Op-EdOpinionRev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.

JESSE JACKSON: It’s Time for Patriots to Stand Up

America’s democracy is under assault — systematic, unrelenting and unhinged. The assault is waged by one party — the Republican Party. It is largely driven by the lies and racism of Donald Trump, who simply will not accept that he lost the last election. To deny that unacceptable reality, Trump has spread — and Republican officials across the country have echoed — utterly fraudulent claims of fraud to justify measures to make voting more difficult.

These are passed by partisan legislatures and designed — often “surgically designed,” as a federal court found in North Carolina — to suppress the votes of African Americans. Latinos and the young. Republicans have introduced voting restrictions in states across the country — and 25 new restrictions have been enacted. For Republican officials, the motivation is often cynical: They believe they have to attract Donald Trump supporters to stay in office, and so they echo his lies, and vie to show that they are working to change voter laws. After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Justice Department and the federal courts would have reviewed these laws and overturned many of them.

Now, however, the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court has effectively disemboweled the Voting Rights Act, limiting the ability of lower courts to protect democratic elections. The big lie is enforced by venom and threat. Election officials — both Republican and Democratic — face death threats. In Arizona, Katie Hobbs, the state’s democratic elections official, was recently provided with a state security unit after being threatened for criticizing the preposterous partisan “audit” taking place in Maricopa County.

As Colorado’s Secretary of State Jena Griswold summarized, “Elected officials really embraced the use of lies to try to manipulate American voters.” The lies are creating violence. The lies are creating threats.” Trump has argued that fraud took place only in states that he lost, not in states that he won. Without evidence, he fingers urban counties and cities — Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, Maricopa County — as cesspools of election fraud. The racism is blatant and purposeful. Observers suggest that laws like strict voter ID requirements may not have much of an effect. Others argue that some of the Republican reforms — making it harder to cast an absentee ballot, limiting hours of voting to make it harder for working people to vote — might actually impede Republicans as well as Democrats.

But American history makes it clear how dangerous this offensive is. After the Civil War, freed slaves were given the right to vote. Discrimination on the basis of race or creed was made unconstitutional. Biracial majority coalitions were forged in many of the former slave states. African Americans were elected to local and state offices. New progressive constitutions guaranteed the right to education, and progressive investments in schools, health and housing were passed. The reaction of the displaced plantation class was fierce, violent and utterly corrosive. Once more, lies about corruption and fraud were spread. Terrorists like the Ku Klux Klan murdered and threatened.

Jim Crow laws were passed to limit the right to vote. Registrars learned how to enforce restrictions to make it virtually impossible for African Americans to register and vote. The South descended into legalized apartheid that lasted for nearly 100 years until the civil rights movement forced a change. If we are to avoid a modern-day version of that reaction, action is needed now. Democrats in the Senate should unite around key voting rights reforms — federal standards that would provide minimum standards for free elections — and pass them, even if it requires suspending the filibuster. Across the country, Republicans must be taught that the price they pay for undermining free elections is far greater than any benefit they might reap.

That requires that corporations demand an end to voter suppression. It requires Republicans who care about the Republic to call out those peddling the Big Lie and stand up against voter suppression. Most of all, it requires those who are the primary targets of electoral disenfranchisement — African Americans, Latinos, the young — to organize and mobilize, to increase their turnout even in the face of the new obstacles. In state after state, Republicans are virtually guaranteeing that urban voters will face long lines, shorter hours, fewer voting sites.

Their effort to suppress our votes should help us spread the word of how important that vote is. We must make those who would once more seek to suppress our votes pay for the insult big time. Donald Trump’s irresponsibility and Republican cowardice are undermining the democracy. The peril is great. If not challenged and stopped, our democracy itself is at risk from the poisonous brew. It is time for patriots to stand up.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.

Founder and President, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is one of America’s foremost civil rights, religious and political figures. Over the past forty years, he has played a pivotal role in virtually every movement for empowerment, peace, civil rights, gender equality, and economic and social justice. On August 9, 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Reverend Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

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