Originally reported by The Guardian
December 13, 2021

Sixty were detained as the president met with the key Democrat who has become a roadblock to his agenda

During a crucial week for Joe Biden’s agenda that will likely feature a political showdown on his Build Back Better legislation in the Senate, voting rights activists are turning up the pressure in Washington.

As the US president met with a centrist Democrat who has acted as a roadblock to his plans – West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin – more than 60 demonstrators were arrested as they protested, singing songs and blocking traffic near the US Capitol.

The diverse group of activists came to Washington from around the country and were focused primarily on issues around voting rights and poverty. When the focus turned to voting rights, the talk became more focused on Manchin and the White House’s apparent inability to apply its power to pass federal legislation to protect the vote.

“I think we’re moving the ball but we have to get it across the finish line – we’re going to have to keep pushing. They don’t need to be going home for Christmas. We need to get voting rights taken care of,” said Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, as she waited to speak to the assembled crowd of more than 500 people.

As news spread that Manchin was signaling he wants more changes to Biden’s already stripped back Build Back Better legislation because of his concerns over inflation, activists at the rally were not impressed.

“That’s his whole game. Slow it down, block it, get things get done for the billionaires, his corporate donors – then to undermine voting rights let all the voting suppression bills get passed that wouldn’t get passed if we had the Voting Rights Act restored and we had federal protection,” said the Rev William Barber, president of Repairers of the Breach.

“He’s a trickster. The president needs to go to West Virginia. Stop meeting with him in his office. Go to his state,” Barber added shortly before leading activists in a street protest.

With talk of direct actions and in-office protests directed at Manchin and others, Barber and other activists promised to apply more pressure on lawmakers this week.

Barber and several other voting rights activists have been frustrated by what they view as a lack of focus and from the Biden administration regarding voting rights.

Many have warned the White House that Biden’s 7m vote victory, buttressed by strong turnout in predominately Black cities such as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, will be difficult to repeat without cementing the support of those same voters.

With 2022 midterm elections on the horizon, the urgency about which agenda items Biden will focus is a hot topic in the activist community.

“We go to the streets for nonviolent direct action. This is just the precursor,” Barber told the crowd of activists.

“If you think this is an action, you watch how we mobilize when we don’t have to be so Covid safe,” said Barber.

“There is only one answer to 19 states that have passed voter suppression laws. There’s only one answer to all this election subversion. There’s only one answer to all this work that they’re doing to purge people from election boards. There’s only one answer to gerrymandering. That is, ‘Pass the acts now!’” said Barbara Arwine, who leads the Transformative Justice Coalition to the crowd.

Arnwine was referring to the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bill would restore provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were removed by the supreme court’s Shelby v Holder decision in 2013.