The Senate Debate on Voting Rights Is Not the End of the Story

The Senate is engaged in debating proposed voting rights legislation–a debate that would not have been possible without a procedural maneuver that overcame the power of the filibuster to shut down debate entirely–as the Republican minority has previously done.

Might the passage of this legislation have been more likely if Congressman John Lewis–whose name is incorporated into the bill’s title–were alive to serve as the conscience in the room?

I have no illusions that the Senate will pass this legislation, and I doubt whether Lewis’s moral suasion could penetrate the Republicans’ wall of obstruction. And that is both sad and shameful.

Lewis was beloved by his colleagues and is, of course, a storied hero of the Civil Rights movement, having bravely returned to his nonviolent actions as soon as he could after nearly being beaten to death during a peaceful protest in Selma, Alabama. “Bloody Sunday” played a significant role in gaining passage of The Voting Rights Act that year. The year: 1965.

Now it’s 2022. This Senate debate is being held against a backdrop of numerous state-enacted bills designed to suppress turnout and, in some cases, simply subvert the will of voters who cast votes the Republicans don’t like.

Included in the proposed Senate legislation are vitally important measures to prevent this massive disenfranchisement once again. The Republicans’ depiction of the legislation as a “Democratic takeover” simply shows the extent to which their party has failed the most basic test of governing in a democracy.

I looked back at the post I wrote after Congressman Lewis’s death in July, 2020, at the age of 80. These words were part of President Obama’s eulogy to Lewis at that time:

“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.”

But after I wrote the post I titled “I Choose Hope for America,” some of the reactions to that post, and a few posts I read by other bloggers, made me realize that the word “hope” is now out of fashion–pushed aside by a supposedly more sophisticated, knowledgeable assumption that democracy is already dead in America. Only the naive would think otherwise.

I want to stress that I’m not questioning those who are genuinely fearful because of the trends present in the US. A friend wrote in response to my post that in a book he’d recommended to me, Learned Optimism, “the author warns that sometimes being so optimistic can keep us from seeing reality with the necessary clarity.”

I replied that I did not use the word “optimism” in my post–or the word “hopeful.” Those were purposeful omissions.

I used the words “I choose hope” because doing so is a conscious decision, borne of my profound belief that despair or acceptance that democracy is dead can themselves be contributory to making the unthinkable occur.

The people who speak this way may or may not fail to vote, but the more widespread that sentiment becomes, the more likely it is to affect others.

I’d like to be persuaded that I’m wrong. I’d like to think that everyone who’s concerned about the fate of democracy will at least consider working harder to protect it.

How? Badger your elected officials to pass voting rights legislation; work at all levels of government to elect individuals committed to voting rights and democracy; dig as deeply as you can to contribute money to campaigns at all levels; write postcards, make phone calls, register voters–even consider running for local or county elections. Contact me if you want suggestions for organizations engaged in these efforts.

Steve Bannon, the far-right brains behind many of the worst anti-democratic efforts, and his entourage are already way ahead of us in putting these important voter registration and vote counting offices in the hands of those who will, indeed, end our democracy.

Unless we wage similar, competing campaigns.

In my previous post, I cited the work of Marc Elias. I recall Elias posing this question (I’m paraphrasing):

What will you say when people ask what you did to save democracy?

I take my marching orders from Barack Obama, the family of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the legacy of John Lewis. They’ve all experienced far more of America’s ugliness than I have, and yet they are redoubling their efforts.

In short, they continue to choose hopeand the determination to turn hope into reality.

I was active in the League of Women Voters when it appeared that voting rights were finally secure. But a frequent exhortation was that Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport.

The time for action is now.

Annie

15 thoughts on “The Senate Debate on Voting Rights Is Not the End of the Story

  1. Things turn into their opposites: “one person, one vote” is given as an excuse to deprive some from voting, “voter suppression is said to protect election integrity, a “nation of immigrants” turns toward becoming a nation of nativists, “free speech” is said to include the right to spread lies, “freedom of religion” is an excuse for a myriad of antisocial behavior. There may be hope in reports that younger people grow tired of the nonsense.

