Young people are pushing Congress to protect our voting rights with passage of the For the People Act, even as Republican state legislatures, including West Virginia’s own, enact law upon law to make voting more difficult. Un-PAC is an exemplary cadre of students and nonstudents that now has 15 organizers in West Virginia with groups formed at Marshall University, West Virginia University and several other schools.
Un-PAC’s national organizer is Shana Gallagher, who told me that Un-PAC is, “Completely nonpartisan and we work with all students and young people who agree that big money in politics is bad, and democracy is good.” The group is supported by, and partners with, several organizations, including For West Virginia’s Future and End Citizens United, as well as with individual citizens who are committed to protecting our democracy, Gallagher said.
A dozen or more of Un-PAC’s members met recently with a representative of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Manchin has been open in saying that, without bipartisan support, he won’t throw his weight behind the For the People Act. Really? With hundreds of new state voter-suppression laws proposed (and many enacted) and with a host of Manchin’s Republican colleagues in Congress unwilling to publicly admit that Joe Biden was elected fairly, Manchin is waiting for bipartisanship? He may as well wait for the globe to spin in the other direction.
Aside from dreamy images of bipartisanship, the filibuster also stands between the American people and fair elections. Manchin attributes his embrace of the filibuster to his reverence for the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-WVa. I share his esteem for the senator, but Byrd’s affinity for the filibuster was hardly ironclad. It isn’t a leap to conclude that Byrd would be disgusted by today’s misuse of the filibuster to undermine the work of his revered U.S. Senate.
In the 1970s, when, as now, the filibuster rule was being prostituted to prevent bills from even being brought to the Senate floor for discussion, Byrd led the fight to reduce the number of votes necessary to end a filibuster. Byrd, who had used the filibuster himself, later again saw the rule being warped in ways designed to scuttle debate, so he changed it again. Byrd put it this way, “Certain rules that were necessary in the 19th century and in the early decades of this [the 20th] century must be changed to reflect changed circumstances.”
Amen, Sen. Byrd.
The Senate’s Republican menagerie might be a lost cause. But that shouldn’t prevent Manchin from announcing that he will push for a change in the filibuster rule. If nothing else, a return to the “standing filibuster” would propel us forward with giant strides in the shoes of Byrd.
Which brings us back to the young folks of Un-PAC. In March, a scientific survey of likely voters in West Virginia was conducted for the group. State residents who were surveyed spanned all age groups and political preferences. Asked whether it should be made easier to vote, as with the For the People Act, 58% of West Virginia respondents “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed. Only 30% were strongly or somewhat opposed. The greatest support was in the 18-to-49 and over-70 age groups.
Un-PAC’s young voters are bridging a pathway over the twin swamp monsters of voter suppression and the filibuster. They, and the nation, could use Manchin’s assistance.