People For the American Way

This is Our Moment: More Than 200 Arrested in Powerful Voting Rights Protest at White House

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This is Our Moment: More Than 200 Arrested in Powerful Voting Rights Protest at White House
A crowd of 800 people demonstrate for voting rights in front of the White House on November 17, 2021.

On November 17, People For the American Way, the League of Women Voters of the United States, the Declaration for American Democracy, and dozens of democracy coalition partner organizations gathered for a powerful demonstration for voting rights in front of the White House. A crowd of around 800 protestors demanded that President Joe Biden use the full power of his bully pulpit to pass new federal legislation at long last on voting rights.

More than 200 voting rights activists were arrested that day, signaling a growing awareness of the dire need for the Senate to finally fix or nix the filibuster in order to pass critical federal voting rights legislation, including the Freedom to Vote Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the D.C. Statehood bill. This action follows a previous demonstration at the White House on Nov. 3 at which nearly 60 activists were arrested, and earlier demonstrations on October 19 and October 5 at which 25 and five activists were arrested, respectively.

A crowd of around 800 people march to the White House down Black Lives Matter Plaza on November 17, 2021.
A crowd of around 800 people march to the White House down Black Lives Matter Plaza on November 17, 2021.

The event featured participants from around the country, including faith leaders, civil rights activists, young elected officials, labor leaders, and students. Activists traveled from locations including Atlanta, Augusta, Baltimore, Charlottesville, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Hartford, CT, Minneapolis, New York City, and as far away as California, Florida, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.

Reverend William Barber II leads the crowd of approximately 800 activists protesting for voting rights as they walk down Black Lives Matter Plaza towards the White House on November 17, 2021.A protestor joins the crowd of more than 800 people at Black Lives Matter Plaza to protest for voting rights on November 17, 2021. Reverend William Barber II leads the crowd of approximately 800 activists protesting for voting rights as they walk down Black Lives Matter Plaza towards the White House on November 17, 2021. Lady Liberty herself - embodied by Laurie Woodward Garcia from Broward for Progress - risked arrest for voting rights in front of the White House on November 17, 2021. On the 11th day of his hunger strike for voting rights, radio host and activist Joe Madison revved up the crowd in front of the White House on November 17, 2021. As approximately 800 protestors marched towards the White House on November 17, 2021, the Baltimore Urban Inspiration Choir moved the crowd with protest songs.

As those risking arrest gathered behind the police barricades, radio host and activist Joe Madison spoke to the crowd about his hunger strike for voting rights, which was eleven days in at the time of the protest (and is still ongoing). “Just as solid food is essential for life,” Madison told the crowd, “understand – the vote is essential for democracy.”

Reverend William Barber II spoke to the crowd, urging President Biden to stop letting cowardly members of Congress control and undermine our country.

Charly Carter, executive director of Democracy Initiative, said that we’re protesting for action right now – not some distant point in the future.

You can watch the full livestream of the event here:

The day before this massive direct action took place, People For President Ben Jealous talked about how proud he was that this movement has turned into a truly multi-generational effort spanning coalitions and issue areas.

Shortly before risking arrest for voting rights, People For’s Deputy Director of Leadership Programs, Markus Batchelor, said that we need President Biden to work on more than the infrastructure of our roads and bridges – we need him to work on the infrastructure of our democracy, too.

Earlier that day, Ebony Martin, co-executive director of Greenpeace, explains that if we want climate justice, we need voting rights.

“Without voting rights,” says Dr. Deborah Ann Turner, President of the League of Women Voters, “we are not a democracy.”

Rev. Jane Thomas, a member of People For’s African American Ministers in Action, tells us that she was joining us at the White House to make a difference in this world.

You can find all of our videos from the day here.

Read People For President Ben Jealous’s new blog about our series of direct actions for voting rights this fall!