Opinion: Fighting for the vote

The late John Lewis fought for equity his whole life.

Every now and then, someone comes along whose work is so productive, honest and inspirational that they ought not be allowed to die. That’s how I felt last month when I heard that John Lewis had slipped away from us.

Throughout his exemplary life, this civil rights icon and progressive leader had hurled his heart, soul and head (literally!) into fighting for the voting rights of all Americans. In 1965, he was among the marchers on the front line in Selma, Alabama, with Martin Luther King Jr. who had their heads busted by state troopers for daring to insist that African Americans be allowed to vote.

That bloody encounter led to passage of America’s historic 1965 Voting Rights Act, which empowered grassroots organizers to usher in a remarkable era of political progress. Black voter registration jumped nearly 70 percent the next year, and Black citizens began getting elected, including Lewis, who later won a Georgia congressional seat.

The importance of Lewis, though, was that he didn’t just sit in that seat, he put it to use daily, battling what I call the 6Bs — the bosses, bankers, billionaires, big shots, bastards and BSers who keep trying to knock down the middle class, hold down the poor, and tear down people’s democratic rights. Most significantly, he inspired ordinary people to recognize their own strength and common interest, rallying us to unify and organize around the values of fairness and respect for human dignity.

His lasting message was simple, direct, and true: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act.” If We the People are to control our own destiny, we have to stand together against the moneyed and political elites who keep imposing their plutocratic control over us. We have to be willing, as John Lewis put it, to get into “good trouble. Necessary trouble.”

[pullquote-1-center] As Lewis warned, your right to vote “is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

You see, it’s one thing to “have the right” to cast your ballot, but it’s quite another thing to be able to exercise that right. During the past decade, Republican officials and operatives have become experts at voter suppression, using legal technicalities, poll closures, fraud, fearmongering and plain old thuggish intimidation to shut out voters who’re inclined to support Democratic candidates. Rather than winning votes, their game is preventing votes.

And now comes Donald Trump with a pernicious scheme to keep millions of us from having our say in November’s election. Here’s the story: Because of the spreading COVID-19 health crisis, a majority of Americans are reluctant to risk their lives by voting in crowded polling places. Shouldn’t be a problem, though — just let everyone who’s concerned use our nation’s excellent, reliable, trusted postal service to cast their votes by mail.

But such a sensible solution panicked Trump. Eeeek, he shrieked, mail-in-voting will increase turnout, and that’s bad for me! Yet, he can’t just ban voters from using the mail. So he came up with a maniacal Plan B: Simply defund the U.S. Postal Service so it can’t do its job, thus forcing everyone to vote in person — or give up their voting rights.

Sure enough, in March, he personally killed a bipartisan provision in the national economic rescue package that would’ve assured timely delivery of our mail. Then, in May, he installed one of his partisan mega-donors as Postmaster General, and he is now sabotaging delivery times by arbitrarily slashing the hours of postal workers.

Like a tin-hatted third-world potentate, Trump is willing to destroy this prized national asset to cling to power. To help save our public post office — and our right to vote, go to: USMailNotForSale.org.