West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin doesn’t believe in progress if Republicans won’t support it. At least that’s what he says in his latest op-ed for his hometown paper.
Claiming that voting in favor of the For the People Act is to support a “partisan” effort, Manchin spits in the face of voters who fought hard to protect the remnants of American Democracy.
Protecting the right to vote should be a bipartisan effort, and yet here we are with one party actively working to block access to the ballot. Also, Manchin denying the concerted effort of Republicans to undermine voting rights doesn’t make it any less of a reality.
Reporting from Mother Jones showed the executive director of Heritage Action, the sister organization of the Heritage Foundation, bragging about working with Republican legislators to pass anti-voting rights laws.
Outside of Congress, the For the People Act has broad support from nonpartisan advocacy groups and voters. Billed as an anti-corruption law that will strengthen Democracy, the For the People Act is a needed policy fix.
Organizations like the Brennan Center and Represent Us have supported the legislation. As an organization, Represent Us organizes conservatives, liberals, progressives, and independents around building a stronger Democracy and ending political gridlock.
Even the United Mine Workers of America president has called on all senators to support S.1, the Senate version of the For the People Act.
Despite claiming he can’t vote for a law he can’t explain to his voters, Manchin doesn’t want to disrupt his own position and power. To be clear, refusing to support S.1 has nothing to do with the best interests of Manchin’s constituents or the country.
And while Manchin supports the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, it’s not enough to only restore the Voting Rights Act.
Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, tweeted that Manchin’s stance doesn’t address the harm from legislative attacks on voting rights at the state level.
Just last week, over 100 experts warned about continued inaction in the face of Republican obstruction. They also explained that passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act alone is not enough.
“The most effective remedy for these anti-democratic laws at the state level is federal action to protect equal access of all citizens to the ballot and to guarantee free and fair elections,” read the letter.
In a perfect world, both parties would come together and put people first. And yet, at least on voting rights and Democracy, Republicans remain unwilling to do right. Focusing on partisanship and compromising with a party hell-bent on eradicating free and fair access to the ballot serves no one except Manchin.
To hold steady on defending the filibuster, recently used to undermine the creation of an independent, bipartisan commission, is to defend White Supremacy itself. Calls to end the filibuster have been tied to its long racist history.
Manchin taking the easy route in the face of such adversity is also a slap in the face to Black voters in West Virginia. West Virginia’s Black population may be small, but it is no less a valuable constituency.
Black organizers in West Virginia see Manchin’s latest move as directly connected to the state Democratic party’s struggle to come into the 21st century.
Jennifer Wells, a West Virginia Democrat and senior organizer with Community Change Action and the Black Freedom Collective, said there is opposition to his stance. “We are snuffed out on the state level, which provides him the coverage to deny voting rights,” she explained. “He can say his own state party is with him when our voices are silenced.”
Led by Belinda Biafore, who reportedly has strong ties to Manchin, the West Virginia Democratic Party just added a Black caucus, and other affinity caucuses, for the first time. It is believed the party has been out of compliance since 1974 when the Democratic Party mandated state parties to have an affirmative action program in place.
Hollis Lewis, a co-chair of the West Virginia Democratic Party’s newly formed Black caucus, said traditionally underrepresented people are stepping up and demanding their voices be heard.
“You have people like African Americans, LGBTQ, women, and Latinos all scattered throughout the state who have traditionally just kind of been spoken for, had been spoken over, and haven’t had a chance to actually be a part of any larger discussions about how this state moves forward,” Lewis told NewsOne.
“For West Virginia, it is necessary that our narrative be one of forward-thinking,” continued Lewis. “While I appreciate Senator Manchin’s support of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, we must go further.”
Before the 2020 census, Black people were about 3% of the population with larger representation in the state’s few urban centers. Black West Virginians were about 15% of the population in Charleston, the state’s capital city.
Also, West Virginians understand the power of interracial coalitions. Close to 100 years ago, the Battle for Blair Mountain saw Black and white miners come together to fight for better conditions, better wages, and a better life for all. That same determination and commitment to cross-racial organizing can be seen in those pushing for change in the state party.
Lewis said it’s understandable that change can be scary or even unsettling for some, but that shouldn’t stop progress. He explained that while people should always make an effort to work together, sometimes it’s just not possible.
“At this time, we must take bold action in order to change our current trajectory,” Lewis said. “While the need for partisanship is necessary, this should not get in the way of our collective advancement, particularly on an issue as important as voting rights.”
Activist and former Mercer County Democratic Executive Committee member Charkera Ervin questioned the wisdom of Democrats in the state continuing to support Manchin.
“If Democrats vote for him to keep Republicans out, but he voted with Republicans and argues against our interest, what’s the point of voting for him?” said Ervin.
Ervin found Manchin’s approach to a basic issue of fairness and equity to be a slap in the face.
“The message that I get is that Black West Virginians don’t deserve to be represented, and we better be happy with whatever people in power feel like handing us,” Ervin stated. “That’s also the message Manchin and Biafore have told Democrats at large for years.”
Wells agreed, calling the intentional exclusion and failure to engage a broad constituency a major threat to the state’s democratic process.
“There is a new day and renewed energy to break that hold and finally represent the entirety of this state party which has been blessed with the Black vote while continuously dismissing and devaluing that base of voters,” Wells shared. “The WV Black vote is large enough to impact a Democratic candidacy. They need us no matter how little they value us.”
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