By Ben Jealous
Nobody needs to tell Black Americans that progress toward an inclusive democracy is often met with brutal resistance. We’ve learned the hard way that we can’t “let nobody turn us ‘round.” And right now, we need to send that message to the people we put in power in the White House and Congress.
Our democracy survived former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. It survived the violent attack on Congress that Trump and his allies incited, which left five people dead and many more injured. We won great victories at the ballot box in Georgia, yet our progress – and our democracy – are still at risk.
We cannot let the forces of bigotry and backlash stop us from fixing the mess Trump left behind, giving people the help they need, and protecting our democracy itself.
Here’s what’s going on: After an election in which Black people’s votes made the difference in so many races, state legislators have already introduced more than 100 bills to interfere with voter registration, limit mail-in voting, and make it harder to vote. They want to turn us around and shut us out.
That’s why we need Congress to pass the For the People Act. It would strengthen and protect voting rights. It would limit big money’s ability to corrupt our politics. And it would stop state legislators from drawing lines on the map that give unfair power to the right wing and leave Black people and progressive voters underrepresented.
The biggest barrier to passing protections for voting and democracy is the same barrier to getting relief money to hurting people, families, and small businesses: Senate Republicans and their intention to stop progress dead in its tracks.
And that’s why we need Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It would put some teeth back into the Voting Rights Act that conservatives on the Supreme Court knocked out just after former President Barack Obama’s reelection.
One reason people were so motivated to elect Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff was to keep Sen. Mitch McConnell from having the power to stop President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris from doing what they were elected to do.
When Georgia voters elected Warnock and Ossoff, it gave Democrats control of the Senate—50 votes with Vice President Harris as the tiebreaker. But McConnell refused for days to relinquish control, and it took weeks before he stopped holding up the vote to recognize the shift in power and put Democrats in charge of Senate committees.
McConnell operates in bad faith. Senate Democrats need to act quickly to do away with the filibuster rules that let him get away with it. Our country’s needs are too urgent to let McConnell and his unprincipled power plays stop us from taking action.
Don’t forget that McConnell and his Republican colleagues are also trying to sabotage the impeachment trial that would hold Trump accountable for the deadly insurrection he incited with his lies about Black voters. They don’t want us to learn more about what happened and who energized the anti-democratic forces that tried to overturn the election. So they tell us to forget about it and move on.
We know better. The history of lynching and other racial violence is clear. Active participation or complicity by law enforcement and politicians protected those who carried out the violence. And when no one was held accountable, the violence continued.
We know that the far-right forces energized by Trump’s lies about a stolen election are planning more violence. And we know that right-wing politicians are using those same lies to justify attacks on our voting rights.
Don’t believe people who say that holding Trump accountable will prevent us from focusing on the other work that needs to be done.
We can and must do both. We must hold Trump responsible for his attacks on democracy. And we must move forward with all the urgency our situation demands.
Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation. Jealous has decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned nonprofit executive. In 2008, he was chosen as the youngest-ever president and CEO of the NAACP. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and he has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.