West Side residents rally in D.C. for voting rights

“This was vital for us to be here,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch Jr., executive director of Maafa Redemption Project and a pastor at New Mount Pilgrim Church. “It’s a profound way to commemorate Dr. King’s movement and continue his legacy and work.”

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Rev Marshall Hatch Jr., executive director of Maafa Redemption Project and a pastor at New Mount Pilgrim Church in West Garfield Park, with several young men participating in Maafa who traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in a voting rights march and rally on Saturday.

Rev. Marshall Hatch Jr., executive director of Maafa Redemption Project and a pastor at New Mount Pilgrim Church in West Garfield Park, stands with several young men participating in Maafa who traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend a voting rights march and rally on Saturday.

Suzanne McBride/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — Amonta Lewis said it was “mind-blowing” Saturday to participate in the national voting rights march and rally in Washington, D.C., and to be among so many other passionate people.

“You need to be involved, even if you don’t feel like your voice really matters,” the 20-year-old Austin resident said.

That’s one of the messages the Rev. Marshall Hatch Jr. hoped would resonate with Lewis and nine other young men from the West Side who drove to the nation’s capital for the day-long event.

The group is part of the Maafa Redemption Project, a faith-based residential institute in West Garfield Park for young men of color.

“This was vital for us to be here,” said Hatch, Maafa’s executive director and a pastor at New Mount Pilgrim Church. “It’s a profound way to commemorate Dr. King’s movement and continue his legacy and work.”

Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St John Bible Church, made the trip because he doesn’t want progress on voting rights to be reversed.

“It’s a disgrace that we’re still fighting for voters’ rights,” said Acree, co-chairman of the Leaders Network. “If we don’t use our voices, we have a radical right-wing contingency of the Republican Party that will set us back 60 years.”

David Cherry, president of the Leaders Network and head of Chicago’s All Star Project, said although Illinois’ voting laws aren’t under attack, what happens in other states affects Chicagoans.

“You have elected officials in all of these states who are putting in voter suppression laws that make it harder for Black people and Latinx to vote. The federal government has a responsibility to step in and say, ‘We’re not going to stand for this’,” he said.

Cherry said his mom, born in Alabama, and his dad, born in South Carolina, never voted in those states because of voter suppression and intimidation. They didn’t feel safe voting until they moved to New York.

“It was just open terrorism,” he said. “But what is happening today — instead of dogs and water hoses — they’re engaging in voting suppression using a stroke of a pen.”

Acree and Cherry said it’s imperative the U.S. Senate take up the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, approved earlier this week by the U.S. House of Representatives. It would restore federal oversight of state election laws under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Making voting accessible to all is key if there is to be progress on other issues like health care and jobs, Acree said.

“If you don’t have voters rights, you can’t fight for police reform, you can’t fight for pay equity,” he said. “Power is at the polling place. That’s where everybody meets as equals. The vote is the great human equalizer.”

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