By Naomi Serviss / New York City
As we commemorate
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
my emotions are all over the place.
Grateful his iconic legacy abides.
Ashamed I live
in a country
STILL DEBATING voting rights.
Angered by hypocritical politicians
(are there any other kind?)
purporting to love America
while gerrymandering voting districts
and undermining democracy.
What’s wrong with these people?
Have they no shame?
Imagine Jerry Seinfeld
asking in abject desperation:
“Who among us,
in their right mind,
would be against voting rights?”
I can hear a relative defending it.
“It’s complicated,” she’d say.
It’s not complicated.
When the Voting Rights of 1965 passed,
Dr. King described it
as a second and
final Emancipation Proclamation.
Would that it were!
D.C’s Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom
on May 17, 1957
drew between 15,000 and 30,000 people
to hear the civil rights leader
deliver his first national address
on voting rights.
He urged America to
“give us the ballot” six decades ago.
The more things change…
In 1969, I was a 10th grade social studies student
in Roy Buri's class
at Cheltenham High School
in Elkins Park, Pa.
A byproduct of his teachings was critical thinking.
Buri encouraged challenging authority.
Especially during the Vietnam War and civil rights years.
He provided us daily with the New York Times
and kicked off serious debates
about social injustice.
We talked about civil and voting rights.
A never-ending conversation in any decade.
Our spirited discussions centered
on Martin Luther King' Jr.'s
nonviolent civil and voting rights leadership
and LBJ's compromised voting rights legislation.
Buri encouraged us to question authority
and actively support social justice reforms, à la King Jr.
He sat on an empty desk in the front row and talked to us
like we were people. Some teachers thought he was too chummy.
That was another teacher.
He didn't try to be our friend. He wanted us to think.
Ironic that Dr. King
is honored with a federal holiday
as Congress disembowels the civil rights laws.
His son, Martin Luther King III,
was aghast after Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema,
a Democrat, defied common sense
in her Senate speech
refusing to adjust
the antiquated filibuster rule.
He accused her of
“siding with the legacy”
of white supremacy.
“History will remember Sen. Sinema unkindly,”
MLK’s son said.
all but decapitated Democrats’ attempts
to pass election reform
and these two voting rights reform packages:
The Freedom to Vote Act and
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act
There’s no happy ending. Not yet.
But every third Monday in January,
we pause to reflect
on the man whose
selfless passion for justice
ignited a movement
that is evolving still.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com