I have kept writing and saying that “we” as the human species and “we” as the American people are facing a profound choice – between going backward under the control of Pharaoh’s army or forward into the Unknown of the Red Sea. And I believe that the survival of democracy in America and the survival of humanity on the planet are deeply intertwined.
The choices are so big and so urgent that they go beyond electoral politics into profound issues of society, culture, religion, and spirituality. Yet they include crucial choices in electoral politics, which did not end in 2020. Indeed, even elections and who votes in them are shaped by deep spirituality.
I will come back to that. But let me look at elections themselves, from now till 2024:
- 1. Unless the US Senate filibuster rule is ended, at least for bills concerning voting rights, there is no way to pass the For the People bill and the John Lewis bill to reawaken and transform the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- 2. Unless those bills are passed, there is no way to prevent the passage of laws in at least a dozen states that cut deeply into the voting ability of Black, Latinx, and college-student communities.
- 3. If those state laws to restrict and suppress the vote are passed, it is likely the House and Senate in 2022 and the Presidency in 2024, will be won by right-wing politicians who will renew their destruction of the world by the burning of fossil fuels and the elimination of American democracy. They will install instead an ethnic hierarchy topped by extreme wealth and corporate control, ready to use violence to suppress opposition. The voting regime of Jim Crow 2.0, and worse.
- 4. Therefore, there is an immediate urgent goal not only of secular progressives and the prophetic religious and those deeply rooted in the Spirit; but also small-r republicans who are committed, in Benjamin Franklin's words, to “a republic, if you can keep it”; and small-d democrats who are committed, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, to government “of the people, by the people, for the people – the whole people of all colors and ethnic origins and genders and sexualities and religions and incomes.
- 5. The immediate goal is abolition of the filibuster, at least in regard to bills embodying voting rights.
- 6. And there is one substantive bill that may seem miniscule compared to this overarching decision about democracy, but which I think is intrinsically connected. That is the campaign for Thirty Million Solar Homes, with a special effort to provide strong federal grants to neighborhood co-ops in rural and small town and hollowed-out former industrial working-class cities as well as marginalized Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous neighborhoods. What is so special about that campaign?
- We cannot heal our Earth if 51% of Americans believe the climate crisis a lethal threat, and 49% think it is a hoax. Solar/ wind neighborhood co-ops in “red” America could break through the official rejection of renewable energy and the whole notion that climate crisis is a hoax that is held by about half the national elected officials. That is one place where Spirit and Polling Booth, neighborhood and planet, connect.
- This coverage of ALL marginalized Americans is crucial ethically and as effective politics. Those who oppose renewable energy as long as it is only ink on paper will come to support it when it is money in the bank and good jobs on the local newspaper’s front page. (That is what saved Obamacare.)
- 7. After these two efforts, the next major campaign must be to affect the Congressional elections in 2022 to make the passage of voting-rights bills possible. That will be extremely difficult, if the electorate has been hobbled and suppressed.
What is at stake here? The profound spiritual question: Do “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” or only some select part of them? Our oldest, deepest wisdom says: The whole people must be fully present at crucial moments of their history, their future.
In our ancient teachings from the Hebrew Bible, there are moments that make the answer clear: Moses, speaking to the children of the Sinai generation, insists (Deut 5:3) that they— even though they had not yet been born – stood at Sinai. Not only the physically living in the present but also the future must count. Then Torah has Moses make the convocation rhythmic and permanent by requiring (Deut. 31: 10-12) that during Sukkot after every seventh year, the Shabbat Shabbaton or Shmitah, the whole people must assemble. Old and young, women and men, even babes in arms, must assemble to renew Torah. Much later, after the return of exiles from Babylonia, Ezra and Nehemiah convoke the whole people (Nehemiah 8) to recommit themselves to Torah.
What does this mean for us? Last week I urged members and readers of The Shalom Center to take action – easy and simple -- for renewing democracy in the Senate itself: simply by calling 1202-224-3121 and speaking to their own Senators. I would add, for those who can invest fifteen minutes a day, calling also – one office each day this week --the offices of Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Senator Mitt Romney of Utah.
What message should you bear? That the filibuster must be abolished, at least for bills to make clear that the Federal government will act to guarantee that all adults are entitled to vote.
The Senators I named are thought to be the most likely to make the 50 votes necessary, together with the Vice-President, to limit the filibuster and pass the voting-rights bills. I urge you to ask first to speak to the Senator's staffer most involved in voting rights, and if that becomes impossible, to record your comments: your name, where you live, your spiritual or vocational connection if you are willing, and your insistence that this moment is so crucial to our future that the whole people must be enabled to vote.
If you want more information about the state voter-suppression bills being passed, you can check https://demcastusa.com/2021/04/08/jim-crow-voting-laws-then-and-now/
If you want more information about the "For the People" bill now before the Senate,check the Brennan Center for Justice at
If you want The Shalom Center to continue working for an American democracy healthy enough to heal Earth from the climate crisis, and for climate solutions able to make possible small-d democratic neighborhood-based management of renewable solar and wind energy, please contribute $72 or more by clicking on the maroon “Contribute” banner just below my signature.
In writing you this letter, I am calling on my whole life-experience – as an historian of the US past, as a legislative assistant in the House of Representatives, as an active public intellectual at the Institute for Policy Studies and the Public Resource Center, as an elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1968, as a civilly disobedient activist, and as a spiritual seeker drawing on the depths of Torah. All to say that this is a crucial moment in American and planetary history: We must consult our whole society.
Shalom, salaam, peace, paz, namaste -- Arthur