By Esther Paul, Public Square Amplified
Originally published on March 1, 2022, Esther Paul/ POP Million People’s March for Voting Rights
NEWARK, NJ—“We who believe in freedom cannot rest,” go the lyrics of “Ella’s Song.” A popular tribute by the women troupe Sweet Honey in the Rock, the song honors the words and spirit of trailblazing civil rights activist Ella Baker. To speak with Larry Hamm, Chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress (P.O.P), is to hear how her words and the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement endure in today’s struggle for voting rights.
Fifty-four years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, P.O.P. is gearing up for what’s titled a “Million People’s March for Voting Rights, Equality and Democracy.” The march, scheduled for April 4, follows Democrats’ failed attempt to change Senate filibuster rules that allowed Republicans to block the passage of the Freedom to Vote: John Lewis Act in January. The act would protect mail-in ballots, early voting, same-day voter registration and restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act’s provisions for federal oversight in states with a recent history of voter discrimination.
Despite this recent blow to voting rights reform, advocacy groups such as P.O.P. remain steadfast: “Why do we keep marching? Because we have not fully achieved that for which we’re fighting,” said Hamm. “It’s like being in a boxing match, you know, you don’t quit in the third round.”
As the fight to protect the ballot has intensified over the last decade, so too have attempts to undermine it. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that states with exclusionary poll taxes such as those targeting Black voters, literacy tests, or other discriminatory voting hurdles no longer require federal approval of proposed election changes. Since then, more than 1,200 polling places have been closed in Southern states, according to a 2019 report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. And last year, some 440 voter suppression bills were introduced in 49 state legislatures.
P.O.P. is marching for the passage of robust voting rights laws, police accountability, reparations, other social and economic justice legislation. Organizers are also calling for a million new voters to register by October, ahead of the 2022 elections.
So far, over 30 organizations have endorsed the April 4 “Million People’s March.” This list includes the Jewish Voice for Peace Northern NJ Chapter, American Muslims for Palestine N.J., New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Showing Up For Racial Justice-N.J (SURJ), Piscataway Progressive Democratic Organization, and Union Baptist Church of Montclair.
POP is “urging people to organize demonstrations in their towns and cities as they did for George Floyd and other victims of police brutality,” said Hamm in a statement. In an appeal to youth and younger voters, he added: “Unless we turn this country around and push it in another direction, it really won’t be a country in which they will have a happy and productive future.”
The “Million People’s March for Voting Rights, Equality, Democracy and Peace will be on Monday, April 4, 2022. The march will start at the Seated Lincoln Statue (corner of Market St & Springfield Ave.) in Newark, N.J., at 5 p.m.
For more details, call: (973) 801-0001.