On Tuesday night, Georgia made history by electing Reverend Raphael Warnock, the first Black Democrat from the South, and Jon Ossoff, the first Jewish Senator from Georgia and youngest member of the United States Senate. This victory was made possible in part by young Black voters who turned out in record numbers. Yet, just as our democracy seems to strengthen in the face of a public health crisis – we are reminded just how fragile it is by the actions of those who reject a more equitable and inclusive society.
What we know to be true is the strength of America comes from the beautiful mosaic of our racial, religious, gender, ideological, sexual orientation, and regional diversity. Yet, history has shown us time and again how difficult and painful it has been to fully embrace that beauty. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the promise of a multi-racial democracy was met by a “Reign of Terror,” led by the newly established Ku Klux Klan comprised of former confederates determined to limit Black political power and ultimately overthrow duly elected state governments in the name of White Supremacy.
Then and now, at the core of our hopes for a more robust and inclusive democracy has been young people. It would be nearly 100 years before Martin Luther King Jr., a young John Lewis, and many other young organizers would bend the nation towards a more full democracy with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the struggle for equality would continue. For decades American democracy would endure sustained assaults from fringe forces of White Supremacy, including voter suppression, the gutting of the Civil Rights Act, and far-right domestic terrorism.
Young people know our democracy is not perfect, and yet we continue to march, organize, and exercise our rights at the ballot box because we know what is at stake. They know we must fight to make our democracy more accessible and equitable for people of color and low-income communities. And so in a historic year – one that has taken the lives of over 300,000 Americans – young people stared down systemic racism and cast our votes in the hope of a more free and just nation.
The siege of Capitol Hill we witnessed on January 6 and Georgia’s elections are inextricably tied to race and are emblematic of America’s fundamental struggle between white supremacy and democracy. The failed coup attempt incited by President Donald J. Trump and his Congressional enablers echos the Reign of Terror and just like it, is an insidious response to a multi-racial democracy that has given the nation its first Black and Indian, Female Vice President as well as the first Black Democratic Senator from the heart of the former confederacy.
We cannot heal until we confront our history and reality. The road to reconciliation and justice begins with President Trump’s removal from office and the expulsion of Congressional enablers that have gleefully removed the scab of our deepest wound.
History will remember what happened at the Capitol on January 6th, but we will not forget what young Black voters did in Georgia on January 5th and will continue to do in the months and years ahead. We must embrace this reminder that our democracy is fragile. The peaceful transfer of power is not a foregone conclusion. Our work does not end at the voting booth. Young people stand at the forefront of our collective struggle to preserve and expand a multi-racial democracy, not only for ourselves but for all generations to come.