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'A vote is a kind of prayer for the world we desire'

Raphael Warnock, the first African-American to represent Georgia in the United States Senate, and senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement, delivered his maiden speech from the floor of the Senate. It was extraordinary.

He used his moment to focus on the inextricable link between our democracy and voting. In prose that verged on the poetic, he characterized the vote as “a kind of prayer for the kind of world we desire for ourselves and for our children,” and went on to say that “the right to vote is preservative of all other rights. It is not just another issue alongside other issues. It is foundational it is about the covenant we have with one another as American people: E Pluribus Unum, ‘Out of many, one.’ ”

Warnock made the above comments, as well as those that follow below, believing that there is presently a nationwide, draconian effort by the Republican Party to disenfranchise millions of voters, “using the Big Lie of voter fraud as a pretext for voter suppression, the same Big Lie that led to a violent insurrection on this very Capitol.”

Having lost the two branches of Congress and the White House, “rather than changing their message, they are busy trying to change the rules. We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we’ve seen since the Jim Crow era. This is Jim Crow in new clothes.”

It is self-evident that the GOP has made no attempt to analyze the cause of their losses nor have they offered anything beyond their familiar grievance-filled lament of “Stop the Steal,” all while ignoring countless studies that show our elections are, essentially, fair and free. The only question asked is how to keep Democrats (specifically people of color and the young) from voting.

Today, in 43 Republican legislatures there are 250 bills intended to make voting more onerous: voter lists will be purged, and early and weekend voting (aka souls to the polls) eliminated, as will automatic voter registration.

“Amidst these voter suppression laws and tactics,” he said, “including partisan and racial gerrymandering, and a system awash in dark money and the dominance of corporate interests and politicians who do their bidding, the voices of the American people have been increasingly drowned out and crowded out and squeezed out.”

Anticipating the 2022 mid-term election, the Republicans have created a Committee on Election Integrity meant to scrutinize state election laws and irregularities, predicated on the belief that the fewer Americans who vote the greater their chances of winning. In other words, they strive for the undemocratic principle of minority rule (Republicans won the popular vote in just one of the last eight elections).

Consider just Iowa: since the state’s recent election, one in which Republicans won in key races, the legislature has still decided to cut early voting by nine days, close polls by one hour, and restrict absentee ballot rules. Other Republican-controlled states have hardened voter ID requirements and limited the number of drop boxes available.

The intent is to win at any cost, even at the cost of our democracy.

Warnock spoke with an eloquence derived from the deepest convictions, saying “ours is a land where possibility is born of democracy — a vote, a voice, a chance to help determine the direction of the country and one’s own destiny within it, possibility born of democracy.”

He concluded with, “I believe that democracy is the political enactment of a spiritual idea: the sacred worth of all human beings, the notion that we all have within us a spark of the divine and a right to participate in the shaping of destiny.” Indeed.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.