Congress must pass the For the People Act

Republicans and Democratic voters agree: We need to make sure leaders actually represent “we the people.”

More than 230 years ago, the founders of the United States enshrined their vision for our democracy in the preamble to the Constitution. Its opening line begins with a powerful aspiration and mandate for our government to serve “we, the people.”

Since then, our lawmakers and citizens have often worked to strengthen our democracy for the common good.

In response to the grave injustices borne of our country’s shameful history of slavery, a new generation of leaders passed three constitutional amendments following the Civil War that outlawed slavery and granted citizenship and voting rights to formerly enslaved men.

As our experiment in democracy continued, powerful movements continued to push our leaders to advance opportunity and freedom in pursuit of a more perfect union. During the 1960s, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed Jim Crow-era barriers to the ballot, with broad bipartisan support.

Today, our democracy faces new challenges on the road to creating a government that serves “we, the people.”

It’s time for this generation of leaders to hear the call for a strong, vibrant, and inclusive democracy that protects all of us. Thankfully, Congress will soon be acting on another important bill, one that would protect voting rights and take other critical steps to strengthen our democracy.

The For the People Act—HR 1 in the House of Representatives and S1 in the Senate—is a comprehensive package to reform our democracy by putting the power where it belongs: in the hands of the people.

To beat back the outsized influence of wealthy and corporate donors in our politics, the For the People Act matches political donations $200 and under, amplifying our dollars and our impact on the congressional candidates we support.

To ensure that our electoral districts truly represent the voices of our populace, the For the People Act would end the extreme gerrymandering that distorts and diminishes the will of the people.

To combat restrictive voter suppression laws, the For the People Act would make voting easier and more accessible by restoring the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, automating voter registration nationwide, and protecting and expanding mail-in and other early voting options.

These are just a few of many fixes For the People Act proposes to a multitude of problems in our democracy. Most of those problems exist because a growing number of elected officials have resorted to maintaining their political power by robbing the American people of our constitutional right to vote.

Such exclusion is antithetical to a truly democratic government. And Republican and Democratic voters alike agree on the solution: The majority of American voters—including 77 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Republicans—support the For the People Act.

That’s because a government that is truly of, by, and for the people is the core principle of our democracy. It’s the vision the American people have fought for, particularly over the last 100 years, as our voting laws have enfranchised women, Black people, Native Americans, Latinos, and other communities of color.

And right now, we must continue to fight—because even after the gains we have made as a country, we still have not achieved a truly equitable democracy.

Over the many decades I spent as a political organizer, one of the most powerful lessons I learned is that democracy is more than our form of government; it’s also a verb, a call to action to advance a more perfect union.

Throughout history, our nation’s citizens and leaders have answered that call. Soon, our elected representatives will have an extraordinary opportunity to do the same. May they hold true to the American promise of democracy as “we, the people” when they do.

Ben Jealous is the president of People For the American Way and the People For the American Way Foundation. He was previously the national president of the NAACP. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

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