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Black Voters Matter Protest

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It’s an all-hands moment for Democracy, with the fight to protect and expand voting rights front and center. The stakes are high, and Black leaders from the grassroots and legacy civil rights organizations are not letting up President Biden and the Senate.

Harvard Professor and former NAACP National President Cornell Brooks previously spoke with NewsOne about the primacy of the right to vote. He explained that all other rights depended on the right to vote, thus increasing its importance.   

Calling contemporary voter suppression efforts Machiavellian, Brooks drew a direct parallel with elected officials advocating voter suppression laws and the questionable ethics of the 16th-century Italian philosopher.  

“It’s amoral in the rhetoric and immoral in terms of the means and the ends,” Brooks explained. “And it is both a physical and civic existential threat to our democracy.”   

Despite the challenge of the moment, Brooks saw hope in the broad coalition that showed up last November. He stressed the importance of organizing to bring people together and expand understanding of the stakes for democracy.   

“We can literally create an electorate in a Democracy that is responsive to our needs, our aspirations, and our interest,” he declared. “But it takes big, bold, morally ambitious, broad-based leadership to do that.”  

Brooks is right on the money when he says the current pandemic of voter suppression requires a steady hand and bold leadership. But outside of the efforts of voting rights advocates, decisive leadership in this moment is lacking 

Recent news reports of White House officials saying grassroots organizers need to “out-organize” voter suppression reflects the crisis in leadership in this moment.  

“When leaders like Joe Biden fail to step up, Black men and Black women continue to lead from the front and show what it looks like when there is no gap between rhetoric and action,” said Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, in an emailed statement.

Beginning with the Black Women and Allies Call to Action Week, Black organizers have ramped up their demands for the Senate and the president to take decisive action on voting rights legislation. Spearheaded by The Black Women’s Roundtable, the group led actions at the Capitol two weeks in a row.  

Following the lead of their sister organizers, over 50 Black men representing civil rights, faith, and Black Greek letter organizations demanding action on voting rights gathered Thursday for a “Brothers Day of Action” on Capitol Hill.  Brooks along with Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson and eight other Black men leaders from across the country were arrested while sounding the alarm on voting rights. 

Among those arrested,  New Georgia Project Board Chair Francys Johnson compared their arrests to the red carpet some Capitol police officers seemingly rolled out for white insurrectionists on January 6. “We will not roll over silently as our rights are stripped,” he said in an Instagram post. “Expect more good trouble.” 

If there were ever a moment for the so-called leader of the free world to intervene, that moment is now. When faced with a similar struggle in passing the 1965 Voting Rights Act, President Lyndon B. Johnson leaned heavily on Congress to act.    

In a speech a week after “Bloody Sunday,” President Johnson called the right to vote “the first and most vital of all our rights.” Quoting Thomas Jefferson, President Johnson also described voting rights as ‘the ark of our safety.’    

People literally put their lives on the line to drive the national conversation and attention that led to the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But as president, Lyndon Johnson had his part to play as well.    

That history is not lost on civil rights groups and grassroots leaders. Over 100 organizations joined the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in an open letter demanding Biden do more than pay lip service to the need for stronger voting rights legislation.     

“We urge you to work closely with Congress to support the passage of these bills by whatever means necessary,” read the letter. “Your leadership in this moment carries great weight, and we look forward to continuing our work with you to fulfill the promise of our democracy for all.”   

Dealyed by Senate Republicans, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act provide the best and only defense against voter suppression laws being introduced and passed at the state level. The For the People Act also contains provisions that would protect against extreme partisan gerrymandering as redistricting looms.  

An antiquated practice rooted in Jim Crow racism, the filibuster stands in the way of protecting and expanding Democracy. There is no good end in sight while the filibuster remains ntact.  

Biden remains reluctant to support even an exception to the filibuster for fundamental rights like voting. Continuing to treat voting rights, or even democracy itself, as if it is a concept open to debate leads to confusion whether voting is even a right.  

During a recent townhall, the president claimed he didn’t favor eliminating the filibuster because it could “throw the entire Congress into chaos, and nothing would get done.”Not much is getting done in a Senate will Republicans refuse to allow discussion about bills establishing a commission to investigate the January 6 Capitol attack or the For the People Act.  

“We are losing the fight to protect the right to vote,” insisted Ufot. “The house is on fire, and some leaders are showing up with flowery sermons, while others bring a hose and their friends.”