One year ago, an armed force overwhelmed police, stormed the US Capitol, and threatened the lives of US Senators, Representatives, and the Vice President. They tried to stop the certification of electoral votes through an insurrection targeting the United States government. They did this because they believed the lie that Joe Biden had lost and Donald Trump had won the 2020 presidential election. Immediately prior to the attack, Trump himself had encouraged the mob, saying: “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”

Around the country, we sat and watched on our screens as they crashed through barriers, broke down doors, searched for our elected officials, ransacked offices and congressional chambers. We saw the makeshift gallows and noose. We saw four people die that day, and others later on as a result of that day. 

Mainstream Republicans like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell have condemned these events and tried to distance themselves, but the policies of mainstream Republicans have moved closer and closer to those espoused by Trump and his followers. Republicans routinely cite voter fraud by “illegal immigrants” and city voters (code for people of color) as a reason to make voting more difficult, when the evidence shows that voter fraud is essentially nonexistent. There is a straight line between these claims of voter fraud and the big lie that the last election was stolen. Some Republicans are on one end of that spectrum, others are on the other end, and they meet in the middle at implementing voter ID laws and other voting restrictions. 

All of this is possible because our government was set up to marginalize the wishes of the many and prioritize the wishes of the few, powerful, and wealthy. And all of this makes it more and more likely that Trump or another demagogue who prioritizes the wishes of the powerful and wealthy and appeals to the fears of white voters will be able to eventually overturn the electoral process, in 2024 or soon thereafter. 

It is fear of scarcity that drives this risk. The fear of the wealthy and powerful that they might lose some – even the tiniest bit – of their wealth and power. The fear of white voters that their country is changing into something they don’t recognize as the population of people of color grows. Both of these groups fear the loss of something to which they have become accustomed. Although Trump and authoritarians claim to support the average person, the working- or middle-class white citizen, in reality they work to support the wealthy and powerful to cement their own status as members of that group. They use fear as a weapon against the rest of us. The wealthy and powerful stoke racial fears to prevent poor, working-class, and middle-class people from coming together into a broad, multiracial coalition to demand what we really need: quality healthcare for all of us, strong education for our children, a roof over our heads, food for our families, and meaningful work for us to accomplish. We can create those opportunities for ourselves, but only if we maintain free and fair elections in this nation. 

That is why we must connect our commemoration of January 6th with the promotion of voting rights. That is why we must use this anniversary to advocate for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The first bill would end gerrymandering, lessen the influence of big money and create public election financing, and eliminate voter suppression. The second would prevent discrimination in voting and mandate oversight of changes to voting laws. Both of these pieces of legislation are vital to maintaining free and fair elections. And because Republicans can block a vote on this legislation with the filibuster, we must create an exception to the filibuster to pass these laws. Republicans created just such an exception to ram through a Supreme Court nominee into an opening created during Obama’s time in office. We can surely create another exemption  to preserve free voting in this country. 
We can connect with one another and make this happen. We all play a role. This should not be a partisan issue – it is about our national community, about the rights of the many and the few. Please, in whichever state you live, call and email your Senators today demanding that they pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and that they not allow the filibuster to get in the way. Find your Senators’ phone numbers at this link. And if you are able, please show up to a Democracy Vigil on January 6, 2022 – locations and times at this link. Passing this crucial legislation depends on all of us doing whatever we can. Our Senators will not act on their own. We, the American people, must demonstrate our will for this to be accomplished.

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