The vision for a truly inclusive democracy, one in which everyone – irrespective of race, gender, ability, economic status, education, and otherwise – is afforded the right, opportunity, and encouragement to participate, is a vision of the American ideal that is far from being realized. That was on full display in the U.S. Senate last week, where it was especially painful to see the defeat of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act due to an arcane procedural maneuver to preserve the status quo. This, during the very week in which the nation commemorated the timeless aspirations of Dr. King, served as another reminder that his warning of the perils of preserving “order” in place of pushing toward justice was unfolding before our eyes.
If any lesson can be taken from the racist preservation of the filibuster in place of legislating in favor of voting rights during what could be the most perilous time in our democracy’s history, it’s that we must not let last week’s setback in the Senate represent the final word on our journey for a truly inclusive democracy. History reminds us that it is a long and tumultuous road to achieve the vision of true inclusion, of racial justice. After all, Dr. King and civil rights activists persisted in the 1950s after having encountered many obstacles and backlash. If they hadn’t, then the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other seminal markers of legislative and cultural progress would never have occurred.
We must recognize that defeats and setbacks are tough. To the advocates and organizers who have been working for voting rights day in and day out, we stand shoulder to shoulder with you and we hold this setback with you. And for those who are Black, brown, Indigenous, APIA, people with disabilities and others whose voices – and votes – hang in the balance, we commit to continuing this journey with you for as long as it takes to achieve justice.
This is the essence of last week’s lesson. That no matter what gets in our way, we must redouble our efforts. We must center ourselves, use whatever reminder we need to muster hope, and strengthen our coalition and collaboration for justice, reaching out to anyone who is not yet standing with us.
We sometimes chant, “can’t stop, won’t stop.” This is the moment to honor that. It is also important that we anticipate, isolate and nullify the threats or obstacles to that vision, especially if these threats are held by those among us who are not reaching for the mountaintop, but instead holding onto their grip of the status quo.
The progress that we have made in this country’s great experiment of government has been tremendous. It must continue and we cannot let retrenchment and racism overcome the journey’s advancements. We will take action together to stop the complacency, the cynicism, and grip on the status quo. We will encourage each other onward, toward a new vision, a new status quo that we create, for the sake of all our voices to be heard, with our votes.
The action that we must take is before us: legislatively, in the statements we make, through the organizing we are doing, and by activating more of our allies – especially those who are yet to be determined – to participate in achieving that shared vision with us.