Rev. Dr. Cathy Patterson: Securing our Democracy is Imperative For Black Liberation

By Rev. Dr. Cathy Patterson

Since I was a young girl, I knew that my life would be intrinsically intertwined with fighting for democratic integrity and tackling systemic racism within this country. I think back to when I was growing up in Minnesota, where my neighbors took a number of unlawful actions in an effort to get my family to move from our home since we integrated our community. 

One evening, they came with torches and guns and threatened to burn our house down and shoot us if we didn’t move. We were saved when my father went outside, shot a luger pistol he had brought home with him from WWII, and shouted, “If I defended my country in the War don’t you think I won’t fight to defend my family?” My family’s persistence, advocacy, and bravery did not go unpunished. I remember vividly to this day several atrocities perpetrated against my brothers, sisters, and me at school, in our community, and even at our home that made it almost impossible for us to settle peacefully in the neighborhood we lived in.

Stories like mine are not rare or unique. Black and brown folks across the country have always lacked equitable influence and power in this country due to the embedded racism within the founding of the United States. We’ve never been able to reap the full benefits of our democracy, including the ability to vote and access education and opportunities to achieve the American dream.

That’s why we have observed Black History Month every year since 1926. Black History Month is not only a time to celebrate the accomplishments, contributions, and legacy of the Black diaspora but also a time to recommit to addressing the issues that directly affect the community and get organized about the work before us.

It’s been almost 59 years since the Voting Rights Act expanded protections to undo the political hold of Jim Crow and related discriminatory policies nationwide. However, in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act encouraging state legislatures to adjust their procedures for election to make it harder for Black people to vote. In response, states all across the U.S. used this opportunity to pass strict photo-ID laws, close polling places in Black neighborhoods, and tighten restrictions to make it harder for Black people to vote.

Right now, our country is at a crossroads in addressing systemic racism and securing our democracy. We have tried to pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 14), to undo the harm of the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013. However, anti-democracy politicians in Congress continue to mobilize their base in opposition to this crucial piece of legislation toward racial equality. These politicians continue to spread lies about our elections and make it harder for people like me to vote.

I, for one, am tired. Black people across the country are tired. In the words of the late civil rights champion Fannie Lou Hamer, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” of demanding our fundamental constitutional rights as citizens to have unfettered access to vote. And when we cast our ballots, there should be no dispute about whether our votes count.

In 2016, a dear friend of mine who was the President of the Maricopa County Branch NAACP held a press conference after the general election to report that in South Phoenix — a historically redlined, predominantly Black neighborhood — there were very few voting locations allocated, causing long lines. Many of the machines at these locations did not operate properly. The culmination of these issues greatly contributed to backlogs and people in the community being unable to vote.

We fought so hard for the right to vote, which is why we have to ensure situations like this do not happen again.

As a faith leader and activist with pro-democracy organizations like Courage for America, I talk to a lot of people about the promises of this country. I’ve had countless conversations about why these promises, including our freedoms to make our voices heard, should extend to all people, regardless of the color of their skin or the god they serve. 

Let me be clear, these conversations give me immense hope.

I am ready for a world where Black and brown kids can register to vote and not be held back from engaging in our election process simply because of who they are or where they live. I am ready for a country where the sanctity of our democracy is held in such high regard that any transgressions against it are treated as a threat to our society. 

On this final day of Black History Month, let us commit to securing our democracy, as it is imperative for Black liberation. Black people in this country deserve this, and it is long overdue.

Rev. Dr. Cathy Clardy Patterson is a Courage for America Councilmember based in Scottsdale, AZ with an extensive career spanning law, finance, and ministerial roles. Rev. Dr. Patterson works to counteract, delegitimize, and shift the narrative around MAGA extremists’ anti-democratic policies in Congress and across the country.

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