When Sen. Kyrsten Sinema raised her hand and ran for Senate in 2018, she said she wanted to help others realize the American dream because that dream came true for her, and, inherent in that dream was reaching out to help those who need a hand. Now, Sinema is reaching out, but to give a thumbs down on a litany of the most urgent needs of Black and brown people in Arizona and across the country. At the top of that list is protecting and expanding the right to vote with the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act as people in our home state are actively trying to undermine our democracy and make it harder for Black and Brown Arizonans to vote.
I have been a minister and the leader of the African American Christian Clergy Coalition for nine years and trained at historically Black colleges and universities in the cradle of the civil rights movement. Throughout my life, I have been trained by Black religious leaders who have taught me that the teachings of the Bible cannot be purely academic. The values of the gospel are to be a guiding light as to how we treat “the least of us” – the poor, the captives, the oppressed, the blind. Fighting for the dignity of all people is not something to do in addition to preaching the gospel – it is the gospel.
It is that gospel that has kept the Black church in the foreground of the movement for civil rights and social justice for centuries. It is the Black church that has often been the most vocal about the right to vote being sacred and immutable. That’s why over the last few years, our association of churches led Arizona’s first “Souls to the Polls” drives in 2018, helping to get our brothers and sisters out to vote. We have served as poll watchers and poll monitors for elections for years in Maricopa County. In 2020, we held the Good Trouble voter registration drive, registering our friends and neighbors to vote. We have held press conferences and attended congressional field hearings, to hold power to account so that the least of us can be free from oppression. We are doing our part to help secure the right to vote in Arizona. Sinema is not doing hers.
The late, great U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community.” In the face of attacks on the very idea of free and fair elections, democracy in America must be jealously protected and Sinema, thus far, has not been up to the task. Last month, she stood alongside U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and defended the filibuster, a Jim Crow relic that has historically crushed civil rights legislation and defended white supremacy. She continues to value the symbolism of bipartisanship over the substance of protecting the right to vote for her constituents and the voters who sent her to Washington.
We sent Sinema to represent us and, to this point, she has not done that when it comes to the things that Black and Brown voters need most urgently. While she cosponsors the For the People Act, her support is merely symbolic until she is willing to eliminate the filibuster. She calls Lewis her hero, yet refuses to make hard choices to protect voting rights in our country. The progress that Lewis and so many others bled for, the progress we take for granted now was anything but inevitable. It took the courage and grace and determination of brave Americans across the country to secure that progress. We are not asking her to put her life on the line for the franchise as they did, we are simply asking that she take a stand against the assault on our democracy happening right under her nose.
The Book of James tells us that the testing of our faith produces perseverance. Our faith in our community and in our democracy has been tested since the Founding and each time we have been tested, we have persevered, taking one small step forward toward the ideals we aim for: liberty and justice for all. Now, as our community and our democracy are being tested once again, Sinema has the opportunity to persevere and help us take that step this time. We cannot, however, move forward as a state, as a country, or as a democracy so long as Sinema defends this Jim Crow relic that is the filibuster more zealously than she does her own constituents’ right to vote.
Reginald D. Walton serves as chair of civic engagement for the Arican American Christian Clergy Coalition. He lives in Phoenix.