Young voting rights activists lead a march to the White House for a civil disobedience action, where they were among the hundreds arrested in 2021.
Voting rights were assaulted in 2021 to a degree not seen since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. As a result, numerous protests took place in Washington, DC in 2021-2022, in an effort to pressure both Congress and the Biden Administration to protect the right to vote. These escalated to non-violent civil disobedience actions as it became clear that neither would act, allowing states to effectively disenfranchise millions of voters. In all, thousands of people have demonstrated in some fashion, and hundreds have been arrested.
Historic turnout in the 2020 election delivered the House of Representatives, Senate, and presidency to the Democratic Party. As a direct result, 19 Republican-controlled states enacted laws making it harder to vote in 2021, in an effort to prevent supporters of the Democratic Party from voting. Since many minority groups tend to vote Democratic, among them Black Americans, these restrictions target people of color, injecting racial discrimination into the voting process. If the Supreme Court had not voided the pre-clearance requirement in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision, states would not have been able to enact these restrictions.
To remedy vote suppression, the House of Representatives passed the For the People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. The For the People Act was a comprehensive election and corruption reform bill that included voting rights protection. The John Lewis and Freedom to Vote Acts provided for federal guarantees of the right to vote, overriding any restrictions at the state level. These bills were filibustered by Republican Senators. More than 50 Senators said they would vote for the bills, so they would have passed and would now be law if not for the Republican filibuster.
Despite long odds from the very beginning, an incredible diversity of people and organizations engaged in the fight for voting rights, from Black Voters Matter to the People for the American Way, and from college students to US Senators. All have at least two things in common: the belief that all citizens must vote for a government to be a democracy, and, following the Senate’s failure to pass voting rights legislation, determination to continue the fight.
*Statistics from Brennan Center for Justice
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