End of Year Progress
Dispatches on the For The People Act (Edition #37)
Happy holidays from all of us at Equal Citizens!
There’s a lot to update you on — and it’s almost all good news.
To start, President Biden just announced his support for a carve out to the filibuster for voting rights during an interview on ABC. Biden had hinted a few times previously that he would support filibuster reform, but this is a meaningful shift to a more explicit position. It is also a critical signpost from the White House as the Senate prepares to discuss filibuster reform next month.
Action in the Senate:
Next, there has been growing momentum in the Senate to actually get the Freedom to Vote Act passed.
Moderate Democratic Senators continue to announce that they believe protecting our democracy is more important than the filibuster status quo. This includes statements from Senators Hassan, Warner, King, Hickenlooper, and more.
And though the Senate adjourned for the holidays before the Freedom to Vote Act could be debated — contrary to the wishes of democracy advocates — there is every indication that the bill will be one of the first bills tackled in the new year. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that the Senate will be shifting from the Build Back Better Act (BBB) to prioritizing the Freedom to Vote Act and the filibuster reform necessary to pass it.
Indeed, in a “Dear Colleagues” letter circulated to the Democratic Caucus, Senator Schumer reiterated his focus on the Freedom to Vote Act and explicitly noted that the Senate filibuster must be fixed if Republicans keep thwarting efforts to get the bill passed.
What about Senator Manchin, you might ask? Well, the senator from West Virginia continues to engage in significant discussions with his Senate colleagues about how to alter the Senate rules to make the chamber function again. This is an auspicious development — of course, nothing is final and more work needs to be done.
In case you need a brief reminder of the history of the filibuster and why it has broken the Senate, check out this article published by our very own Lawrence Lessig in The Hill.
Meanwhile inside the Senate Chamber, Senator Warnock, perhaps the best orator in the Senate, emphasized the importance of passing federal voting rights legislation in a powerful floor speech. This is a must-watch clip; you can view it here.
While negotiations in the Senate continue, activists are not letting up the pressure one bit. Black leaders met with President Biden to push him to devote more energy to passing voting rights legislation. More activists were arrested advocating for voting rights protections last week. And, there was the pressure created by the courageous student hunger strikers…
The Hunger Strikers:
On December 6th, a group of 20 students from Arizona began a hunger strike to pressure Senator Sinema and President Biden to prioritize passing the Freedom to Vote Act. Within 4 days, the 20 hunger strikers were granted a meeting with the senator. In this meeting, Sen. Sinema reiterated her support for the Freedom to Vote Act — though, there was no commitment to reforming the filibuster to get it passed.
Instead of ending the strike after this meeting, the hunger strikers then went to Washington D.C. to get President Biden’s attention in hopes that he might prioritize the bill and fight for filibuster reform. Once they arrived in the nation’s capital, Equal Citizens co-founder Lawrence Lessig visited them. After witnessing their commitment, he decided to join the hunger strike (you can read his explanation here). The youth activists were also visited by radio show host Joe Madison, who at that point had been on hunger strike for voting rights for over 30 days. (He is now on day 46 of his hunger strike — !!!)
Day after day went by and the students refused to eat until progress was made on the Freedom to Vote Act. During this time, they were joined by other students from across the country and together they generated a ton of media coverage for voting rights — in the Washington Post, ABC, Mother Jones, The Guardian, The Arizona Republic, MSNBC and more.
On day 15, when Senator Schumer committed to bringing up the Freedom to Vote Act as soon as the first week of the new year, the student hunger strike was called off and victory was declared.
This student hunger strike, organized by our friends at Un-PAC, was a sensational success. Not only did it again bring voting rights to the forefront of the national press — after months of the issue being ignored — it genuinely created pressure on the Senate to re-prioritize the Freedom to Vote Act. The students have pledged to return to D.C. to escalate their actions if the Senate doesn’t pass the bill in the first few weeks of 2021.
Check out this article that one of the Arizona hunger strikers wrote about the experience. And if you want more inspiration, watch this MSNBC clip of UnPAC organizers Georgia Linden and Kyla Frank talking about their hunger strike, saving democracy, and the Freedom to Vote Act.
If you want to support the hunger strike movement, you can sign up for a virtual 48-hour hunger strike here. Un-PAC will make sure the White House and Senate know that you joined their sacrifice to protect our democracy!
Some January Actions:
There are two major dates for democracy activism coming up in January 2022.
