The Promise of Our Democracy Is in Our Hands

By Aklima Khondoker

John Lewis carried the promise of our democracy in his hands.

Back in 2018, at Atlanta’s March for Our Lives protest, Congressman Lewis shared that promise with me. Our paths for the day were separate and distinct: Congressman Lewis, along with activists, carried banners, chanted, and marched with students, while I assembled and supervised legal observers along the march route. After the march concluded, I sat wearily on the sidewalk, my printed signs and tiredness hanging over me. Then, to my surprise, a fully tinted black SUV stopped in front of me. The back passenger window lowered to reveal John Lewis inside. He waved me over to him. When I approached, he extended his hand to thank me for my service and encouraged me to carry on — even when I was tired, and even when my duty for the day ended. There was still work to be done, and more for me to do.

Congressman Lewis extended more than a hand for me to shake that afternoon. He extended a promise — one that is worth tiredness and strife; one that is worth achy feet, anguish, and a thirst that remains unquenched. That promise is for a democracy full of the possibilities of this nation: love, togetherness, compassion, fairness, equality, and truth. It is a promise that he stood for, that he sat for, that he bled for, and that he passed on to all of us to uphold.

America is now at a turning point. Because of the longstanding challenges facing our democracy, we are called to extend its promise to everyone in this fight. We are called to lift each other up, to keep fighting, and to demand a democracy that thrives for the people, where we all participate through our vote. 

But with less than 90 days until the general election, states, including Georgia, are falling far short of fulfilling their commitment to democracy — to ensure every voter can safely cast a ballot that counts.

If lawmakers are going to honor both the life and legacy of Congressman Lewis and the oath they swore to uphold our democracy, they must take action. That means pushing for urgent election funding, democracy reform, and full restoration of the Voting Rights Act. Empty words are not enough. Only action will suffice.

The U.S. Senate must provide $3.6 billion in the next COVID-19 stimulus package to ensure that our elections are safe and accessible for voters during the pandemic and beyond. Senators must also restore and expand voting rights through the newly named John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4). This legislation would restore the Voting Rights Act — critical voting rights legislation —  that was weakened by the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. That decision made it possible for state and local officials in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to adopt policies that either make it harder for people to vote or outright deny their right to vote — a critical right that binds us to lasting change in our communities. Voting connects us to one another by giving us access to the benefits of our community. Whether it’s access to schools where children of all races may learn together or access to justice when a community member is wronged, voting gives us the chance to combine our community’s strength for change, for justice, for peace, and for equality.

Unfortunately, H.R. 4 did not pass the Senate before Congressman Lewis passed on. It is now up to us to carry the promise of a democracy by the people, for the people. The people who are tired and weary, who ache and thirst for change yet to be realized. But like Congressman Lewis, we must stay hopeful and persistent. We must show up, day after day, for a democracy that works for us all.

TAKE ACTION: Tell your senators they must allocate $3.6 billion in funding in the next COVID-19 relief package so Americans don’t have to choose between their health and their vote. Click here ›

Aklima Khondoker is the Georgia state director of All Voting is Local.