Submitted by Congressman Elijah Cummings
Next Monday, Americans of conscience will once again come together to reaffirm our commitment to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We will engage in service to our communities, join hands, and reflect upon our shared humanity and destiny.
Dr. King died for his vision for a better America, we will recall. Can we do any less than live (and work) for its fulfillment?
Necessarily, the realization of that better vision begins in small places close to home, in the protection of our children and our compassion for those in our communities less fortunate than ourselves.
Yet, we do not honor Dr. King solely for being a minister of our shared Abrahamic values. We honor him and his contemporaries for their impact on our shared civic life.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was about the work of perfecting our Democracy. His message to America was plain.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (MD.-7) . (Courtesy Photo)
The human rights that ennoble each of us – and bind us together as one society – must be afforded to the least favored among us or, ultimately, they will be lost to us all.
It is true that Dr. King was a fierce advocate for the tens of millions of Americans, like him, who were people of color.
Yet, it is also true that he was calling upon our nation to offer far more opportunity and hope to all the Americans who, regardless of their racial background, were being disparaged and dismissed by our society.
The historical record is clear. The path to realizing Dr. King’s vision for our nation was political, as well as spiritual.
For example, in 1957, 3 years after Brown v. Board, Dr. King echoed the pain of millions of Americans in his “Give us the Ballot” speech at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom:
“…ll types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters…. And, so, our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote.”
Then, in perhaps the most comprehensive expression of his “Dream” for America during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Dr. King responded to those who were asking him and the other advocates for universal civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’
“e cannot be satisfied,” he declared, “as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote, and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.”
These prophetic words from 1957 and 1963 will not be the most quoted on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. Yet, half a century after Dr. King’s death, they retain a haunting relevance for the Americans of our time.
Once again, as in 1957, all types of conniving methods are being utilized to prevent American citizens from registering and voting. Voter suppression remains a clear and present danger to the effective functioning of our Democratic Republic – and it must be stopped.
Once again, as in 1963, we cannot be satisfied as long as any American cannot vote – or believes that he or she has no reason to vote.
In any democratic system, temporary electoral disappointments are inevitable. Yet, when millions of Americans conclude that our democratic process is failing them because it is rigged, we are facing a threat to the proper functioning of our Republic that we, as legislators and citizens, must address.
In addition to the public hearings and investigations that will allow us to restore the Voting Rights Act to full force and effect, the For the People Act , sponsored by my colleague and friend, Congressman John Sarbanes, will be a major step toward giving all Americans a seat at the table.
That, in turn, will allow our national government to better solve our most pressing problems (like reducing the cost of prescription drugs, combating climate change and building an economy that works for all Americans).
The For the People Act will:
— Make it easier, not harder, to vote by implementing automatic voter registration, requiring early voting and vote by mail, committing Congress to reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act and ensuring the integrity of our elections by modernizing and strengthening our voting systems and ending partisan redistricting.
— Reform big money politics by requiring all political organizations to disclose large donors, updating political advertisement laws for the digital age, establishing a public matching system for citizen-owned elections and revamping the Federal Election Commission to ensure there’s a cop on the campaign finance beat.
— Strengthen ethics laws to ensure that public officials work in the public interest, extending conflict of interest laws to the President and Vice President, requiring the release of their tax returns, closing loopholes that allow former members of Congress to avoid cooling-off periods for lobbying, breaking the revolving door between industry and the federal government and establishing a code of conduct for the Supreme Court.
By assuring that every American can vote – and has a good reason to vote – we will be undertaking concrete action to realize Dr. King’s dream for America in our time.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.
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