The Third Reconstruction Has Begun

Biden and Harris’ victories—and just as importantly those of Warnock and Ossoff in Georgia—were historic both because they prevented a fascist movement from seizing state power and because they opened the door to progressive politics in a way that we have not seen since the early days of the New Deal.

And it is widely understood that these victories were the direct result of ongoing organizing work that empowered Black, Latinx (Arizona, Nevada) and Native American communities in the swing states and beyond.

What is less well understood is that we have now entered a new era: the third time in American history to repair the damage racism has done to American society, i.e. the Third Reconstruction.

Looking at the Biden Administration’s first fifty days in office, it appears that Biden understands that he owes his election to progressives, and primarily to Black and brown organizers.  The decision to ‘go big’ with Covid relief put Republicans on notice that the Administration was not going to be held hostage by Biden’s nostalgia for his Senate days of bi-partisanship. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan targets spending towards those most impacted by the pandemic crisis. The poorest fifth of Americans will see their incomes rise by 20%; childhood poverty will be cut in half by a provision that amounts to a guaranteed minimum income for poor families, and Black, Latinx and Native communities are specifically targeted.

And much more is to come: the fight for a $15 minimum wage, the re-establishment of workers’ rights, a major infrastructure renewal effort, environmental regulations, a public market for health insurance, and more.

Democrats clearly have decided to use their control of government to rescue America from the ravages of 50 years of neo-liberal austerity and corporate giveaways, and to at least slow down the obscene rise of inequality between the top 1 percent and everyone else.

But Progressives understand that this moment is actually a watershed moment in America’s history: the beginning of the third effort to reconstruct the country. The first Reconstruction (1866-1877) was necessitated by the abolition of slavery, but failed to end white supremacy. The second Reconstruction (1954-1965) was necessitated by the need to abolish Jim Crow segregation, but also failed to end white supremacy. And now, in the midst of the deep social crises created by neo-liberal policies, we once again have the historic opportunity to overcome America’s long imprisonment by white supremacy. Progressives envision a new America freed from structural racism, a society that empowers minorities and working people to build the beloved community and end its ravaging of the planet.

But the Republicans also understand that this is a watershed moment. And because the Republican Party has been taken over by fascists and opportunists willing to conciliate fascism, they have no interest in entering into policy debates with Democrats. All they have is a vision of destroying democracy and installing a plutocratic dictator as President to save white supremacy. The only Republican initiative now is minority voter suppression through state level legislation. The Brennan Center has counted over 250 bills in 43 states aimed at this end [LINK]. In Georgia, the Republican-controlled state legislature has already passed a law ending weekend voting (aimed at preventing Black churches from mobilizing their congregations).

In other words, we are currently seeing a naked effort to once again impose white minority rule on the United States, very much akin to the effort to construct the Jim Crow system in the early 20th Century.

The battle for voting rights is the decisive battle of this moment in history. Its outcome will determine whether the Third Reconstruction will proceed or not. And the fight is on: The House has now passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act [LINK], which reverses the Supreme Court’s gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision.  The House bill is far from a revival of the 1965 law: the new legislation updates the defense of voting rights to the modern era. While the 1965 Act focused almost entirely on Southern Jim Crow states, the new law addresses contemporary efforts at minority voter suppression throughout the United States such as voter ID laws.

There is no doubt that Senate Republicans will do everything in their power to prevent passage of the House bill. And, unlike the American Relief Act that only required a simple majority, the Voting Rights Act of 2021 will, under current Senate filibuster rules, require 60 votes to pass. It is for this reason that Democrats must now end the filibuster. This can be done by technical means or by sweeping it away. But one way or another, the Senate majority must have the ability to enact the Voting Rights Act.

The filibuster as a tactic to prevent the passage of legislation is a tool used by those trying to stop change. The filibuster was deployed over and over by segregationists to prevent civil rights laws from being enacted in the 1950s and 1960s. It was also used by Republicans to prevent Democratic nominees for the Supreme Court and Cabinet posts from being considered. The rule of cloture—the procedure for ending a filibuster—has been modified many times in American history. Now is certainly a moment in which its modification or the termination of the filibuster altogether is required as it is the only way Republicans—who have absolutely no interest in bi-partisan governance– can stop legislation from being made into law.

So: end the filibuster, enact the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and lets keep on reconstructing America!

The fight for voting rights is not new. But now, with the momentum of community organizing over the past decade, the United States is poised to accomplish what previous generations did not. Let us keep up the empowerment work that got us to this point, and do it with optimism and determination for a different future.

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