More than 20 college students from Arizona and beyond have been on a hunger strike for over a week, demanding that lawmakers pass federal voting rights legislation.
Students from Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, organizing with the nonpartisan political group Un-PAC, began their protest on Dec. 6 and haven’t eaten in nine days. They started by camping out at Arizona’s Capitol before moving their protest to Washington D.C., where other young people from other states have joined them.
The protesters are camped outside the White House, pushing for lawmakers to pass the Freedom to Vote Act before the year’s end.
“The Freedom to Vote Act is about getting dark money out of politics and protecting our freedom to vote. Without it, our democracy will crumble — and our futures hang in the balance,” said 21-year-old striker Leo Cevallos, a senior at Arizona State.
Cevallos said the hunger strike is “physically taking its toll,” with some students feeling fatigue, brain fog, headaches and dizziness. “But emotionally, we’re feeling very supported and proud,” he added.
The protesters are specifically demanding a meeting with the Biden administration, urging President Joe Biden to “do whatever is necessary” to get the legislation passed this year.
The Freedom to Vote Act would require mail-in voting and automatic and same-day voter registration, and would ban partisan gerrymandering and undisclosed “dark money” in elections.
Republicans have repeatedly blocked the legislation from passing in the Senate.
Voting rights advocates and progressive lawmakers have urged Democratic senators to vote to eliminate the filibuster, which would allow the legislation to pass with a simple majority, but conservative Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) have said they don’t support eliminating the filibuster.
Voter restrictions disproportionately keep low-income voters, young people and Black and Latinx voters from the ballot.
Sinema met with some of the young hunger strikers over Zoom last week in what Cevallos called a “wonderful meeting.” Asked if they spoke with the senator about her position on the filibuster — which is effectively blocking the voting rights legislation from passing — Cevallos only said that the group’s focus is on “federal intervention,” asking Biden to use his “political capital” to get it passed.
The White House did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
In July, the Supreme Court upheld voting restrictions in Arizona that critics say discriminate against nonwhite voters.
Republicans in legislatures across the country have been pushing hundreds of bills at the state level that would restrict voting. Such efforts have already become law in several states, including Georgia, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona.
Voting rights advocates have turned their hopes to Congress to pass federal legislation to protect voting rights nationwide.
The young strikers in D.C. say they plan to keep up their fast “indefinitely,” until voting rights legislation is passed.
“We’ll stay out here as long as we need to,” Cevallos said. “Right here on the steps of the White House, where Biden can see us.”