In a democracy, all people should be able to vote and have their votes counted. That maintains the social fabric of the nation and ensures that voters have hope and confidence in the electoral system. That means that fair elections and a fair electoral process are central to a strong democracy. But the lurch toward authoritarianism in the U.S. is placing that basic ideal in jeopardy. Not only is it harder to vote than ever, but right-wing legislators continue to draw racially discriminatory and partisan district lines that make it harder for Black and poor communities to elect candidates of choice. And too many courts are tolerating unjust and inequitable lines.
Even as many in the nation brace themselves for a decision in Alabama’s redistricting case, (formerly Merrill v. Milligan) Allen v. Milligan, which is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, we are clear about what is happening, and we must be equally clear about where we go from here. Regardless of the case or issue, we must organize like our lives depend on it. That means we are constantly talking to our communities about the issues that impact them, constantly engaging legislators and constantly encouraging our neighbors to run for elected office.
We must also be clear-eyed about who is responsible and how we can push back. While there has never been a time in this nation’s history where Black people have not had to struggle for the right to vote, current times present a cause for pause. If we aren’t organizing and engaging in the political process, we have little hope for progress, let alone survival.
Who is responsible?
Former President Trump and his cheerleaders, aided by right-wing conservatives and dogmatic officials such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, are attempting to strip the power of duly elected officials, limit what can be taught in schools and make it harder to pass ballot initiatives. The last one is particularly painful, because marginalized communities have long relied on ballot initiatives to get their communities the resources they need. That obstructionism is meant to undermine a legislative agenda that is favorable to Black people, people in poverty, communities of color and LGBTQIA+ loved ones. We must see those struggles as one piece of the book and not the end of the book. We must also remember our collective power and responsibility.
The courts may hold a lot of power to affect our lives, but they don’t hold all the power. Right-wing legislators may hold some power, but they do not have a monopoly on power. We, the people, have power too. If we continue to organize, develop organizers and harness our collective power, we can ensure that our states have people in office who are truly representative of our vision and values. We must greet each effort to undermine our democracy with determination, resolve and tenacity. Although our opponents want to gradually wear us down, we should organize so many people that there is always a deep bench of activists and organizers ready to step up and carry the torch forward. Regardless of what we face, we can never lose faith in the power of ordinary people to impact extraordinary change. Every major uprising or movement for change in the U.S. has been fueled by people – not people with power but people with determination and resolve.
We have a responsibility to our ancestors to continue the work they began decades ago. Those who came before us organized, resisted and sacrificed for the right to vote. More than that, they fought to ensure that Black people and all people were treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. Regardless of the attack we see – felony disenfranchisement, underinvestment in our communities, strict voter ID laws, etc. – we cannot grow weary in the struggle for justice. What is more, we have a responsibility to use our political power to protect our communities. And be clear that we do have power. The only reason we’re seeing these attacks is because we have been successful. The attacks we see are part of a backlash on progress. So, even in our struggle, we must have a proper perspective. We cannot let our ancestors or those who are struggling down. We must register and vote in every single election, consider running for elected office, donate when we have the financial means to do so, and engage in local, state and federal politics.
We are on the right side
We know that our democracy is strengthened when there is equality and equal representation. Our struggle to ensure those things then places us on the right side of history. We can take comfort in knowing that while the arc of the moral universe is long, it indeed bends toward justice.
We know that progress only comes when our communities can realize their power and exercise their choice. That, then, must be where our focus lies – ensuring that those with fewer resources and those from marginalized communities have a voice and that their voice is heard. When democracy wins, the people win.
That means we must accept that our fight may not end; it will evolve. It will have ups and downs, but it is perpetual. We must register to vote, vote in every election, contact our elected leaders to voice our opinion, support state and federal legislation that protects the right to vote, and sharpen our organizing prowess.
It is imperative that we secure permanent federal voting protections and expand local election accessibility so that no state or political party can silence or sideline our voice and vote.
Prentiss Haney is co-director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and Andrea Mercado is executive director of Florida Rising.
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