Members of Congress demanded an end to the legislative impasse over bills to revamp policing and make voting easier Friday as they rallied with thousands of people at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington.
“Yes, it is possible to write budgets that actually value Black lives. If it feels unfamiliar, that’s because it has never been done in America,” said Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley. “We will meet the moment we will work towards healing, justice and collective liberation like our lives depend on it — because they do.”
The Massachusetts Democrat was joined by several other Democratic lawmakers including, Reps. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green of Texas and New York’s Adriano Espaillat.
Several speakers urged passage of aHouse-passed policing bill and an update to the Voting Rights Act that was renamed for civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, who died in July. Both bills are pending in the Senate.
The event was held on the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech, and is part of the “Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” event sparked by recent police violence against Black Americans. The event, which included a march to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, was organized by the National Action Network group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“Silence is not an option because Black people face a symbolic chokehold every time we walk, speak up, shop, jog, drive, and yes, breathe,” Beatty said to the cheering crowd. “So we must tear down the walls of injustice.”
The congressional crowd was joined by civil rights leaders, Sharpton and family members of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner and Jacob Blake — all people killed or injured by police.
They spoke in remembrance of loved ones and advocated for changes to laws governing police accountability, criminal justice, voter protection and more.
Additional speakers included Martin Luther King III and Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King.
Temperatures in Washington reached into the 90s as long lines of people waited for a temperature check before they were allowed to enter the area around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rampage across America, organizers tried to make the march as safe as possible, requiring mask-wearing and restricting buses from states and cities deemed hot spots.
Sharpton and other speakers attempted to remind the large crowd to give each other plenty of space.
“Y’all spread your arms and social distance,” he said to the crowd that, at times, appeared tightly packed together.
In addition to calling for action on the policy and voting rights bills, Jackson Lee pushed back on some of the themes espoused this week by multiple speakers during the Republican National Convention, including President Donald Trump.
“We ask you not to send tweets that we are attacking you as a mob because a militia walks around freely and shoots us without anyone’s concern,” she said referring to events in Kenosha, Wis., this week.
“We want a White House who stands as a healer in chief, who understands Black mothers’ pain and understands your pain,” she said.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, a senator from California, released a video on Friday to commemorate King’s speech and honor civil rights leaders.
Speaking about Lewis, who was serving his 17th term in the House when he died this year, Harris said the road ahead won’t be easy.
“But if we work together to challenge every instinct our nation has to return to the status quo and combine the wisdom of longtime warriors for justice with the creative energy of the young leaders today,” she said. “We have an opportunity to make history right here and right now.”