Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
Co-written by Sean Eldridge
Last month, the House of Representatives passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — an important moment in the fight to protect the freedom to vote. This bill would restore the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 — now a shell of a bill — and help stop future voter suppression efforts in their tracks. But without filibuster reform in the Senate, this bill and other critical voting rights legislation have no chance of getting to President Biden’s desk.
In this defining moment in the fight for voting rights, 151 years after the 15th Amendment was ratified, we have a simple message for President Biden: pick a side. Will the president stand on the right side of history by denouncing the filibuster and helping to pass federal voting rights protections? Or will he let far-right radicals seize power by suppressing the vote?
Since the 2020 election, right-wing, anti-democratic actors have relentlessly attacked voting rights at every level of government. This past year alone, 18 states have passed 30 laws to make it more difficult for eligible Americans to cast their ballots. In Texas, lawmakers are looking to arrest House Democrats who staged a walkout to protect citizens’ voting rights. In Florida, lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year that makes it harder to vote by mail and register to vote.
We know, without a shadow of a doubt, that GOP lawmakers are hellbent on keeping Black and brown voters from the polls. Last year, these voters turned out in historic numbers to put this president in the White House and help Democrats take the Senate. Our organizations and our volunteers contacted and mobilized tens of millions of voters — from their doorsteps to their inboxes — to help make those victories possible and build voting power, particularly in Black and other historically disenfranchised communities. Last month, we delivered a petition with over 400,000 signatures elevating why those voters went to the polls for Biden. Now, we need the president to protect the fundamental freedoms of the very voters who put him in office.
As challenging as the current attacks on our democracy are, we expect the state of affairs to only worsen following the release of the U.S. Census data, which kickstarts the redistricting process across the country. Many legislatures will use this opportunity to enact extreme, partisan gerrymandering, further disenfranchising voters. In a functioning democracy, voters pick their elected officials — politicians do not pick their voters.
What is at stake if the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For The People Act don’t pass? Our march toward a better future will likely grind to a halt. In 2022, with the help of voter suppression efforts, the House of Representatives and the Senate could flip to Republicans. At that point, we will have run out of time to protect the freedom to vote, and GOP lawmakers will focus all of their time and attention on undermining our democracy and the Biden presidency. We cannot let that happen.
We will no longer accept the need to address other calamities as an excuse for putting voting rights on the back burner. Washington lawmakers have been juggling political priorities since the start of the Biden administration. Right now, the deadly Delta virus surge, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and raging wildfires in the west are emergencies that cannot go ignored. But the only way we will resolve these myriad crises is if we have the power to vote in leaders best equipped to tackle them. If the pandemonium of the past year has taught us anything, it’s that shoring up our democracy’s infrastructure must be a top priority to ensure we have the ability to elect the right leaders for this fraught moment.
While we appreciate President Biden’s support of robust voting rights legislation, he has not supported the strategy needed to get it passed. That is not leadership; it’s lip service. Senate Republicans have shown again and again that they are unwilling to protect our democracy — and more than that, they support voter suppression efforts. The only way to protect our freedom to vote is by reforming the filibuster. It is time for President Biden to embrace that reality and lead by calling on the Senate to end the filibuster and protect voting rights.
The choice to advocate for voting rights shouldn’t be hard for President Biden. Yet, he continues to vacillate. One cannot be on the side of voting rights and on the side of the filibuster. One cannot praise Black voters for their electoral support and stay silent when rogue lawmakers come to take away their rights. One cannot believe in free and fair elections and not use the full power of the presidency to stop this disenfranchisement campaign.
President Biden, now is the time to pick a side. And we implore you to stand on the side of democracy.
Cliff Albright is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Black Voters Matter.
Sean Eldridge is the Founder and President of Stand Up America.