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Around 60 Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti community members gathered at Wheeler Park on Saturday to honor the legacy of the late Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and to protest proposed state and federal bills that would restrict access to voting. 

Social Work student Cat Hadley organized the event as a part of the National John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Day of Action, which encouraged voters in 130 cities to organize and protest against bills increasing barriers to voting. The day of action specifically aimed to garner support for the For the People Act and the Voting Rights Advancement Act, bills which purport to expand voting access across the country by making registration and the ballot box more accessible. 

“My main goal is to let more people know about the bills that are not only in the Michigan legislature but the ones federally that can help curb (voter suppression) like the For the People Act,” Hadley said. 

The protest started with a motorcade through downtown Ann Arbor. On foot, on bike and in cars, protesters chanted and waved signs. The “votorcade” ended back at Wheeler Park for speeches by Rev. Jeffery Harrold, state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County Commissioner Caroline Sanders, among others.

Irwin claimed in his speech that Republicans are working both in Michigan and across the country to reduce access to voting. He assured listeners that he is working to fight the Republican-sponsored package of bills in the Michigan Legislature, which he says will reduce the number of drop boxes across the state, implement stricter voter identification procedures and increase barriers to absentee voting. 

“Republicans are proposing voter suppression bills in legislatures all over our country, and they’re trying to find out what we will tolerate quietly,” Irwin said. “And it’s our job to make sure they know that we’re not going to take it. We’re not going to take one bit. We’re going to fight to make voting easier, not harder.”

Sanders said voters must hold their elected officials accountable and demand they support increasing access to voting. 

“The Voting Rights Act was passed in the year that I was born (1965),” Sanders said. “And it was very disheartening to me that now, years later, we are still having to fight and argue about people’s right to cast their vote. And if it wasn’t important, (the act) wouldn’t be such a four-letter word to the people who are trying to push through voter suppression.” 

Ypsilanti resident Audrey Anderson said she came to the protest to honor Lewis’ legacy fighting for civil rights and voting rights and to take a stand for voters and democracy.  

“All voters should have access, availability and the right to vote,” Anderson said. “That’s democracy. And I feel that in this current time, there is an attack on democracy and on voters with these anti-voting laws across our nation. That’s why I’m here. To give voice to the fact every American deserves the right to vote.”

Daily Staff Reporter Julia Rubin can be reached at julrubin@umich.edu