By now you’ve seen the images of black Georgia lawmaker Park Cannon being arrested and dragged away inside Georgia’s State Capitol. Cannon was charged with two felonies for knocking on Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s door as he signed SB-202, one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country that experts say will suppress the Black vote.
Here’s the backstory that explains why Canon’s arrest is just the latest chapter in the longrunning fight against those who have historically viewed the Black electorate as a threat to their power.
SB-202 was passed just months after Black voters went to polls in record numbers and powered President Joe Biden to an extremely narrow victory in Georgia, helping him win the White House. Black voters were again pivotal in the January special elections, helping elect Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossof and giving Democrats control of the Senate. So Black voters changed the course of history, helping give Democrats control of both the White House and Congress, making it possible to pass laws- like Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus.
There was also record turnout throughout the country, because during the pandemic, many states made it easier to vote.
But this hasn’t always been the case: Just a dozen years after Confederacy and slavery were dismantled after the Civil War, southern states like Georgia passed Jim Crow laws that segregated the south and prevented African Americans from voting. It took Congress nearly a century to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which banned states from suppressing the black vote. But in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the law that required states get pre-approval from the feds before changing their voting laws. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts argued this is not something we have to have to worry about any more.
But in reality dozens of Republican-controlled states have passed laws that make it harder for people of color, young people and working people to vote. Many states have cut polling sites in majority Black areas, resulting in massive voting lines. Georgia is being sued for wrongfully purging tens of thousands of people from the voting rolls.
Over 250 restrictive election laws are being currently considered in 43 states, and SB-202 was one of the first to pass. The new law limits mail in voting and drop boxes, two things that made it easier to vote and even makes it illegal to give water and food to people waiting in line to vote.
Republicans say they’re doing this to prevent widespread voter fraud, but they have never been able to produce evidence to back this claim. Former president Trump maintains the baseless claim the election was stolen from him, a claim his own FBI director has denied.
Civil Rights groups and the ACLU have filed multiple challenges to SB-202 in court. Georgia-based corporations are facing calls for a boycott, for in Delta’s case supporting the bill, and for others like Coke for failing to forcefully speak out against it. Legislators are also taking action in Congress. The House passed the For the People Act or HR-1, which expands voting rights and stops states like Georgia from suppressing the vote. But even though Democrats have a majority in the Senate, as it currently stands HR-1, doesn’t have the votes it needs to pass. That’s because under a Jim Crow era rule called the filibuster, previously used to block Civil Rights laws, bills need ⅔ majority to pass the senate, if they aren’t related to spending. But Democrats can change those rules if they want to, just like Republicans have in the past. And that’s why there’s growing pressure on Democrats to end the filibuster, and to action to protect the ballot.
Until then, as Rep Canon tweeted after she was released from prison, : “I am not the first Georgian to be arrested for fighting voter suppression. I’d love to say I’m the last, but we know that isn’t true.”