MLK’s Dream and the Promise of Democracy

By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.


democracya system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in democracy as it was the political embodiment of his core belief in equality – one person, one vote with equal access to the ballot box. He never worked to weaken or dismantle America’s democracy, a system which had enslaved, subjugated, and discriminated against Black/African-Americans for centuries.  Rather, he fought tirelessly to strengthen it, make it more representative, and help make that “more perfect Union” with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  For that, he paid with his life.

“Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love…violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.”

It’s easy to forget that democracy is essentially a simple concept, especially today when our American system of enacting it has become so intentionally obfuscated and corroded.  It’s most primary act, voting, is under attack by those who wish to prevent participation in our government, rather than encourage it.

In the past year, more than 400 pieces of legislation have been introduced in statehouses by Republicans  as “voting integrity” bills, so far thirty-nine have passed into law in nineteen states.  Call them what you will, but they are designed to suppress voting, especially in communities of color, and make it easier for legislatures to overturn the will of the people if the results are not what they want.

“We proclaim our devotion to democracy, but we sadly practice the very opposite of the democratic creed.”

These regressive, discriminatory, and anti-democratic laws which weaken our government are happening in plain sight and must be halted.  Voting rights protections must be restored and new federal voting standards installed to protect access to the ballot box for generations.  It must be done and it must be done now.

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

The House of Representatives has already passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, but they are stalled in the Senate.  There’s a reason they have stalled, racism

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

For decades reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act was pro forma, overwhelmingly bipartisan, and virtually unanimous.  Today, not one Republican voted to reauthorized it or will vote for either of the new voting rights bills which restore protections and access for communities of color, i.e. traditionally not Republican voters.  What’s more, they’ve pledged their allegiance to the former President who is vehemently racist and cares more about who counts the votes than who votes.

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

The Democratic majority could go it alone by doing away with or managing a carveout of the Jim Crow relic filibuster, but two of their own refuse to agree for inexplicable reasons.  They won’t vote for a carveout, except they just did a month ago to raise the debt ceiling.  They want to protect it for the future when they’re not in power, except Republicans will do away with it in a heartbeat.  They like their current position of power and attention, except going down in history as casting the votes to save democracy beats all that.  So why are two Democrat Senators refusing to stand with their entire party, refusing to support their President and vote to protect one of the cornerstones of MLK’s Legacy?

There’s a saying, “if you hear hoofbeats think horses, not zebras.” Meaning, look for the obvious explanation.

If the state voter suppression laws target people of color; and estimates are the two bills before the Senate would enable 55M more Americans to vote; then a majority of them would be POC. Therefore, Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema are opposed to passing these bills because they’re racist.

If they’re not, then they need to step up and be anti-racist by immediately passing The John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom To Vote Act to protect voting rights for people of color and help fulfill Dr. King’s dream and the promise of our democracy.


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