Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered the opening keynote address on the future of American democracy during an all-day conference Tuesday, Sept. 17, in Northwest.
The event, co-organized by the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers [AFT] and Onward Together – an organization both founded and led by Clinton – took place at George Washington University.
The daylong conference, livestreamed to the public, also included a lineup of prominent activists, politicians and intellectuals, led by AFT President Randi Weingarten. They collectively discussed and debated ways which they believe the nation’s democratic norms and institutions continue to remain unprecedented assault.
The specific focus for the day, “Civic Engagement in an Age of Democratic Peril, ” allowed for the perspectives of individuals which included Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who addressed participants during the lunch session and former Attorney General Eric Holder who anchored the afternoon panel, “Lift Every Voice: Voter Rights and Voter Suppression.”
Other participants included: Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers; Albert Shanker Institute’s Leah Greenberg, co-executive director, Indivisible; Gara LaMarche, president, Democracy Alliance; Ari Berman, author, “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America:” The Honorable Andrew Gillum, chair, Forward Florida, former mayor of Tallahassee and 2018 Democratic nominee for governor of Florida; and Maria Teresa Kumar, president/CEO, Voto Latino and an MSNBC commentator.
Holder, Gillum Assert: ‘Stop Voter Suppression, Now’
Eric Holder, the first African American to serve as U.S. attorney general, and Andrew Gillum, the first Black Democratic gubernatorial nominee for the state of Florida, both agreed that voter suppression must be curtailed without delay.
They led the conversation during a panel, “Lift Every Voice: Voting Rights & Voter Suppression,” which prompted significance audience response including one noteworthy D.C. leader, former Mayor Sharon Pratt, founding director, the Institute of Politics, Policy and History at the University of the District of Columbia.
Holder said voter suppression, ramped up during the hearing of a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case that partially bears his name, Shelby County v. Holder, gutted the pre-clearance section of The Voting Rights Act of 1965 which required certain jurisdictions to have their election laws and procedures approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“When that case was handed down, states started passing laws closing polling places and instituting unnecessary and restrictive voter ID laws,” Holder said.
Holder said Democrats and progressive-minded citizens should be more proactive in their fight against voter suppression.
“We don’t want to just make a good effort to stop this – we want to win,” he said. “It seems that the Democrats are playing by the rules when it comes to elections but the other side doesn’t seem to be bothered by breaking or skirting the rules. We have to work just as hard in fighting voter suppression as they are putting it in place.”
Gillum lost the 2018 governor’s race in Florida by 0.4 percent – an election which totaled just over eight million votes cast. Gillum said the Republican Party in his state has attempted to criminalize voter registration by making it harder to sign residents up to vote, hoping to remain in power “in perpetuity.”
“They want to make sure that the majority of citizens, soon to be people of color, will be in the political minority with their voter suppression schemes,” he said.
Holder says that even following next year’s election cycle, and even should the Democrats win the White House and gain a majority in Congress, more work will need to be done to end voter suppression.
“In March 2021, states will start drawing their boundaries for congressional and state legislative seats, he said. “The Republicans will try to draw districts that will minimize the Black vote and representation. We have to be ready to stop them.”