Save democracy, pass ‘For the People Act’
By Loretta Smith
Time is running out: I urge Congress to pass Senator Merkley’s S. 1, For the People Act 2021, before the upcoming August recess.
The right to vote is sacred. The fundamental right of voter access for all Americans was made possible by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, an historic step forward during the Johnson administration 55 years ago. Black Americans had to fight, kick, scream, and die to get the same voting rights as white Americans all while concurrently fighting for equity in education, employment, and healthcare. Oregon itself is infamous for egregious treatment towards its Black residents, including the 1844 Black Exclusion Act and its “Lash Law” provision, prohibiting Black individuals, be they free or enslaved, from entering the territory and requiring the former enslaved who settled here to leave. Those who did not were flogged “not less than 20 stripes and no more than 39 stripes every six months until they left.” While we’ve made great strides on the path towards justice for all, we still have a lot of work to do to fulfill the ideals of our country’s founding. Our democracy is in grave danger. Before our eyes, there is an all-out assault on voting rights in this country as state legislatures from coast to coast try to outdo one another in a game of who can restrict the most voters, with communities of color in the crosshairs. In just the last six months, over a dozen states have enacted 22 new voter suppression laws and are actively considering hundreds more. These proposals are Jim Crow 2.0, plain and simple, and the American people deserve better than power-hungry lawmakers and their blatant attempts to dismantle the Voting Rights Act. Let’s be clear: Our democracy will be that much stronger when more people can participate, not less. That’s why a majority of Americans, from across the political spectrum, support the For the People Act and its aim to establish automatic voter registration, expand early voting, get dark money out of politics, and take redistricting power away from partisan officials. Politicians shouldn’t pick and choose their voters. The power must be with the people. It will take everyone — from concerned citizens to civil rights organizations to activists — to ensure every American’s voice is heard. It is not enough to only have Black and Brown leaders as the faces of one of the most important bills of our lifetime. Communities of color need to see more of our white allies in Congress, in state legislatures, in our cities, and in towns nationwide putting themselves on the line because this is truly an issue of life or death for millions of people. We need voices who are unafraid to tell the hard truths, willing to be arrested like Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, boldly speaking out with passion like Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and standing up with sincerity like Congressman Jim Clyburn to ensure this bill passes. It is everyone’s democracy that is at stake, Democrats and Republicans. Let’s re-imagine the rules of engagement and make the “honorable” Mitch McConnell and his gangster colleagues uncomfortable non-violently. Take the fight to the “suits,” using legislative processes like rules and reconciliation to stop the foolishness. Anything less than that will be a death sentence, effectively cutting the heart out of our democracy. Call your member of Congress today and let’s pass the For the People Act 2021. Together, we can strengthen our country from the bottom up. Learn more at www.lorettaforcongress.com.
Loretta Smith is a former Multnomah County Commissioner and current candidate for U.S. Congress.