No rights without voting rights, by Julianne Malveaux

11/24/2021, 6 p.m.
Black women leaders have been working on the issue of voting rights, calling for the passage of the John Lewis ...
Julianne Malveaux

Black women leaders have been working on the issue of voting rights, calling for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the Freedom to Vote Act, the Build Back Better Reconciliation Act and D.C. Statehood.

Several leaders, including Melanie Campbell, chief executive officer of the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, and Janice Mathis, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women, were arrested a few weeks ago.

On Nov. 16, the women took their energy to the U.S. Supreme Court, walking from the NCNW headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue to the court building.

It ought to be a no-brainer that the same country that invades other people’s countries around human rights and voting rights would provide the same rights for its own citizens. Predatory capitalism, however, makes the voting rights blocking filibuster essential to those who would extract every penny of surplus value from other citizens. How else can we explain the resistance to managing drug prices, raising the minimum wage or blocking the right to vote?

The big-money politics game makes it easy enough for deep-pocketed corporations to purchase a senator to protect their interests. Grassroots efforts, like the NCNW/NCBPC’s efforts with many allies, are less well-funded than some of these senators are, and they may be less influential.

Republicans with consciences surely know that voting is an essential right. However, too many of them want to win at all costs, eschewing fairness for power.

It’s like a chicken and egg thing. Republicans want to suppress the vote so they can keep getting elected. Once elected, they continue to manipulate the system with a gerrymandering that is designed to minimize the electoral influence of those who oppose the predatory capitalist agenda. This includes Black folks, Chicano/Latina folks, American Indians, senior citi- zens and those who live in inner cities.

These voters, certainly, aren’t a monolith, but voters of color are treated monolithically and sidelined in the same way. Voting rights legislation might pass but for the filibuster.

So why can’t we eliminate the filibuster?

Some Democrats want to embrace the traditions of the past, even though those traditions allow the minority to ride rough-shod over the majority. President Biden, whose legisla- tion has been blocked by the filibuster, only recently signaled some willingness to get rid of the filibuster in some cases. He should have spoken up sooner and more loudly.

Though more than 60 percent of Americans support the Build Back Better legislation, just two recalcitrant U.S. senators have been able to hold up the vote. Now, as we head into the holiday season, the window to pass this legislation is closing.

Too many of us seem to forget that we are the bosses, not the serfs, of these members of the House and the Senate. We can kick them to the curb as viciously as they’ve kicked us. We have powerful Black women leaders who are urging us to take our power back, rejecting incumbents who don’t have our interests at heart. Our work, our serious work, is to vet these incumbents and send them home when it is necessary.

But we don’t do that. We tend to re-elect incumbents because we are used to them, because we feel close to them, because they’ve been to our schools, because they’ve done a town hall, because they are friendly and personable.

Voting rights and economic justice are inextricably intertwined. We won’t get fair wages, good labor laws, student loan forgiveness, child care or more progressive economic legislation until we get the right to vote because there are those who would offer rights like goodies on a snack plate, goodies they can easily take back. It is absurd that in a nation that brags about democracy fails to provide it for too many of its citizens.

The writer is an economist, author and dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State University, Los Angeles.