Rally for voting rights in Paducah Skip to content

Rally for voting rights in Paducah

Paducah is in deep western Kentucky, Donald Trump-Mitch McConnell country. But about 20 people rallied outside McConnell's local office Wednesday to protest his opposition to the Freedom to Vote Act.

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Karla Johnston, Jennifer Smith, and Janice Butler rally outside Senator Mitch McConnell's office
Karla Johnston, Jennifer Smith, and Janice Butler rally outside Senator Mitch McConnell's office (photo by Berry Craig)

Paducah is in deep western Kentucky, Donald Trump-Mitch McConnell country. But about 20 people from Paducah, Murray, Mayfield, elsewhere in the region, and Marion, Ill., rallied outside McConnell’s local field office Wednesday afternoon to protest his unrelenting opposition to the Freedom to Vote Act.

Dr. Clardy
Leslie McColgin (photo by Berry Craig)

“He is using the filibuster to prevent the bill from even being debated on the Senate floor,” said Leslie McColgin, a co-leader of Four Rivers Indivisible, a regional branch of the national Indivisible organization. She helped organize the rally.

Though Kentucky’s senior senator is only the minority leader, last month he deployed the filibuster to stall the measure that the Brennan Center for Justice says “would set national standards to protect the freedom to vote, counter election sabotage, end partisan redistricting, and fix our broken campaign finance system.”

Echoing segregationist southern Democrats who cried “states' rights” in opposing the Voting Rights Act and other landmark 1960s-era federal civil rights legislation, McConnell said the Freedom to Vote Act is a Democratic plan “to have the federal government take over how elections are conducted all over America.”

McColgin, from near Melber, said Paducah was among more than 80 towns and cities in 25 states and Washington, D.C., where similar rallies and demonstrations were held in support of the Freedom to Vote Act. Indivisible and dozens of progressive groups gathered under the umbrella of Declaration for American Democracy, “an anti-oppression coalition working together to make the promise of democracy real for all of us.”

“We chose this week because the Senate is in recess,” she said.

After the rally, McColgin and a small group delivered letters to McConnell’s office urging him to relent on the Freedom to Vote Act. He was 10 miles away, joining other state and local dignitaries, including Gov. Andy Beshear, in symbolically breaking ground for a new $42 million passenger terminal at Barkley Regional Airport.

Officers from the Paducah-McCracken County NAACP were in the crowd at the ceremonies. Toni Tilton read a statement from the branch urging Congress to overturn “discriminatory voter laws” passed by state legislatures “and allow citizens, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution, the right to the ballot box without fear or intimidation or unjust voter restrictions.”

Several states — all with GOP-majority statehouses — have passed laws that make it more difficult to vote. Critics charge that the bills are aimed at suppressing the vote of African Americans and other minorities who lean Democratic. Hence, they liken the bills to laws that Jim Crow-era white supremacist Democrats passed to deny the ballot to African Americans who voted Republican, then the party of “Lincoln and liberty.”

Judy Tuggle
Judy Tuggle (photo by Berry Craig)

Four Rivers Indivisible and the Mayfield-Graves County NAACP branch co-sponsored the rally. Branch President Bruce Dobyns was unable to attend, but branch member Judy Tuggle read a statement from him.

It said, in part, “we are not calling for a revolution, but simply demanding that those God-given rights spelled out in the Declaration of Independence become the norm for every person in America. That is what will make us ‘great again,’ not going back to the ‘good old days’ when only a few had the right to vote. We demand that Sen. McConnell and all who oppose voting rights step up and live up to what they know is right for every citizen.”

In September, a group of Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin, introduced the bill which, according to the Brennan Center, “represents a major step forward in the push to enact comprehensive legislation to strengthen American democracy, promote racial justice and equity for all Americans, and thwart the assault on voting rights taking place in the states.”

Adds the center: “The bill includes many of the most important provisions that were also in the For the People Act (FTPA), which passed the House as H.R. 1 in March, along with new safeguards to protect the integrity of vote counting  and ensure sound election administration. Together with the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (which would restore and update the full protections of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965), the Freedom to Vote Act would be the most comprehensive democracy reform law enacted in decades.”

With the Senate split 50-50, the Democrats needed 10 Republican votes to overcome a certain McConnell-led filibuster to kill the bill. Manchin hoped to craft a compromise that would win over at least 10 Republicans.

But last month, McConnell thwarted a procedural vote on the bill with the unanimous backing of his caucus.

“The Democrats said then that they were going to bring it up again and do something to get it to pass, which means we’re also here to pressure them to do something about the filibuster,” McColgin said. “We have a petition we’re going to send to President Biden besides the letters we have for Sen. McConnell."

Toni Tilton
Toni Tilton (photo by Berry Craig)

In her handwritten letter, Tilton didn’t pull any punches: “I wonder how you live with yourself. You are so afraid of losing power, you lie and cheat and steal our votes. ... You obviously don’t care about your legacy. You will never be a hero – only a lying despot willing to do anything to keep riches and power.” She asked the senator to spare her “any insulting, demeaning, I-know-you-are-stupid-ha-ha response.”

After McColgin and others spoke, everybody gathered curbside along Broadway and waved posters and placards urging passage of the Freedom to Vote Act.

Several motorists showed their support by honking horns and flashing thumbs-up signs.

Eight rally-goers lined up with flip cards that said “PASS THE BILL NOW!” on one side and “#FREEDOM TO VOTE” on the other.

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY