Opinion: Dems Need to Start Fighting for Voting Rights or Face Defections in 2022

Voting rights
People attend the “March On for Voting Rights” on the National Mall on Aug. 28, 2021, in Washington, D.C. The march was organized to honor the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and also urge the U.S. Senate to pass voting rights legislation. Getty Images photo by Anna Moneymaker.

By Colleen Ebacher, Liz Entwisle, Dara Friedman-Wheeler, Tom Glancy, Silvia Golombek, Sonia Shah and Cindy Sheffield 

The writers are organizers of Allies for Democracy, a grass-roots pro-democracy group based in Baltimore County.

Democratic leaders, take note. The grass-roots activists who built the blue wave in 2020 are on the verge of abandoning you.

We are living through the most aggressive attack on voting rights since the Jim Crow era. Republican legislators in 48 states have introduced more than 400 anti-voter bills to suppress the vote. They are restricting access to the ballot box, selectively purging registered voters and making it possible for state officials to overturn election results altogether.

Armed with fresh census data, they’re redrawing districts to dilute the voting power of communities of color.

We have one chance to end this attack on our sacred right to vote. The For the People Act, passed by the House in March, but repeatedly filibustered by Republicans in the Senate, would vanquish this assault on our freedom to vote.

The bill will come up for a vote when the Senate returns from recess in September. But unless President Biden and Senate Democrats start whipping votes right now, it will fail once again. It’s not enough to passively support the bill. Our elected leaders must fight to get the For the People Act passed.

But they’re not.

By way of comparison, we see how hard President Biden and Democratic members of Congress are fighting for the infrastructure bill. The Biden administration has set up a war room. Members of Congress are leaning on their recalcitrant colleagues with calls and other forms of pressure.

As part of what Politico magazine called a “high-stakes whipping operation,” Maryland’s Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, has been making calls, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is threatening to withhold fundraising support from holdouts. They have bully pulpits, national platforms, leadership, and many other levers of influence to use and they’re using them. They’re fighting like hell for roads and bridges.

Where is the fight for our freedom to vote? There is no war room for voting rights.

Sen. Ben Cardin demurred when local activists pressed him to call on President Biden to fight for voting rights in a meeting in late July. Save for some pretty rhetoric in emails and private meetings, our senators are silent. Why aren’t they leaning on their colleagues in the Senate not just to support this bill, but also to end or change the filibuster so that it will pass? Why isn’t President Biden putting the full force of his office behind this?

Democratic leaders recently explained their inaction by saying that activists can “out-organize” the state-level voter suppression laws and gerrymandered districts being adopted across the country. But that assertion is “a betrayal of Black voters,” notes best-selling author Michael Arceneaux in a recent opinion piece in The Week. “White voters are never asked to ‘out organize’ vote suppression,” Arceneaux says. As president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund put it, “we cannot litigate our way out of this and we cannot organize our way out of this.”

We agree.

Activists worked hard to win a trifecta for Democrats over the last year. Our grassroots group alone made over 200,000 calls for Democrats up and down the ballot. We are doing the heavy lifting to get the For the People Act passed — on Aug. 23, hundreds of activists fighting for voting rights were arrested in one of the largest mass arrest nonviolent protests at the U.S. Capitol in years. Thousands marched in Washington, D.C., a few days later.

We need to see our leaders working at least this hard to use the power we won for them to protect our democracy. Or face defection by activists in 2022.