When Texas Democratic legislators fled the state to prevent Republicans from passing voter suppression laws, they made the most powerful case for voting rights merely with their presence — the group was diverse and inclusive. Looking at the legislators' images and hearing their names when they met with members of Congress in Washington, D.C., and hosted virtual events, it was hard not to wonder if the Black and Latino legislators present would have been there if the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had never passed.
Now, as Republicans fight to restrict voting access, we must ask ourselves two questions: What will state legislative chambers look like in 50 years if voter suppression laws succeed? What can Black and Latino communities, who stand to lose the most under these laws, do to fight for their right to vote?
While voter suppression has appeared in the Black and Latino communities differently, there's no question that it has impeded their political growth in similar ways.
Jim Crow laws in the South kept Black voters from exercising their right to vote through racist laws, intimidation and violence, and similar laws and practices in Texas and other Southwest states also kept Mexican-Americans from the ballot box. Both communities were kept from choosing their elected representatives, from having a say in the laws that were passed that impacted their lives and running for office was practically impossible. However, once the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its extension in 1975 passed, Black and Latino voters could create their unique path to grow their political power and uplift the voting bloc that had been silenced for too long.
In a devastating setback to progress, the path granted by the Voting Rights Act was hindered when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. The ruling propagated a frenzied uptick in states attacking our right to vote. Republican lawmakers chose to use the power granted to them by their elected position to dismantle the civil rights and social justice progress achieved over the past six decades. By attacking voting rights and access, Republicans have also chosen to hobble the political power so painstakingly won by communities of color. Suppose voter suppression laws continue spreading throughout states. In that case, Black and Latino communities' political power will suffer, and generations from now, we will have to contend with a government that lacks both meaningful representation and Black and Latino voices. This reality will be detrimental not only to Black and Latino communities but also to our democracy and our country’s progress. Restricting voting rights for one group hinders the voting rights of every single American. We cannot afford to let that happen.
Black and Latino communities are not without recourse or voice. They command a combined voting bloc of 62 million voters —a growing presence in elected positions and a powerhouse grassroots movement. If ever there was a time to mark a moment as the tipping point to stop voter suppression laws and expand voting rights — it is now.
While our histories may be different, Black and Latino communities find common ground on which we can tread in the path towards equality and justice. Both communities have suffered and continue to suffer systemic oppression that surfaces in violence, inequities in health care access, housing discrimination and economic distress. We can harness our shared experiences and unity to collaborate and mobilize our communities to vote for candidates who support voter and civil rights. Black and Latino voters overwhelmingly support Democrats, which reflects our shared priority issues and policies. We have the power to mobilize a formidable voting bloc to elect more Democrats who will fight for voting rights — in the state legislatures but most importantly, in the U.S. House and the Senate, which are in play in the 2022 election.
While the onus appears to be on voters to protect their right to vote in the face of laws designed to keep them from the ballot box, organizing or even breaking quorum won't protect us from the threats posed by voter suppression laws. Our communities deserve the same protection afforded by the Voting Rights Act. We must mobilize to urge members of Congress to pass federal legislation to safeguard voting rights, such as the For the People Act. For this to happen, the Senate must eliminate the filibuster and prevent Republicans from continuing to block any bill that protects the right to vote. Anything less than an act of Congress will continue us on a dangerous path of disenfranchisement and exacerbate inequality and systemic oppression.
Fifty years from now, we want our future generations to look back in awe at the battles fought by the Texas delegation, by Stacey Abrams, Sen. Alex PadillaAlex PadillaDemocrats revive filibuster fight over voting rights bill Senate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise MORE (D-Calif.), and many others, as a dynamic memory of the voter suppression threat that was thwarted once again by the will and power of the people.
Stefanie Brown James is a co-founder and senior advisor of The Collective PAC, which focuses on creating an equitable democracy where Black people are fully represented at the national, state and local levels of government.
Nathalie Rayes is the CEO and president of Latino Victory Fund, an organization that develops a pipeline of Latino leaders and shapes public discourse to reflect the growing influence of the Latino community.