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Support for voting rights acts continues in Springfield despite failure on filibuster

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Demonstrators gathered in front of the federal courthouse on State Street Saturday to renew their calls for passage of federal voting rights legislation after Democrats failed to eliminate the Senate filibuster.

What many hoped would be a victory celebration was, in fact, another of the continuing demonstrations to promote passage of voting rights bills through Congress after the failure of Democrats to eliminate the Senate filibuster this past week.

More than 70 people braved the cold Saturday afternoon to rally in front of the federal courthouse on State Street to continue the push for passage of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. The proposed bills would have prevented all states from enacting voting laws or rules that hamper citizens' access to ballots either physically or procedurally.

According to demonstrators, in the past year alone, 19 states have passed 34 separate bills suppressing access to ballots and more are coming. States have passed bills restricting early voting and mail-in voting. Other laws have been aimed at non-white voters and those with disabilities.

"We want to keep up the pressure (on elected officials) because voting rights are so fundamental, and we see this as a fight to have a democracy," Lydia Wood, executive director of the Western Mass. Area Labor Federation. "Even though we lost that day, I think there is a need for us to keep up the momentum."

Tuesday night, Senate Democrats failed to eliminate the filibuster, a Senate rule forcing all bills to garner a minimum of 60 votes to become a law. With just 51 seats in the Senate, Democrats needed to restructure the rules to pass the voting acts.

"I think…we need to make our voice heard that we want an accessible democracy, and to us, that means having not just the right to vote but the right to be able to vote," Wood said.

Ethel Everett, co-chair of the Western Mass Area Labor Federation's Racial Justice Committee said the very rules that are being used to block minority access to the ballot in 2022, are the same rules dreamed up to block newly black citizens from exercising their rights in 1965.

"We are outraged that Republicans are relying on an outdated procedure conceived in segregation, called the filibuster, the same procedure used to block civil rights legislation 50 years ago. It is being used again to deny voting rights in working-class communities, immigrant communities and in black communities," she said.

"We are outraged that just days after the nation paid homage to a great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the critical legislation that would have ensured the rights for every person to cast their vote was actively blocked by the right-wing Senate."

The demonstration was organized by the Western Mass Area Labor Federation, The Massachusetts Senior Action Council, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, the Springfield Chapter of the NAACP, Pioneer Valley Project, the Western Mass Black Nurses Association, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the Springfield Chapter of Girl Friends, Inc., and the Springfield Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

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