The air was thick and muggy this morning in Georgetown, Texas, the Central Texas town that sits just north of the capital city. But that didn’t stop well over 100 people from congregating outside Christ Lutheran Church at 7 a.m., the kickoff site for the much-anticipated Moral March for Democracy, a four-day voting rights event organized by the Poor People’s Campaign and Beto O’Rourke’s Powered by People. In total, the march will cover nearly 30 miles before concluding with a rally outside the Texas State Capitol on Saturday.
Donning bright yellow shirts that declared “We are the moral resurrection!”, the group erupted in applause as Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II — the acclaimed social justice leader who made headlines after his stirring sermon at President Biden’s inaugural prayer service — took hold of the microphone. “We must have federal intervention. We must end the filibuster. And we must pass the true John Lewis bill, the For the People Act,” Barber said, his booming voice captivating the audience as he gripped a cane in his right hand.
Alongside O’Rourke and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, who co-chairs the Poor People’s Campaign with him, Barber arrived in the Austin area at an alarming moment in American history. More than two weeks ago, 50-plus Texas House Democrats broke quorum and traveled to D.C. to implore the U.S. Senate to take up critical voting rights legislation. But up to this point, the upper chamber has refused to take action on H.R. 1 (the For the People Act) and H.R. 4 (the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act), marquee bills that would override dangerous thrusts against democracy by state lawmakers across the country, including here in Texas.
The time for action is now, Barber said. And he’s right. Frustrated by Democrats’ ongoing absence from the State Capitol, Republicans are tripling down on their full-court press against voting rights — a trend that should only worsen in the coming weeks. Just two days ago, House Speaker Dade Phelan signed his first civil arrest warrant of the summer. The warrant, which targeted Rep. Philip Cortez, the District 117 member who flew back to the nation’s capital last weekend after a brief return to Austin, likely serves as a precursor for similar action to come.
Despite D.C.’s inaction and Texas Republicans’ relentlessness, Barber’s presence sends a key message to lawmakers and concerned citizens across America: We’re here to fight for our rights. And just as they did in Selma, we’re going to march, rally, and organize our way to victory. Following his address, which also touched on the need to act on policies like a $15 minimum wage, economic justice, and immigration reform, the reverend led the group in a refrain of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” as they began their procession towards Good Hope Baptist Church in Round Rock.
In total, the group marched nine miles today, including several hours in suffocating summer temperatures that surpassed a heat index of 100 degrees. And while it’s just the first day of the event, its purpose was summed up in a subtle, but powerful, moment between Barber and O’Rourke. Marching at the back of the group, the two leaders came together and spoke privately to one another — an exchange that demonstrated their belief that, in the end, the people must always lead the charge for change.
To learn more about the Moral March for Democracy or view its itinerary, visit the event’s website here.