Last week, 52 United States Senators opted to let the Republican Party continue executing its racist national strategy of suppressing the vote in predominantly African-American communities.
The Senate’s failure to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is a travesty. It makes the legislative branch of the federal government complicit with a vigorous campaign, undertaken with Donald Trump’s Big Lie as its incessant background music, to make racist obstruction of Black voters standard operating procedure at the state and local level.
The core of this campaign is a series of state laws that make it more difficult for certain Americans to take part in their own democracy. States across the USA have now passed measures ensuring that groups of voters Republican state legislatures don’t want to hear from—notably people of color, students, the elderly, and people with disabilities—will have to work harder, travel further, and deal with more red tape in order to cast a ballot than groups of white voters do.
The GOP’s racist agenda embraces, without apparent shame, the elimination of polling sites, severe cuts to early voting, restrictive voter ID laws, purges of voter rolls, and the quiet transfer of nonpartisan election oversight roles to blatant partisans. It is Apartheid Light. And it is unacceptable.
This agenda is morally bankrupt. And it must be challenged.
The late Representative John Lewis, an icon of the US civil rights movement, was no stranger to morally bankrupt laws and agendas. His advice on dealing with them is as relevant today as it was when he was still with us:
Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year. It is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble – necessary trouble.
If you’ve made it this far and you are feeling angry at what has happened to this country, good. Anger is a starting point. But that is all it is. Here are three simple things you can do to channel that anger constructively and help launch the good trouble – the necessary trouble – that our nation so desperately needs, following the Senate’s shameful failure to pass this bill.
- Set up a personal plan NOW to ensure that your vote, and the votes of your friends and family, are counted. Do this immediately, rather than waiting for Election Day to roll around. The architects of this national voter suppression campaign are counting on complacency and disengagement at the local level. Deny them that by reading, taking action on, and sharing this comprehensive article from DoSomething.org, which will help you and your family to prepare.
- Contact your state legislative representatives NOW. Tell them where you stand on the issue of voter suppression. Tell them you will vote them out of office if they fail to oppose voter suppression vigorously in your state. Keep track of how they vote. Be as good as your word.
- Volunteer NOW to serve as an election protection volunteer. You can do that by visiting this site. Remember, there are other elections besides the General Election on November 8 of this year. Find out when important elections are taking place in your state by visiting this site.
Here is my challenge: Consider these three steps as non-negotiable moral obligations. (I do.) And if you won’t do these things for yourself, please stop for a moment and think about whose shoulders you are standing on right now.
We all have people to whom we owe a debt that can never be repaid, people who made huge sacrifices for us, sacrifices that made it possible for us to lead the life we are leading today. For me, that long list includes my mother Helen Hill and Representative John Lewis.
I know I am standing on their shoulders. I know they were focused on making things better for the generations that came after them, and I know they endured hardships that I can’t even imagine in order to bring about good trouble. I have an obligation to follow their example. Ignoring this problem, pretending it will go away on its own, would be dishonoring their memory, and frankly I am not prepared to do that.
Whose shoulders are you standing on? Your challenge is clear. Take all three of the simple steps I have outlined in this short article.
Do it for them.