With abortion rights, the franchise, and the prospect of meaningful climate action under increasingly dire threat, grassroots progressives in West Virginia and Arizona are planning to hold a day of nonviolent direct action later this month to pressure Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to drop their support for the legislative filibuster.
“On May 23rd, Arizonans and West Virginians will come together in our states to say, ‘No more!'” reads a statement released by the event’s organizers, a diverse alliance that includes the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, the Arizona Coalition to End the Filibuster, and the West Virginia Working Families Party.
“Arizonans and West Virginians are coming together to take on our obstructionist senators.”
“We will join in peaceful protest and nonviolent direct action,” the statement continues, “to demand that Sinema and Manchin stop their corrupt obstruction and end the filibuster so the majority can finally pass legislation to deal with the urgent crises that plague our nation.”
For months, Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sinema (D-Ariz.) have been the Senate Democratic caucus’ foremost supporters of the 60-vote legislative filibuster, a rule that—in a closely divided upper chamber—effectively gives the minority party veto power over most legislation.
Senate Republicans have readily wielded that power over the past year to tank legislation aimed at protecting the franchise from state-level voter suppression efforts and enshrining the right to abortion care into federal law. In late February, Manchin was the only Democrat to join Senate Republicans in filibustering the Women’s Health Protection Act.
“Senator Manchin’s obstructionism and support of fossil fuels are perilous to preserving our democracy, as well as our planet, and we cannot be silent about it. We must confront it,” said Sharon Helman, president of the Eastern Panhandle Green Coalition and coordinating committee member of the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign.
Following the explosive leak of conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion in a high-profile abortion rights case, Manchin and Sinema both openly defended the legislative filibuster, characterizing it as a key tool for preserving democracy.
But organizers of the upcoming “Sit-In for the Soul of America“—which is set to take place at Manchin and Sinema’s offices in Charleston and Tucson—expressed the opposite view, describing the filibuster as an anti-democratic relic of the Jim Crow era that is hindering progress on broadly popular and necessary legislation.
“Arizonans and West Virginians are coming together to take on our obstructionist senators,” Karina Ruiz, executive director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, said in a statement. “And we have to bring together people from all of our different movements that are being blocked by the filibuster to fight as one—that’s how we can bring down this Jim Crow barrier that’s hurting all of us.”
Kai Newkirk, an Arizona-based activist who grew up in West Virginia, added that “there is far too much at stake for our nation and planet not to draw on the nonviolent civil resistance lessons of victorious movements worldwide and put our bodies on the line together to try to make the political costs for Sinema, Manchin, and all who continue to block the will of the American majority unbearable.”
Just 50 votes plus a tie-breaker from the vice president are needed to weaken or abolish the filibuster, but Senate Democrats’ attempt earlier this year to create a filibuster carveout for voting rights fell short, with Manchin and Sinema joining every Republican in opposition.
On Wednesday, Senate Democrats are expected to attempt another vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would codify the right to abortion care into federal law. But the effort is doomed to fail as long as the filibuster remains intact.
“To break the Manchin-Sinema blockade on progress, we believe that people across our country will need to take bold action. But they’re our senators, so we are going to lead the charge and re-ignite this existential fight,” said the organizers of the May 23 march and sit-in, during which some participants will risk arrest.
“Too much is at stake for our democracy, our planet, and working families to give up or back down now—we must escalate instead,” they continued. “We must bring together all of the movements that are being blocked by the filibuster… Not only the voting rights and democracy movement but labor, climate, immigrant rights, the fight for $15, pro-choice, LGBTQ rights, public education, gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform, healthcare, and more. And together we must use mass nonviolent action to create a political crisis that forces change.”
Read the organizers’ full statement:
We stand at a crossroads in the history of our nation and the world. Our climate is in chaos, democracy is under assault at home and abroad, fundamental rights are at risk, and working families of every color and creed whose sacrifice carried our nation through the pandemic struggle still while the fortunes of the wealthy few explode.
A majority of American voters elected a Democratic President, House, and Senate to solve these crises. But the senior Senators of our states, Arizona and West Virginia—just two members of a 50-seat majority—are standing with the party of January 6th to block the change we so desperately need. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin are protecting an abused, outdated Senate rule—the filibuster—and the profits of their corporate donors over our people, our democracy, and our planet.
On May 23rd, Arizonans and West Virginians will come together in our states to say, “No more!” We will join in peaceful protest and nonviolent direct action to demand that Sinema and Manchin stop their corrupt obstruction and end the filibuster so the majority can finally pass legislation to deal with the urgent crises that plague our nation.
Majorities elect legislatures that pass laws by majority vote. That’s democracy. That’s how it works in our state legislatures in Arizona and West Virginia. That’s how it works in almost every state in the union and nearly every democratic republic on the planet. It’s time for the U.S. Senate to work the same so it can deliver for the people.
We cannot wait. As Sinema, Manchin, and their filibuster are blocking the change we need, now we will block business as usual to demand it. In the great American tradition of Dr. King, John Lewis, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, the suffragettes, the sit-down strikers, and other freedom struggles, we will use the tool of nonviolent direct action—the most powerful means of political action available to everyday people every day—to dramatize this emergency and make it impossible to ignore.
In West Virginia, we will take action in the capital city of Charleston where Manchin hides his office in the state lottery building. In Arizona we will take action in Tucson, where Sinema was born and has a Senate office that has never once been staffed or open to the public. These actions will include a family-friendly rally and march before the nonviolent direct action. Even if you can’t risk arrest at this time, we need you with us to rally and march and be counted! This is a time for all who believe in our just demand to stand together.
To break the Manchin-Sinema blockade on progress we believe that people across our country will need to take bold action. But they’re our senators, so we are going to lead the charge and re-ignite this existential fight.
Too much is at stake for our democracy, our planet, and working families to give up or back down now—we must escalate instead. We must bring together all of the movements that are being blocked by the filibuster to fight in unity to bring down the common barrier to achieving all of our missions. Not only the voting rights and democracy movement but labor, climate, immigrant rights, the fight for $15, pro-choice, LGBTQ rights, gun violence prevention, public education, criminal justice reform, healthcare, and more. And together we must use mass nonviolent action to create a political crisis that forces change.
As a coalition of movement leaders in the Mountain State and the Grand Canyon State, we call on our fellow West Virginians and Arizonans to join us in Charleston and Tucson on the 23rd. And we call on Americans who love freedom, democracy, justice, and life on earth to join us and act in your states in the weeks after. It’s time to Sit In to Save America! Like the generations of Americans who rose to meet the challenges of their time, now we must take the baton of freedom and rise to meet this test.
Forward together to liberty and justice for all.