Instead of celebrating the rights of all Georgians to vote or winning campaigns on the merits of their ideas, Republicans in the state instead rushed through an un-American law to deny people the right to vote. This law, like so many others being pursued by Republicans in statehouses across the country, is a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience.
The above quote is a statement from President Joe Biden the day after the Georgia Legislature rushed through, and Governor Brian Kemp signed into law, Georgia’s SB 202, the most restrictive voting rights law in the country.
This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century. It must end.
The president’s statements were no hyperbole. The severity of the restrictions of Georgia’s new voting law hasn’t been seen since the Jim Crow Era where Black Americans were subject to absurd hurdles to vote in the form of literacy tests that literally no one would pass today and other restrictions such as property tests and grandfather clauses. Under the new law, some counties will only have one ballot drop box and in-person early voting hours will be mostly restricted to a 9 am – 5 pm timeframe, when most people work.
Adding to the absurdity of this new Jim Crow Era for Georgia Republicans is the arrest of Black Georgia state lawmaker Park Cannon. Cannon has served in Georgia’s House of Representatives since 2016 and she was peacefully protesting the signing of the legislation with others. A Facebook Live video posted to Twitter shows Cannon outside of the locked room where Governor Brian Kemp was signing SB 202 into law. Cannon merely knocked on the door and was immediately arrested by Georgia State Patrol officers.
“Why are you arresting her?” This Facebook Live video from @TWareStevens shows the moment authorities detained state Rep. Park Cannon as @GovKemp was behind those doors signing elections restrictions into law. #gapol pic.twitter.com/U1xMJ6tZrY— Greg Bluestein (@bluestein) March 25, 2021
Canon was charged with felony obstruction of law enforcement and a misdemeanor for preventing or disrupting General Assembly sessions or other meetings of members.
Many Georgia activists and Democratic lawmakers decried the arrest of Park Cannon, recalling scenes from the Jim Crow Era of the early and mid 20th century.
From passage of the #SB202 voter suppression bill targeted at Black and brown voters to the arrest of a Black legislator who was advocating for the voting rights of her constituents, today was a reminder of Georgia’s dark past. We must fight for the future of our democracy #gapol pic.twitter.com/IZWZGAX9RT— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) March 26, 2021
The signing of SB 202, the arrest of Park Cannon, and the fact that the charges against her continue to stand to this day, is a reassertion of white supremacy at a time when Black voting power, particularly in some places in the South, is growing. The rise of Black voting and political power is challenging the generations-old white supremacist power establishment and they’re reacting to it the same way they did during the Jim Crow Era.
SB 202 is one example of the reassertion of white supremacy. Another example can be seen in the not-so-subtle slave era imagery set as the literal backdrop to Governor Brian Kemp’s signing of the bill — the Washington, Georgia Callaway Plantation which held slaves in the 1800s.
The legislation that was passed into law in Georgia not only aims to suppress the Black vote, but also allows Republicans to seize control over how elections are run in the state.
The new law removes the secretary of state from serving as chair of the State Board of Elections, giving the legislature the authority to appoint a majority of the members, and authorizes the state board to suspend local election officials.
If these measures had been in place in 2020, critics say, the state board could have tried to interfere when the secretary of state, Republican Brad Raffensperger, certified Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the state and rejected Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the election was stolen.
Separately, the new power to suspend county election boards could give state officials unprecedented influence over all manner of election decisions, including the acceptance and rejection of mail ballots, early-voting hours, poll-worker hiring and the number of polling locations, critics say.
All told, the measures represent an unprecedented power grab and an attempt to usurp local control, said Lauren Groh-Wargo, executive director of Atlanta-based Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group founded by Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who ran for governor in 2018. They allow legislators to target heavily Democratic counties in the metro Atlanta region, home of the state’s highest concentration of Black and Brown voters, “if they don’t like how elections are being run,” she said.
“It will make what we all lived through in 2020 child’s play,” Groh-Wargo said in a call with reporters earlier this week, before the measure passed. “Donald Trump won’t have to strong-arm our election administrators. The most radical fringes of the Republican Party sitting in the state legislature will be able to wipe out boards of elections.”
What the Washington Post is describing here is a small-scale political coup which is exactly what Trump and the insurrectionists tried for months to accomplish, culminating in the January 6th insurrection. If SB 202 is allowed to remain in place, not only will democracy in the state of Georgia be imperiled, but also the entire country. Republicans across the country will be emboldened to pass similar laws in the states they control, like Florida and Texas. Rising Democratic and Black political power will face massive roadblocks. The only way to reverse our current dangerous trajectory is to pass both H.R. 1 and H.R. 4 which would override draconian voter restrictions across the country and reverse the Republican coup against Georgia’s election system.
The day after SB 202 was signed into law, Senator Raphael Warnock, who won a January runoff election in Georgia, noted that “our democracy is in a 911 emergency.”
“I’m not about to be stopped or stymied by debates about Senate rules,” Warnock said, referring to the Senate filibuster. “I respect rules … but no Senate rule should overrule the integrity of our democracy. And I was on the phone with my colleagues even last night.”
Our democracy is indeed in an emergency. The survival of a functioning US democracy will depend on Democrats reforming or gutting the filibuster and then passing H.R. 1 and H.R. 4. If we’re successful, this is not to say that US democracy won’t face future threats and attacks. But we must pass these crucial bills so that we can have the tools to fight another day.
Image credit: Stacey Abrams via Twitter