DeMareo Cooper, who marked with King and hundreds of others on a cold MLK Day in 2022 across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in D.C., contends that even with progress, there are still many bridges to cross and overcome for true justice for Black Americans. (Courtesy Photo)

By DaMareo Cooper
Special to the AFRO

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day I found myself thinking about bridges. I had driven through the night, through a snowstorm, from Ohio to D.C. for the MLK Day march. I was crossing the Frederick Douglass Bridge when the sun finally came out.

It was a powerful moment. My great-grandfather was killed on a bridge in 1925 when he tried to go vote in Newport, Tenn. in 1925. And there I was, almost 100 years later, marching across a bridge to protect our right to vote.

I’m an organizer by trade. And organizers talk a lot about bridges. We talk about people crossing the bridge from a private life to a public life. We talk about people crossing the bridge from feeling ashamed of individual oppression to sharing collective dignity with others who are struggling with the same things.

We talk about bridges moving our people from accepting what’s happening to us to moving into collective power — working together, building together, being in a relationship together.

It’s time for us to cross the bridge from a history of oppression in this country, to a country where everyone has the freedom to thrive and the freedom to vote. This requires building power and taking down barriers that prevent people from voting and expressing their power.

Democrats in Congress attempted to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act to ensure an equal voice for all of us. But Senate Republicans along with Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema blocked the legislation, failing the millions of Americans who want to have their voices heard in free and fair elections and putting our already-imperfect democracy at great risk. 

We know that the current attack on voting rights is an attack on the growing political power of Black and Brown voters. We know that the filibuster is being used to continue racial oppression. We know that when we make progress towards equality, there is a White supremacist backlash. We saw it happen after Reconstruction, and we’re seeing it now. 

Congress failed to pass the Freedom to Vote: {John R. Lewis Act}, but the fight for voting rights is far from over. We are ready to stand up and keep fighting, but we need people to join us. This is the time for action, and there are a lot of bridges we need to cross. Congress will hear from our communities. We are paying attention. We will be in the streets. We will protect our rights and our freedom to thrive. 

We will keep pressure on elected officials to pass pro-democracy policies. We will mobilize our communities for elections to ensure that enemies of multiracial democracy are not elected — we cannot allow people who would enact racist voter suppression tactics to hold positions of power. And we will continue showing up, day after day, to fight for small but critical victories, such as keeping polling locations open in Georgia. 

President Joe Biden and Congress delivered on a bipartisan infrastructure bill that will strengthen and repair the bridges that physically connect our nation. It’s time for Congress and state governments to also deliver on protecting our elections and strengthening our voting rights, which are the foundation of the democracy that unites our nation. Only then can we cross the bridge together to a truly multiracial popular democracy.

Dr. King said it’s a long arc, but it bends towards justice. The force that bends that arc is us. And we have work to do.

DaMareo Cooper is the co-Executive Director of the Center for Popular Democracy, the largest multiracial network in the country. He lives in Akron, Ohio and spoke at the 2022 D.C. MLK Day event.

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