I’m sure you’ve seen the news -- and I’m not here to wallow, but I am here to reflect on what this means for our democracy and where we go from here. In case you haven’t seen, 48 Senate Democrats sided with us to reform the filibuster and pass the Freedom to Vote: John R Lewis Act. Sinema and Manchin sided with Mitch McConnell to block the effort.
First things first: Kyrsten Sinema betrayed her constituents and our democracy. Joe Manchin betrayed his constituents and our democracy. Elected Republicans everywhere betrayed their constituents and our democracy. Ignore whatever spin comes from their press releases and media appearances in the aftermath of this debacle -- history will not be kind to these enablers of racism and authoritarianism.
What we accomplished. But you left it all on the field. The Indivisible movement did what it has been building to do for years. We started this campaign with people laughing at us for talking about the filibuster and with deep uncertainty that a potential future Democratic trifecta would prioritize democracy reform at all. After winning the trifecta last year, our plan was simple: convince the political system that this was urgent and bring all possible pressure to bear on the holdouts.
Where did we end up? Early on, we saw Elizabeth Warren and other senators come out swinging. Then we saw senators like Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Alex Padilla become champions for the cause. We tried to convince President Biden to prioritize it, and while it took some time, he started fighting for it last year. Former President Obama endorsed his plan. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set up a high-stakes vote to set the stage for the showdown. What was a sideshow four years ago became the main event tonight.
That happened because you demanded it -- step after step after step. Congress DID prioritize democracy -- it became HR 1, which became the Freedom to Vote Act: John Lewis VRA. Senate Holdouts DID switch sides to become filibuster reform advocates. Joe Biden DID get in the fight and start swinging. The Democratic Party DID bring its full force to bear on Sinema and Manchin.
The consequences of this betrayal are real. But it turns out this wasn’t enough. And with the developments of the past 48 hours, I’m convinced that nothing would have moved Manchin and Sinema to side with us. We left no stone unturned. We responded to every question and concern. We rewrote legislation repeatedly. We corrected historical inaccuracies. We offered concession after concession. We showed up in force in their states time and time again. Hell, this past weekend Martin Luther King, Jr’s family marched in Phoenix with Indivisibles and pro-voting advocates from across the state. We succeeded in bringing every possible ounce of pressure we could.
It turned out this wasn't enough. We took on a tough fight with less than even odds of success, and we came damn close. But close wasn't enough, and that’s devastating.
This isn’t a game. We weren’t fighting to score political points. We weren’t fighting to help one political party over another. We were fighting to safeguard our democracy, and to protect the sacred right to vote. And so this loss comes with real consequences.
As a result of Sinema and Manchin’s betrayal, the opportunity for substantial democracy reform is likely over for this congress. We now head into the midterms with GOP voter suppression bills uncontested, with devastating consequences for Black and brown communities. And we will head into the 2023-2024 period with the real threat of election subversion, and even a new potential coup, hanging over our heads the whole time. The likelihood of a future in America defined by major constitutional crises, democratic breakdown, and right-wing political violence is higher today than it was yesterday. This is the political reality we all live in now thanks to Sinema, Manchin, and all Senate Republicans.
So what does that mean for Indivisible going forward? What do we believe about this new political reality?
What we at Indivisible believe. In short, we believe in local constituent power; in using this Democratic trifecta while we have it; in accountability; in elections; and in democracy.
- Constituent Power. We still believe that the rising authoritarian threat is a danger to us all. We still believe that there are more of us than there are of them. We still believe that the only way we will succeed in defeating the fascists is through organized constituent power. And we still believe that locally-led, nationally supported groups are a unique contribution to the development of this power. We believe in the power of the Indivisible movement because we’ve seen it with our own eyes.
- This Democratic Trifecta. We also believe that we still have a Democratic trifecta (it's true!), and we expect Congress to return to BBB and finish it up by March. Passing a multi-trillion dollar package will do good for many millions of people and the Earth. And we’ll be working with Indivisibles to convince the Biden Administration to move aggressively on executive actions to deliver on as many of his campaign promises as possible.
- Accountability for those who betrayed us. Earlier this week we asked Arizona Indivisibles if they would want Sinema primaried in the event she betrayed them on this democracy vote. A stunning 94% enthusiastically said they would. Kyrsten Sinema turned her back on her constituents; no single Democratic senator -- Manchin included -- was as detrimental to this cause as she was. We're already working on plans to make sure that she doesn't hold any office after this term. We look forward to sharing them soon. My main goal isn’t fundraising right now, but if you want to support that effort, you can donate here.
- Elections. More generally, we still believe in elections. We want to elect diverse, progressive Democrats. If we are to ever have hope in passing structural reforms to safeguard our democracy in the future, we desperately need a larger and better Democratic House and Senate. We contacted tens of millions of voters to Get Out the Vote in 2020. We will need to do more this year.
- Democracy. The unfortunate reality is that substantial democracy reform is likely no longer possible in this congress. It pains me to write those words, but it would pain me more to lie or offer up false hope. Yes, there is a longshot possibility that we’ll see traction for a small-scale reform of the Electoral Count Act, but getting that done will require support from a Republican Party that remains controlled by Trump and his anti-democracy forces. Even if it were to succeed, it would do little to roll back the GOP attacks on democracy at the state level. So that means we have to do longer-term planning for how our movement can support election integrity–and work to prevent election subversion–in the lead up to 2024 in the absence of federal legislation to safeguard our democracy.
So what now? This fight for a real democracy has been part of America since its founding. Nor is using the filibuster to block pro-democracy, pro-civil rights legislation anything new. After the Civil War, southern segregations popularized and weaponized the filibuster to prevent the Senate from taking up democracy legislation. The 1964 Civil Rights bill overcame a weeks-long filibuster, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act faced its own filibuster threats as well. Those bills were decades in the making -- the end successful result of decades of failed attempts.
So what can we do after losing a hard fight? Here are the options:
- We can give up.
- We can keep building power.
That’s it. End of list. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the fascists win in a forfeit.
On January 24th at 8 pm ET / 5 pm PT, we’re pulling together pro-democracy supporters from across the country to strategize about next steps. If you would like to be part of that conversation, please sign up to join Monday’s Movement call here. And if you have any thoughts to share ahead of time, please reply to this email with them (yes, to “no-reply” we do read it!), or feel free to reach out to me directly on Twitter at @ezralevin (I really try to respond!).
I’m sorry that we lost tonight, but I am so damn proud that we fought. I’ve said time and time again: we’re not fighting for our democracy because we know we’ll win. We’re fighting for it because we know we have to win. And we will win.
Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director, Indivisible