State legislatures controlled by the Republican Party (GOP) have been feverishly re-writing election laws to make it harder to vote. They aim to suppress the votes of parts of the population, especially Black people, who turned out in large numbers to defeat Donald Trump. For example, the Georgia GOP passed a law that makes it a crime to give water to voters waiting in line, and at the same time, it reduced the number of polling places in Black neighborhoods, guaranteeing longer wait times to vote.
The Democratic Party loudly protests these efforts at voter suppression. In Texas, Democratic Party legislators walked out of the state capitol, successfully delaying passage of a voter suppression law for the time being. The Democrats make a big show of defending the right to vote in states where their representatives are in the minority. But it’s a different story in Washington, where the Democrats control the national government.
Congressional Democrats have proposed laws that would counter many forms of voter suppression. But they haven’t passed them. Their excuse is that the Senate has a rule called the filibuster which means it takes 60 votes to pass a law over GOP objections. The Democrats only have a bare majority of 51 votes. But 51 votes are enough to change the rules to eliminate the filibuster, yet so far the Democrats are refusing to do this. If they abolished the filibuster, there would be no barrier to passing laws to implement all the promises they’ve made. The filibuster is a handy excuse for not taking action. Maybe that is the reason the Democrats didn’t do away with it long ago.
The filibuster has been around for many decades. In the 1960s, it was the last line of defense used by racist politicians to try to stop passage of civil rights laws. During those years, there were huge mass movements demanding change. These movements were powerful enough that Congress was forced to pass voting rights laws and lots of other popular reforms, like Medicare, despite the filibuster.
Today, millions of people are angry about growing inequality and the deteriorating conditions in the neighborhoods where we live and where we work. Like in the 1960s, if we want big changes, we can’t wait for politicians to act. The only way fundamental changes get made is when large numbers of people rise up together and shake the system.