Nearly one year ago, the world watched in horror as right-wing extremists stormed the United States Capitol Building. The intention of the insurrection was to disenfranchise millions of voters by preventing the certifications of several states’ electors. Repairing the broken windows of the building is not enough to safeguard against future tyranny — we must reinforce the strength of our voting protections by passing the Freedom to Vote Act.
In 1863, following the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, New York City hosted its own insurrection, the New York City Draft Riots. The violence was drummed on by Gov. Horatio Seymour, who actively worked against President Abraham Lincoln’s goals of defeating the Confederacy and ending slavery in the United States. The anti-emancipation press stoked the fears of white dockworkers that their livelihoods would be taken by newly emancipated Black Americans following the conclusion of the Civil War.
Thirty-thousand strong, a vicious mob of white supremacists armed themselves with guns and makeshift weapons, attacked police officers, and cut communication lines to slow the government’s response. For nearly a week, the mob attacked and murdered scores of Black Americans, including women and children. It left a trail of destruction in its wake, even burning the city’s Black orphanage to the ground. It would take the intervention of the United States Army to quell the riots.
From the abrupt and incomplete end of Reconstruction to the destruction of Tulsa, Okla., to the deadly clash in Charlottesville, Va., every scar that our nation has endured on the march toward progress has come with the common thread of a demagogue using lies and stoking fear with the intent to disenfranchise the full participation of people of color within our democracy.
In last year’s case, the lie was that the presidential election had been stolen through widespread voter fraud, despite virtually no evidence that any took place. The Big Lie was repeated by a right-wing media that has no accountability to the truth and uses their platform not to inform the public but to foment racial fears. The insurrection was attended by high-ranking officials within the Republican Party, with 57 local and state officials in attendance including Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano.
GOP politicians across the country have been clearly sympathetic with the insurrectionists and have heard their demands loud and clear. The Brennan Center for Justice notes that 19 states have enacted 33 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote. These laws include increased limitations on vote-by-mail and predatory voter ID laws that effectively disenfranchise people of color.
The Freedom to Vote Act, which is currently under consideration in the Senate, would fulfill the promise of both the 19th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The act is a collection of commonsense reforms that would promote full voter participation. The act protects vote-by-mail, establishing a national standard against burdensome requirements such as notarization. The act creates a national holiday for Election Day, requires all 50 states to allow for early voting, and cracks down on voter suppression and intimidation practices by establishing federal criminal penalties for deceiving voters. Additionally, the comprehensive bill addresses redistricting reform, voter registration modernization, campaign finance reform, and election transparency.
We must act now to safeguard our democracy against the real threat of further insurrection. Last month, the Senate changed the filibuster rules to allow for raising the debt ceiling, and I echo Sen. Raphael Warnock’s concern that “it is misplaced to change the Senate rules only for the benefit of the economy when the warning lights on our democracy are flashing at the same time.” As an Air Force veteran, my oath to protect democracy did not end when I took off my uniform. I take that oath seriously. I’m calling on our elected officials to examine the core of what our democracy is: protecting everyone’s right to vote.
Jack Inacker, a graduate of the master of public policy program at Temple University, is an Air Force veteran, father, and Philadelphia committeeperson in the 18th Ward. @jackinacker