As resistance to Trump’s agenda gathers steam, many sectors of the progressive left and Democratic Party leaders turn their eyes toward the 2018 elections as the next step in the struggle. But too few are working to defend and restore voting rights.
Don’t get me wrong — the argument for building momentum to win elections is solid. There is only so much a mass movement can do, however, from the position of energetic opposition. The Republican Party controls both houses of Congress; their appointees have a majority in the Supreme Court. On a federal level, we are largely reduced to defense.
Like it or not, the Trump administration will change government enforcement of key regulations, including civil rights. And sooner or later, major legislative victories will gut social programs, slash progressive gains and make structural changes that will be hard to undo.
Most conversations about taking back Congress in 2018 ignore a crucial part of the puzzle: the right to vote is under threat for millions of people. Many have already been excluded from participation in our democracy by Republicans’ systematic campaign to disenfranchise voters.
If we do not act now to defend and restore our voting rights, progressives will be hard-pressed to win in the short-term or long-term.
How We Got Here
There has been much debate about how Trump won the November 2016 election. It is now indisputable that the active suppression of the vote by Republican Secretaries of State, State legislatures and Governors helped deliver a Trump presidency.
This was the first presidential election in half a century without the full protection of the Federal Voting Rights Act (VRA). The VRA, enacted in 1965, brought an end to legal race discrimination in this country, after the state violence that kept Jim Crow in place was revealed to television audiences around the world.
Public outcry to seeing police in Birmingham and other cities unleash dogs on children and beat peaceful protesters forced a federal…