On Jan. 15 we celebrated Dr. King’s Day as a national day of service. This was as it should be. Our love, dedication and service to others were at the heart of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s prophetic message to America – even as his vision for our future remained firmly fixed upon our democratic power as voting citizens.

We need only gaze, once again, upon the profound sense of accomplishment in Dr. King’s face, memorialized for the ages on Aug. 6, 1965, as he received the pen with which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law.

For the man whom I believe was the greatest moral and practical leader of our time, that moment in the White House was the affirmative conclusion of a decades’ long journey.

Elijah Cummings

As a grateful nation, we must never forget the words of Dr. King’s stirring 1957 speech, “Give Us the Ballot.”  They are words that reflected how deeply Dr. King believed in our ability – as voting citizens – to transform our lives and those of the generations of Americans yet to be born.

Even as we serve our communities in our daily lives, we also honor Dr. King’s legacy by our active engagement in the democratic process that strengthened his faith.

I make this (perhaps self-evident) observation because, as in 1957 and 1965, we once again are living in a deeply troubling time for our nation, a time that could weaken Americans’ confidence in democracy and our ability as citizens to chart our own destiny.

Polling data reportedly indicates that only one-third of Americans currently believe that our nation is headed in the right direction.  Fewer than 40 percent of us approve of the President, and even fewer of us approve of the current Republican congressional majority.

No truly objective observer could reasonably conclude that this disapproval of our current government by the majority of American voters is unwarranted.

Yet, I firmly believe that, were he speaking from the Lincoln Memorial today, Dr. King’s faith in the American people as the ultimate guarantors of our democratic system would be unshaken.

Dr. King would be heartened, as am I, by the reality that Americans of every background are rising up, marching, organizing, registering their neighbors to vote, and voting in large numbers to restore that better course for our nation that the American people deserve.

“Give us the ballot,” they are shouting, echoing Dr. King’s cry, and they are making their votes count.

The American people already have used their ballots to begin raising our nation out of the governmental abyss in states as diverse as Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama – and African American voters were prominent in achieving those electoral victories, as I believe we will be in the November’s congressional and state elections.

We are the drum majors and foot soldiers of Dr. King’s dream for America, the same engaged and energized multiracial coalition of conscience and common sense that elevated Barack Obama to the presidency.

Even as we continue to resist the reactionary policies of the current President and congressional majority, we must also do the organizing, voter registration and efforts to “get out the vote” that will affirm Dr. King’s vision in November 2018.

Our vision and mission are clear.  Victory in November will be defined every bit as much by the progressive policies that we are pledged to enact as by the failures of the current President and congressional majority.

The guiding principles of our progressive coalition were expressed in the Democratic Platform that I was privileged to assist in creating , the same progressive agenda that a majority of American voters supported in 2016.

Although we are not yet in the majority, Democrats in the Senate and House are already articulating this vision in legislative proposals that speak to the challenges at the center of our lives.

After victory in November, a more progressive Congress will work to strengthen, not seek to destroy, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

We will fight to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, lower prices on prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies and support the apprenticeships and job training that are the foundation of living wages.

Criminal justice reform, protection of our natural heritage and more rational and humane immigration policies will once again be at the center of our national agenda.

Above all else, we will enact legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act to its full power, prevent further foreign interference in our electoral process and hold accountable anyone who seeks to subvert our most fundamental civil right.

We have been given the ballot – and we intend to make full use of that democratic power this year.

Marching arm-in-arm with tens of millions of other energized American citizens, we can – and we will – win the fight for the soul of our democracy in 2018.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

Congressman Elijah Cummings

Special to the AFRO