[Aug 28, 2021: Washington, D.C.] On Saturday, thousands marched and rallied in Washington, D.C. in support of voting rights. The day also marked the 58th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s seminal March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, during which he gave his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.
On one side of the National Mall, Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III rallied activists with their call to March On for Voting Rights. On the other side, the Make Good Trouble Rally presented speakers such as Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (NAACP director), Barbara Arnwine, Esq. (Transformative Justice Coalition founder) and LaTosha Brown (Black Voters Matter co-founder).
The day of action sprung into action early, at 8 a.m., when crowds assembled downtown at McPherson Square for the March On for Voting Rights procession down the National Mall. Leading the march to the Capitol was Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tx). Among the marchers was Martin Luther King III’s daughter, Yolanda Renee King, who has recently become a prominent voice in voting rights activism, speaking alongside her father at this event and as well as at last year’s March on Washington.
The day saw a wide coalition of groups participating, all with the common goal of fighting voter suppression and pushing voter participation. One such group, Drag Out The Vote, added some sparkle to the occasion while putting a fashionably-shod foot forward in the fight to help voters “sashay their way to the polls.”
Also out in force was the nationwide pro-democracy group Indivisible. Known for their photo-friendly, performance art signage over the Trump years, during the March On for Voting Rights members of the group held up letters demanding “Freedom to Vote.”
As the day wore on, the intense sun and heat which hit the 90s took its toll, and many assembled for the Make Good Trouble Rally sought out shade on the periphery as they listened to the speakers in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Those that took to the lectern to speak passionately about voting rights included Rev. Barber, Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-Mo), Congressman Jamaal Bowman (D-Ny), and Black Voters Matter co-founders Cliff Albright and LaTosha Brown.
Rev. Barber, of The Poor People’s Campaign, gave a rallying speech on how voting rights connect and serve as the cornerstone for so many struggles.
“The moral and constitutional crisis we face today is the direct result of forces in state legislatures that organized to push back against the political power that mobilized here 58 years ago today,” Rev. Barber noted. “Because we don’t have sufficient federal protections, we still have actors in state legislatures in 49 states trying to, and in many ways succeeding in, suppressing the vote, blocking living wages, police reform, health care, education funding and many more.”
Over the past several weeks, Rev. Barber has traveled the country alongside Rev. Jesse Jackson and others to protest the tidal wave of alarming voter suppression laws being enacted in many states.
Black Voters Matter co-founder Cliff Albright called for the assembled to honor the legacy of the late Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga) and his call to commit “good trouble”, saying, “We will not be governable until they give us voting rights that we demand.”
Albright’s Black Voters Matter co-instigator, LaTosha Brown, also an accomplished singer, then sang, appropriately, “Eyes on the Prize.”
Also making “Good Trouble” was celebrated civil rights attorney and activist S. Lee Merritt, who is now running for Attorney General in Texas. Merritt represents many victims (and their families) who’ve been the target of police brutality and white supremacist violence in recent years. Merritt said in his speech, “We free ourselves when we fight for ourselves.”
As they have at previous March on Washington events, members of the all too many families who’ve been devastated by police violence once again gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. Breonna Taylor, Xzavier Hill, and Donovan Lynch were among those mourned, honored, and remembered.
Transformative Justice Coalition founder Barbara Arnwine, Esq. and board chair Daryl D. Jones, Esq. also addressed the crowd at the Make Good Trouble Rally. The Transformative Justice Coalition has been standing shoulder to shoulder with the Palast Investigative Fund team to shine light on the shady voter suppression tactics trialed in Georgia and now spreading nationwide.
But though the day was filled with inspiring speeches from civil rights leaders, the battle will be won by the foot soldiers on the ground who refuse to let injustice triumph, and who are fighting every day to preserve and expand voting rights. So it’s perhaps only fitting that we hand the final words of this photo essay over to them and the signs they wielded in defense of our democracy.
Zach D Roberts is an investigative photojournalist who covers far-right extremism, and voter suppression in America. He covered the Unite the Right Rally in Chalottesville and his work there helped put four white extremists in jail. He also co-produced Greg Palast's The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and is a Palast Investigative Fund Fellow.