Martin Luther King III spoke at a Phoenix, Arizona march and rally about the necessity to protect voting rights. In his speech, he criticized Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Arizona), who has refused to change the Senate’s Jim Crow-era filibuster rules requiring a majority of 60 of 100 Senators to pass most legislation. By withholding her support to end the filibuster, Democrats’ pro-voting rights legislation is unlikely to succeed.

“History will remember Sen. Sinema, I believe unkindly, for her position on the filibuster,” said King. “What she said is, ‘I support voting rights, but not as much as I support the ability of someone to take those rights away.’ The filibuster is a meaningless Senate rule. It’s a remnant of slavery used to block civil rights for generations.”

King spoke days before the country celebrated its national holiday commemorating the birthday of his father, civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He stressed the importance of “no celebrating without legislation,” emphasizing that the country cannot claim to celebrate King’s legacy without honoring it in the form of progressive change. He said that the holiday is “not a traditional celebration where you kick back, eat barbeque and just relax. This is about working.”

Arizona is one of 19 states that have passed over 30 state laws restricting voting this past year. Among these laws is a prohibition on giving water to voters in long lines, and stricter requirements on ballot signatures. King called these laws “draconian” said said that they make it harder for people to vote, especially people of color.

“Our daughter has less rights around voting than she had when she was born,” he said in an interview. “I can’t imagine what my mother and father would say about that. I’m sure they’re turning over and over in their graves about this.”

President Joe Biden has implored Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) to end the filibuster, as the two Senators provide the essential swing votes necessary to pass the initiative through the Senate. Both of the Senators have withheld their support. The King family’s appeal in Sinema’s home state adds a prominent voice to the growing pressure urging her to change her mind.

Democrats have proposed various legislation that would strike down voting obstacles, reduce the influence of big money in politics and limit partisan bias in drawing congressional districts. Among this legislation is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would honor the late Georgia congressman by strengthening civil rights-era voting law.

“The right to vote was the crown jewel of the civil rights struggle,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson, prominent civil rights activist who worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr.  “We’re in a desperate situation.”

He echoed Martin Luther King III’s sentiment that commemorating the late activist’s legacy should not involve meaningless festivities or complacency.

“There’s no time to celebrate,” Jackson said. “It’s time to demonstrate, march in big numbers. We cannot just be silent observers in this fight.”

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