Following the record turnout of Black voters in Georgia this past election cycle, and the extraordinary Democratic victories that ensued, Republicans in the state legislature have introduced more than 20 bills to roll back the clock and make it exponentially harder to vote.
Make no mistake: This is an act of retribution against Black voting power and an obvious play for the GOP to retain control. This five-alarm fire for democracy can’t be solved by Georgians alone. We need the Biden administration and Congress to step in, condemn these amoral lawmakers, and do everything in their power to enact voting rights and election reform before millions are silenced.
The bills now moving through the Georgia legislature today are reminiscent of Jim Crow-era restrictions on Black rights — and the impact they'd have would be profound. There'd be no more automatic voter registration, drop boxes for mail ballots, early voting on weekends, or even food or water allowed while waiting in line to vote. The ability to vote absentee would be severely curtailed, as would the use of mobile voting facilities. If these measures had been in place during the 2020 election, Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler would be Georgia’s senators today, which is exactly the outcome these lawmakers would want.
Business must take sides on voting
Perhaps the only thing more devastating than the GOP’s outright contempt for Black communities is the lack of recourse Georgians have to safeguard their voting rights. Because Republicans control the entire legislature, it is all but certain these bills will pass both houses. However, there is one pressure point to which these anti-democratic politicians — and the governor who must ultimately either sign or veto the bills — may respond: the business community.
Right now, in Georgia, we are calling on corporations with operations in the state, including Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola and others — to play more of an active role in our effort to prevent these bills from passing. Not only have many companies been silent during this campaign, they also have been complicit in these injustices as many of them have given donations to the same legislators who are pursuing the bills to strip away our voting rights.
Some of these companies have issued statements indicating that they support voting rights, but that they want to take a “balanced approach” to the voter suppression bills. This begs the question, how do you take a balanced approach on denying the right to vote? Would they also have taken a balanced approach on segregation?
Their statements are reminiscent of the “white moderate” criticized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” — who “prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.' "
When our right to freedom is in jeopardy, we cannot wait. When justice is threatened, we cannot cower. This is a perfect example of a moment in which we cannot be patient or silent. The time to act is now.
The time to act applies not only to the business community in Georgia but to elected officials in Washington, D.C., as well. Federal action on pending voting rights legislation could be the most effective way to protect the right to vote in Georgia and other states. While Georgia’s Republican lawmakers may be executing the most egregious attack on voting rights, they certainly aren’t the only ones. Since the start of 2021, more than 250 bills have been proposed to curtail voting rights in 43 states.
There has already been movement on this issue at the highest levels of government. The For The People Act (H.R.1), passed this month in the House of Representatives, would dramatically limit Republicans’ ability to wreak havoc on our democracy. So, too, would the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R.4), which would restore key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 struck down by the Supreme Court.
The fate of H.R.1 will be determined in the U.S. Senate, where it would be foolish to count on any Republican support for expanding voting access. Republicans have been captured on video on several occasions admitting that they oppose increasing voting access because they realize that if more people vote, they will not be able to win future elections. Indeed, just last week a lawyer representing the Arizona Republican Party acknowledged this very argument out loud during Supreme Court hearings on a case involving voting rights.
There is no escaping the fact that passing H.R.1 and H.R.4, as well as other policies such as an increase to the minimum wage, will require ending the filibuster, a relic of the Jim Crow era for which current Republicans seem overly nostalgic. At least two Senate Democrats oppose ending the filibuster — Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — and so far, President Joe Biden has done little more than express his disappointment over obstacles in the Senate. But if Biden is going to keep his promise to Black voters — “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours” — then he is going to have to do a lot more to end the filibuster than what he has shown.
Use every presidential tool possible
Biden will have to find a way to twist some arms, and cut some deals, and unite the Democratic Senate in ending the filibuster. He will have to find a way to do the same kinds of things that President Lyndon Johnson did when the civil rights movement forced him to pass civil rights legislation. Johnson used the full power of the presidency and his years of congressional experience to get things passed. Today, Joe Biden, having spent most of his adult life in Washington, D.C. — the vast majority of that as a U.S. senator — must do the same in order to protect the voting rights of Black voters, and even more broadly, to preserve whatever semblance of democracy still remains in the United States.
Black voters literally risked their lives to vote during this pandemic, and not only saved Biden’s candidacy during the primaries but also carried him to the finish line in November. And when all eyes were on Georgia during the Senate runoff races in January, Black voters showed up and pushed two Democrats to victory, giving a more progressive agenda a real shot in the U.S. Senate. To be clear, Black voters helped to save a democracy that has barely ever saved us. And as we pass the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, we are asking, no, demanding, that the president use every tool at his disposal to honor that legacy and his electoral base to end the filibuster and pass these two vital voting rights bills.
Voting restrictions: Worried about the new Jim Crow? There's a solution
Now is the time for the White House and Congress to use the power that has been given. As the famous Bible adage goes, to whom much is given, much is required. And if we are going to undo the remains of Donald Trump’s legacy, we must first ensure that every American has equal access to the ballot box.
The stakes are high, and there is no more time to waste. Mr. President, we call on you and Congress to take action immediately to protect our voting rights — for the good of Georgia and for the good of our country.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden must step in to help block GOP efforts to restrict voting rights