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    1. Yes, sadly, the situation reminds me of a picture book my kids loved: “The Upsy Downsy House.” Or the non-picture book by that fellow Orwell. I do have hope in younger people.

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    1. Yep; right on the money, as it were—and is. Do you know that Biden’s confirmed judicial picks include several public defenders? So much is possible with good government. It’s worth fighting for.

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    1. They sure are, Neil. And it doesn’t help when the President subjects himself to the longest press conference on record, handles himself quite well under a barrage of questions that for the most part ranged from inane to outrageous, and then receives coverage that tells Americans how badly they think he’s doing. Nothing about the Republicans—united once again to make a Democratic President fail. Infuriating!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your emphasis on doing something is critical. But, everyone who reads your message must also urge friends and family and co-workers et al to do likewise. It takes a village, a huge village!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, Dennis. Thanks for that important reminder. With all the voter suppression laws, it will take far more people than ever before. I was on a Twitter discussion tonight where they said that very thing. (One speaker is a woman named Natalie James, who is running for the US Senate from Arkansas. Very impressive.)

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  3. Choosing hope should not be, I think, equivocal in meaning. It’s not blind (or there would be no need for hope). Meanwhile, thank you for the reminder of how, specifically, to be involved — to act. For as you say, democracy certainly isn’t a spectator experience.

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  4. The structure of the US government was never democratic. Nor was it intended to be democratic. Over time the US has become more and more democratic, to be sure. But that was never the “intent of the founders”. The current attempts to return to a less democratic and more authoritarian nation were accelerated by the election of Obama. The racism combined with the authoritarian streak emerged as a rejection of the new, non-white emerging majority. It could not be tolerated. The state system has failed, if democracy is the goal. Democracy was fine as long as the majority was white and in control. But the changing demographics mean that democracy would have to be scuttled. We should not be surprised. Democracies are very fragile and depend totally on the good will of all participants. Led by Trump, the GOP has made it clear that authoritarianism is preferable, as long as THEY can be the authoritarians. They are destroying democracy since it is obvious they no longer control the majority of votes.Their worldview and policies are regularly rejected by the majority, hence, the majority cannot be allowed to govern. I am afraid that we are witnessing the end of the democratic experience in the USA.

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    1. I don’t know what Republicans might try to achieve after gaining uncontested political power. They might seek to enact more perks for the rich, suppress dissent, politicize education and return to poorhouses and county farms perhaps. Would private firearms then be seen as a threat? If their hegemony were complete, their political funding might dry up–there would no longer be a reason to contribute. .

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      1. We just need to look at what they did,or tried to do, the last time they had power. Massive tax breaks fir the top 1%. No new help for the middle class or poor. Destruction of Obamacare (recall they tried it and filed by only 1 vote). Federal aw banning abortions. End of the gun control regulations like waiting periods and ID requirements. Deregulation of major industries. Weakening or elimination of labor laws, OSHA, poverty programs. Drilling in national wildlife areas. Selling mineral, timber and grazing rights on the cheap to major corporations. No enforcement of consumer or environmental laws. More and more voting restrictions to solidify their power going forward. They can, and will, do a lot. The first order of business for McConnell will be to end the filibuster as soon as he has control of 51 votes. Count in it.

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      2. I made a similar comment to someone on Twitter who echoed President Biden’s question: What do the Republicans stand for?
        The reason McConnell and others won’t say is that the vast majority of Americans disagree with their anti-people agenda—and they know it. So they play to fears, lie about the Democrats’ proposals, and pretend they’re reasonable until they seize power. See Virginia’s new governor, Youngkin, who dropped his facade entirely on day one of assuming office.

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    2. There are many people working very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen, Joseph. I am aware of all the structural and other impediments, and I’m not diminishing the hindrances, but if Cal Cunningham hadn’t strayed from his marital bed in NC and Sara Gideon had been a stronger candidate in Maine, we would have a very different landscape at this time. Events can arise for good or ill and have repercussions we can’t imagine now. At her morning press conference today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “I say don’t agonize; organize! The fight for voting rights continues.” I have explained why I think it’s important to pursue that path and repeat those words.

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