of the individuals to whom this letter is addressed expressed sadness at the nation’s loss and admiration for his committed and selfless public service. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, many posted some of Dr. King’s famous quotes on social media and attended events in his honor.
As three people who are closely connected to these great leaders and to the movement for which they fought and bled, we appreciate the gesture. But today we invite you to take much more meaningful action to honor their legacies by passing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act.
The election in November 2020 was a landmark moment in civic engagement: Nearly 160 million Americans cast a ballot, the highest turnout in modern American history. But as soon as the election cycle ended, several states began passing laws that restrict voting. As of this writing, 18 states have passed 30 laws that make it more difﬁcult for Americans to vote.
Those affected are your constituents. Black, Brown, Indigenous, poor, elderly and rural voters all stand to lose without the federal protection that many of you have previously—and wisely—voted to uphold and expand, but now dismiss.
There seems to be a fundamental disagreement about whether this legislation is needed. In the spirit of Dr. King and your esteemed colleague John Lewis—whom we all admire—we are requesting a meeting with you to discuss this as expeditiously as possible.
Voting is the bedrock of democracy, and each of you understands this. The public also understands; a majority of Americans from both parties support these bills, and tens of thousands marched in the streets across America to show their support on August 28. That not only tells us how your constituents want you to vote—it also tells us how the judgment of history will someday render its verdict. Dr. King, John Lewis, Rev. CT Vivian and many more live on because they stood on the side of truth and on the right side of history. We would wish the same for any member of Congress who makes the moral choice and protects the rights of all Americans to cast a ballot.
We are as committed to this ﬁght as those who fought and won before us. In 1965, a young John Lewis and other activists were beaten and bloodied as they marched for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, but they pressed on. The next day, the switchboard at the Capitol was lit up with calls from outraged Americans all over the country. Weeks later, enough leaders in Congress had the moral conscience to support the Voting Rights Act, and it was signed into law soon thereafter.
In 1965, direct action created a crisis and massive public outrage that forced those in opposition to the bill to come to the table and negotiate. Let’s not wait until that point to come together and solve this urgent problem for all Americans in 2021. Let’s sit down and talk now.
Martin Luther King III
Chairman, Drum Major Institute
Arndrea Waters King
President, Drum Major Institute
Rev. Al Sharpton
Founder and President, National Action Network