Filibuster fail: Disappointing but not surprising

OPINION: When these setbacks occur, I do not feel discouraged because I know America. So today, I will lament this most recent legislative loss—and tomorrow, I will get to work.

Late Wednesday night, the Democrats attempted to change the filibuster rule in order to allow the voting rights legislation to come forward for a vote. That measure failed. Two Democratic senators were against the measure, and per usual, Republicans were in lockstep to yet again attempt to take the rights away from American citizens (read: marginalized communities of color.)

Many arguments for changing the filibuster rule or abolishing the filibuster altogether usually begin with the argument, “The filibuster is racist.” That is indeed very true, but newsflash—everything in this country is racist. From the underappraised and undervalued houses we live in, to the underfunded and under-resourced schools Black children disproportionately attend, to the environmental racism we experience due to the highways that run through our communities (yes, Don Jr., the air can be racist, too), to unequal practices in employment and the perpetual James Evans state we consistently endure of being “last hired and first fired.” I know who this country is and what she has done, but I also know her capacity to grow and change.

To paraphrase the late, great bell hooks, this country is predicated on four things: white supremacy, anti-Black racism, capitalism, and patriarchy. Those four enduring principles were on full display Wednesday night as the Republican Party and Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema voted to ensure that a rules change to protect voting rights in this country would not be able to come to a vote. Mind you now, these are the very same people who praised Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. just this past Monday and who shed the shallowest of tears when their “friend” and colleague John Lewis passed away in July 2020.

When these setbacks occur, I do not feel discouraged because I know America. I literally study her every day. I read Mark Twain incessantly to help me better understand the capacity of white people—of all classes—who have lived in this nation. So, when the setbacks occur, I am disappointed but not surprised. That is a trick I learned from my late grandmother. When confronting racism in this nation, she once told me, “Only be surprised when you are surprised.” Those words have kept me relatively sane these past few decades, especially these past few years when dealing with staunch racists, white moderates and, of course, the twice-Obama-voting (would vote for him a third time if they could) white liberals. 

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a centrist Democrat vital to the fate of President Joe Biden’s $3.5 government overhaul, updates reporters about his position on the bill, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. (AP Photo. Scott Applewhite, File)

Racism and anti-Blackness are baked into the American soil and in every institution we encounter. Therefore, calcified racial inequities and white supremacy will continue to persist—in Congress, the courts and even the executive branch as we experienced on full display during the last presidential administration. However, I am not discouraged because, somehow, some way, this nation always finds a way to move forward, no matter how incremental or small the progress may be. 

In the last 400 years, this country has changed exponentially, which explains the apoplectic nature of so many white people across the country. Reading the brilliance of the authors in Nikole Hannah-Jones The 1619 Project further contextualizes what this nation has been but also outlines the capacity for this nation to change. 

So today, I can lament this most recent loss at the legislative level—and tomorrow, I can get to work. I can do a few things: 

I can politically tithe to senators, representatives and local politicians who are actually doing the work that I believe in and appreciate. I can help them get elected or assist a novice candidate in their electoral efforts. I can follow policy more closely so I can temper my expectations more succinctly. This is an endurance race and not a sprint and knowing past policy wins and losses will help me set realistic expectations. I can assist nonregistered friends and family in their voting process and explain to them that all though our electoral system and institutions are imperfect, it is imperative that they participate in the electoral process. The vote does actually matter as evidenced by the grand attempts by the Republican Party (and even two Democratic senators) to take that right away from millions of Americans. 

Yes, I know many people feel the system is rigged, but we live in this system, and we must play with the cards we have. For those who play spades or bid whist, you won’t be able to pull a Boston on folks every time; sometimes just making one book is a win. But somehow, we stay at the table, and I’m going to do that with this country and work with the institutions that have changed and still can change. 

The midterm elections are in November, and we have time to organize, mobilize and support organizations across the country who are doing the work to ensure that we have free and fair elections. I would start with the following groups if you’re looking for organizations to help steer you in the right direction. Black women like Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, Helen Butler, executive director of Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda and LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, are just a small few. 

The inability for voting rights legislation to be brought forth by Congress is a loss for all Americans. It is a setback for American democracy, not just the Democratic Party. As frustrating and exhausting as it may be, we must continue to use protest and electoral politics to advance causes we care about. I naturally lean towards optimism, even on days like this, because America does not surprise me anymore. She sometimes disappoints, but she never surprises.  

Christina Greer is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordham University – Lincoln Center (Manhattan) campus. Her research and teaching focus on American politics, black ethnic politics, urban politics, quantitative methods, Congress, New York City and New York State politics, campaigns and elections, and public opinion.

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