Reflecting on January 6: An Open Letter from BISC’s Executive Director
One year ago, we witnessed a violent insurrection on the United States Capitol by white supremacists. When I went back and reread the statement I made about last year’s attack, I realized so much of what I had written remains true today.
January 6 wasn’t a moment in time nor the first time white nationalists have attempted to destroy our democracy. It wasn’t the first time leaders in government incited violence or failed to hold white supremacists accountable. White supremacy remains the greatest imminent threat to American democracy, but it is also the foundation it was built upon. The reality is, our democracy isn’t broken — it is working as designed.
So where do we go from here?
I still believe in the promise of our democracy. I still believe the very people who were excluded from our democracy from its inception are the ones who can help us realize that promise. In fact, there is no path forward without doubling down investment in Black, Indigenous, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latinx, queer, immigrant, and low income communities. We cannot create an inclusive, representative, and participatory democracy without dismantling white supremacy and structural racism.
So, here is what we must do immediately.
There is mounting evidence that shows Republican elected leaders helped plan, promote, and excuse January 6th. Protecting the will of the people and the integrity of our elections should not be partisan. We must hold those officials accountable. We must also come together and demand that the U.S. Senate pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. We are in the middle of 2022 midterm elections and we must work together to ensure that trusted local election officials count every vote, and prevent partisan politicians from sabotaging the results of our elections. But each of these steps are defensive–we can no longer reform our way out of this. As I said before — our democracy is working as designed, and the foundation was built on white supremacy and structural racism.
It is time we build something new.
Our values of liberty, justice, the pursuit of happiness, and equality are still integral. It is still We the People, and this time it is about ALL OF US. Equality isn’t enough anymore because we all don’t need the same things. Some of us have more power and privilege. Some of us are treated with dignity from our first breath. Some of us have opportunities to thrive. If we are going to build an equitable democracy where everyone has a voice, then we need to reimagine what our democracy encompasses.
We have reimagined and made changes to our democracy before. Ballot measures themselves are a reimagination of our democracy. They were created because state and local governments were not listening to the people. We tried a new way of governing that put power directly into the people’s hands to legislate. That is why we call it direct democracy. Have the outcomes always been exactly what we wanted? No. But the outcomes of representative democracy haven’t resulted in everything we want either.
Aren’t curiosity, experimentation, and innovation things we deeply value as a society, too? Maybe it is multi-member districts, eliminating the electoral college, voter registration at birth, or something we haven’t even spoken into existence.
We may not have all the answers right now, but isn’t it worth dreaming about what our democracy could be?
January 6th was a wake up call to all of us that our democracy is fragile — that there are those who will betray our democracy to maintain power. But I remember the day before when Georgia voters did what others thought was impossible. And it started with a dream led by Black women who I know are not done dreaming.
I still believe that ballot measures offer us an opportunity to co-govern with our representatives at every level of government. They put the power in the people’s hands to demand a democracy free from white supremacy. I believe they offer us an opportunity to experiment and reimagine. And BISC is working hard to defend direct democracy. Whatever we dream for our democracy is worth creating together. We may not always get it right. We may fail a couple of times. But we deserve the opportunity to try. BISC is here to support all of us along the journey to that world beyond the horizon where equity and justice prevail and our democracy serves the People.
Chris Melody Fields Figueredo
Executive Director, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center