Sixty years after Freedom Riders boarded buses to the South to challenge Jim Crow laws, activists are continuing the pursuit of more equitable civil and voting rights.
On Friday, 100 Baltimoreans with the labor union Unite Here Local 7 participated in their own ride, boarding buses from Central Baltimore to Richmond, Virginia, and afterward to Washington, D.C., to protect the right to vote.
There they joined tens of thousands of activists from across the country calling on Congress to pass the For the People Act, the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Act, and statehood for the District of Columbia.
The U.S. House of Representatives in March passed the For the People Act, but the U.S. Senate would still need to approve it.
The bill includes requirements for states to offer online and same-day voter registration, allow voters to change their registration at the polls, establish automatic voter registration for anyone eligible to vote in federal elections, expand vote-by-mail opportunities, hold early voting for at least two weeks, and make Election Day a federal holiday.
The John L. Lewis Voting Rights Act has not yet been introduced, but previous iterations of the bill required states and jurisdictions that have accrued a certain number of voting rights violations in a specified time period to get preapproval from the U.S. Department of Justice or U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before making legal changes that would affect voting rights.
Those who support making the District of Columbia the 51st U.S. state say it would advance voting rights by giving federal representation to the district’s more than 700,000 taxpayers.
In April, the House approved statehood for Washington, D.C., which would have changed the “D.C.” to an abbreviation for “Douglass Commonwealth” in honor of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. But the bill faces a tough climb in the Senate.
Voting rights advocates across the country are also speaking out against state laws that will make it more difficult to vote. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 17 states have enacted laws in 2021 making it more difficult to vote.
In Georgia, for example, a recently passed law requires voters to present identification when voting in person, bans food and drink distribution to voters in line, cuts the amount of time that voters can request a ballot by more than half, and shortens the number of days voters have to return their ballot.
The U.S. Department of Justice is suing Georgia over that law, which the DOJ says disenfranchised Black voters. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the legal challenge on Friday.