WASHINGTON—There were bold, thinly disguised gestures to convince the liberal, Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency—Black voters—that there is reason to hope for a brighter future in the crumbling U.S. system, after Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (W.V.) rejected a plan by their party’s leaders to change Senate rules to allow passage of two major voting rights bills.
Their opposition all but dooms the prospect the 117th Congress will pass voting rights legislation. President Joe Biden held out his party’s hope against hope. “I hope we can get this done. The honest-to-God answer is I don’t know whether we can get this done,” Mr. Biden told reporters after his party’s defectors spoke on Jan. 13.
What Democrats have yet to acknowledge, let alone offer an answer for, is the increasing racial hostility among Whites—a majority of whom voted for defeated Republican Donald J. Trump.
“Look, the Republican Party has a stranglehold on the Euro-American vote, which has been the case for more than a half century,” Dr. Gerald Horne, professor of History and African Studies at the University of Houston, said in an interview. “A high percentage of that electorate feels the 2020 election was stolen.
“A percentage of that majority thinks that violence might be necessary to reach their political goals. So, I’m sympathetic to the voting rights activists, I’m with the voting rights activists. However, realistically speaking, things don’t look very promising right now. You know, I would prefer to be an optimist, but I have to be a realist.”
The reality is that even the best case electoral scenario does not guarantee success for candidates who might be responsive to the needs of Black voters in 2022 or 2024. After each successive victory, Blacks discover the goalposts have been moved.
Most post-election analysis credits strong support from Black voters—particularly in Georgia where Democrats won two Senate seats and the first Electoral College victory in Georgia in decades—with providing Mr. Biden’s party a razor-thin margin in the Senate.
“To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed, to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights. When it comes to protecting majority rule in America, the majority should rule in the United States Senate,” Mr. Biden said at a rally, staged at Atlanta’s historic Black college center. Despite his optimism, Mr. Biden probably knew his plan was doomed.
But a coalition of voting rights groups in Georgia announced that they would not attend events surrounding Mr. Biden’s trip to Atlanta. “We don’t need even more photo ops. We need action, and that action is in the form of the John Lewis Voting Rights (Advancement) Act as well as the Freedom to Vote Act, and we need that immediately,” Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, told reporters ahead of the visit.
But several civil rights leaders did attend the speeches in Atlanta, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson; the Rev. Al Sharpton; Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League; Derrick Johnson, the head of the NAACP; Melanie Campbell, the chief executive of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and others.
Most of the civil rights leadership is engaged with influential White political figures, rather than organizing a “bottom-up” campaign to turn out Black “souls at the polls,” regardless of the Republican erected obstacles. In 2020 the Black surge at the polls may have caught Republicans off guard.
“What we saw in 2020, was record numbers (at the polls), and especially among poor and low-income people in a bunch of battleground states,” the Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor Peoples Campaign, Repairers of the Breach, told this writer in an interview for “Monday Morning QB,” heard on WPFW-FM Washington.
“The folks that voted, not just registered to vote, not just were eligible to vote, but who voted in the 2020 election were poor, low-income people, 40 percent right. I mean, that’s a huge, huge number, huge percentage. And those folks are out there voting. And so, I think it is true that there’s many things that get in the way of poor and low-income people voting. Sometimes there’s voter suppression, and also the voter suppression of the lack of transportation, and being able to get off work, and not having the time to wait in these long lines, and all of that.”
Efforts at voter suppression are very real in 2022. Already, according to the Brennan Center, 400 laws have been introduced in 49 states restricting voter access.
It may already be too late to reverse the tide which has eroded the foundation of the constitutional democracy and its 230-year tradition of peaceful transfers of power.
“That brings us back to what I consider to be the fundamental question,” said Dr. Horne. “I mean, the United States and in fact many of my progressive friends, they’re like the patient who shows up to the hospital after smoking three packs of cigarettes a day for 30 years, and then wants a miracle cure.
“It’s going to be very difficult. It might happen. It might happen, but it’s unlikely,” said Dr. Horne. “You have scholars who are talking about the United States on the verge of civil war.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in some ways, the situation in the United States is either spinning out of control or has spun out of control. And so, I’m sympathetic to those who are counseling voting, carve out for the filibuster and all the rest. But I think all of us need a plan B and (plan) C quite frankly.”
The Rev. Theoharis is not yet discouraged. “We, in the Poor People’s Campaign, reached out to more than 2 million poor and low-income, what they call low propensity voters in the 2020 elections,” she said.
“And that means folks that hadn’t voted in a couple of elections. Some folks hadn’t voted in two presidential elections. We reached out to more than 2 million of those in about 15 borderline states. And what we found was that folks voted when we reached out to them, when we talked about an agenda that was about living wages, and healthcare, and addressing climate issues, and systemic racism, that people statistically, we were able to impact people’s participation in the election.
“And so, we know it works, and we plan to keep on doing it. We know others are planning to keep on doing it, and really be able to make an impact,” Rev. Theoharis said.