Last week’s insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol Building is a stark reminder that our democratic system is incredibly fragile. Though we may take it for granted, the peaceful transfer of power is neither assured nor inevitable.
Last week was the logical consequence of decades of anti-democratic actions by cynical and power-hungry individuals who have denigrated our government and rigged the rules in their favor. Decades of lies about the prevalence of voter fraud created fertile ground for politicians like those in the Pennsylvania congressional delegation (Reps. John Joyce, Fred Keller, Mike Kelly, Dan Meuser, Scott Perry, Guy Reschenthaler, Lloyd Smucker, and Glen Thompson) to object to electoral vote counting — despite no evidence or reason to do so. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and winner takes all rules in our election system gave countless others free rein to incite the violence with no electoral consequences.
Healing our nation after such profound desecration requires, first and foremost, consequences for those involved. But if we are serious about protecting our democratic way of life, we must not merely return to the status quo prior to Jan. 6.
To survive as a nation, we must transform our democracy — from one in which a minority can exert more power than a majority; where lies are spread about noncitizens voting to justify the suppression of votes; where politicians can draw district lines to ensure their own reelection; and where lawmakers can be unduly influenced by big donors and corporate elites, to a democracy that enshrines the principles of fairness, equality, and participation at its core.
The good news is that we have the policy solutions to push our democracy in the right direction. In fact, the House of Representatives recently reintroduced the For The People Act, an incredible omnibus bill that would prevent the worst of anti-democratic politics and nationalize many of the most promising pro-democracy reforms.
The For The People Act would, among many other things, end congressional gerrymandering through independent redistricting commissions; limit discriminatory voter purges and voter ID requirements that make it more difficult to vote; implement same day and automatic voter registration nationwide to reduce the barriers to participate; and create a system of public financing for congressional elections to empower small donors across America.
While the House of Representatives passed the For The People Act in 2019, the biggest roadblock to its adoption has always been Sen. Mitch McConnell. As Senate majority leader, he pledged to never let the For The People Act come up for a vote.
But now that the Senate has flipped and Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer is at the helm, this critically important bill now has a chance of becoming law.
In the wake of one of the bleakest days for American democracy and its governing institutions, we call on the Pennsylvania congressional delegation and Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey (the latter previously cosponsored the bill) to make a declaration that they will ensure the For The People Act’s passage. Anything less would be to fail to rise to the challenge that this historical moment requires.
Michael Pollack is the executive director of March on Harrisburg. Adam Eichen is the executive director of Equal Citizens and the coauthor of “Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want.”