PHOENIX -- As the nation prepares to mark the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., some members of his family are spending it in Arizona to mobilize support for federal voting-rights legislation.
Martin Luther King III; his wife, Arndrea Waters King; and their daughter Yolanda Renee King, 13, took part Saturday in a campaign for voting rights in Phoenix. They marched with activists and supporters from Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, a predominantly Black congregation, and spoke about the importance of "no celebration without legislation."
"Our daughter has less rights around voting than she had when she was born," Martin Luther King III, the civil-rights leader's oldest son, said in an interview. "I can't imagine what my mother and father would say about that. I'm sure they're turning over and over in their graves about this."
Arizona is one of 19 states that have passed voting laws in the past year that King called "draconian." They make it harder for people to vote, especially people of color, he said.
Another reason the family chose to appear in Arizona is to send a message to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from the state.
President Joe Biden had implored Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to end the filibuster that requires support from 60 of 100 senators to pass most legislation. But Sinema poured cold water on the voting-rights legislation Thursday, saying on the Senate floor that she would not alter filibuster rules so it could move forward.
The filibuster, she said, forces bipartisan cooperation. Otherwise, the senator said Republicans could just repeal and replace the legislation whenever they rise to power.
"We must address the disease itself, the disease of division, to protect our democracy," Sinema said.
Sinema was jeered by some of the hundreds of people attending Saturday's rally. The Rev. Warren Stewart, a prominent Black clergy member and activist, said he was among "those ... who would hide behind procedure."
The rally was held at Eastlake Park, which for decades during segregation was a gathering place for Black residents not welcome in other parts of the city.
According to King, Sinema cannot simultaneously express support for the legislation and block its path.
"History will remember Sen. Sinema, I believe unkindly, for her position on the filibuster," he said.
The plea from the King family adds to the campaign to pressure Sinema to change her mind.
Progressive groups have installed billboards and aired television ads. Activists cornered Sinema in a bathroom at Arizona State University and at a wedding where the senator officiated.
Congressional Democrats have written legislation that would usher in the biggest overhaul of U.S. elections in a generation by striking down hurdles to voting enacted in the name of election security. The legislation also would reduce the influence of big money in politics and limit partisan influence over the drawing of congressional districts.
It also includes the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill that would strengthen civil rights-era voting law and honor the legacy of the late Georgia congressman.
Supporters had hoped legislation would advance by the Martin Luther King holiday.
Martin Luther King III urged people to keep taking action, such as signing petitions or calling their senators.
The holiday is "not a traditional celebration where you kick back, eat barbecue and just relax," he said. "This is about working."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, having worked closely as a young man with Martin Luther King Jr., said Friday he was worried about the current lack of political consensus on voting rights. Previously, Republicans and Democrats in Washington have voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965, with both parties recognizing the historic nature of the legislation.
"The right to vote was the crown jewel of the civil-rights struggle," Jackson said, adding that "we're in a desperate situation."
Information for this article was contributed by Jonathan J. Cooper, Paul Davenport and Aaron Morrison of The Associated Press.