President Biden’s Address Must Tackle State of Our Democracy

Jennifer Lamson, Interim Executive Director, Democracy Initiative

Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times

Every year, the State of the Union is a pivotal moment for the president to clearly state their top policies and priorities and set the tone for the coming year.

As the Biden administration confronts intersecting crises that undermine public health, racial justice, the economy, our climate, and our democracy that have intensified stark inequities in our system, especially for Black and brown communities, this year’s State of the Union address at the end of April will serve as a critical moment for the President to chart a clear path toward realizing the promise of American democracy — before it’s too late.

Although our movement secured some powerful expansions to voting access in the 2020 election, we also saw coordinated, racist voter suppression in action throughout the last election cycle. Voters dealt with broken voting machines, stood in line for hours, and were turned away from casting their ballot without clear explanation — all while trying to stay safe from the pandemic. The opposition is engaged in an outright assault on democracy — pushing more than 360 bills in 47 states aimed at rolling back hard-won voting rights expansions especially in Black and brown communities.

Our 75 partner organizations representing 45 million members are united in the understanding that democracy reform is not an end in itself; it is the condition for achieving racial, social, and economic justice and building a better world for us all. The transformational democracy reforms in the For the People Act, together with restoring the Voting Rights Act and granting DC statehood, are required to help pave the way for meaningful progress on racial justice, protecting the climate, workers’ rights, immigration, healthcare, and more.

In response to overwhelming grassroots demand, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer are delivering on their promise of advancing meaningful change in our democracy. The For the People Act was passed in the House as H.R. 1 last month, and the Senate introduced the bill as one of their first orders of business and the Senate Rule Committee is poised to act on it in early May.

This crucial legislation must not be blocked by filibuster tactics that require an impossible 60-vote threshold. This “Jim Crow” relic has an ugly racist history as a preferred tool used by segregationists to block civil rights and anti-lynching bills. But the filibuster rule has been perfected as a tool of mass obstruction by Senator McConnell, who has used it to block numerous popular policies while ensuring that the priorities of his wealthy, corporate patrons (massive tax cuts and ramming through conservative judges) can pass with a simple majority. The Senate majority has the power to change Senate rules to strengthen their ability to deliberate on issues and govern for the people.

During his campaign, President Biden expressed support for a host of policies that create a robust, representative, and participatory democracy as a top priority in 2021 and beyond. Now is the time for him to act on his words, and state in no uncertain terms that the filibuster is not an acceptable excuse for failure to act.

As we all tune in for the president’s address on April 28, our coalition expects President Biden will make his commitment to transforming our democracy clear. In the disastrous wake of the previous administration, the American people deserve to know that the Biden administration will fight to ensure everyone has a seat at the governing table.

President Biden, it’s time to move our country forward to live up to its democratic ideals, and not let the filibuster stand in our way.