MLK march focuses on voter issues: 'Our democracy is on the line'
More than 200 people walked through salted streets after Monday night's snowfall for Cincinnati's 47th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march and rally. Speakers addressed issues on health care access, police reform, and voter suppression. This year's theme "Your freedom and my freedom are bound together," is about reiterating the teachings of MLK Jr., especially those in his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."
Speaker Courtis Fuller says the issue of voter suppression is paramount amid Congress' debate on two voting rights bills that were filibustered by Republicans last year - the Freedom to Vote Act and The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
"In Washington, they're still deciding whether or not people have the right to vote. What kind of nonsense is that here in the year 2022?" he told the crowd in front of the Freedom Center. "And so marching is necessary. It is a symbolic statement that things still must be done."
Nicole Taylor, with Cincinnati's NAACP, said voting rights are also important to her organization, which registered people to vote and helped with address changes during the event.
"Right now, we're at a pivotal time. Our Congress literally is going to be voting on the filibuster tomorrow. And if Dr. King was alive, I think right now, that will be the pressing issue," she said. "Our democracy is on the line … On a day like today, [it] is the call to action for people who believe in Dr. King's dream and what he stood for."
Other people shared their own reasons for standing with MLK's legacy during the march, as well. Stephan Pryor, 16, held a yellow sign that said, "Teach your son not to kill my son. I already taught my son not to kill yours."
He says Dr. King's vision for nonviolence is especially important for him because of recent deadly shootings in the city that he thinks are gang related.
"I just want the killing to stop, so we can all be in peace because I can't go to sleep with these gunshots. I can't. It's like an alarm now. And my mom was scared for me to just even be outside because she could never know what [might] happen," he said.
After the march through Downtown, Mayor Aftab Pureval was invited to speak to the crowd at Washington Park and said he's proud of the progress toward racial equity the city is making.
"Dr. King's legacy of racial equity, of justice, continues today. Look, there is certainty more work to be done," he said. "But the people who are on this stage understand that our north star, our north star, is racial equity because Cincinnati today continues to be a city that is segregated by race, segregated by wealth."
It's an issue Pureval said the newly seated City Council is committed to addressing so they can make all 52 neighborhoods in the city more equitable for everybody, specifically through affordable housing reform.
"But it's not just on us. It's on all of us to make sure we move this city forward and I am confident, I am optimistic that we can do just that," Pureval said.
The annual commemorative program, with keynote speaker Iris Roley, was moved online this year due to COVID-19 concerns. It quickly filled up at maximum capacity for viewership but can be viewed at the MLK Coalition website.