Talk about a Throwback Thursday.
Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty was among multiple people arrested in Washington, D.C., on Thursday for leading a group of protesters demonstrating against the recent wave of Republican-led proposed and enacted election laws that place restrictions on voting rights and disenfranchise Black and brown voters, in particular.
Channeling the spirit of John Lewis and his penchant for getting into “good trouble,” the arrests harkened back to the late Georgia congressman’s own legendary protests to secure fair and equal voting rights for all, especially for Black people.
It was in that context that the Black Women United to Protect Voting Rights rally at the Hart Senate Office on Capitol Hill became the latest example of politicians and activists alike sacrificing their own freedoms in an effort to make sure the nation’s voting laws are free from any semblance of discrimination.
Beatty says that the only way to counter these restrictive voting laws is to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, legislation that would restore and strengthen Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which was all but eliminated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Shelby County v. Holder that allows places with a history of voter discrimination to continue their ways unless the federal government intervenes.
Beatty, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, also led chants to “end the filibuster,” a political weapon that has recently been wielded by Republicans multiple times to thwart Democratic-led proposed legislation and motions from even being debated, let alone voted on, including an inquiry into the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
Notably, the filibuster was employed just last month when Senate Republicans used it to effectively block legislation that would have overhauled basically everything about elections in the U.S. The failure by Senate Democrats to secure bipartisan support behind the For The People Act, which, among other things would make voting easier, means they’re effectively back to the proverbial drawing board in the fight for stronger voting rights. It also allows Republicans to continue enacting restrictive election laws in their states across the country with impunity.
The very next day, the Department of Justice sued Georgia for knowingly passing a racist voting law that “particularly” affects Black people. The lawsuit targets the State of Georgia, the Georgia Secretary of State and the Georgia State Election Board for their roles in passing a law that makes it harder to vote in areas from which voters cast ballots that secured the number of electoral college votes needed for Biden to win and Donald Trump to lose.
Several provisions in Georgia’s new law limit voter participation by requiring those voting by absentee ballot to submit a copy of their ID, reduces the locations and use of secure drop boxes, prohibits the use of mobile voting to ease long lines and allows for state takeover of local boards of election.
The DOJ’s lawsuit suggests there will be more for any of the more than a dozen other states that have enacted at least 20 new laws that make it harder to vote.
The arrests on Thursday came just days after Texas House Democrats turned the tables on their Republican counterparts and walked out of the State House chamber to block a procedural vote on proposed election laws that would make voting harder there. After Texas Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to have the House Democrats arrested unless they returned immediately — an ultimatum that still stands — the NAACP announced it would pay the bail for any of the elected officials taken into custody for going to extreme lengths to protect fair and equal voting rights.
Again, in that instance, the president of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization referenced Lewis’ legendary phrase for strategically using civil disobedience to achieve a greater goal.
“War has been declared on democracy, and we will support anyone who stands up to defend it,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said on Tuesday, hours after the Texas House Democrats staged their walk-out and flew to D.C. to amplify their demands. “We are fully invested in good trouble.”
The NAACP’s offer to Texas House Democrats came as President Joe Biden was delivering a national address about voting rights. While Biden rightfully called out Republicans’ roles in proposing laws that make it harder to vote locally and nationally, critics were not pleased that the president never once mentioned the possibility of eliminating the filibuster, something he once called a “Jim Crow relic.”
Created in the 1800s to protect the interests of slavery, the modern filibuster is more than a simple procedural move. The filibuster was also employed against both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for 60 business days — a record that still stands to this day — and an anti-lynching bill in 1922.
Prior to Beatty’s arrest, South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn — who is widely credited for securing Biden’s Democratic presidential nomination — publicly pressured the president to get aggressive with action on the filibuster.
“If Republican senators, representing a minority of Americans, attempt to thwart much-needed legislation to protect voting rights for all, Democrats should take bold action to protect our democracy,” Abrams wrote at the time. She also highlighted Republicans setting a precedent for a filibuster to carve out to pass legislation like the Trump tax cuts that benefitted wealthy Americans.
In yet another throwback to Lewis’ heyday, the Black Voters Matter Fund — the group that organized Thursday’s protest where Beatty was arrested — kicked off a caravan of modern-day freedom riders who were rallying communities and demanding meaningful action on voting rights on a journey to D.C.
The Black Voters Matter Bus began its journey on Juneteenth in Jackson, Mississippi, a city where Lewis served nearly 40 days in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman following the arrests of him and his fellow Freedom Riders for being in a “whites only” part of the city’s segregated bus station and refusing to leave. He was released on July 7, 1961.
Good trouble, indeed.