After a full year of calls to pass crucial voting protections, congressional bills changing in name and substance, and entrenched resistance by 52 senators, many people who care deeply about civil rights and democracy are fatigued and demoralized.
We confront a worsening crisis of many states undermining voting rights, rigging voter districts to favor the party in power, and installing partisan election officials willing to sabotage future elections.
This week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) helped reenergize democracy advocates by promising a vote on the key bills by Martin Luther King Day. Athletes know sighting the finish line goes a long way toward banishing fatigue and enables energy for a final sprint, and the imminent vote has sparked a new surge of activity.
President Biden finally did his part in an unusually passionate January 11 speech in Atlanta. He demanded passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act ( combined by the House in one mega-bill titled Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act on Thursday, January 13), while explicitly advocating for the first time to thwart minority rule.
“I support changing the Senate rules whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights,” said Biden. His shift on the filibuster follows months of pressure from grassroots activists around the country, including many faith-based coalitions.
The president noted (YouTube video) how little time has passed since Senate Republicans and Democrats unanimously reauthorized the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 2006, including 16 current senators. Biden wisely mentioned the notorious segregationist Strom Thurmond (R-SC) was among those senators, implicitly calling out the extremism of today’s voting rights opponents in Congress and on the Supreme Court.
Biden opted not to scold the Supreme Court for its 2013 Shelby v Holder ruling, gutting the bipartisan VRA. Yet that ruling, enabling states to enact voter suppression schemes previously banned under the VRA, underlies the current voting rights emergency.
We have no more time to spare. Senator Schumer establishing a Senate voting deadline comes just one month before early voting opens for some Texas primaries. Voting rights legislation must pass this month to prevent many new state gerrymanders and other schemes from taking effect.
Let us muster all the energy we can for the final sprint to push the Senate over the filibuster barrier and across the finish line to pass these essential voting rights bills. As the UUA detailed in its January 6 anniversary statement, this is a struggle we cannot afford to lose.
President Biden concluded his speech in Atlanta by imploring, “Let’s spread the faith and get this done.” We could provide no greater honor for Dr. King than to transform his holiday from mere commemoration to the day we saved voting rights.