Our nation stands at a critical inflection point.
We are commemorating the anniversary of one of our nation’s darkest days – the deadly Capitol insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021. At the same time, the nation is bracing for a frightening reality in which electoral maps are set to be redrawn without voting rights protections, for the first time since 1965.
Jan. 6 is not merely about former President Donald Trump’s failed grasp for everlasting power. That day also shows the fragility of our democracy. And it would be hypocritical for either side of the political aisle to blame the other. White supremacists attempted a coup live on national television to block the counting of presidential election votes. And now the party in control of both houses of Congress has failed to get legislation to the president that would protect the voting rights of Americans. They could do this alone, but a select few are choosing to sacrifice this dire civil rights concern for the optics of bipartisanship.
Bipartisanship is wonderful when it works. But it must never come at the cost of democracy.
Our democracy is in crisis. And in times of crisis, the actions of extremists – like those who stormed the Capitol – and mainstream politicians who refuse to defend the franchise have garnered the same, dangerous result. In this case, an attempt to diminish the basic democratic right to vote.
On Jan. 6, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp called the insurrection “disgraceful” and “un-American,” adding that “the rule of law matters.” Afterward, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also spoke out against the insurrection.
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Yet, all three governors have signed voter suppression bills into law. And it’s not just in Texas, Georgia and Florida where such actions have been taken. Attacks on voting rights have happened in Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
To denounce Jan. 6 while refusing to pass voting rights protections makes a mockery of America. It is hypocrisy on display. All politicians are tasked with upholding basic rights and freedoms for Americans – whether lawmakers in the Senate or leaders on the state level.
White supremacy invaded our Capitol on Jan. 6. It continued to invade our lives through every television news and social media feed that replayed horrifying clips of insurrectionists flooding the halls of democracy. Now, white supremacy is brazenly re-invading our constitutional right to vote.
Any evil that wins at the ballot box has the potential to fuel the very worst of who we are, just as we witnessed one year ago when Trump spurred on insurrectionists. To effectively address the cause of Jan. 6, we must collectively address how the attack – and the biased, violent rhetoric that propelled it – is impacting the very foundations of our democracy, beginning with our voting system.
In 2021, state legislators introduced more than 440 voter suppression bills across the country. Thirty-four such laws were enacted in 19 states. The new year promises more of the same. I cannot imagine any greater threat to democracy than this calculated, methodical and steady unraveling of our Constitution.
We are entering an era in which electoral maps without federal voting rights protections will become the norm. Fewer polls and longer lines will define our democracy, instead of being outrageous outliers. Days after the insurrection, President Joe Biden pledged to defeat white supremacy in his inaugural speech. That won’t happen unless he and Congress protect the rights of voters.
Today, it would be a mistake to focus only on Trump and the insurrectionists.
We must also address the enduring harm of white supremacy perpetuated by state and local legislators. Many launched ongoing assault, not by breaking through Capitol barricades but by using the power of their office. This anniversary must serve as a blunt reminder that we so desperately need to protect, strengthen and expand our democracy.
There is nothing more American than securing the rights of all voters. The procedure by which voting rights are passed in the Senate is irrelevant, yet the outcome that we seek is everything that America stands for around the world. It is the perfect response to that dark day one year ago.
Our job now is to ensure democracy can survive, and we must do so by protecting and reinforcing the foundations of the very institutions white supremacists shook last year.
Passing voting rights legislation is where that mission begins.
Derrick Johnson is president of the NAACP.