Commit to country, rather than party, by Ben Jealous
7/22/2021, 6 p.m.
One year after the death of the great civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, a group of Texas Democratic lawmakers is following Rep. Lewis’s lifelong call for people to make “good trouble” and “necessary trouble” to secure equality and justice for all. Congressional Democrats should bring the same level of commitment to resisting and overturning a new wave of voting restrictions that voting rights activist Stacey Abrams has labeled “Jim Crow 2.0.”
Here’s why dozens of Texas lawmakers were in Washington, D.C., last week:
Texas is the latest Republican-run state where legislators and the governor are trying to impose new voting restrictions — banning drive-through and 24-hour early voting, restricting distribution of absentee ballots, imposing new voter ID provisions — that they hope will make it harder for Democrats to win future elections. Their voter suppression laws are aimed at Black and Brown voters and others more likely to support Democratic candidates.
Republican officials also are trying to make former President Trump happy by giving credibility to his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. They’re using his lies about “election fraud” and “election integrity” to justify new restrictive voting rules.
In Texas, Republicans control the state House and Senate. And hard-right Gov. Greg Abbott is eager to do Mr. Trump’s bidding. Back in May, Texas Repub- licans tried to push their election bill through the House just before the close of the legislative session. Because the Texas House is required to have two-thirds of its members present to conduct official business, Democratic legislators stopped the bill from passing by walking out of the chamber.
But Gov. Abbott is so set on getting his new voting law that he ordered legislators to come back into session this month to push it through. To prevent the state’s Republicans from forcing new voting restrictions into law, more than 50 Democratic legislators left the state on July 12.
Gov. Abbott and Republican Senate leaders have threatened lawmakers with arrest to try to force them to attend the session. And he has said he will keep calling special sessions until he gets his way.
That’s why the Texas legisla- tors came to Washington. They brought an urgent message to members of Congress: The only way to protect voters from voter suppression at the state level is to pass national voting rights legislation.
The House of Representatives previously has passed the For the People Act, which would reverse many new voting restrictions and includes a number of priorities specifically outlined by Rep. Lewis during his lifetime, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would help prevent future voter suppression efforts from taking effect. Both are essential to protect democracy and voting rights. But right now, Republicans in the U.S. Senate are using the filibuster to block the For the People Act, and they could do the same to the VRA.
President Biden made a strong speech July 13 in defense of voting rights. He denounced new voter suppression efforts. And he called for the U.S. Senate to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
I am grateful that President Biden has called attention to the urgent need for congressional action. Now we need him to use his leadership to get voting rights legislation through the Senate. And if Republicans continue to block it using a filibuster, he must work with Senate leaders to break through that obstruction.
Rep. Lewis nearly died in the struggle to pass the national Voting Rights Act. He dedicated his career in Congress to defending it. I steeled myself for the disgust I felt when Republican officials praised him on the anniversary of his death, July 17, at the same time they are undermining the cause to which he devoted his life.
Texas Democrats are honoring Rep. Lewis by making good and necessary trouble. It is time for Democrats in Washington, and any Republicans committed more to country than party, to do the same.
The writer, a former national president of the NAACP, is president of People for the American Way and People for the American Way Foundation.