By Pamela Shifman, Democracy Alliance President
It’s been a tough summer. First came the one-year anniversary of Dobbs, stripping millions of bodily autonomy and fundamental rights. Then two new decisions from the Supreme Court, gutting affirmative action and undermining LGBTQ+ rights.
As progressives, we often understand these threats—and organize against them—in silos. Abortion rights. Racial justice. LGBTQ+ rights. But on the right, all of it is fueled by a common strategy: to undermine the democracy that stands in their way.
Across every issue we care about, the right is rigging the core rules of our democracy to cheat their way to victory. In a country with a two-party system, one party is openly authoritarian. That’s our reality. And it puts every freedom we are fighting for—and the just, multiracial democracy we aspire to—at risk.
We must be equally focused on the rules of the game, or we will be guaranteed to lose. This campaign against our democracy is happening before our eyes, and continuing to pick up speed this summer. Here are three examples.
Rigging the rules in Ohio
Keep your eyes on Ohio on August 8. That’s when a special ballot proposal (“Issue 1”) will ask Ohioans whether the state should break from 110 years of history and make it harder for citizens to amend the constitution.
It’s all part of a plot by the right to rewrite the rules in advance of a November ballot initiative that would make abortion a legal right. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose admitted as much, acknowledging that the proposal was really about blocking any effort to make abortion a Constitutional right. If Republicans can’t win the abortion debate among voters, they’ll wreck the constitution to guarantee a win.
Fortunately, folks in Ohio are catching on. Local organizers like the One Person One Vote campaign understand this—and are pushing back.
Suppressing young people’s votes
Out of touch on everything from climate change to LGBTQ+ rights to gun safety, Republicans are now poised to lose a generation of young voters. And the numbers prove it: In 2022, young voters played a big role in denying the much-hyped “red wave.”
But rather than reexamine their extreme policies, Republicans’ solution is to silence young voters and make sure they never get to the ballot box in the first place.
In Republican-controlled state legislatures around the country, lawmakers are now trying to make it harder for young people to vote, knowing they are more likely to support Democrats. Here again, if Republicans can’t win fair and square on the issues, they will take our freedoms away to guarantee a win.
The good news is that young people themselves are onto it—and are fighting back. For the critical November elections in Virginia, for example, groups like NextGen America are building strategic statewide efforts to ensure that young Virginians vote. In Montana, dynamic organizations like Forward Montana are protecting the promise of democracy by encouraging young people to use their voices and vote.
Targeting Black political power
Of course, voter suppression is nothing new. It’s an American tradition. And after a record Black voter turnout in 2020, Republicans have been doubling down on a long history of voter suppression and systematic exclusion of Black voters and voices.
As the Washington Post has chronicled, Republican lawmakers now “have supermajorities…in at least one chamber of the state legislatures in all former confederate states except Georgia, Texas and Virginia.” Having used “racial gerrymandering and voter suppression to secure those majorities, they’re now consolidating power among mostly White Republicans.”
The results are far-reaching: In Mississippi and Missouri, Republican supermajorities “are trying to take control of policing and the prosecution of crime” in Black-led cities. Several states are limiting how race can be taught in schools and are actively teaching false and racist so-called history: Just look at Florida, where a new educational standards curriculum teaches that Black people benefited from slavery. On top of it all, some Black lawmakers recently lost their seats after Republicans redrew their district lines.
We have to push back at the same structural level, with a laser focus on the core rules that determine whether every person has an equal voice and an equal vote. This includes essential pro-democracy reforms at the state and local level—but it also includes prioritizing and passing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Unrigging the rules
Strengthening our democracy begins when we acknowledge that the Republican party is actively working to destroy it. At the Democracy Alliance, we’ve made a focus on core rules of our democracy central to our 10-year strategy. Until even more of us work together at this structural level, there are many more tough summers ahead.