WASHINGTON — Voting rights rallies on the 58th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech are expected to bring thousands to Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
Those rallying will hear from King’s family; the Rev. Al Sharpton; Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd; Reps. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Cori Bush, D-Mo.; the rapper Rapsody; civil rights attorney Ben Crump; and Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, according to organizers.
Also scheduled to speak is the Rev. William J. Barber II, a North Carolina preacher who co-chairs the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and who has organized protests for voting rights and a $15 federal minimum wage throughout the summer.
Here’s what else you need to know:
Q: What is the purpose of the marches?
A: Voting rights advocates are demanding federal legislation to protect and expand access to the ballot. They are also calling for D.C. statehood and voicing support for other civil rights and social justice issues, including reparations for slavery, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, canceling student debt, reforming immigration, reimagining public safety and ending gun violence and mass incarceration.
The rallies come after a summer of protests calling for passage of the For the People Act, a sweeping elections and ethics bill that would set national standards for voting and override state-level restrictions, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which aims to restore voting rights protections that have been curtailed by the Supreme Court.
Protesters have said that because it’s unlikely enough Republicans will join Democrats in the Senate in passing voting rights legislation, they want to see the elimination of the filibuster – the 60-vote threshold that allows a united minority of 41 senators to block legislation from becoming law.
Q: When and where are the marches?
A: The Douglass Commonwealth Coalition is hosting a rally at Freedom Plaza from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. (all times EDT) in support of D.C. statehood before marching to the Make Good Trouble Rally, which begins at 10 a.m. with a “freedom concert” at the Lincoln Memorial.
The March On for Washington and Voting Rights will start gathering at 8 a.m. at McPherson Square. By 9:45 a.m., participants will begin marching, heading past Black Lives Matter Plaza, the White House and the Washington Monument before entering the National Mall at 12th Street and Madison Drive for the rally. Organizers expect the rally to last from about 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to a permit issued Wednesday by the National Park Service.
Q: Who will speak at which rally?
A: Bowser, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, George Floyd’s family and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) are scheduled to speak at both marches or rallies, according to organizers.
The March On for Washington and Voting Rights has a long list of additional speakers, including King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III; his wife, Arndrea Waters King; Sharpton and Alejandro Chavez, the grandson of labor and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.
Other speakers include members of the Congressional Black Caucus, notably Reps. Beatty, Terri Sewell, D-Ala., Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., and Al Green, D-Texas; relatives of the late congressman John Lewis, D-Ga.; Crump; Derrick Johnson, the NAACP president; and leaders from 51 for 51, a campaign for D.C. statehood.
National civil rights organizations, including Black Voters Matter and Until Freedom, are behind the Make Good Trouble Rally, which draws its name from the teachings of Lewis.
The speakers there include Barber; the families of Breonna Taylor and Atatiana Jefferson, both of whom were fatally shot by law enforcement officers; Texas state representatives; Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.; Tamika Mallory, a prominent activist who co-chaired the 2017 Women’s March on Washington before co-founding the group Until Freedom; LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matters; and many other activists, organizers and gospel artists.
Q: I can’t be there in person. Can I watch from home?
A: Yes. Organizers said you can find their livestreams on their social media pages.
Q: What coronavirus safety measures will be in place?
A: Organizers of the March On for Washington and Voting Rights near the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Make Good Trouble Rally at the Lincoln Memorial said they are aware of health concerns and are taking steps to ensure the safety of all participants.
There will be free face masks and hand sanitizer, and organizers said they will encourage social distancing. They ask those who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or were exposed to someone who recently tested positive for the coronavirus to stay home.
At the Make Good Trouble Rally at the Lincoln Memorial, organizers say there will also be coronavirus testing and Johnson & Johnson vaccines on-site. Backstage, there will be temperature checks, with special guests and speakers required to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours. Those without either can take a rapid rest.
People who are traveling with one of the partner organizations for the March On for Washington and Voting Rights near the African American history museum can expect temperature checks and face masks on all buses.
Q: What other protests are happening this weekend?
A: Other groups that submitted permits to the Park Service for Saturday include Every Case Matters and Mass Action Against Police Brutality, groups with family members killed or injured by law enforcement officers, and More Than a Protest, a group that will be collecting donations of school supplies. The groups estimate crowds up to 500 people.
The National Cannabis Festival is also in Washington on Saturday, with crowds gathering at the RFK Festival Grounds. On Sunday, students will be marching to the U.S. Department of Education in the “HBCU March of the Generations” demanding education equity.