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In a July 13 speech delivered in Philadelphia, President Biden suggested that he finally grasped the severity of the GOP attempts to fundamentally alter the way elections are done in this county. The 30 new election laws passed by Republicans in states across the country that will make it more difficult for Black and Latino voters to vote and easier for GOP legislators to wrestle control of elections away from non-partisan officials, Biden said, are the “most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.”
It’s nice to hear the American president acknowledge that the ex-president telling a lie about an election being stolen and his party responding by effectively tailoring election rules to the lie in order to potentially help him steal the next election is a pretty big damn deal. And in the case of Biden specifically, given his greatest electoral benefactors also happen to be the primary target of many of the GOP’s restrictions, the speech suggested he was ready to step up on our behalf.
Unfortunately, more recent reporting suggests the Biden administration will continue to speak bold words with very little action to back it up. That is an insult to Black voters and organizers alike. It’s also a great way to lose the next election and the country as we all know it.
According to The New York Times, in private calls between voting rights groups and civil rights leaders, “White House officials and close allies of the president have expressed confidence that it is possible to ‘out-organize voter suppression.'” When asked about the reported calls, several Biden advisers claimed “they did not recall telling attendees that voter suppression could be out-organized, but said organizing was integral to the administration’s efforts.”
There are also Biden’s own comments made during a CNN town hall last week. Opening a question with a personal anecdote about his own grandmother’s past struggles to vote thanks to Jim Crow legislation, Don Lemon asked Biden if the Senate filibuster is really worth more than voting rights, which “people fought and died for.” Biden reiterated his support for a “talking filibuster” reform, but said in reference to voting rights legislation, “I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats, we bring along the Republicans who I know know better.”
Politicians and very rich news anchors so often talk about Republicans “knowing better,” as if that makes any difference. Their main objective is power and it’s a well-established American tradition for conservatives in this country to trounce on the rights of Black people to keep it. It’s also not like making it hell for Black people to vote isn’t a longstanding GOP electoral strategy, so none of this is quite the leap for the party that Biden would like to think it as. If anything, Biden and his White House should know better than to have faith in people who have pledged allegiance to Donald Trump, whose complete disregard for democracy grows clearer by the news cycle.
Understandably, civil rights leaders and organizers are fed up with all of this foolish thinking. In a letter signed by the NAACP and other various civil rights groups, activists rightly pointed out that the “ideal of bipartisan cooperation on voting rights” is impossible to attain in the current configuration of the Senate and called on Biden to “support the passage of these bills by whatever means necessary.”
As for that push to accept Jim Crow 2.0 and organize our way out of it:
While we support the notion of a broad-based coalition of advocates, we cannot and should not have to organize our way out of the attacks and restrictions on voting that lawmakers are passing and proposing at the state level. Nor can we litigate our way out of this threat to democracy. Nothing can serve as a substitute for your direct engagement and leadership in efforts to secure the passage of these critical voting rights bills.
I find it utterly depressing that any of this has to be explained to a politician as experienced as President Biden who had a front-row seat to the birtherism-fueled total resistance to the Obama presidency. While there are some skeptics to just how damaging these voting laws actually will be, why would Democrats leave fate to chance with an opponent that’s already gerrymandered its way out of the burden of winning the majority of votes to hold power in states likeTexas, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. And given it doesn’t take much to swing these close elections, why not use the platform of the presidency to let more people know about the mass exodus of local election officials and the GOP operatives itching to put partisans in their place?
But more than anything, are the rights of the Black voters who saved Biden’s campaign not enough to compel him and his White House to fight back fully rather than merely accept defeat? Those civil rights activists are too diplomatic to say it, but I’m not: It is remarkably disrespectful for any Democrats, much less Joe Biden of all people, to tell Black folks to simply out-organize voter suppression efforts not seen since my grandparents tried to score Dionne Warwick tickets.
I commend Stacey Abrams, LaTosha Brown, and so many other Black woman organizers for getting Black people to the polls no matter the obstacles. Likewise, I’m grateful to Reverend William Barber and Beto O’Rourke for leading efforts to further nationalize the issue along with their announced march for voting rights in Texas. However, it’s Joe Biden and other elected Democrats who will ultimately be the greatest beneficiaries of their efforts, so it’s about time they step up with more than speeches.
On the day he officially became designated as president-elect, Biden said: “Especially for those moments when this campaign was at its lowest — the African American community stood up again for me. They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.”
I suggest the president put a little more weight behind this not-so-old promise to Black people — before it’s too late.