Last year I saw some very tough setbacks and some very exciting victories. After working for 25 years as a server at The Westin Peachtree Plaza, I was laid off due to COVID-19. I have diabetes and heart disease, so losing my job and my health insurance was a huge burden. I knew we needed change. I knew we needed to work to elect leaders who would fight for the issues that mattered to working people like me, like quality health care and decent unemployment support.

So even though I was struggling, I laced up my shoes and went to work. Alongside my UNITE HERE colleagues, I knocked on doors and talked to my neighbors to build support for new leadership in Georgia and in Washington. And of course, I voted, as I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18. Together, we won the change we needed.

Now, there are politicians who are very scared of what we were able to accomplish in Georgia. So they’re trying to silence our voices. That’s why the Georgia state legislature passed and Governor Kemp signed a huge voter suppression bill in March that is now the law of the land. And I won’t stand for that.

Let’s be clear, voting in Georgia can already be difficult. I stood in line for 90 minutes to vote on Election Day last year, despite my health conditions and the threat of the pandemic. Many of us also still recall the debacle of the 2018 election, in which thousands of voters were wrongly kicked off voting rolls and never given a chance to cast a ballot. Instead of fixing these problems and addressing urgent issues, like the disastrously slow vaccine rollout in Georgia, politicians are working overtime to make voting even harder.

The new law restricts the time voters can ask for absentee ballots and adds strict new ID requirements to vote by mail, which will make voting harder for older folks and poorer voters, to say nothing of those of us who don’t feel safe putting a copy of our ID in the mail. Election officials are also forbidden from affirmatively mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters.

Other provisions are clearly meant to take power away from voters of color, workers, and everyday Georgians, and give it straight to the state legislature. The legislature now has more control over the State Election Board, and is allowed to suspend county election officials. It’s scary to think we’re giving politicians the ability to overturn election results if they don’t like how they shake out.

Some of the measures show downright contempt for voters, like the one that makes it illegal to give food or water to voters standing in line, or the one that makes it almost impossible to cast a provisional ballot if you happen to show up at the wrong polling place.

This isn’t the way I was raised to believe about voting. My mother and grandmother taught me about the importance of making our voices heard and I hope to pass that value onto my daughter as well. I have always believed that protecting the right to vote is an issue that should rise above politics because it affects progress on everything we care about: a quick end to this pandemic, health insurance and care for all, and justice for our communities. Sadly, in places across the country, politicians who don’t think the same are trying to take us backward.

This is why we need Congress to act immediately. We couldn’t stop the dangerous bills here in Georgia, and that’s why we need the For
the People Act passed nationally to protect everyone’s right to vote and to make our system fairer, representative, and accountable to the people. It would reduce the power of big money in politics and modernize our elections. It would require every state to offer same-day voter registration, make Election Day a public holiday, and end wrongful voter purges. And it would undo some of the new restrictions that we are seeing in Georgia and in other states.

Many of us worked hard for change in 2020. As a union worker and community organizer, I know that we plan to keep working for it. It should be the voters — not a bunch of politicians in the statehouse — who get to decide our futures.

Members of the Georgia NAACP and Protect The Vote Georgia are protesting outside the Georgia State Capitol on Monday, March 8, 2021. Photo by: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice

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