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Faith leaders and Texas Democrats march to US Capitol to demand voting protections

The group’s members signed letters with their demands and processed to the Capitol to hand-deliver them.

The Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, speaks outside the Supreme Court building Aug. 12, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Video screen grab

(RNS) — A group of Democratic Texas legislators marched with faith leaders from the Supreme Court building to the U.S. Capitol on Thursday morning (Aug. 12) to deliver letters demanding change for millions of people impacted by poverty and voting disenfranchisement.

“The 65 million low-wealth voters in this country hold the key to transformation,” said the Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, which organized the march. “We’re not going anywhere,” he added.

Last month, the Poor People’s Campaign kicked off a season of direct action focused on ending the Senate filibuster, securing voting rights and passing a national $15 minimum wage. The demands of Thursday’s march were the same, but with a particular emphasis on infrastructure.

Much of the rhetoric at the Supreme Court steps riffed on the Senate’s recent passage of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, framing justice and equity as essential structures that keep democracy and daily life functioning. “We’re caring for the infrastructure of our democracy, the infrastructure of our roads and bridges, and the infrastructure of our lives,” said Barber.

Speakers at the march included Jim Winkler from the National Council of Churches; Alvin O’Neal Jackson, executive director of the Mass Assembly of the Poor People’s Campaign; and Wendsler Nosie, former councilman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

Texas state Reps. Jasmine Crockett, Gina Hinojosa and Carl Sherman, all of whom have left Texas to deprive its Legislature’s Republican majority of a quorum to pass voting legislation there, also spoke.

“We broke quorum because of voting rights, but we know that it’s bigger than voting rights,” said Penny Morales Shaw, one of the Texas legislators in attendance. “So when the Poor People’s Campaign got behind the cause, it was a perfect coalition,” Shaw told Religion News Service.

After speeches at the steps of the Supreme Court, the group signed letters to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell outlining its demands and processed to the Capitol. Schumer’s chief of staff accepted the letters with a handshake. The delegation spoke to him with urgency about the immediate need for change.

“We cannot have Manchins control this country for the next 50 years,” Barber told Schumer’s aide, referring to Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat who has opposed scrapping the Senate filibuster. 

(Capitol security did not allow the group to enter McConnell’s offices to deliver the letter.)

RELATED: Jesse Jackson, William Barber arrested protesting filibuster and Manchin

The Poor People’s Campaign has recently targeted moderate Senate Democrats, such as Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Manchin, who the group said are holding back change by insisting on compromise. Barber was arrested along with 40 others during a sit-in at Sinema’s office in Phoenix last month. Like Manchin, Sinema has resisted ending the filibuster.

“The history of the filibuster is that it has done more to create more chaos and to create compromise that has kept us from doing what we ought to have done,” said Barber.

Barber said the group’s next action will take place in West Virginia on Aug. 26, leading an auto caravan from Blair Mountain to Manchin’s office in Charleston.

“You’re only really going to be able to change Sinema and Manchin by touching them in the states,” said Barber.

The Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said it was powerful to stand with the Texas legislators who, she said, are taking a moral stance for voting rights. 

“We are really in crisis. We’re going to continue to persist and continue to ensure that these demands are heard,” added Theoharis.