By Bill Woods
2021 began on a very frightening note! On January 6th, a mob stormed and violently invaded the nation's Capitol with the purpose of stopping Congress from formally accepting the Electoral College votes of the fifty States. It ends on a sour note with thousands of new COVID-cases brought on by the new Omicron variant.
Thus, the pandemic continues in 2022, and a high percentage of Americans still refuse to be vaccinated. Meanwhile, the country still feels the impact of Donald Trump's "big lie" that the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen due to fraudulent votes cast. What are the implications of the unfinished business that passes from the old to the new year?
In terms of the pandemic, the vaccines, including booster shots, brought huge progress in combatting COVID in 2021. Nevertheless, because Public Health policies to address the virus have become so politicized, too many people have refused to get vaccinated. The recent emergence of the very spreadable Omicron Variant and the crowding together of people during the Holiday Season cause this major rise in cases, while the unvaccinated comprise a large majority of the sick patients who now crowd our hospitals.
Moving on to politics and government, our country still needs to address the implications of January 6th. That day is a living nightmare for me. By chance, I happened to flip on the TV just as the mob was descending on the Capitol. For the next two hours, I watched in disbelief the events of that afternoon.
Initially, even many Republican Congressmen and Senators condemned this assault as not only criminally violent but a dangerous attack on democracy itself. In a few weeks, however, it was viewed in partisan terms, and only a few Republican Senators joined their Democratic colleagues in voting to impeach Donald Trump for inciting this mob. As time passed, certain Republican leaders referred to the event as a tour of the Capitol that merely got out of hand, while others implied it was a justified public response to "a stolen election." Donald Trump's "big lie" continued to be spread until polls show that a majority of Republicans consider the 2020 Presidential Election to be fraudulent.
Currently, the Congressional Committee established to look into both the events of January 6th and its causes is diligently conducting its investigation. Although the establishment of this Committee was rejected by a majority of Republican members of Congress, two Republicans did join this body, and Liz Cheney serves as its Co-Chair. In fact, Cheney has become the conscience of her Party in terms of protecting the peaceful transfer of power in a representative democracy from violent activities like the assault on the Capitol.
Up to now, the Committee has done its work behind closed doors. We know, however, that it has interviewed more than three hundred people, and that it is closely looking at the planning that proceeded January 6th and the leaders who were involved in this planning. Rather than accepting the events of that afternoon as spontaneous public anger that got out of hand, it is investigating how January 6th was an integral part of the activities aimed at overturning an election that Trump and his supporters claimed to be fraudulent. Clearly, the Committee seeks to end up with a report complete with recommendations that help to protect the country from future efforts to disrupt or undermine democratic institutions. It has announced it will hold public sessions beginning in the new year.
Beyond awaiting the findings of the January 6th Committee and potential actions by the Department of Justice, what can and must be done in the coming year both to protect and restore the health of representative democracy at the local, state, and federal levels? One important point should be made before beginning this laundry list of things to do in 2022. Most people are not citizen activists with deep concerns about democracy. They are trying to raise families, earn a living wage, and get through the ups and downs of daily life. This means that activists must figure out how to keep their friends and colleagues informed about the current crises and then enlist their occasional involvement. This is no easy task when actual facts have to compete with so much misinformation, but it is critical nevertheless. Representative government cannot function successfully without well-informed and semi-active citizens.
The list of immediate things to do in the new year all focus on stopping the Republican Party from weakening democracy for the purpose of holding power. Using "the big lie" about fraudulent voting, Republican-controlled Legislatures across the country have passed voter suppression laws and are in the process of drawing extremely Gerrymandered Congressional and state districts. Some have even passed laws that tamper with traditional non-partisan procedures for administering elections and counting the votes.
The most important action citizen activists can take in the coming weeks to counter the anti-democratic efforts at the state level described above is to persuade their U.S. Senators to pass the Voting Rights Act. The House of Representatives has already enacted and passed on to the Senate two such Bills, and they remain stalled in that body. This situation exists because there is no Republican support for either Bill, and GOP-Party leadership declares that Republicans will utilize the Filibuster rather than allow the fifty Democratic Senators plus Vice President Harris to pass these proposals. Since two Democratic Senators currently oppose repealing the Filibuster, it will require Democratic members to create and propose an exception to invoking this procedure in the case of an essential issue such as voting rights.
Reform and Civil Rights organizations have made passage of a national Voting Rights Act their top priority for 2022, and several groups have conducted a hunger strike in front of the White House to put pressure on the Biden Administration. January appears to be a month when a lot of citizen pressure will be enlisted in mounting a major grassroots effort to get this legislation passed. Look for ways you can support groups such as Common Cause and the League of Women Voters in this cause.
In Ohio, Senator Sherrod Brown supports Voting Rights, but it is still worthwhile letting him know your views. Although Senator Rob Portman appears to be a lost cause because of his Party's opposition, he needs to hear that
many of his constituents think protecting voting rights is essential to a healthy democracy. Ohio is also a state where immediate citizen involvement can make a difference.
In 2015 and 2018, voters passed two Amendments to Ohio's Constitution designed to end partisan gerrymandering in the State. A Republican-controlled General Assembly, however, has ignored these Amendments and drawn Congressional and state district maps this fall that are even more gerrymandered in favor of Republican candidates than the maps drafted in 2011.
These district maps are currently being challenged before the Ohio Supreme Court, and the state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, and the League of Women Voters are part of a larger coalition of groups that are supporting these Court challenges. If the Court rules that the maps violate the Ohio Constitution and it calls for redrawing them, then citizen involvement will be a needed component in this redrafting process.
So, in the coming weeks be on the lookout for ways you can get involved in actions that will help save and renew representative democracy in the U.S. and Ohio. For instance, check the websites of the League of Women Voters and Common Cause for citizen actions that they recommend. Remember, the beginning of 2022 is a time to get your booster shot, wear your mask, and make our democratic process healthy again!