Democracy reform is a racial justice issue. Our democracy is rigged to privilege the white and wealthy, and it has been from the start. Originally built to exclude everyone besides land-owning white men, our democracy today still works to exclude people of color, poor people, disabled folks, and immigrants. Recent elections have shown this play out in stark terms: thousands of voters—disproportionately low-income and people of color—have been systematically prevented from casting ballots because of strict voter ID laws, voter roll purges, and other suppressive tactics; millions in corporate and dark money has poured into our elections; and two Republican presidents winning the presidency despite losing the popular vote.
Our other democratic institutions are also at risk. Gerrymandered districts restrict political representation, media conglomerates prevent accountability from our leadership, and the hijacked conservative Supreme Court enact rulings that benefit the wealthy and ignore the needs of the people. This situation is unsustainable and must be addressed with comprehensive and far-reaching legislation.
In order to save our democracy, we need a bold day-one democracy agenda: we must pass legislation to democratize the Senate, institute voting rights for all, legitimize the courts, preserve a free and independent media, create fair maps and fair elections, and institute campaign finance reform.
Our democracy isn’t working for ALL the people because of huge structural barriers that are inherent in the system. That means that Congress needs to recognize that passing strong democracy reforms through the Senate will require structural reforms—specifically, eliminating the filibuster. Keep reading to learn more about the reforms we want to see and the issues we’re focusing on right now.
What Democracy Reforms We Want to See
Statehood for D.C. and self-determination for Puerto Rico and other US territories
Voting rights for all, including incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people and young people, by restoring the Voting Rights Act and overturning voter ID laws and other suppressive laws that target communities of color
Reform the federal courts, by expanding the Supreme Court and the lower courts, by imposing a Supreme Court code of ethics, and by instituting term limits for Supreme Court justices
Support the For The People Act (H.R. 1):
Requiring members of Congress, Vice Presidents and Presidents to divest their assets and disclose conflicts of interest, and Presidents and VPs to disclose their tax returns
Instituting strict revolving door requirements to keep corporate lobbyists from moving back and forth into government
Plans to fight racial and partisan gerrymandering at all levels of government
Instituting public funding for elections to reduce the power of corporate money in government
All of these reforms are possible without amendments to the Constitution, and can be achieved through simple legislation. However, as the Senate’s rules exist today, conservative lawmakers have the power to block these priorities, even if they’re in the minority in the Senate. Republicans will use a procedural tool called the filibuster—which requires a minimum of 60 votes to advance legislation—to block everything we want to accomplish. That’s why we are calling on Democrats in the Senateto eliminate the filibuster to create a functioning legislative body that can pass the structural democracy reforms we need.
What We’re Focused on Right Now
We believe our democracy is broken, and that’s why we’re calling on the next Congress to prioritize democracy and pass the For the People Act (H.R. 1), with the D.C. statehood bill (H.R. 51), and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (H.R. 4) in the first 100 days. In the meantime, there’s still a lot we can do to build a fair and equitable democracy for all.
Demand Your Members of Congress Pass H.R. 51 and Support D.C. Statehood
If we’re serious about building a democracy that works for the people, that conversation starts with D.C. statehood. D.C. statehood is a racial justice and democracy issue -- if D.C. is granted statehood, it would be the only state in the nation to have a plurality of Black residents. Despite overwhelming support in D.C. for statehood, the federal government has so far refused to grant the District of Columbia statehood.
The reasons for this are pernicious. D.C. is a historically-Black city and Black people still make up just under 50 percent of the population. That’s because President Lincoln signed a bill into law that abolished slavery in D.C. a full nine months before his national Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, so the District quickly became a popular place for recently-freed Black people to go. However, during Reconstruction, racist white politicians were loath to give recently enfranchised Black men more political power, a trend that’s continued to this day. In fact, as recently as the 1960s, the Southern chairman of the House committee in charge of D.C. oversight sent a truckload of watermelons to the city’s Black mayor after the District submitted its annual budget to Congress.
Due to D.C.’s lack of statehood, the 700,000 Americans who live in D.C. lack equal voting rights compared to their neighbors across the country. In fact, D.C. residents lack a voting representative in the House and have no representation in the Senate at all.
In addition, the lack of statehood means D.C. does not have control over their own affairs. Congress approves D.C.’s budget and can even override local laws passed by D.C. residents and its actual elected local officials. The lack of local autonomy in D.C. also meant that during the protest for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Black lives in June 2020, President Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr were able to order federal forces into the capital without the consent of the District of Columbia’s mayor or elected officials. Trump and Barr ordered federal law enforcement officers to clear out Lafayette Square by gassing and beating protestors, all so Trump could have a photo-op in front of a church.