Dispatches on the For The People Act (Edition #24)
Welcome back! Lots of news this week. Below, I have updates on the For The People Act, the fight to reform the filibuster, and more. There’s also a big deadline for redistricting reform coming up, which I will explain.
There will be more updates next week, so seriously… don’t forget to subscribe!
The big news of the week: On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that key Senators (including Sens. Manchin, Schumer, and Warnock) met to discuss voting rights legislation. They are expected to release a revised For The People Act sometime next week — one that will likely get all 50 Democrats to support it. This is incredible news and represents a seismic step forward in the campaign to pass the For The People Act. Congressional leaders are also meeting with President Biden today to discuss voting rights. We will monitor these developments closely and will give you a full update once the specifics of the agreement are released. And, we will fight to ensure the final bill is as close to the original For The People Act as possible.
Of course, even if all 50 Democrats support a revised For The People Act, the filibuster remains a major hurdle.
So we are organizing an event next Thursday (8/5) at 6pm to discuss the filibuster and what steps we can take to reform it. Our founder Lawrence Lessig will moderate the conversation between Cliff Albright (the cofounder of Black Voters Matter) and Eli Zupnick (the spokesperson for Fix Our Senate). They will explore the For The People Act, fixing the Senate filibuster, and what to expect over the next few weeks. You won’t want to miss this event. RSVP here.
Finally, more good news: Moderate Democrats are increasingly calling for filibuster reform. Rep. Jim Clyburn implored senators to pursue a democracy-exception to the filibuster a few weeks ago. He followed it up today with a piece in The Hill (co-written by Rep. Mondaire Jones) also arguing for a democracy-exception. In the past week, Senator Raphael Warner (D-VA) and former Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) have both supported a democracy filibuster carve out, too.
This movement on both the For The People Act and the filibuster is exciting and it is happening at just the right time. After all, we are barreling towards a major redistricting deadline on August 16th.
The Redistricting Deadline Explained
Redistricting is the process of redrawing district maps based on population changes reported in the census every ten years. The next round of redistricting is scheduled to begin in August when the Census Bureau releases the new population data.
As you know, redistricting can be manipulated by state politicians. In most states, lawmakers control the map drawing process, so, if one party controls the state house, they can create districts that favor their party at the expense of equal representation for voters. States with a nearly equal number of Republicans and Democrats can be split in such a way that one party has complete dominance of the Congressional delegation despite representing the same number of voters. This is known as partisan gerrymandering, and it is an undemocratic, yet totally legal abuse of power.
In a recent article in The Boston Globe, gerrymandering expert David Daley details the horrific effects of the 2010 GOP partisan gerrymandering efforts. He concludes with a warning that every pro-democracy politician should take seriously: “This is how free and fair elections crumble before our eyes.”
Thankfully, the For The People Act bans partisan gerrymandering and creates 15-member independent redistricting commissions — composed of everyday voters instead of politicians. The commission in each state would be tasked with drawing Congressional district maps that follow standard nonpartisan criteria. There would be an equal number of Republican, Democratic, and Independent commissioners. And maps can only be finalized with support from members of all three groups. (Some of you might remember that we covered the redistricting reforms in the For The People Act in an earlier Substack.)
You can watch my former colleague Kate and I interview David Daley here.
So what’s all this talk about a deadline?
On August 16th, the Census Bureau will release the data that states need to start drawing the maps for the 2022-2030 election cycles. Once this data is released, states will move quickly to adopt new districts. And after states begin the process of redistricting, it will be significantly harder — perhaps even impossible — for Congress to have the independent commission requirement apply to this redistricting cycle. Therefore, if the For The People Act is not signed into law soon, politicians will continue to control the map making process for the next decade.
Let’s be clear: state lawmakers are already gearing up to weaponize gerrymandering. After all, the partisan pay off is massive. A recent study found that the Republican party could take control of the House in 2022 merely by further gerrymandering Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. David Daley, the author of Ratf**ked, reached a similar conclusion.
Fortunately, not everything is lost if the For The People Act is not signed into law by the August 16th deadline. As mentioned above, the For The People Act includes a ban on partisan gerrymandering. This theoretically will reopen the federal courts to partisan gerrymandering litigation. So if lawmakers pass egregiously constructed maps, democracy organizations could sue to get them fixed. (The federal courts are very hostile to democracy issues, so there is risk in relying on this strategy.)
