Protecting the Vote in the Land of Lincoln

The Protect Our Vote! votercade rally at IBEW Local 701 Union Hall, Warrenville, IL. L-R: Rep. Sean Casten (D-06), Rep. Bill Foster (D-11), Rep. Raja Krishnamoorti (D-08) and NAACP DuPage County Chair Michael Childress. (Photo by the author)

As part of a nationwide mobilization, a Protect Our Vote! “votercade” in Illinois, was launched from the IBEW Local Union Hall in Warrenville to rally at the DuPage County Government Campus in Wheaton, in the purplish west suburban portion of the greater metropolitan Chicago area. Speakers included federal lawmakers Rep. Bill Foster (D-11), Rep. Sean Casten (D-06), Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-08) and other, more local elected officials and activists.

The event was organized as part of the Voting Rights Alliance by the DuPage NAACP along with sponsorship by local chapters of the League of Women Voters, National Organization of Women, National Council of Jewish Women and other local non-profit organizations, including religious groups.

Rep. Casten caught us up with the history, noting that in 1868, the election of Ulysses S. Grant was clinched by winning the southern states of Georgia, Louisiana and border state Kentucky because African Americans were legal voters in the United States for the first time in its history. Mississippi was disqualified from that election, Casten noted, because its legislature had not yet certified the 13th amendment outlawing slavery and, in fact, had not ratified the amendment in its state legislature until 1995; and without officially having done so until 2013.

Now that the Party of Lincoln has finally, completely and officially abandoned the principles of activist government and civil rights expansion that it had staked out for itself on the American political landscape back in 1854 in Ripon, Wisconsin, instead reclaiming the twisted heritage of the old Confederacy, it is now up to the thin majority of the Democrats in Congress, and the portion of the electorate who put them there, to defend and sustain the fragile progress forged through the Civil War and Reconstruction victories of Lincoln and Grant.

In an increasingly real way, the Republican Party is willfully embracing the characteristics of a personality cult. “I’ve always liked Liz Cheney, but she’s made a determination that the Republican Party can’t grow with President Trump,” Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told Sean Hannity during his May 7 Fox News show, as House Republicans work to strip Rep. Cheney of her leadership in the coalition. “I’ve determined we can’t grow without him.” But way back on the evening of January 6, a visibly shaken Lindsey Graham sang a very different tune to his legislative colleagues from the floor of the Senate amid the debris of the Capitol riot, saying “Trump and I, we had a hell of a journey. I hate it being this way. Oh my god I hate it … but today all I can say is count me out. Enough is enough.”

Meanwhile, at the beginning of April, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell promised anyone who bothered to listen that his Republican Senate caucus summarily rejected the White House and Democratic majority’s legislative agenda. “I’m going to fight them every step of the way, because I think this is the wrong prescription for America,” McConnell said at a news conference on April Fools Day in his home state of Kentucky. Back in early March, no Republicans in either the House or Senate voted to pass the American Rescue Act that provides benefits to remedy the economic impact of the pandemic on communities across the nation. Zero in the House, zero in the Senate. But enough Republican lawmakers went back to their states and districts boasting to their constituents about the benefits from the legislation that they voted against, to the point where 31% of Republican voters actually believe the Act had passed with bipartisan support.

Beside the traditional issues of fetal gun rights and donor class tax cuts, the twin Republican policy priorities remain the privatization of public services while deregulating private industry for the benefit of moneyed interests and at the expense of the general welfare. And the only way they can advance the narrow priorities of their cynical agenda is to shamelessly suppress voter turnout to the advantage of their own shrinking cohort of the electoral franchise. So, states with Republican legislative majorities have adopted the talking point of “electoral integrity” to brand their attempts in at least 43 states that have so far introduced some 300 bills in the Republicans’ push to make voting more difficult for Democratic-leaning communities. On top of that, on the approach to the 2022 Congressional midterm elections, the completion of the recent ten-year census means more opportunities for gerrymandering districts to favor Republicans where their majorities give them advantages for redrawing representational districts, from local and state to federal levels.

This is why we rallied on May 8 with more than 100 “votercades” in more than 100 cities, according to organizers, focusing support on legislative action from the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to DC Statehood and filibuster reform. On Tuesday, May 11, Senate Rules Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) will gavel in the markup process on the For the People Act that passed in the House 220 to 210 in March, and again without a single Republican vote.

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