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Martin Luther King’s family, Vice President Harris calls for action for suffrage

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (Reuters) - The family of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and their supporters, some shouting, "Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Voter oppression has to go," marched in Washington on Monday, calling for the adoption of a law to protect voters from racial discrimination.

As part of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day DC Peace Walk, the King family and more than 100 national and local civil rights groups crossed the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, urging President Joe Biden's Democrats to pass a bill in the U.S. Senate.

The march followed a disappointing week for Biden, who went to the Capitol to urge Senate colleagues to change the filibuster rules so they could overcome Republican opposition to the bill, only to be vehemently rejected by two conservative Democrats who actually have a veto. in the equal division. chamber.

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In a separate speech, the live stream to the late Rev. King's Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Vice President Kamala Harris also urged the Senate to act, warning that efforts to restrict voting in some U.S. states could make it harder for millions of Americans to vote.

"We must not be complacent or complicit," Harris said. "We must not give up, and we must not give in. To truly honor the legacy of the man we celebrate today, we must continue to fight for the freedom to vote, for the freedom of all."

At a meeting before Monday's March, King's son, Martin Luther King III, praised the Democrats for having passed a comprehensive infrastructure bill last year, but begged them to push through voting rights legislation.

"You were successful with the infrastructure, which was a great thing," King told a crowd of hundreds, "but we need you to use the same energy to ensure that all Americans have the unencumbered right to vote. "

King III, his wife, Arndrea Waters King, and their daughter Yolanda Renee King led the march across the bridge.

"We need to make sure everyone in this country can go to the polls, vote and have their voices heard," said Lisa Meunier, 53, of Washington, who joined the marches.

The bill to the Senate will expand access to postal voting, strengthen federal oversight of elections in states with a history of racial discrimination, and tighten campaign funding rules. Democratic supporters argue that it is necessary to address a wave of new voting restrictions passed in Republican-led states that election observers say will make it harder for minority and low-income voters to cast ballots.

New restrictions have emerged following former President Donald Trump's false claims that his 2020 election defeat was the result of widespread fraud.

'HISTORY WILL REMEMBER'

Senate Top Democrat Chuck Schumer has said the chamber will take up the bill on Tuesday, a delay from his earlier plan to hold a procedural vote on the bill on Monday, the federal holiday in honor of the king.

Republicans, who hold half of the 100 seats in the Senate, are united in opposition to the bill, which they describe as a party-political coup. That leaves Biden and Schumer with only one way to pass it: to persuade Conservative Democrat Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to agree to change the House's filibuster rule, which requires at least 60 senators to agree on most of the legislation. .

Yolanda Renee King directed comments to the two holdout senators after the march.

"Senator Sinema, Senator Manchin, our future depends on your decision, and history will remember what choice you make," she said.

Some Georgia civil rights groups that helped drive Biden to presidential victory in the 2020 election boycotted his vote in Atlanta last week, saying they were disappointed with Biden's inaction.

"Black voters risked everything - including their own health at the height of the pandemic - to vote for Biden and Senate Democrats in office," wrote Cliff Albright and LaTosha Brown, co-founders of Black Voters Matter in a response to Biden's speech.

"It is time for Washington officials to treat us and our rights with equal urgency."

Should these groups lose their enthusiasm for the Democrats, it could increase the party's chances of losing their knife-thin majority in at least one chamber of Congress in the November 8, 2022 election.

Yolanda Townsend, who called herself a "senior" from the Washington, DC area, said at Monday's demonstration that she had found Biden's speech in Georgia timely and powerful.

"I wish it was drawn earlier, but I think a line has been drawn in the sand and you are either with us or against us," Townsend said.

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Reporting by Jan Wolfe in Washington and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, further reporting by Jeff Mason; Written by James Oliphant; Edited by Scott Malone, Howard Goller and Bill Berkrot

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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