Forty three years ago last week Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Our group was literally founded to honor and further the work Dr. King and others undertook to ensure passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, because nearly half a century after that law’s enactment, America ranks near the bottom of all nations in voter participation.
Dr. King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, is a member of our advisory board and continues to fight for Dr. King’s principles to this day through his work as the chief executive officer of the King Center and vice chair-designate of the Drum Major Institute.
Martin Luther King III penned this blog post for the Huffington Post last week answering the question “What Would Dr. King Do Today?” and the first question he asks is about why we vote on Tuesday.
This week marks the anniversary of my father’s death. Many Americans observe this occasion by looking back at the ideals he fought for and gave his life to advance. I believe we should mark it by looking forward to how much further we can advance those ideals in our own lifetimes.
There is no doubt that America, and in fact the world, are better today in so many ways, thanks in part to our progress in living up to those ideals. We are witnessing peoples across the world throwing off repressive regimes, inspired both by Dr. Martin Luther King’s teachings of non-violent social change and the momentous step America itself took in overcoming our own history by electing a president who once could not even have voted in some of the states he carried. These developments are testament to the power of both my father’s principles, and America’s.
But while we can take well-earned satisfaction in how far we have come, there is still further we can go. In this period between another anniversary of my father’s passing and the anniversary this summer of the March on Washington and the unveiling of the Martin Luther King, Jr., national memorial, we at the King Center in Atlanta and its affiliated policy organization, the Drum Major Institute here in New York City, are launching a national effort asking Americans to consider the following questions:
Have we removed all government-imposed barriers and inequities? While Americans have differing views on the role of government, we all recognize that everyone should be allowed to participate equally in that government, and that equal access to the ballot box is the foundation of all our freedoms. Yet governments across the country still impose requirements that effectively limit many Americans’ ability to vote: The outdated practice of holding elections in the middle of the work week — which stems from an agricultural era — cuts down the ability of many Americans to exercise their franchise. Some jurisdictions exacerbate this problem by closing the polls at an hour that most working people are just getting home from their jobs — if they’re fortunate to work only one. Some politicians are now talking of erecting additional hurdles. With one of the lowest rates of voter participation in the world, shouldn’t America today be promoting voting rather than hindering it?
To read Martin Luther King III’s entire blog post, click here. For more about Why Tuesday? and our mission, click here.
Photo of Martin Luther King III at Riverside Church in NYC via Lindsay Beyerstein on Flickr.