Matt Ford gives us a lot to think about in this piece at The New Republic. titled “Our 250-Year Fight for Multiracial Democracy.”
Some scholars and activists, by the same token, break down American history into presidencies or party systems. But it might be more accurate to think of our history in terms of a recurring cycle of Reconstructions. The First Reconstruction, after the Civil War, saw the birth of multiracial democracy, the enactment of laws and constitutional amendments to protect it, and then its steady decline as white supremacists pursued Redemption, Jim Crow, and nearly a century of night. Then came Brown v. Board of Education, the dismantling of de jure American racial apartheid, a wave of civil rights activism, and a federal government that would send federal agents and National Guard units to enforce it all.
From 1957 to 1968, American democracy expanded by greater leaps and bounds than at any other point since the destruction of the Confederacy. The Supreme Court enshrined the one person, one vote rule into constitutional law despite intense opposition from conservatives and business interests. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to ensure free and fair elections across the entire country. Even the Constitution itself was amended twice more, this time to abolish poll taxes and to give presidential electors to the District of Columbia.
This time, multiracial liberal democracy proved slightly more enduring than it did in the nineteenth century. The Voting Rights Act’s most effective protections survived just shy of 50 years before a conservative Supreme Court majority gutted them in 2013. And today, multiracial democracy is under attack again, and arguably the most concerted attack in our history. Activists like the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II, who rose to national prominence while protesting anti-democratic measures in North Carolina that same year, have argued that the right to vote is inextricably linked with fights for social and economic justice.
“We can’t accept the poverty and low wealth of 140 million Americans before Covid-19 and many more millions since,” he told a national audience during Joe Biden’s inauguration. “We must have a Third Reconstruction. We must address the five interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation/denial of health care, the war economy, and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism. These are breaches that must be addressed … repairing the breaches will bring revival.” He spoke not only in spiritual terms, but democratic ones as well.
And Ford concludes: “Will this country experience a Third Reconstruction, one that brings us even closer to the promise of multiracial democracy and majority rule?”
Read the entire piece here.