Clear and Present Danger to the Vote, Part 2

CEO Corner: Clear and Present Danger to the Vote, Part 2

Dr. Bernice A. King

November 2, 2021

I continue to be grateful for your support of The King Center and for how you’ve embraced, in part or fully, our vision: “The Beloved Community where injustice ceases and love prevails.” I firmly believe that commitment to this vision from people all over our World House will help to hasten the creation of the Beloved Community.

This is part 2 of my CEO Corner on the very clear and present danger to the vote in the United States of America. I encourage you to read part 1 prior to reading or in tandem with this continuation.  It is imperative that we are educated and informed on why the vote matters, how we can utilize the vote to create the Beloved Community, how the voter is under attack, and how we should respond to the attack.

While voting is not the only ingredient for creating a just, humane, equitable, sustainable, and peaceful world and nation, it is a critical ingredient. The vote, particularly when we are strategically and lovingly attentive to conquering what my father called the Triple Evils of extreme materialism (poverty), racism, and militarism, is among our strongest vessels for social change. And, as my father said, “Voting is the foundation stone for political action.” Were this not true, those who oppose fair, non-discriminatory voting and equity in power and resources would not persist in suppressing the vote.

One of the key forms of voter suppression is gerrymandering and it is alive and well today, as we are currently witnessing in Texas.  On October 25, 2021, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, signed new congressional and state legislative districts into law. And there is already a lawsuit challenging the district maps, claiming they’ve been gerrymandered.

Gerrymandering creates multiple barriers, including lack of communication on candidates and their stances on critical issues. As a recent article from NPR shares, “People who live in a gerrymandered district are far less likely to see candidate flyers or commercials. And when no one’s out there trying to earn your vote, you might not see anything worth voting for. Or if your party seems destined to win, why show up?”

Another barrier built by gerrymandering is that it prevents marginalized groups, meaning people treated by government, systems, and other power structures as insignificant and peripheral, from being able to elect candidates more likely to address their most pressing needs. “Perhaps the most shocking example of gerrymandering occurs in the statehouse map in Bell County, home to Fort Hood, a large military base north of Austin. Republicans split the city of Killeen, which is 40 percent Black, into two bizarrely shaped districts—with one donut-shaped district encircling the other—to protect two white GOP state representatives. “The only motivation for chopping Killeen up is that [if they didn’t], African Americans and Latinos would be able to elect the candidate of their choice,” Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe told the Texas Tribune.

Understanding gerrymandering, along with other forms of voter suppression, and how voter suppression tactics threaten democratic voting processes should cause us to examine a powerful instrument currently being used unjustly to deter key voting legislation: the filibuster. Simply put, to filibuster means “to delay action on a bill or issue by talking.”  A filibuster in the Senate can only be stopped if a supermajority of 60 senators vote to end debate in a process called cloture.

On its face, the filibuster is not unjust. However, when it is used to intentionally deter and dismantle efforts for equity, social change, and equality, it is a just law being used unjustly, an occurrence that my father expounds on in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. This is precisely what is happening with the United States now, as the filibuster is being used by Republican senators to prevent passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

These two pieces of legislation would protect the vote by preventing states from enacting laws that make it more difficult for Black, Brown and rural White people to vote and that provide pathways for state legislators to change the outcomes of elections when they are dissatisfied with the results. In addition, both pieces of legislation are just measures for stopping unjust practices that are rooted in fear and misinformation about voter fraud regarding the 2020 United States presidential election. We cannot allow the filibuster to be used as a tool for injustice. My father shares more about this misuse in these two clips: MLK on the Filibuster, Clip 1 and MLK on the Filibuster, Clip 2.

One thing that each of us can do toward stopping this misuse of the filibuster is to contact our senators at (202) 224-3121 regarding supporting the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting rights Advancement Act. In addition, if the filibuster continues to be misused, we must call on the President, Vice President and Democratic senators to prioritize reformation of the filibuster so that it cannot be used in this manner. Now is the time to protect democracy and to ensure that we maintain voting as one of the critical ingredients in our work to, as my father said, “make of this old world a new world.”

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