The 2021 Freedom Rides: HTC Marches with Thousands in Washington D.C. to Fight Voter Suppression

On June 26th, nearly 100 HTC members traveled over 200 miles to Washington D.C. to fight against voter suppression.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides, when a brave group of civil rights activists organized protests against segregation from Washington D.C. through the South, facing angry mobs and violence during their journey. Sixty years later, the fight for civil rights is far from over with an assault on the voting rights of Americans — specifically Black, Brown, and working class people—in full force in present day America.

Our Union recognizes that access to the ballot box is absolutely critical in order for our voices to be heard in our local legislatures and statehouses. Without the right to vote, working people are virtually powerless to create a democracy that works for us all. This is precisely why we have negotiated contract language that protects our right to vote – winning paid time off on election day at many hotels, requiring management to provide photo IDs that can be used to vote, and making employers offer voter registration during staff orientations. 

While we have these unique protections, the majority of working people do not. In Republican-controlled states including Arizona, Georgia, and Texas, lawmakers have recently introduced bills that will make it much more difficult for working people to vote. They’re seeking to outlaw 24-hour voting, restrict mail-in ballots, eliminate locations for dropping off absentee ballots, purge voting lists, and reduce the number of polling places in Black and Latino communities. Republicans have also tried to end Sunday voting, targeting “Souls to the Polls”, a movement by Black churchgoers to organize voters to go to the polls after Sunday service. These bills will translate into longer wait times at the polls, increased travel to go and vote, and difficulty for individuals who don't work a 9-5 job to cast their ballots.

HTC member Shazzadi Ross (Millennium Hilton) shows her daughter what fighting for progress looks like.

We see it as our obligation to defend against these attacks on our democracy. So, in the face of these attacks, we joined over 1,500 hospitality workers from all over the country, traveling to Washington D.C. on the historic anniversary of the Freedom Rides, to demand an end to this massive disenfranchisement of Black and Brown voters, working people, and poor citizens. Together, we urged the federal government to take immediate action that would provide national protections for voters.

“I believe the 21st century should be looking forward, and not backwards. This is why I rode to D.C. with my Union. I will not stand idle while people try to tear down civil rights,” said Alrick Patten from the Mandarin Oriental.

Two of the 2021 Freedom Riders were HTC member Shazzadi Ross, a Front Desk Agent from the Millennium Hilton, and her 11 year old daughter, Zyjewel. “My daughter is growing up in a time of activism amidst a pandemic, and she has so many questions about the world around her,” Shazzadi said. "I took her to D.C. with me to show what a fight for progress looks like on the ground, to explain why it is important for us to show up for our Union and stand up against oppression.”

“It’s all connected,” Shazzadi explained to Zyjewel as they marched, “Voting, racial justice, the pandemic, my Union job— it’s all connected.”

The fight for economic justice, racial equality, and voting rights are all inextricably linked.


The fight for economic justice, racial equality, and voting rights are all inextricably linked.

In 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., spoke in our Union’s auditorium about the connection between dignified, secure, and good jobs with the ongoing struggle for racial equality.

“Our needs are identical with organized labor's needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, and conditions in which families can grow, have education for our children and respect in our community,” King said. “The duality of interests of labor and ourselves makes any crisis which lacerates unions a crisis from which we, too, bleed.”

Our ability to vote is at the core of the racial and economic progress we make. Throughout history, we have used our ballots to raise ourselves up, from winning a 40 hour work week to anti-discrimination legislation to the $15 minimum wage.

“We must fight with fervor to protect voting rights for all Americans— there is no other option,” said HTC President Rich Maroko. “Without power to protect our own interests, working people will be disrespected and discarded — we’ve seen this throughout history and even more egregiously during COVID-19. Our vote is our power and our Union is committed to the fight to protect it.”