Opinion

We stood up to election deniers before. We’re prepared to do it again. | Opinion

Two Black women leaders on the importance of defending Philadelphia’s vote count integrity.

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier speaks at a November 2020 'Protect the Results' press conference with fellow City Council members Kendra Brooks and Helen Gym

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier speaks at a November 2020 'Protect the Results' press conference with fellow City Council members Kendra Brooks and Helen Gym

Rachael Warriner

Two days after the 2020 presidential election, we stood in front of the Pa. Convention Center alongside union members, grassroots organizers, and many people from Philadelphia’s multiracial working class.

We bore signs that read “PA Voters Decide” and “Black Voters Matter” as joyous music blared, mailboxes danced, and free food was passed around. In the face of baseless, racist claims that challenged Philadelphia’s vote count, we joined together in the birthplace of American democracy to reaffirm our commitment to counting every vote and ensuring every voice was heard.

With election deniers gearing up to challenge the integrity of this November’s election, we’re ready to do it again.

Former President Donald Trump and his followers planted the seeds of mistrust in our democracy, and those seeds are now bearing fruit. The extremists who spread misinformation about Philadelphia’s vote count are the same people who, just a few weeks later, staged a violent insurrection in our nation’s capital. And they are the same people now threatening to challenge the integrity of our vitally important midterm elections. It is no coincidence that their anti-democratic efforts target Philadelphia and other majority minority working class cities. For generations, white supremacists have been trying to subvert the voting power of Black, Brown, immigrant, and working class communities. Through everything from racist poll taxes and literacy tests to outright mass violence — racists have fought tooth and nail to silence communities of color.

One way anti-democratic extremists are attacking our ability to choose our leaders is by intimidating our neighbors and dedicated public servants who make our elections possible.

Since 2020, there has been an uptick in attempts to harass and undermine election administrators and poll workers, making it harder for them to do their jobs. Across the nation,  1 in 6 election workers have been the target of threats, according to data from the Brennan Center for Justice, and over 30% of polled election officials know workers who have left due to safety concerns. No one should be afraid to help their community participate in our country’s most sacred process.

This assault on our vote is emanating from Harrisburg, and state legislatures nationwide. At least 244 bills that would further hinder fair and clear elections have been introduced in more than 30 states. Over a dozen of those are here in Pennsylvania, to usurp control over election results, shift power from professional election administrators to partisan actors, create unworkable burdens for election administrators, and more. If Harrisburg really cared about free, fair, and honest elections they would protect election volunteers from intimidation and threats – and empower, not weaken, the City Commissioners’ ability to run elections in Philadelphia. We will not stand idly by while state legislators who supported and participated in Jan. 6 try to weaken the power of Philadelphia voters.

Meanwhile, election deniers will be on the ballot in 48 of 50 states and make up more than half of all Republicans running for congressional and state offices in the midterm elections, according to the Washington Post, including here in Pennsylvania. Proponents of the “Big Lie” haven’t faced accountability, and are poised to take office nationwide.

As Black leaders in Philadelphia, we refuse to remain silent over this assault on our elections and the voices of our constituency. That’s why earlier this month, we passed a City Council resolution stating that free and fair elections — where all eligible voters have the opportunity to make their voices heard -are critical to a functioning democracy. Many Americans might have thought this obvious, but it seems like affirmation is needed. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure every Philadelphian can cast their vote freely and safely — and we will resist all and any attempts by bad faith actors to undermine our elections.

It is in the tradition of civil rights leaders like Octavius Catto that we “cease to remain silent witnesses” in the face of injustice. A monument to Catto, who spent his life fighting against racial injustice —  and who, on Election Day in 1871, was slain by white men who feared Black suffrage — stands outside City Hall to remind us that the work of democracy is never finished.

In memory of our ancestors who lost their lives fighting for the right to vote, we pledge to do everything in our power to protect the integrity of our elections. With our most basic rights and freedoms on the line, we stand united in condemning any attempt to subvert the will of Philadelphia’s voters.

Philadelphia has always been a key city in the struggle for democracy. It is up to all of us to keep fighting for it.

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