By CARL GREEN
On a hot and sunny Friday afternoon Sept. 17, a powerful coalition of community and Labor groups brought a big crowd to the cool and shady front yard of the Thomas Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in St. Louis to stand together to protect something Americans often take for granted – their right to vote.
The targets were very specific – two Republican U.S. senators who have offices in the building, Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, who were nowhere to be seen during the event.
Among several speakers, the leader was Denise Lieberman, the activist now serving as director and general counsel for the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, hosting the event.
With more than 100 boisterous and chanting activists in the crowd, the theme was “Finish the Job,” meaning to oppose Republican schemes across the country to roll back voting rights and to support President Biden’s plans to rebuild the nation’s economy and public sector.
“We are here today to call on Missouri senators Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley to ‘finish the job for the people,” Lieberman said. “We are here to call on our representatives in the United States Senate to take decisive action to protect the freedom to vote – for all Missourians.”
She added, “We know much is at stake. Our Democracy is in crisis. We have witnessed a full-scale assault on our freedom to vote here in Missouri and in states around the country.”
TWO KEY BILLS
Lieberman noted two bills that have passed the U.S. House and are now before the Senate – the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, to restore protection to voting rights, and the Freedom to Vote Act, a successor to the “For the People Act” which Senate Republicans blocked in March.
“The introduction of the Freedom to Vote Act marks tremendous momentum in the Senate in favor of voting rights, and so we came here today, standing in front of the offices of Senators Blunt and Hawley, so they see that we want them to finish the job,” Lieberman told the cheering crowd.
“We are here to protect the right of all people to participate in our democracy, and we are particularly focused on the impact of the ballot for working people, for the right of people to access their health care, because we know that the power of the ballot is what is needed for us to fight for our freedoms, good wages, access to health care, equal access to housing and education, and criminal justice reform.”
Among the other speakers were John Bowman, president of the St. Louis County NAACP; Errol Bush, father of U.S Rep. Cori Bush (D-St. Louis); and Eleanor Simmons, a home caregiver and union member.
“Whatever color, background or zip code we come from, we value our freedom – the freedom to have the right to exercise our fundamental constitutional values, and that means voting,” Bowman said. “Senator Blunt and Josh Hawley need to clearly understand that we will not let the clock be turned back on us with these draconian Jim Crow laws that they are pushing in Missouri and other states.”
Simmons, a member of SEIU Healthcare Missouri, focused on the Biden proposals to revive the economy now working their way through Congress.
“I’ve been a caregiver for seniors and the disabled for more than 30 years. There were times I was not even getting paid, but it didn’t matter,” she said. When her brother was sick with COVID-19 and hospitalized, she could not go to see him and he died before she could.
She added, “Thank God for the unions that support us and help us in this fight. President Biden’s current plan would transform the lives of these caregivers. We have no one to come in to relieve us when we are sick. When we are in pain we go in; we work overtime to finish the job.
“So we’re asking Blunt to fight, to join us and make sure that the Biden plan passes through Congress with the full $400 billion invested in care workers and the health care system. We need to let them (Blunt and Hawley) know we are standing strong. We will continue fighting no matter what until they support us.”
Errol Bush, who is also an alderman from Northwoods in St. Louis County, brought one message – that Democrats cannot let down their guard after the mostly successful 2020 election.
“We came out in 2020 like I don’t know what, and we’ve got to do that again,” he said. “We cannot sit out these mid-term elections. We’ve got to help this president and this vice president and this Democratic Congress. I know passing legislation is not easy. It’s like making sausage, but that’s the democratic way. That’s the way we’re supposed to do it.”
Some 60 groups have joined in the coalition. A few of them are Indivisible Missouri, Missouri Jobs with Justice, the League of Women Voters, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metro St. Louis.
MRS. DRED SCOTT
A highlight of the event was actress Peggy Harris performing in costume as Dred Scott’s wife Harriet Robinson Scott, who joined him in his court case seeking freedom and human rights in 1857 St. Louis.
She sang a song with the lyrics, “I wish I knew what it means to be free, I wish I could break all these chains binding me. I wish you could feel how it feels to be me and to know that every man should be free.” She then gave a recitation describing Harriet’s experiences.
Denise Lieberman closed the event as she opened it, with a stirring speech calling for action.
“If we do not know our history, we are bound to repeat it, and we are faced right now with the greatest assault on our right to vote since the first Reconstruction era,” she said. “We need to continue to fight like Dred Scott fought, like Harriet Scott fought, to ensure that our people are free.
“Our battles, our fights, require us to come together. Each organization may have different missions and work in different lanes and work with different constituencies. But we all come together in the fight for our freedom to vote,” she added. “We know that regardless of the color of our skin and the zip code in which we live, everybody deserves to have a say.”