By Mark Gruenberg, PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI)—Union leaders marked the one-year anniversary of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by using it to push for protecting and strengthening voting rights as many state legislatures pass laws that would curtail access to the ballot box.
The day began with a speech by President Joe Biden that laid out in stark terms the threat currently facing American democracy.
“For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said. “But they failed. They failed. And on this day of remembrance, we must make sure that such attack never, never happens again.”
Biden pointed out that more than 140 police officers were injured during the attack.
Biden continued, “Right now in state after state, new laws are being written. Not to protect the vote, but to deny it. Not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert it, not to strengthen or protect our democracy, but because the former president lost. Instead of looking at election results from 2020 and saying they need new ideas or better ideas to win more votes, the former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections. It’s wrong. It’s undemocratic, and frankly, it’s un-American.”
National Education Association President Becky Pringle added to the condemnation of the attack later in the day.
“Donald Trump and his allies fueled a violent insurrection intended to stop our democracy from functioning,” she said. “Trump and his allies blatantly lied about the result of the election while attempting to overturn the will of the people in a desperate and dangerous attempt to hold onto power.”
AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler spoke for many unions when she demanded lawmakers enact legislation to strengthen voting rights and vowed the Labor movement would continue to defend democracy. “We are not powerless, and the lesson of the Jan. 6 attack cannot be forgotten,” Shuler’s statement said. “The very people who witnessed firsthand our democracy under assault now have the opportunity to strengthen our system of government, not weaken it. Congress must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom To Vote Act to protect the right of every American to cast our vote and have that vote counted so that every eligible voter has a say in who represents them.
“If we learned anything from that day a year ago, it is that democracy is fragile and must be protected,” Shuler declared. She said federation members stand ready to do so.
Other union leaders sounded many of the same themes as Shuler did. AFSCME President Lee Saunders also warned of the continuing threat to democracy.
Communications Workers President Chris Shelton called last year’s invasion “a betrayal of our country, not just by the extremists who directly participated in the assault but also by the elected officials who spread lies about the election and encouraged the violence.”
“We cannot let these bullies silence and intimidate us. The Senate majority must pass the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to create national standards that protect our rights, ensure that trusted local election officials count every vote, and prevent partisan politicians from sabotaging the results of our elections,” Shelton said.
The Office and Professional Employees also went farther, demanding the government hold not just the invaders accountable, but also “politicians who spurred them on, and who continue to spread hate and extremism.” Those politicians, the union said, “continue to threaten our democracy by brazenly spreading lies about our elections and government to serve their own self-interests.”
OPEIU then called for halting partisan-pushed voting and elections sabotage and passage of the two pieces of legislation, Shuler and Alvarez mentioned, which would override and repeal the GOP-instigated repression.
“We demand our senators exercise their majority and pass the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to create national standards that protect every Americans’ right to vote, ensure every vote is counted and prevent partisan politicians from sabotaging the results.”
The Teachers (AFT) tweeted to members and readers to e-mail senators, via an on-line petition, to pass the two bills. Union President Randi Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher, later provided a link on AFT’s website for people to write local editors.
“A former president, enabled by a growing cadre of extremists, continues to this day to cast doubt on the 2020 election. And in their quest for power, that same political faction wants to pass laws that stop people from voting. I can’t think of anything more grotesquely undemocratic and un-American than that. That’s why we must pass legislation to stop them from disenfranchising millions of people before the next election,” Weingarten wrote.
After saying democracy and institutions survived, NEA President Pringle, head of the nation’s largest union warned: “Sadly, the attacks on our democracy haven’t stopped. Over the last year, we have seen disinformation used to attack our freedom to vote as 19 states passed legislation making it harder for Americans to vote.”
Teachers teach all students, “no matter their race or ZIP code,” is both a citizen’s responsibility and “a sacred right we must protect for all.” Those lessons are taught in public schools, Pringle noted. “The restrictive voting rights bills in states across the nation” also often target students, she said. Data shows more than 50% of public school students are of color.
“Congress must pass legislation ensuring every eligible voter can make their voice heard by ensuring they can cast their ballots safely and freely, while also preventing partisan politicians from sabotaging the results of our elections. Our students are depending on us. Congress must act. Now.”
“This attempt to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power was not an isolated incident,” AFSCME’s President Saunders warned. “It was part of a larger movement to undermine our governing institutions, to spread dangerous misinformation, to restrict access to the ballot box and disenfranchise millions of Americans.”
“One year later, we must remain vigilant about defending the pillars of our system. And that means giving more citizens a voice in the political process, so that the government reflects the truest, fullest will of the people,” he said.