National Civil Rights Leaders Declare State of Emergency for Democracy on 59th Anniversary of March on Washington

Aug 29, 2022

Call for Voter Protections, Safety Ahead of 2022 Midterm Elections


WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the 59th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, leaders of the nation’s most prominent civil rights organizations today declared a state of emergency for democracy in the United States. Their proclamation comes in response to the concerted effort in states nationwide to disenfranchise voters, the likes of which we have not seen since the Jim Crow Era that motivated the 1963 March. The tactics are different, but the intent is the same: To maintain power by blocking access to the ballot box and undermining our democracy. Today, on the anniversary of the March and on the eve of the 2022 midterm election, civil rights leaders issued a call to action to guarantee democracy and ensure the state of our union is strong.

They called for federal officials to use existing laws to protect the right to vote and guarantee the safety of poll workers; state officials to expand – not pare back – access to the ballot box, especially for disenfranchised communities; and all Americans to turn out to vote in November and make sure at least two people they know do the same.

The call came at a virtual press conference on Sunday, attended by leaders of the National Urban LeagueNational Action Network (NAN), the National Coalition on Black Civic ParticipationNAACPNAACP Legal Defense FundLawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). A recording of Sunday’s press conference can be found by clicking here (Passcode: 1Wr1#B*8).

“Each year, the anniversary of the March on Washington is an opportunity to reflect on the nation’s progress toward Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. This year, however, we reflect on how much of that progress has been eroded by the vicious backlash against racial justice and democratic principles that now engulfs us. The ongoing campaign to obliterate of the “one-person, one-vote” principle is an astonishing reversal of a two-century moral arc that has bent, if slowly and unevenly, toward universal suffrage. But the path forward is clear. When we gather to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the March next year, it will be as brothers and sisters whose right to vote and participate as full citizens is not is not compromised by color or creed, in the oasis of freedom and justice of Dr. King’s dream,” said Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League.

“Fifty-nine years ago today, our predecessors gathered on the Lincoln Memorial in recognition that he saved the union, and in doing so promised us all equal rights. That promise remains unfulfilled. Our union is still at risk, in 2022, as states are systemically and relentlessly chipping away at the right to vote. We are assembling today in that same spirit of 1963, to preserve the union and guarantee the right to vote for all Americans. It is our mission to ensure every American is safe at the polls and can exercise their right to their fullest ability,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President of NAN.

“In 1963, the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Justice’ was a collective response by civil rights groups in America to the racism, hatred and economic repression that had long-plagued and terrorized Black people for decades.  Today, we find our rights and freedoms are once again under attack and our democracy is under threat—thanks to the rolling back of our rights by the U. S. Supreme Court, including voting rights & reproductive rights; the passage of repressive voter suppression laws targeting black and brown people being enacted by over 19 states over the past two years; the historic rise in racism and white nationalism across the country; and attack on our democracy and the ‘rule of law’ by white nationalists and insurrectionists. Today, I join in solidarity with my civil rights colleagues to lift up and celebrate the 59th Anniversary of the March on Washington—in a collective call to action by continuing the fight for our rights, freedoms, justice, safety and to save our democracy from peril for future generations to live out their dreams,” said Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

“On the 59th anniversary of the March on Washington, we find ourselves at a point in history where our rights are consistently threatened and, in some communities – outright repealed. Far too many Black Americans today feel like their voice isn’t heard and their family is struggling. The message is clear – Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration must enact the federal legislation that we have been calling for the past two years. We want to see police accountability reform and comprehensive voting rights that ensures democracy works for all. When we gather next year to mark the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, Black communities across the country should be able to feel closer to Dr. King’s dream,” said Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO.

“Thanks to the efforts of Black voters across the country, and the multiracial, multi-generational coalition that revitalized the movement for racial justice following George Floyd’s death, we have a President who has secured significant legislative victories for Black people and people of color. However, we also find ourselves in a sharp, deeply harmful reversal of this momentum. Our Democracy is under sustained and unrelenting attack. Draconian voting laws restrict access and dilute the voting power of Black and brown voters in many states. The courts continue to chip away at the laws designed to protect ballot access and ignore decades of precedent on issues ranging from reproductive rights to affirmative action. The January 6 Capitol insurrection – driven by white supremacist rhetoric, intentional misinformation, and the Big Lie of voter fraud – was no aberration. The same co-conspirators and their apologists remain a threat to overturn legitimate election results. In the face of these ongoing threats, we must defend the rule of law, hold accountable those who defy it, and protect the right to vote that our elders died for by passing legislation that expands access to the ballot box and stops the suppression of Black voters. This is the floor, not the ceiling, of what is necessary to make the promise of our democracy real for Black people and for everyone,” said Damon Hewitt, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“At a time when none of us can take our right to vote for granted — when the dual threats of voter suppression and election sabotage loom large and threaten the future of our democracy — it’s absolutely imperative that every individual and every community who is dedicated to furthering the gains we’ve made commits to participating in this year’s elections, which are just two months away. It is equally imperative that every state and federal actor works to protect the right to vote and remove obstacles to voting, especially those that target and disenfranchise Black voters. We honor the people who marched for jobs and freedom in service of our democracy 59 years ago by using the power of the vote to advance equality, close the racial wealth gap, and empower Black communities today,” said Janai Nelson, President and Director-Counsel, Legal Defense Fund.

“The 1963 March on Washington helped propel historic civil rights laws that legally barred racist practices from job discrimination to poll taxes that long blocked Black people from voting. A. Philip Randolph, our co-founder, called that day the ‘first wave’ and proclaimed that the fight would be ‘carried to every nook and cranny’ of this country. Sixty-nine years later, we still face attacks on our rights by powerful forces that lie about voter fraud to reverse our gains; that undermine labor organizing to undermine job protections, and now even attack the fundamental rights that for Black women can mean the difference between life and death in pregnancy and childbirth. We and our allies will be in every nook and cranny where people need help learning where and how they can vote, encouraging people to be neutral poll workers, not nefarious plants, and to ensure Black people, young people, women, all of us, understand just how much power we have when we show up at the polls, even when they close our polling places, deny us water, and threaten us with violence. We also need federal judges that protect our fundamental rights. With the upcoming midterm elections, it is crucial that everyone ensures they are registered to vote and exercises that fundamental right. Together, we will not go back to the dark days of reigning white supremacy and build a country that lives up to its ideals,” said Maya Wiley, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“I marched in the historic 1963 March on Washington that ended at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall. The voices of the multitude and the huge diverse audience were a force for unity that speaks to us across the decades.  The powerful messages have never been diminished by time but stand as a collective beacon ringing forth today as an undiluted call to protect our democracy. The people’s unencumbered freedom to vote is a conduit to its preservation,” said Thelma T. Daley, Ph.D., President and National Chair National Council of Negro Women.