The best possible thing for the country would be to take the power of drawing Congressional districts out of the hands of politicians. In other words, the best course of action is to pass the For The People Act before August 16th.
Fortunately, the senators working on a For The People Act compromise are intent on addressing partisan gerrymandering.
The clock is ticking, however.
Recap of Recent Actions:
On Monday, prominent civil rights leaders, including Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. William Barber, were arrested while peacefully protesting at one of Sen. Sinema’s Arizona offices. They were advocating for filibuster reform and voting rights legislation. Their arrests, along with dozens of others at the Moral March, has increased the pressure on Senator Sinema to change her stance on the filibuster.
Yesterday, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) became the third member of the Congressional Black Caucus to be arrested while protesting the lack of action on voting rights. Over the past two weeks, Rep. Joyce Beatty and Rep. Hank Johnson were arrested for similar acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.
The Poor People’s Campaign is currently marching across Texas to build pressure for the For The People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and filibuster reform. Their 27-mile march will culminate with a rally in Austin on Saturday. Read more here.
These are just a few of the incredible grassroots events that occurred this past week… and there are even more next week.
Next Monday, the Poor People's Campaign’s 'Season of Nonviolent Direct Action' concludes with a rally in D.C. led by faith leaders and low-wage workers. Learn more about that event here.
That Moral Monday event also marks the kick-off of a #RecessCanWait week of action by the Declaration for American Democracy coalition. Throughout the week, activists will call for the postponement or cancelation of the Senate recess until the Senate passes the For The People Act. Learn more about the in-person and virtual Recess Can Wait events here.
Also next week, RepresentUs is hosting a Democracy Can’t Wait week of action. Learn more about their events here.
On August 10th, there will be a Democracy Can’t Wait national day of action. I should have more information on this event next week.
On August 28th, there will be a March on for Voting Rights in Washington D.C. and other cities. We hope that the For The People Act will be passed by then, but if it is not, then these rallies will certainly amplify pressure. They will also build momentum for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a critical companion bill to the For The People Act.
Don’t forget to subscribe to get more updates about the For The People Act and exciting future events.
In the News:
The New York Times’ Charles Blow criticizes President Biden’s statements on voting rights during last week’s town hall. Instead of suggesting voters can out-organize voter suppression, President Biden should use the full force of his bully pulpit to push for filibuster reform and fair elections legislation.
The New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie explains that the focus on bipartisanship is misguided when it comes to voting rights legislation. Indeed, most of the significant fair elections laws in our history were adopted on a partisan basis.
The Hill highlights the Congressional Black Caucus’ embrace of civil disobedience. Non-violent civil disobedience was frequently used by the civil rights movement, including in the run-up to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now, it has once again become a popular tactic, as exemplified by the recent arrests of Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA).
The Daily Beast details a new ad campaign by Just Democracy targeting Sen. Sinema. The goal of the Arizona-based campaign is to pressure Sinema to change her position on the filibuster and to do whatever it takes to pass the For The People Act.
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 For The People 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 For The People 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 to pass H.R. 1. You can find your senators’ phone numbers, as well as where they stand on the filibuster, using our handy filibuster tracker!
Common Cause, Center for Common Ground, RepresentUs, and End Citizens United are organizing regular phone banks in support of the For the People Act. This is a great opportunity to spread the word about H.R. 1 and help constituents contact their Senators in support of the bill. Check them out here, here, here, and here.
Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight Action is hosting Hot Call Summer. Plug into their actions here.
Common Cause also hosts regular text banks on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Sign up to join them here.
Write a letter to the editor in your local paper sharing your support of H.R. 1 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 H.R. 1 below on social media and tell your friends why you support #ForThePeopleAct
If, after reading our newsletter, you still want to know more about the For The People Act or Equal Citizens you can find more information here! If you have questions about H.R. 1 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 “For the People 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!
Recently, the Brennan Center also published a report on why H.R. 1 brings us closer to an inclusive democracy. Check it out here.
Here is the link to the House website on the For the People Act.
Flood social media with these awesome graphics about the For the People Act!
There is a lot of misinformation about H.R. 1, and the amount of misinformation will only grow as the fight heats up. That’s why it’s more important than ever to make sure everyone has all the facts on the bill - here is an article from Media Matters that can help you fact check. Additionally, the Brennan Center published a piece to help you decipher fact from fiction. Check it out here.
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 H.R. 1 from Kevin, then subscribe here!