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By Lotanna Obodozie
April 20, 2021
Caption : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash     

Over the past several years, Americans have seen leaders in our highest political offices take steps to sow distrust in our democracy and attempt to destroy it from the inside out. Simultaneously, many of the same leaders have continued to deny the existence of climate change and systematically destroy key regulatory protections that seek to slow or halt the destruction of our environment. Unsurprisingly, the fights to end climate change and build a stronger democracy go hand in hand. It is not possible to enact proper solutions to the climate crisis without a functioning democracy—specifically, one that works for the people and not corporate interests. 

What Are the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act? 

The For The People Act (HR 1/S 1) is a transformative bill currently being considered in Congress that includes multiple policy solutions designed to build a stronger democracy that will more fairly represent all people, including marginalized communities that often have been kept from realizing the American dream

 This bill would: 

  • Increase fair access to the ballot box, making it easier to vote
  • End the dominance of big money in politics
  • Ensure public officials work in the interest of the public

The bold policy solutions that young people have long called for have a much better chance of being enacted if we have a democracy that works for all of us, not just some of us. The For the People Act is a unique opportunity to fix the problems in our democracy and give the will of voters a bigger role in deciding U.S. public policy. At present, this bill has passed the House of Representatives and is currently pending in the Senate.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) sought to eliminate racial discrimination in voting; however, in recent years, key provisions of the VRA have been dismantled. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, known in the previous Congress as H.R. 4, would strengthen the Voting Rights Act and restore key protections for voters across the country. This bill would reestablish the rule that any changes to voting laws that could potentially discriminate against voters based on race must undergo a federal review process, known as pre-clearance. It was named after Georgia representative and civil rights activist John Lewis, who dedicated his life to fighting for the right of every American to be able to vote free from racial discrimination.

Why Does This Matter?

The For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act are two key pieces of legislation that seek to reform our democracy and transform it into one that works for all of us. Both of these bills would improve access to voting, protect the votes and voices of constituents by stopping partisan gerrymandering and reducing the outsize role of big money in politics, and ensure that public officials work for us. 

For too long, under-resourced communities and communities of color—particularly the Black community—have been disenfranchised. As of this March, the Brennan Center for Justice found that 361 voter suppression bills have been introduced or enacted in 47 states since the November 2020 election. There is a coordinated and organized movement working to suppress participation and representation in our democracy and concentrate power in the hands of those who already hold it. These bills would pave the way towards a future that is more inclusive and equitable, and give voters a clear way to communicate our priorities, from climate change to gun violence prevention, racial justice, healthcare, and more. 

What Does This Have To Do With the Climate Crisis? 

Solving the climate crisis will require a functioning democracy. When voters have fair access to the ballot box, we are able to cast our ballots for the issues that matter the most to us. The communities that have seen their rights to vote chipped away at are the same ones disproportionately experiencing the damaging effects of the climate crisis. These frontline communities know better than anyone else the solutions that are needed to address climate change in their neighborhoods. It is imperative that they are able to cast their votes for the politicians who will best represent them. 

Young people believe in climate action that confronts racial, economic, and environmental injustice. Voting is one concrete way for young Americans to make our voices heard and ensure that our priorities are acted upon by the people we elect to public office. When we are able to cast our votes freely, safely, and securely, we can ensure that the politicians we elect will take the bold action necessary to confront the climate crisis.

The For the People Act will also reduce the huge influence of big money and secret dark money in politics. For too long, corporate and special interests have had an outsized influence in our political system, guiding policies to benefit them, and not voters. This corrupted system has allowed lawmakers to ignore what everyday Americans want. For example, in the 117th Congress, there are currently 139 elected officials who deny the science and reality of climate change. These same 139 officials have collected a total of over $61 million in campaign contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industries. Climate denial, especially when directly funded by the fossil fuel industry, is a dangerous belief to have, as we don’t have time to waste on not  addressing the climate crisis.

What Can You Do?

Young people have long demanded more from our government, and we turned out in record numbers during the 2020 presidential election in order to make our voices heard and show that we are looking for strong leadership on climate. To date, President Biden has taken this directive seriously, using many of the core tools and power available to him to address the climate crisis—but there is still more action needed. It is now up to Congress to meet this moment and do their part by passing the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The climate crisis can’t wait. Use our tool to tell lawmakers to pass the For the People Act. Then, call on Congress to prioritize frontline communities and the climate in future economic recovery packages. 

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