The future of our republic is being decided, and by some quirk of history, a once-obscure Senate procedure is at the center of it.
The filibuster threatens the freedoms of every American, no matter the color of your skin, your gender, ZIP code, political party, or how much money you have (or don’t have) in the bank. The filibuster doesn't just mean a minority of senators can block critical legislation on everything from voting rights to the minimum wage. The filibuster undermines the basic principle that makes our democracy work: government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Many arguments have been advanced to defend the filibuster. That it was established by the Founding Fathers (false). That it fosters bipartisanship (history shows otherwise). That, without it, we might become a “parliamentary government” (nonsense). Others have argued that the filibuster is a necessary safety net – that while it may be stopping us from passing good legislation now, we will want it around when the other party tries to pass bad legislation later.
Voters are supposed to be in charge
But the people voted. They chose their representatives. We cannot simply sit on our hands doing nothing during critical national emergencies. It’s true that, perhaps, the other party will take power, and perhaps they will pass legislation that I believe would be bad for middle class families across our nation. But that’s how a democracy works.
As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “government is ourselves, and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
Our Constitution puts its trust in the American people. So do I. Democracy is an act of faith. America was an audacious gamble, what former President Barack Obama called the “audacity of hope;” a belief that we the people can build a better future together.
My parents, a maid and janitor, worked hard seven days a week, but for my whole life I cannot remember a time when they did not vote, because they knew the power of our democracy to give voice to the voiceless.
But when we allow a political faction to block critical legislation, it takes away that voice from the voters. No matter your political party, you should know that when you win a free and fair election, your representatives can govern.
Alexander Hamilton wrote that, in government, “there is commonly a necessity for action. The public business must, in some way or other, go forward.” When the minority is given control over the majority, the result is “poison” – “tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.”
We've seen too many “tedious delays.” And those “contemptible compromises of the public good” define the filibuster’s history. It's no secret that the filibuster's main use over the last century has been to block efforts to make this country freer and fairer for all its citizens.
We need more democracy, not less
Anti-lynching legislation introduced in 1918 was, as the NAACP put it, “lynched by a filibuster” despite thousands of racist killings happening across the country. There is still no federal anti-lynching law over 100 years later. Opponents of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 blocked a vote for 60 days.
Today we face similar threats. Voting rights are under attack. Authoritarian impulses threaten the Constitution and the freedoms that generations of Americans have died to protect. Earlier this year, we saw a violent insurrection that tried to overturn a free and fair election. I worry that if we do not act to strengthen American democracy, we will see future violence as well.
Our challenges are great. But our ability to rise to those challenges is equally great. The solution to all our problems is more democracy, not less. More voting rights, more support for working families, more liberty and justice for all. Empower the people. Allow their representatives to work on their behalf. Trust in government of the people, by the people, for the people. When we embrace our heritage and our potential as a free people, we can accomplish anything – and we should do it with the majority. In the Senate, that's 51 votes.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Filibuster blocks minimum wage increase, voting rights for all Americans