Giving up on Voting Rights Legislation Would be UnconscionableHistorians in the News
tags: Democratic Party, voting rights
If civil rights leaders had given up at the first signs of resistance to equality in the 1950s, our nation would never have won the next decade’s great victories over racial subjugation.
The same determination is required after last week’s defeat of voting rights legislation. It was depressing. It was enraging. But it cannot be the final act.
In the short run, this means fighting voter suppression and election subversion with whatever tools are at hand. Over the long term, building political power is the only way to win federal guarantees for ballot access. Walking away out of frustration or disillusionment is self-defeating.
To avoid a demobilization that could lead to an anti-democratic retreat akin to the disgraceful reaction to Reconstruction, political leaders must prove through concrete action that they are still in this fight.
Today’s civil rights leaders, like their forebears, are certainly not giving up. They will keep pressure on the 50 Republicans and two Democrats who blocked Senate action. “We need to broaden our strategy,” Wade Henderson, interim president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told me. “There are Republicans who should have been willing to at least engage in the debate and they did not. And they were somehow let off the hook.”
The Biden administration can demonstrate its resolve in ways small and large. It should fully implement its March executive order calling on all agencies of the federal government to help citizens register and vote. The president should take other pro-democracy executive actions. An example: Make Election Day a federal holiday for government employees and encourage state holidays, too.
Despite the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department should announce that it will use every tool it still has to enforce the Constitution’s guarantees of equal voting rights. Congress should increase funding for this work.
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