Three months into the Biden/Harris Administration, Democrats are in danger of becoming complacent. As we continue to celebrate the victory of the people’s vote prevailing, too many of us are ignoring the rise of the far right in states like Texas, Arizona and Georgia. If we don’t act soon, we’ll be in a worse place than we were four years ago.

Over the past 40 years, Republicans have quietly amassed power in a majority of state legislatures, and they have used it to make it harder for people to vote. Just this year, the Brennan Center reports that at least 360 new bills that restrict voting access have been proposed—a seventh of which have been introduced in Texas alone. Most recently, Republicans in Georgia responded to their narrow loss in 2020 by perpetuating lies and passing a sweeping set of voter suppression laws that President Biden himself called “The New Jim Crow.”

Although a historically expansive election reform measure is moving through Congress, HR1/S1’s passage is not guaranteed. And even if it does pass, the same kind of Republicans that brought us Jim Crow 2.0 will leverage their power in the states to undermine every aspect of its implementation.

There is an antidote — building progressive power in the states, starting with long-term, community-based organizing. We know that it took over ten years for New Virginia Majority to lay the groundwork for a blue trifecta in the Commonwealth. For more than a decade, the Texas Organizing Project has rallied Texas’ rapidly empurpling electorate; efforts that helped yield the highest voter turnout Texas has experienced in nearly 30 years. And it was the many years of LUCHA organizing Latino immigrants in Arizona, and New Georgia Project organizing Black women that turned these states into real battlegrounds in 2020.

These organizers and many more built real power by talking to their neighbors about issues that mattered to them all year round, not just in the lead-up to election day. They support candidates and will help them win, but then also hold legislators’ feet to the fire to ensure that they deliver on their promises — and voting rights is now center stage.

My organization, Sister District, was proud to be part of the broad coalition that helped deliver a Democratic trifecta in Virginia for the first time in two decades in 2019. As part of a community of activists from across the country, our volunteers raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and contacted hundreds of thousands of voters through calls, door knocks, postcards, and texts to help get our candidates over the finish line. The result has been an unbelievable swath of progressive legislation, including a ground-breaking first-in-the-south voting rights act that enshrines protections against voter discrimination based on race, color and language.

These electoral victories and the subsequent policy changes were built on the foundation of years of work that continues every day. It takes year-round canvassing and relationship-building to create trust in communities, change hearts and minds, and create purple district opportunities that are ripe for flipping.

That’s why this spring, Sister District will deploy its powerful grassroots fundraising machine to support exactly these types of organizations by launching our new program, State Bridges. By taking this step, we build on the momentum created by leaders like Movement Voter Project and Way to Win in highlighting this critical part of the progressive infrastructure, all while enabling volunteers and donors to deepen their work in states where they are supporting candidates.

If we want to reverse the blatantly discriminatory voting practices that Republicans are pushing for in the next two years, we must learn from the statewide successes of states like Arizona, Georgia, and Virginia, and support community-based organizations fighting these attacks on our democracy and building power to expand the electorate every single day.

As an ecosystem, we must complement and strengthen our electoral work by elevating the long-term strategies of in-state organizers that center young people, women, and people of color. We must see all of this work as a whole. Organizers on the ground continue to do this work—now everyone else has to recognize it and stand with them. 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Lala Wu, co-founder and executive director of Sister District. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Wu can be reached by email via: [email protected]

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Lala Wu
is a Co-Founder and the Executive Director of Sister District, which builds enduring progressive power in state legislatures by winning elections, supporting organizers, developing legislators, and educating and empowering. Previously, as the Director of Engagement and Partnerships, she successfully led the expansion of the organization's national volunteer infrastructure to over 150 active teams and affiliates, which have raised over $3.6m for state legislative candidates and reached out to over 3m voters through doors, calls, texts, and postcards on behalf of nearly 120 races in 17 states. Prior to Sister District, Lala was an attorney in the environment and energy group at Morrison & Foerster LLP. Prior to that, she clerked for federal judges in the Northern District of California and the District of Massachusetts. She graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University and U.C. Berkeley, School of Law.