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For democracy to work for all of us, it must include us all

On the Anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

by Folabi Olagbaju

August 6, 2021

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4)  and the For the People Act (S.1) are our best chance to make a better future for all of us.

State legislators and activists from Black Voters Matter and other groups pose for the media before their march from National Museum of African American History and Culture to Lafayette Park in front of the White House to call on President Biden to rise to the moment and use his pulpit to protect voting rights in America.

© Tim Aubry / Greenpeace

On a hot August day, 56 years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson outlawed the racist voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting. Before the signing of this landmark legislation, Black citizens of this country could not fully exercise their right to vote because of Jim Crow laws. The Voting Rights Act enforced the 15th amendment which stated that “no vote shall not be denied …on account of race, color” and is the most important piece of civil rights legislation ever passed. 

We all know, of course, that the discrimination at the polls did not stop there. Various Supreme Court decisions over time, including Shelby County v. Holder (2013), severely weakened the legislation. In fact, after a record-setting 2020 election with an unprecedented number of votes cast for both parties, 18 Republican-led states enacted 30 laws in the first half of this year alone restricting access to the vote, especially for people of color. A Jim Crow faction in our government is once again blocking legislation to protect our freedoms so they can hold onto power, discriminate by race, and rule for special interests, like fossil fuel billionaires. 

From unprecedented amounts of dark money flooding our politics, to restrictions on our freedom to vote that disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities, we’ve seen the harm that happens when our politics are not people-powered. Voting rights preserve all rights, whether it is our rights to a living wage, healthcare, equal housing opportunity, or a clean environment. Our democracy should be our best tool for advancing climate solutions, but it has been hijacked by fossil fuel interests. Millions of people, especially Black and Brown communities, are blocked from participating because of restrictions on voting rights and the corroding influence of corporate money in politics

But we have an opportunity to make a change and strengthen our democratic principles as the Voting Rights Act intended. There is no question that our democracy is at a tipping point and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4)  and the For the People Act (S.1) are our best chance to make a better future for all of us, no exceptions.

Together, these bills are the most important pieces of civil rights legislation since the Voting Rights Act. 

Greenpeace US’ Folabi Olagbaju, left, and Charlie Cray, right, with Cliff Albright, the Co-founder and Executive Director of Black Voters Matter Fund (BVM) outside the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would stop future racist anti-voter legislation, but not the hundreds of bills Republicans are currently jamming through state legislatures across the country. Only the For the People Act can undo the anti-voter laws that have already been passed. 

But we can’t stop there. The For the People Act is a widely popular bill that protects our freedom to vote, prevents billionaires from buying our elections, and ensures that people, not polluters, can elect leaders who govern in our interests. We need Congress to pass this bill so we can advance urgently needed climate solutions. There is literally no time to waste!

Passing the For the People Act will ensure that our democracy responds more to the will of the people rather than corporate interests. Free and fair elections are where we make decisions like electing climate leaders and passing climate legislation that will help protect our planet. For democracy to work for all of us, it must include us all.

The future of our democracy should not and cannot be in the hands of corporate polluters and politicians who want to take us back to the Jim Crow era. They’ve made it clear that they do not want us to exercise our freedom to vote and make our voices heard. We can’t let that happen. The stakes are too high for our country and planet.

Hundreds of companies have made halfhearted attempts to appear socially conscious by releasing statements in support of voting rights and the Movement for Black Lives, in an effort to disguise themselves as “good corporate citizens.” Unfortunately, this has not stopped companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast from making campaign contributions to extremist legislators pushing anti-voting and anti-protest bills.

Tell AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast to stop funding anti-democratic politicians.

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Folabi Olagbaju

By Folabi Olagbaju

Folabi Olagbaju is the Democracy Campaign Director at Greenpeace USA. Folabi brings a wealth of experience as a human rights advocate and recognized leader in the global social justice movement.

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