Georgia legislator, clergy arrested at D.C. voting rights rally

Bee Nguyen, a Georgia state representative and candidate for secretary of state, speaks Tuesday during a rally outside the White House about voting rights.

Credit: Nathan Posner

Credit: Nathan Posner

Bee Nguyen, a Georgia state representative and candidate for secretary of state, speaks Tuesday during a rally outside the White House about voting rights.

WASHINGTON — Several Georgians, including pastors and a Democratic state representative running for secretary of state in 2022, were arrested outside the White House on Tuesday as part of a demonstration on voting rights.

They were participating in a rally ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled procedural vote on a federal elections bill drafted by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and backed by 49 other Democrats. But it is unlikely that 10 Republicans will go along, meaning the legislation is expected to stall just as other Democratic voting rights proposals have in recent months.

The activists at Tuesday’s demonstration expressed disappointment in President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who they believe should be doing more to change the filibuster rules that require 60 votes to proceed, which have allowed Republicans to block the elections proposals.

State Rep. Bee Nguyen, an Atlanta Democrat who is running to be Georgia’s next elections chief, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she was “here to urge the president and Congress to prioritize federal voting rights protection.” She said that if the latest bill fails to pass the procedural vote, Georgia U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and their Democratic colleagues should change the filibuster rules.

“We need Congress and the president to do their jobs,” she told the crowd before being detained alongside 24 others. “We cannot outorganize a subversion of democracy.”

U.S. Park Police officers said they would begin making arrests after demonstrators did not respond to verbal warnings that they were breaking the law by blocking the sidewalk in front of the White House. Nguyen, who locked arms with other activists during the rally, said she was charged with a misdemeanor and paid a fine.

Several Democratic lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, have been arrested after similar protests at the U.S. Capitol complex in recent months.

Democrats say new federal voting laws are necessary because Republican-led states, including Georgia, have passed laws making it harder to vote. The pace of restrictive voting laws in states escalated after then-President Donald Trump said falsely and repeatedly that the 2020 election that he lost to Biden was stolen.

Republicans say the bills are federal overreach, that states already have laws that protect the right to vote while also preserving the integrity of elections. They say Democrats want to pass their bills to seize more power.

Those attending Tuesday’s rally said the federal laws are needed and should be prioritized by Biden and other Democrats. The Rev. Timothy McDonald III, senior pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta and co-chairman of People for the American Way, attended the protest but was not among those taken into custody.

“President Biden has to demonstrate the same type of leadership on voting rights as he has demonstrated on the other issues that are important to him,” McDonald said. “He ran on the issue of voting rights. It is time to not only talk the talk but to walk the walk.”

Georgia State Rep and candidate for Georgia Secretary of State Bee Nguyen and other protestors are arrested during a demonstration outside of the White House about voting rights on October 19th, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Credit: Nathan Posner

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Credit: Nathan Posner