First, on January 6th, DFAD and other organizations are hosting vigils across the country to mark the one year anniversary of the insurrection attempt at the Capitol. This was a dark day for American democracy and these vigils are meant to highlight the need to strengthen our democracy against future attempts to subvert it.
Then, on January 17th — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — there may be big demonstrations for voting rights. The King Family announced that if voting rights legislation has not passed by this day, they are calling for a day of demonstrations to demand that the Senate act. The family made it clear that there will be “no celebration without voting rights legislation”. Check out details on the MLK Jr. Day actions here.
I will keep you posted on other actions that pop up throughout the month. We are entering the final stretch and we will need as much grassroots pressure as we can muster, so please do you part. This is the moment for us to raise our voices and no longer tolerate any excuses.
Make sure to subscribe to this Substack to stay up to date as the fight to fix our democracy continues into 2022.
In the News:
The Brennan Center for Justice published a report describing the 21 things they learned about money in politics in 2021. While we often focus on the growing threat to voting rights, it is critical that we reign in the outsized influence of big money in politics, too. This is why the Freedom to Vote Act also addresses money in politics!
Ebony Twilley Martin, co-Executive Director of Greenpeace USA, explains how voting rights intersect with the climate crisis. Strengthening our democracy by passing the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis VRAA is essential to reducing the influence of the fossil fuel industry and protecting our climate from catastrophe.
“Between January 1 and December 7, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions.”
Amber Phillips of the Washington Post outlines some of the possible options to fix the broken filibuster. It is likely that a combination of some of these options, and perhaps others, will be used to make the Senate function again.
Don’t forget to keep your friends, family, and colleagues in the loop by sharing this Substack with them.
Social Media Roundup:
Let’s be frank: there are A LOT of tweets, posts, and general conversation about the Freedom to Vote Act. In this section, we give you an overview of the tweets and media you really need to see.
More Ways to Help!
We are entering possibly one of the most critical moments for American democracy since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We need all the help we can get to push the Freedom to Vote Act over the finish line! Here are more ways to join the fight to protect American democracy:
Call your senators and tell them that you support reforming the filibuster for voting rights legislation. You can find your senators’ phone numbers, as well as where they stand on the filibuster, using our handy filibuster tracker!
Common Cause and End Citizens United are organizing regular phone banks in support of the Freedom to Vote Act. This is a great opportunity to spread the word and help constituents contact their Senators in support of the bill. Check them out here and here.
You can also text DEMOCRACY to 33339 to receive a daily text message reminder to call your senators in support of voting rights legislation.
The League of Women Voters can also help you contact the White House here.
Write a letter to the editor in your local paper sharing your support of the Freedom to Vote Act and urging your Senators to pass it. Not sure how to write a letter to the editor? Reach out to us at email@example.com and we can help!
Share our newsletter, our podcast, the articles included above, and the resources on the bill below on social media and tell your friends why you support #FreedomtoVote
If, after reading our newsletter, you still want to know more about the Freedom to Vote Act or Equal Citizens you can find more information here! If you have questions about the bill you want us to answer in our Substack, tweet at us with #HR1Substack! Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for more updates throughout the week.
Here are a few resources on the “Freedom to Vote Act” if you have questions:
Equal Citizens launched a filibuster tracker, so you can see where your senator stands on the filibuster. It also includes their phone numbers and their Twitter handles, so you can get in touch with them directly and push them to support filibuster reform!
The Brennan Center for Justice created a wonderful guide to the Freedom to Vote Act. Check it out here. Additionally, they created an extensive fact sheet on the differences between the Freedom to Vote Act and the For the People Act, which I highly suggest checking out here.
The Brennan Center also published a report on why H.R. 1 brings us closer to an inclusive democracy, while the Freedom to Vote Act is not the same, this report is still relevant in a number of ways. Check it out here. They also created an in-depth report about racism and disenfranchisement due to incarceration.
There is a lot of misinformation about the Freedom to Vote Act, and the amount of misinformation so please reach out to us if you hear anything that doesn’t sound right and we will give you the correct information.
More About Me:
Kevin Rissmiller is a fellow at Equal Citizens and a Goodwin-Niering Scholar at Connecticut College majoring in Government and exploring sociology, economics, and applied statistics. In his free time, you will find him at Dunkins or (pre-pandemic) playing ultimate frisbee. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
If you want more updates on federal voting rights legislation from Kevin, then subscribe here!