Black women leaders have been working on the issue of voting rights, calling for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the Freedom to Vote Act and the Build Back Better Reconciliation Act, as well as for D.C. statehood.
Several leaders, including Melanie Campbell, CEO of the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, and Janice Mathis, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women, were arrested a couple of weeks ago.
On Nov. 16, the women took their energy to the Supreme Court, walking from the NCNW headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue to the Court building.
It ought to be a no-brainer that the same country that invades other people’s countries around human rights and voting rights would provide the same rights for its own citizens. Predatory capitalism, however, makes the voting-rights blocking filibuster essential to those who would extract every penny of surplus value from other citizens.
How else can we explain the resistance to managing drug prices, raising the minimum wage, or blocking the right to vote? The big-money politics game makes it easy enough for deep-pocketed corporations to purchase a senator to protect their interests. Grassroots efforts, like the NCNW/NCBPC (with many allies) efforts are less well funded than some of these senators are, and they may be less influential. Republicans with consciences surely know that voting is an essential right. However, too many of them want to win at all costs, eschewing fairness for power.
It’s like a chicken-and-egg thing. Republicans (yes, let’s call it as it is) want to suppress the vote so they can keep getting elected. Once elected, they continue to manipulate the system with gerrymandering that is designed to minimize the electoral influence of those who oppose the predatory capitalist agenda. This includes Black folks, Chicano/Latina folks, American Indians, senior citizens, and those who live in inner cities. These voters, certainly, aren’t a monolith, but voters of color are treated monolithically and sidelined in the same way. Voting rights legislation might pass, but for the filibuster.
So why can’t we get eliminate the filibuster? Some Democrats want to embrace the traditions of the past, even though those traditions allow the minority to ride roughshod over the majority. President Biden, whose legislation has been blocked by the filibuster, only recently signaled some willingness to get rid of the filibuster in some cases. He should have spoken up sooner, and more loudly. Though more than 60% of Americans support the Build Back Better legislation, just two recalcitrant senators have been able to hold up the vote. Now, as we head into the holiday season, the window to pass this legislation is closing. Neither the House nor the Senate deserves time off until voting rights legislation is passed.
Too many of us seem to forget that we are the BOSSES, not the serfs, of these members of the House and the Senate. We can kick them to the curb as viciously as they’ve kicked us. We have powerful Black women leaders who are urging us to take our power back, rejecting incumbents who don’t have our interests at heart. Our work, our serious work, is to vet these incumbents and send them home when it is necessary.
We don’t do that. We tend to reelect incumbents because we are used to them, because we feel close to them, because they’ve been to our schools, because they’ve done a town hall, because they are friendly and personable. As personable as some of them are, if they don’t support economic justice, they are just a waste of space. They are sitting in an elected seat that someone else might better use to serve people.
Voting rights and economic justice are inextricably intertwined. We won’t get fair wages, good labor laws, student loan forgiveness, childcare, or more progressive economic legislation until we get the right to vote, because there are those who would offer rights like goodies on a snack plate, goodies they can easily take back. It is absurd that a nation that brags about democracy fails to provide it for too many of its citizens.
Republicans are shameless in their grab for power. We must be aggressive in our resistance. We cannot have economic justice without voting rights. Kudos to the Black women who are fighting for our rights.
Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author, and founding dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at California State University at Los Angeles.