By Amanda Menas
Educators have the unique role of teaching young people about civil discourse. Putting lessons about voting and our history into practice in the classroom bolsters our democracy each and every day. However, in light of recent legislative stalls in Congress and egregious rulings by the Supreme Court, educators face the difficult task of combatting an anti-democratic agenda.
“You speak for so many young people who may not have the power to act on their own but they have you to lift their voices up, to make choices that can improve their lives, and share the values that can build a brighter future for each of them,” said Stacey Abrams to NEA delegates during the 2021 RA.
On July 1, the Supreme Court ruled in a case out of Arizona, weakening the Voting Rights Act once again. As Abrams and NEA President Becky Pringle spoke about tools to combat voter suppression, the ruling gave states permission to put new restrictions on who gets to vote.
The Supreme Court just opened the floodgates for even more voter suppression laws across the country—giving states permission to restrict who gets to vote.
No matter what we look like, where we live, or what we believe, we should all have the #FreedomToVote.
— Becky Pringle (@BeckyPringle) July 1, 2021
Here are four ways Abrams said educators can make their voices heard and move forward in advancing voting rights in this country:
Keep your Legislators Accountable
“This summer, we need every single member of the NEA, every educator who believes that the right to vote should be sacred, we need you to stay on top of this. Reaching out to all of your legislators, especially your U.S. Senators, and it doesn’t matter whether you voted for them or not. They work for you now. You pay their salaries, you pay your taxes, and they are responsible for responding to you,” said Abrams.
The first step in putting these actions into practice is to email your senators and tell them to support S. 1 to strengthen our democracy and end voter suppression. The For the People Act is a comprehensive bill to expand, ensure, and strengthen voting rights nationwide.
Work to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act
“S.1 is about putting out the fires as they pop up, and the Voting Rights Advancement Act is about building the firehouse so we can anticipate new fires before they start. We have to have both and, and together they actually will work to protect the right to vote across this country,” said Abrams, quoting her Senator Raphael Warnock.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act, which is expected to be reintroduced this fall, would require states and localities with a history of voter discrimination to get approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before changing their election laws. These acts together will help restore faith in our democracy, encourage voters to participate in our political system, reassure Americans that their voices matter, and halt efforts to suppress the vote.
Practice Citizenship in the Classroom
“As we watch the Supreme Court aiding states at dismantling access to the right to vote, we should not be worried based on our partisanship. We should be worried based on our citizenship. Because it is an act of patriotism to defend the right to vote even for those with whom you disagree,” said Abrams to educators.
Exercising the right to vote has become more difficult in recent years. African Americans and other people of color, people with disabilities, students, and senior citizens are often the most disenfranchised.
As of mid-May, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, 389 bills introduced in 48 state legislatures included provisions that would make it even more difficult to vote. For example, some states allow for purging voter rolls and seizing control of local election boards. Twenty-five states have also imposed new restrictions ranging from strict photo ID requirements to absentee and early voting cutbacks to making it harder to register to vote. As efforts to suppress the vote continue the need for protections persists.
Take Action on Voting Rights
The For the People Act, a comprehensive bill to expand, ensure, and strengthen voting rights nationwide, failed to muster the 60-vote supermajority necessary to advance in the Senate. But this is just the first step in the process. We will be working with our labor and civil rights partners throughout the summer to make sure this bill comes up again. The Senate must continue to hear from us about the importance of this bill. It is up to us to ensure nationwide access to the right to vote, the bedrock of our democracy.
Email your senators and tell them to support S. 1 to strengthen our democracy and end voter suppression.