Written by Ben Jealous
The 2020 elections were historic in many ways. Not least of all because of the stunning outcome in Georgia — where Black voters led the way in electing Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the U.S. Senate.
Across the country, record numbers of Americans turned out to reject the racist administration of Donald Trump and elect new leadership in Congress and the White House.
And now comes the backlash.
The far right is responding to its defeat in the elections by rolling out scores of bills at the state level designed to make it harder to vote. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, legislators in 33 states have already introduced over 165 bills aimed at voter suppression.
In Georgia, the proposed crackdown is among the worst, with a bill that encompasses numerous measures clearly aimed at stopping Black and brown people from voting. It couldn’t be more obvious that Georgia conservatives will do everything in their power to prevent a repeat of the 2021 Senate runoffs that cost them two seats. Right-wing lawmakers in other states see the upswing in voters of color also, and are determined to crush it.
But there is a solution if we act now. I have written before about the need for an interstate national popular vote compact to reform our electoral college system, which is not working and is especially disadvantageous to communities of color. But getting to a national popular vote could take years, and right now, there is a critical piece of legislation in Congress that can make an enormous difference in the near term.
It is called the For the People Act and is moving as H.R.1 in the House and S.1 in the Senate. And in one fell swoop, it would take off the table the majority of the tactics the right uses to disenfranchise Black and brown voters. It would end discriminatory voter ID requirements, drastic purges of voter rolls and racist gerrymandering — where one side draws voting district boundaries to give itself an advantage.
As a federal law, the For the People Act would also protect and expand online voter registration and early voting, and create automatic voter registration nationwide. Many of the voting rights provisions in the bill are ones that the late Rep. John Lewis fought so hard for in the decade before he died and did not live to see.
Finally, the law would go a long way to crack down on big money in politics, which for decades has produced too many candidates and policies that favor the rich and privileged. This status quo has been toxic for Black people and other people of color, who have been systematically shut out of the influence game and continue to suffer from the huge societal injustices that wealthy and corporate donors have perpetuated.
It’s not hard to see how this legislation would help level the playing field in numerous ways that would expand and amplify Black political power and benefit our communities. Predictably, the right hates this bill and is fighting back — hard.
And that’s why we have to flex our political muscle. We have to get online, get on the phone, get on social media, and do whatever we can to let our members of the House and Senate know we expect them to vote for this bill. We can’t forget that our elected representatives are there to serve us, and when constituents call, it’s their job to listen.
Black voters in this country made our voices heard in the last election. Let’s not let this opportunity to grow and sustain our progress slip away.
Ben Jealous is the President of People For the American Way.