To honor King’s legacy, defend voting rights

By Erica Eckart

With voting rights under attack in Missouri, Kansas and across the nation and right-wing politicians Tweeting tributes to Dr. King even as they vote to destroy his legacy and prevent teaching the history of the civil rights movement in our schools, now is the right time to truly honor all the towering figures in the fight for justice by enlisting in the movement to defend what has been won and truly extend freedom and equality to all.

It is said that those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it. That is why the opponents of democracy want to hide the history of the stuggles for equal rights in this country.

What most people don’t know is that the UAW led by President Walter Reuther, embraced the civil rights movement including key historical moments such as the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. Reuther also marched beside Dr. Martin Luther King as he sought to make America a more just nation.

In 1963 the UAW gave Dr. King office space in its headquarters at the solidarity house in Detroit, this is where Dr. King penned his famous “ I Have a Dream” speech.

Dr. King had a stalwart ally in Reuther who gave critical backing to the 1963 March on Washington for jobs and freedom, and was a huge supporter of Kings civil rights tactics.

Reuther and the UAW walked proudly beside King and provided financial support including a time when a group of activists were arrested and the judge set an unreasonably high bail, the UAW posted bail for everyone and went on to continue the fight.

After King’s assassination, Reuther and the UAW marched with Coretta Scott King in Memphis on April 8th, in support of the peaceful resolution of the city sanitation strike, and donated $50,000, the largest check from any outside source.

In 1970, when Reuther and his wife were killed in a plane crash, Coretta eulogized Reuther saying “he was there in person when the storm clouds were thick”.

Thanks to the efforts of those who fought diligently throughout the civil rights movement, President Johnson signed the voting rights act of 1965 into law.

Before then, African Americans faced voter suppression tactics such as poll taxes, literacy tests and other bureaucratic restrictions to deny them their right to vote.

Fast forward to today…

Today they are taking a subtle, but effective approach to voter suppression by redistricting and gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is when a political group tries to change a voting district to create a result that helps them or hurts the group that is against them.

One of the people still in the fight against voter suppression is former house of representatives, Stacey Abrams.

Abrams is the first African American female Democratic nominee for Georgia’s governorship. For Abrams, voting access is not about Democrats and Republicans, its about inclusiveness.

“The process of voting should be non-partisan” said Abrams, “and it should be a patriotic belief that every eligible American citizen should have unimpeded access to the right to vote”.

As you can see, the fight for civil rights continues.

Politics have shared in the history of both the civil rights and Labor movements and continues to effect both today.

Walter Reuther once said that “there’s a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box, and what the Union fights for at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislative halls”. That is why voting matters and that is why how you vote matters.

He spoke those words at the UAW convention in 1970. Today in 2022 we are still in the fight trying to protect labor and civil rights. Dr. King said, “We need leaders not in love with money, but in love with Justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity”.

It is our RIGHT to vote, it is our RIGHT to be treated fairly in the workplace, It is our RIGHT to not be discriminated against based on the color of our skin yet we are still being politicized to the point where our fight is ongoing.

Hopefully, the next time you go to vote, you will remember that as a UAW member this fight belongs to you as well. We have a duty to continue on the legacy.

“There is no power in the world that can stop the forward march of free men and women when they are joined in the solidarity. Of human brotherhood” -Walter Reuther