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Robert Azzi: Republican Senators complicit in limiting Americans’ right to vote

For the Monitor
Published: 10/24/2021 7:00:28 AM

As I travel to Maine occasionally to shop and visit friends, I consider Sen. Susan Collins local, especially as I have been sympathetic with some of her actions and votes over the past 20-odd years.

This week, however, her vote to oppose debate on the Freedom to Vote Act was beyond disappointing — it was unconscionable.

She, along with party members, acted to support the suppression of the constitutional rights of many citizens who lack privilege and power in America.

This week, all 50 Republican senators voted to oppose debate — debate! — on a voting rights act designed to protect and expand voter access at an existential moment in American history. A time when, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, 19 states have passed over 33 bills that will make it harder for Americans to vote. A time when more similar legislation is pending across the nation.

To resist recent Republican actions and state legislation designed to disenfranchise and marginalize voters, two proposed acts in Congress, the Freedom to Vote Act, designed to counter the effect of many recently-passed state restrictions, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, designed to protect voters by preventing new discriminatory laws from being passed.

This week, the first act failed to pass.

There is no greater existential threat to that which Ronald Reagan described as “a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere,” than recent attempts by Republicans to re-impose new Jim Crow-like restrictions on communities whom they perceive to be threats to their vision of an America wedded to a white supremacist historical narrative.

One hundred and one years ago, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed forbidding the U.S. government or any state from denying the franchise to any American citizen on the basis of sex.

Senators like Susan Collins are in Congress today in part because of the untiring efforts of activist women united in solidarity for a cause greater than the societal and racist conventions that separated them.

After decades of protest movements and political activity, led by white women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Black women like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Ida B. Wells, the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920.

Ratified by Americans who believed that all are created equal.

 In 2020, when Collins, along with other Senate Republicans, voted to acquit then-President Donald Trump in his first impeachment trial, she told CBS, “I believe that the president has learned from this case. The president has been impeached. That’s a pretty big lesson … He was impeached … I believe that he will be much more cautious in the future.”

Trump has not become cautious. He has taken over the Republican Party and has become a dangerous threat to American democracy.

The GOP has become Trump’s torch-bearer and nowhere has it become more obvious than in Congress, where Republican senators and representatives, sworn to uphold the Constitution, have chosen instead to be complicit with rising party sentiments to embrace the “Big Lie” that Donald Trump was the real winner of the 2020 election.

Today, instead of carrying tiki torches, instead of violently storming the Capitol, the GOP welcomes insurrectionists and marches with votes, locally and nationally, in school boards and Congress, to disenfranchise and suppress people who don’t look like them.

Mark the moment. Republican senators this week voted to actively become complicit in empowering nativists, racists, xenophobes, anti-Semites, and Islamophobes in trying to limit the ability of Americans to exercise Constitutionally-guaranteed rights.

Next week the Senate may consider the second act, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which hopes to restore criteria in the 1965 Voting Rights Bill, limited in 2013 by the Supreme Court, to determine which jurisdictions or states must receive federal pre-clearance before implementing voting changes.

That, too, will fail.

Today, we confront a dystopian crisis where some politicians have come to believe that their political survival, their privilege and power, is more important than the Constitution they’ve sworn to uphold. More important than the people whom they’ve sworn to protect. More important than the weak, the vulnerable, the sojourner.

How we respond to that crisis, how we respond to institutions and politicians who put their own welfare above the survival of our constitutional republic, will define who we are.

Or who we are not.

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.)

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