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President Biden’s voting rights speech is urgent call to action for defenders of democracy

Throughout our history, enemies of democracy have attempted to silence the will of the people by restricting voting rights and political participation, especially for Black Americans.

In the not-too-distant past, these enemies of multiracial democracy engaged in rampant violence and terror to prevent Black people and other nonwhite Americans from voting. Today, they’re erecting as many obstacles to the ballot as possible to hinder the ability of Black voters, Latinx voters, low-income voters, young voters, new voters and voters with disabilities to elect and be represented by candidates of their choice.

On Jan. 6, we saw once again the violent tactics of the past as thousands of extremists – many bearing the insignias of white supremacists and other hate groups – stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the presidential vote. But the deadly insurrection did not stop the ongoing legislative attack on voting rights; it only added more fuel.

In his speech on voting rights yesterday, President Joe Biden accurately characterized the anti-democracy actions by state legislators and others following Jan. 6: “There’s an unfolding assault taking place in America today, an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote in fair and free elections. ... So make no mistake: Bullies and merchants of fear, peddlers of lies, are threatening the very foundation of our country.”

Biden’s speech was a call to action for a multiracial coalition of democracy defenders in this country to “rise to the urgency of this moment” – just as John Lewis, Amelia Boyton and other leaders did during the civil rights movement.

The SPLC welcomes all defenders of democracy into this ongoing and energized movement.

When Georgia put up new, unconstitutional roadblocks to the ballot box this year, we sued. When Florida violated voter outreach organizations’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to act as agents of the state this year, we sued. Within the past year through our Vote Your Voice initiative, we have put over $23.3 million from our endowment to work to help voter mobilization organizations across the Deep South build political power and effect change at the ballot box and in the ongoing community districting processes. 

As the president made clear, Congress must mobilize its own power – as it has in previous moments in history – to defend Americans’ voting rights from the onslaught of anti-voter legislation being enacted in the Deep South and around the nation.

This means employing every available tool in the legislative process to pass the For the People Act – up to and including eliminating the historically anti-democratic filibuster. And it means re-introducing and passing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The promise of democracy is not guaranteed. It must be fought for and protected. We will continue this fight until it is won.

Please go here to see the SPLC Action Fund’s letter to all 100 U.S. senators urging passage of the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Photo by AP Images/Evan Vucci