Voting rights protest leads to arrest of religious leaders outside White House
WASHINGTON (RNS) – An interfaith assortment of religious leaders and actors were arrested outside the White House on Tuesday, October 19 as they demanded in prayers and speeches that President Joe Biden and congressional lawmakers do more to defend legislation on the right to vote.
Reverend Jamal Bryant, a prominent Georgian pastor who had asked God in his opening prayer “to send every available angel to be assigned to every representative who is the disruptor of democracy”, was taken along with Rabbi David Saperstein, an elder from the United States. General Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, and Alyssa Milano, the former “Who’s the boss? And the “Melrose Place” actress who has devoted herself to activism in recent years.
Immediately prior to their arrest, protesters at the hour-long protest were warned three times by police that they were breaking DC law by “obstructing or causing inconvenience.”
Critics for inaction on the legislation, particularly the John Lewis Act and the For the People Act, also targeted the President and Republican lawmakers who opposed both bills.
Reverend Ferrell Malone of Waycross, Georgia – one of the plaintiffs in a case challenging a state election law that activists denounce as restrictive – noted that his condition “was returned for the White House” in the election of 2020 by electing Biden and helping Democrats win a majority in the U.S. Senate.
“It is time for President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as the Senate and the House of Representatives, to pay,” he said.
“I’ve known Joe Biden for 40 years,” Saperstein told the crowd before his arrest. “All his life he fought for the right to vote. … This is why we expect him, above all, to stand up and make it a priority, even among other extremely important priorities. It is the fundamental right of the foundation.
The Freedom to Vote Act, a compromise bill aimed at wooing those who disagree with key parts of the John Lewis Act, would have has the support of the 50 U.S. Democratic senators, but lacks enough Republican support to break the 60-vote qualified majority required to override the Senate filibuster.
“In the face of injustice, we hear God’s call for us,” Saperstein said.
The 1 pm protest, organized by liberal rights group People for the American Way, was the second such protest outside the White House in recent weeks; the same groups staged a similar protest in early October.
Several speakers called on Biden to endorse an end to the Senate filibustering, which has hampered many of his administration’s more progressive legislative efforts despite a Democratic majority in Congress. Since March, the president and other White House officials have alternately rejected the idea of eliminating the rule and expressed openness to reforming its use.
At one point, the protesters chanted, “Hey! Joe! The filibuster must go!
But Saperstein was among those at Tuesday’s protest who did not support a complete elimination of filibuster.
“The segment of the Jewish community that I represent – which is so committed to the right to vote – we want to right the obstruction here to prevent what we are seeing happening now without giving it up,” Saperstein told Religion News Service in an interview.
Many protesters also called for granting state status to Washington, DC, a deeply Democratic area that would shift Congress to the left if represented by a vote. in the Senate and in the House. The cause gained popularity among religious suffrage activists this year.
“In my religious tradition there is a scripture that says, ‘Faith without works is dead,’ said Reverend Delman Coates, pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Maryland. “We are here today because there has been too much silence on voting rights.”
As the last group left with a police escort, protesters raised their fists as supporters on the sidewalk sang the civil rights hymn “We Shall Overcome”.