UPDATE: The hunger strike is back. Students protest outside Congress, pressuring lawmakers to pass voting rights legislation.

After ending a 15-day hunger strike in December, Hunger Strike for Democracy participants began another indefinite strike to encourage Democrats to pass voting rights legislation.

The strike coincided with other efforts marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

After ending a 15-day hunger strike outside the White House last month following the Biden administration’s public commitment to prioritize voting reform legislation, the same students are now resuming their protest near the Capitol Building. 

Un-Pac, a non-profit organization that organizes young people and students, is organizing Hunger Strike for Democracy, which resumed on Jan. 13. 

This past weekend, the group participated in marches, conducted press conferences, and rallied supporters on social media ahead of the Senate-imposed Jan. 17 deadline to vote on H.R. 5746: Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, which combines the Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021.

Campus Reform reported on the initial hunger strike as it occurred in December. On Monday, the hunger strike occurred near the Capitol. 

“Today, Martin Luther King Day is the fifth day of our Youth Hunger Strike for Democracy. Our fifth day of standing up and saying to the Senate we will not eat until the Senate stands up and does what is right and passes the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act,” said University of Central Florida student Loki Mole at Monday’s press conference.

“I joined the strike because I, like many of the other people striking behind me, believe that our government needs to take action on pressing issues such as climate change, health care, and the student debt crisis,” he continued. “But our government won’t take action on these issues until we fix our broken democracy and make the government work for us like they’re supposed to.”

Furthermore, the bill has caught the attention of the King family, who spearheaded efforts Monday morning to encourage passage of the legislation.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk is an annual event organized to honor the legacy of the civil rights leader, but this year was utilized to rally support and put pressure on President Biden and Democratic legislatures. 

Titled “Deliver for Voting Rights,” the event was pinned as a Day of Action that “call[s] on President Biden and Congress to end the filibuster and deliver on voting rights now.”

Embracing the phrase “No Celebration Without Legislation,” the two-mile walk was led by members of the King family, including Martin Luther King III, Arndrea Waters King, and Yolanda Renee King.

“From the Civil War to the Jim Crow era, the filibuster has blocked popular bills to stop lynching, end poll taxes, and fight workplace discrimination. Now it’s being used to block voting rights. The weaponization of the filibuster is racism cloaked in procedure and it must go,” the Deliver for Voting Rights website states. “There’s no time to wait - we honor Dr. King with action.”

Starting on the Frederick Douglas Bridge, marchers trekked the 2-mile path after which event organizers departed for Union Station to host a press conference with notable Democratic leaders including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. 

“We are insisting on the truth,” Pelosi stated in a speech live-streamed on the Deliver for Voting Rights website. “And the truth is that our colleagues [in the] House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, must weigh the equities here. While it may be true to them that the filibuster is an important custom, it is not the Constitution of the United States.”

“We want all of them in the Senate to weigh the equities. We all want bipartisanship, we all strive for it, we have a responsibility to do so. But when we cannot have it, we cannot confine our democracy to what might be bipartisan-ly possible,” Pelosi said. 

Members of the hunger strike joined the league of marchers, expressing solidarity with the mission of the King family by tweeting:

“Congress cannot in good faith celebrate #MLKDay while they drag their feet on the #FreedomtoVote John Lewis Act. Now on DAY FIVE of our #HungerStrikeforDemocracy, we stand with the King family in saying #NoCelebrationWithoutLegislation.”

Strikers were also presented with the opportunity to meet with the King family, uniting their causes on the holiday.

Martin Luther King III, son of the civil rights legend, condemned those who celebrate the holiday but do not outright support the legislation.

“This #MLKDay, I will not accept empty promises in pursuit of my father’s dream. I do not want to see photo ops of elected officials if they are not willing to put voting rights over the filibuster. Today is a day of service as action. Congress must #DeliverForVotingRights.”

The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act has yet to obtain support from a single Republican senator and lacks party loyalty from Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). 

Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) supports the legislation, but by opposing filibuster reform, the Arizona politician is making it harder for Democratic lawmakers to pass the bill. 

Top Democratic leaders have doubted the bill’s success, as well, with President Biden admitting uncertainty following a meeting on Capitol Hill.

The honest-to-God answer is I don’t know whether we can get this done,” he stated to the press.

Though Democrats aimed to pass the legislation yesterday, debate will begin today. 

UPDATE: Un-Pac responded to Campus Reform’s request for comment after initial publication, stating that “40 young people who went without food for 8 days.” “ We’re all resting and recovering, but we will keep organizing together, and we will not give up, because solutions to all the problems young people care about depend on having a functional, accountable democracy,” Un-Pac Executive Director Shana Gallagher said. 

Campus Reform has reached out to Senator Sinema’s office for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

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