Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune once wrote that “the progress of the world will call for the best that all of us have to give.” After everything that’s happened this year, many Americans would be forgiven for questioning whether their best is good enough; there are so many reasons to feel cynical about political progress right now.
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and too many others were harmed or killed by those who were meant to protect and serve. These tragedies occurred amid a pandemic that has taken over 226,000 lives in the U.S., devastated workers and small businesses and torn apart the fabric of American life. Racial biases entrenched in our health care system, economy and housing market increased the pain for African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans. In the face of unthinkable grief and despair, Americans of all ages, colors and creeds rose up in righteous anger to demand change.
And yet, it feels like nothing has changed.
The investigation into Jacob Blake’s shooting continues. Third-degree murder charges were dropped against Derek Chauvin by a judge last week in a setback to the prosecution in the death of George Floyd. And only a few weeks ago, a grand jury in Kentucky didn’t charge three officers in the shooting of Breonna Taylor, though one faces charges for firing into a neighbor’s apartment.
Senate Republicans had a chance this summer to address the racial injustice that sparked popular demonstrations. But rather than unite the country behind a program of reform, President Donald Trump labeled peaceful protesters as “thugs” and “troublemakers” while fanning the flames of violence, fear and racial resentment hallmarks of his presidency. Senate Republicans, rather than work with Democrats on legislative changes to police practices, forced a doomed vote on a partisan policing “reform” bill opposed by over 136 civil rights groups.
When Washington fails to act in the face of such obvious injustice, it’s tempting to think that there’s no point in speaking out. But Americans must brave even the crumbling of all hopes.
Change is hard, but it is never impossible. Unlike some countries around the world, when politicians in America fail to rise to the occasion, we have a way to replace them: elections. On Nov. 3, Americans will have a chance to exert their power, refresh the body politic and move our country in a dramatically different direction.
When politicians in America fail to rise to the occasion, we have a way to replace them: elections.
Given the gravity of the issues facing our country, the Senate must confront the deep-seated problems of racial injustice and redeem our nation’s promise of equality, fairness and opportunity for all people immediately.
The direction of our country will thus be shaped by the leaders we select.
I am committed to ensuring the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in the Senate. This legislation, developed by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., as well as the Congressional Black Caucus, would ban chokeholds, “no knock” warrants and racial profiling while creating new tools at the state and federal levels to reform police departments engaged in systemic misconduct. It would also make it easier for Americans to hold individual officers accountable when those officers violate people’s constitutional rights.
The challenges of racial injustice, though, extend far beyond law enforcement. More than half a century after the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, Republicans are still finding ways to make it harder for Americans of color to vote. In the wake of Shelby County v. Holder, Republican lawmakers have instituted draconian voter-identification laws, eliminated polling locations in the most diverse neighborhoods, purged voter rolls and drawn congressional districts with the explicit purpose of limiting the influence of African American and Hispanic voters.
We must put a stop to all forms of voter suppression by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
It can feel disheartening that progress, so long delayed, has been delayed once more.
Finally, we must open the doors of economic opportunity to communities that have suffered from discrimination and underinvestment for decades. Democrats this year unveiled the Economic Justice Act, a $350 billion investment in child care, mental and primary care and new job opportunities for Black communities and other communities of color. I will work to get legislation passed that would invest substantially in communities that have been ignored for far too long.
Faced with a national reckoning over issues of civil rights, voting rights and racial justice, Senate Republicans squandered a historic opportunity to move our country closer to its highest ideals. It can feel disheartening that progress, so long delayed, has been delayed once more.
But you have the power to change that.
In a much different era, bus boycotts, lunch counter sit-ins and a march from Selma to Montgomery shook the conscience of the nation and propelled President Lyndon Johnson and a bipartisan majority in Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act proving that when we give “the best that all of us have to give,” progress is possible.
As our country confronts this once-in-a-generation pandemic and our voices are again shaking the conscience of the nation, we must take up the generations-long struggle for racial justice and equality. I and my colleagues are prepared to do it with bold and far-reaching legislation.
So don’t lose hope in the fight for racial justice. Vote.