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I got arrested for voting rights
Dispatches on the For The People Act (Edition #34)
Hello everyone! My apologies for not writing to you last week — I have a good reason.
Chronicling the movement to pass the Freedom to Vote Act has been a joy. But writing from the sidelines is only so effective. So last week, I traveled to Washington D.C. to risk arrest outside the White House with over 50 other voting rights activists. Our demand, as I’m sure you can guess, was for the White House to take a more active role in pressuring the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act. I was arrested and we succeeded in generating great news coverage.
So this week, I’ll reflect on my experience in D.C., share the latest news from the Freedom to Vote Act fight, and give you some ways to plug in.
The State of Play:
Last Wednesday, the Senate voted on whether to proceed to debate on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. As with the Freedom to Vote Act, and the For the People Act before that, Republicans filibustered the motion. Only one Republican — Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — joined Senate Democrats in voting to begin debate. (Senators Murkowski and Manchin, along with other Democrats, agreed on revisions to the VRAA, likely leading to Murkowski’s “yes” vote.)
This Republican stonewall was just another high profile reminder that Senate Democrats have only one choice if they want to protect democracy: fix the filibuster. Senate Republicans have had numerous chances to act in good faith to protect democracy in a bipartisan way. Yet, they’ve chosen to obstruct at every stage.
Fortunately, Senate Democrats have intensified talks about filibuster reform. They are increasingly sensing the urgency of the moment and recognizing that they will have to act unilaterally in the face of Republican obstruction.
Does that mean we are on the precipice of filibuster reform? No. Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema still need to be convinced. That said, the pro-filibuster dominoes continue to fall. Recently, Senator Tom Carper of Delaware came out in support of reforming the filibuster to protect the freedom to vote.
Hours before Republicans blocked the VRAA in the Senate, hundreds of activists gathered at Black Lives Matter Plaza and marched in song to the White House. Just outside the White House, Martin Luther King III, Arndrea King, Yolanda King (son, daughter in-law, and granddaughter of MLK Jr., respectively), and other prominent activists, spoke to the crowd. Then, I joined 58 other civil rights and voting rights activists, including the Kings, on the sidewalk next to the White House. Over 200 others cheered us on from Lafayette Park.
As speeches, chants, and songs continued, the police gave us three warnings to disperse before we were to be arrested. We did not move. And so, all 59 of us were arrested, including 20 youth activists. You can watch the event here.
It is critical that we send President Biden (and the Senate) a message: Voting rights now. Risking arrest is one way of sending that message.
I am very grateful to the organizations that worked tirelessly to put on this event and I am incredibly thankful that I was able to attend. These civil disobedience actions have been ongoing, and they have generated significant amounts of press. White House Press Secretary Psaki has even been asked multiple questions about them!
If you are in the D.C. area and want to join a non-violent civil disobedience action for the Freedom to Vote Act or simply cheer on those engaging in the action, you’re in luck.
On November 17th, there will be another ‘Voting Rights Now” rally outside the White House, hosted by People for the American Way, DFAD, Black Voters Matter, the League of Women Voters, among others. For more information click here.
There are many more upcoming Freedom to Vote Act events on the Declaration for American Democracy website here. Please make sure to find an event near you. Also, don’t forget to check out our additional ways you can help below.
Above and beyond The Freedom to Vote Act, there's a lot happening in the voting rights world right now, so I'd recommend subscribing to Spenser's Super Tuesday. Each week, it highlights a new, under-reported story and tells you what's going wrong (and right!), along with ways you can help!
In the News:
Gabriella Limón of The Brennan Center for Justice published an analysis about how Latino political power is being diminished by rampant gerrymandering. Latinos are one of the fastest growing minority groups, and rather than earn their votes, politicians are rigging maps to decrease their voting power.
Mother Jones journalist Ari Berman sounds the alarm on gerrymandering. Across the country, Republicans are passing extremely gerrymandered maps. This is a major red flag for our democracy and could undermine elections for the next decade.
“At this point, Democrats must consider reforming the filibuster to allow the Senate to debate and vote on measures to protect the franchise.”
MSNBC reports that eight major corporations who claim to support voting rights are simultaneously donating to Republicans blocking pro-voting rights legislation. Accountable.US finds that Microsoft, Amazon, Intel, Cisco, Target, Facebook, and Boston Scientific have donated thousands to Senate Republicans who opposed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act last week.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!