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On MLK DAY 2022: A Modest Proposal

Special reproduction of Emancipation Proclamation by Wikipedia
Special reproduction of Emancipation Proclamation by Wikipedia
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In anticipation of the Senate debate and vote on two major pieces of legislation furthering voting rights, author, historian, and activist Harvey Wasserman, skeptical that they will be passed, offered another way to combat the huge number of discriminatory laws introduced in the past year. "More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions," according to the Brennan Center for Justice, and 34 discriminatory laws have been passed by 19 states within this time period.*

In order to see the aims of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act reach fruition, Wasserman, along with attorney Joel Segal, former legislative assistant to the late voting rights advocate Rep. John Conyers for more than 10 years, proposed that President Joe Biden issue an executive order that they become law.

There is a strong precedent, said Wasserman, the Emancipation Proclamation, also an executive order, which by definition is issued at times of national crisis. It goes without saying that the repression of Black votes throughout the country constitutes a national crisis comparable to enslavement.

Segal, who researched the possibility in depth, said that executive orders must have a Constitutional basis and association with a cabinet department. The Constitutional basis is of course the Fourteenth Amendment: that is, violation of equal protection. The relevant cabinet department is, of course, the DoJ.

Segal also revealed that executive orders require formal precedents, and Biden supplied one with his March 7, 2021 executive order "On Promoting Access to Voting.".

The executive order Wasserman proposes also enforces the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). Planned intimidation of Black voters certainly violates it.

In conversation with senior staffers, Segal was told that such an executive order is not an option. First of all, SCOTUS can and will overturn it and, moreover, it is up to states individually to take such actions against discriminatory legislation. Really?

Segal said that as an activist he would persist nonetheless. "Biden must be presidential," he said. All election suppression laws must be declared null and void. We'll bring out the National Guard, just as LBJ did during the police massacre on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1964. "This is a civil war!" the President should say.

Congress can vote against the action but Biden can veto them.

And if this is quixotic, what then? We resort to MLK tactics out of the sixties and seventies: blocking streets, taking over buildings, and other forms of nonviolent protest.

The executive order was proposed at the 79th session of the weekly Zoom group Grassroots Election Protection (, GREEP for short), convened and moderated by Wasserman with Segal. Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) officer Mike Hersh is the engineer. The Zoom group "is built around a national network of [outstanding] organizers, activists, journalists, researchers and others working to guarantee free and fair elections."



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Marta Steele is an author/editor/blogger who has been writing for since 2006. She is also author of the 2012 book "Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols: The Election Integrity Movement's Nonstop Battle to Win Back the People's Vote, (more...)

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