Poor People’s Campaign Protests McConnell’s, Manchin’s Roles in Derailing Voting Rights Legislation

Interview with Pam Garrison and Jean Evansmore, West Virginia activists with the Poor People's Campaign, conducted by Scott Harris

As expected, all 50 Senate Republicans voted on June 22 to block debate on a Democratic- sponsored voting rights and government ethics bill known as the For The People Act. The legislation derailed by the GOP filibuster, would set up automatic national voter registration, expand early voting, ensure more transparency in political donations and limit partisan drawing of congressional districts, or gerrymandering, among other provisions.

The current effort to pass the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act has taken on new urgency after Republican controlled state legislatures across the U.S. have worked to enact voter suppression legislation.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 389 GOP voter suppression bills have been introduced in 48 states, 22 of which have become law in 14 states.

In response to Kentucky Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s and West Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s roles in opposing the voting rights bill and protecting the filibuster, more than 300 people participated in the Poor People’s Campaign Moral March on Manchin and McConnell in Washington, D.C. on June 23. The group marched from the Supreme Court to the Hart Senate Office building in an unsuccessful attempt to meet with Sens. Manchin and McConnell. Twenty-three activists, including Poor People’s Campaign Co-Chair Rev. William Barber and Rev. Jesse Jackson were arrested during the action in a planned act of nonviolent civil disobedience. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Pamela Garrison and Jean Evansmore, West Virginia activists with the Poor People’s Campaign, who talk about the protest action’s goal to pressure the Senate to protect every American’s right to vote. We first hear from Pam Garrison.

PAMELA GARRISON: We went to gather in Washington. We had listened to civil rights leaders, church councils that represent 30 to 40 million members, Move On organizations which represent millions, activists. And, we met there to bring attention to the severity of this issue. And, so we marched two by two, to Manchin’s office. We had asked Manchin for a meeting with us or if he would meet with us; we were denied. So, members of West Virginia, Kentucky and some of the others, we did civil disobedience. We blocked the road. Police officers came. They weren’t confrontational, but, Rev. Barber and Rev. Jesse Jackson got arrested with us. They were with us to let people know and to let McConnell and Manchin know that the things that we’re hearing, it’s not what the people are wanting and that the filibuster is keeping meaningful legislation from being passed.

SCOTT HARRIS: I wanted to ask you, Jean, how you see the Republican party’s current effort to impose voter suppression laws and their link to the issues of poverty and racism, which is really a core focus of the Poor People’s Campaign.

JEAN EVANSMORE: I think it’s power and I think it’s gotten beyond power. And I think it’s gotten to the point of fear. Just plain fear. I think there are many people who are afraid that what they not necessarily specifically, but as a group have done to other people is going to come back to them. So therefore they’re scrambling to stop as much progress as they possibly can. I’m black. What is it? We are less than 4 percent in West Virginia. Lots of people in the United States don’t quite yet understand that West Virginia is a state and it has black people living in it. We are a very small minority. So the people that are being suppressed and will be suppressed by the laws are poor white people. Mainly it’s like, come on folks. It just doesn’t seem to be much common sense or thinking going on.

SCOTT HARRIS: Hey, I wanted to ask you, Pam, to talk about what you think of Joe Manchin’s proposed compromise on the For the People Act. He made a list of items that some were in the For the People Act — some not, but it’s a stripped down version. It’s really what he hopes maybe down the line will be some kind of compromise that Republicans will support. What are your thoughts about that as a citizen of West Virginia and one of Joe Manchin’s constituents?

PAMELA GARRISON: You know, I’ve thought about this a lot. And Jesus was tempted 40 days and 40 nights by the devil. And if he would have compromised, nations would have crumbled. You know, Joe Manchin right now has got our democracy in his hands. You know, there’s some things in this world that you cannot compromise on. You know, you’re talking about our democracy. Our right to vote. Our future. And you have to have certain principles and something that you’re willing to stand up for and fight for and our Constitution and our democracy to me is the one thing that there is no compromise on, and it is in jeopardy right now. And it is in Joe Manchin’s hands to protect it and to do something for the people and for his constituents. There is no compromise on certain things. And I don’t think there’s a compromise on this.

SCOTT HARRIS: Go ahead, Jean.

JEAN EVANSMORE: Thank you. What I picked up is Mitch McConnell already said no to Joe’s ideas. And what I learned, and many people have learned, when somebody tells you who they are, believe them. He was laughed at. And now he’s claiming there was victory in bipartisanship. Really, whatever happens, we are ready. We are not giving up. We’re not quitting.

For more information, visit the Poor People’s Campaign at poorpeoplescampaign.org.

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