“We have frequently printed the word Democracy. Yet I cannot too often repeat, that it is a word the real gist of which still sleeps, quite unawakened,” wrote Walt Whitman in Democratic Vistas. “It is a great word, whose history, I suppose, remains unwritten, because that history has yet to be enacted.”
Whitman penned his essay on the American experiment in 1871. And there has been much progress since. Yet, there is much history yet to be enacted.
So why not make 2014 historic?
Why not assert a progressive politics that is more vital and determined than what has been known to this point?
Why not stop reacting and start asserting a real reform agenda?
Here are five steps in that direction:
1. Demand a Right to Vote for all Americans.
The last decade has seen a steady assault on voting rights in the United States, with restrictive Voter ID laws, changes in early-voting and same-day registration rules and, in 2013, a US Supreme Court ruling that Congressman John Lewis, D-Georgia, said “stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” The Department of Justice and key members of the House and Senate have taken steps to counter the assault at the federal level, and state-based efforts such as North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” movement are pushing back. These efforts are vital.
But voting rights are too precious to be left to chance. They need to be defined and defended permanently. That’s why Congressmen Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, and Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, have proposed a constitutional amendment to explicitly guarantee that every American has a right to vote and a right to have that vote counted. “The right to vote is too important to be left unprotected,” says Pocan.
Groups such as Color of Change and FairVote agree. They’re campaigning to get co-sponsors for the proposal by Ellison and Pocan. So far, 20 members have joined their effort. In 2014, it’s important to pressure sitting members of Congress to sign on, and to make candidates for Congress take a stand on whether they believe Americans have a right to vote.
2. Get More States on Record for Real Reform of Elections.
Sixteen states have formally petitioned Congress to enact a constitutional amendment to overturn the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling—which frees corporations to spend as much as they choose to influence elections, and which continued a process of striking down federal, state and local campaign-finance reforms. These states have formally recognized that votes should define the electoral process, not dollars. Groups such as Free Speech for People, Move to Amend, Public Citizen, Common Cause and People for the American Way have made tremendous progress at the local and state levels—working with limited resources and shamefully scant media coverage. They’ve won support from Democrats, Republicans and independents in state legislatures across the country, and they’ve organized and won statewide and local referendum votes. “In just three years since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, we have come one third of the way to amending the US Constitution to reclaim our democracy and to ensure that people, not corporations, shall govern in America,” says John Bonifaz, co-founder and executive director of Free Speech For People.