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 hope—and 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.