By Mildred "Mit" C. Joyner, DPS, MSW, LCSW
As the 2022 midterm elections approach, we find ourselves facing the most consequential election season in modern history. Citizens across the country will head to the polls to vote in a dangerously polarized political climate. From a civil-and human-rights standpoint, these elections are critical. An example of that notion is how the loss of control of the nomination and confirmation process for filling Supreme Court vacancies resulted in disastrous judicial decisions.
We need only to look at the recent Dobbs v. Jackson abortion-rights decision which overturned Roe v. Wade, after having been a constitutional law for 50 years. Within days of the law being overturned, several states used legislative triggers outlawing abortions. Women, girls and people who can become pregnant are now left at risk and vulnerable without access to abortions. It should be noted that the Dobbs decision came as a direct result of former President Trump’s nomination of three conservative justices to the Supreme Court, all of whom were appointed.
Because much is on the line, all social workers and NASW as a national organization must uphold the Code of Ethics. NASW members must use knowledge and expertise to respond to this adversity. The social work profession must assume a national leadership presence, along with other non-social work voting rights organizations,to respond to the threats against equitable, fair, and accessible voting in the United States. “We, the people” have the constitutional right to vote on the issues that affect all people, and that includes the rights of women, the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color.
The task is daunting. It is no secret that several states have openly adopted voter suppression as a primary tactic. The current devious legislation and policies to deny citizens the right to vote are exceeded only by that of the Jim Crow South. For example, we witnessed injustice in the 2019 Georgia gubernatorial election when the secretary of state purged hundreds of thousands of voters from the voter rolls. Even more ludicrous, we witnessed long voting lines due to having fewer voting locations available in historically Black and Brown communities. Georgia passed legislation making it a crime to give food and water to citizens waiting in line to vote. This law is obviously designed to discourage Black and Brown people from voting.
Perhaps the most ominous tactic to deny free and fair elections in America is the emergence of the “election deniers/Big Lie”movement. This movement’s false assertion is that the 2020 presidential election was invalid due to massive voting fraud on the part of Democrats in several key states — without any evidence to substantiate those claims. More important, this flawed philosophy has given license for state election officials to reject otherwise legitimate election outcomes simply by declaring that voting fraud produced the outcome. The “Big Lie” has gained momentum among millions of Americans, many of whom are in positions of power, which gives reason for major concern.
It is without a doubt that the outcomes of the 2022 midterm and the 2024 presidential elections, if the purveyors of the “Big Lie” and voter suppression prevail, poses an existential threat to America’s democracy. It is important to note that voter suppression is not theoretical. Indeed, as of 2021, lawmakers in 39 states have considered as many as 393 bills that restrict voting. In addition, 18 states have already passed 34 such restrictive voting laws. This, coupled with the demonstrated willingness of supporters of the Big Lie movement to use any means necessary to overturn valid elections, is evidence of how dire and real this situation is for the 2022 midterm elections.
As was the case during past national voting-rights urgencies, social workers can and will demonstrate their leadership and mobilization skills. We each know that our profession must join others to protect voting rights, and in so doing preserve America’s democracy. If the January 6th insurrection and the revelations from the House January 6th Committee taught us anything, the danger to our democratic system is real. However, it is reassuring that advocates of voting rights and civil rights are mobilized in Kansas and protected the right to obtain an abortion.
Social workers, let us replicate these efforts. We must do so in every election. Knock on doors and talk with those you serve, those you work with, your family members, friends, young people, and everyone who is eligible to vote about what is at stake. Let them know the facts and the voting records of everyone on the ballot in their state. Social workers, we must also seek political office at all levels of government. The rights of women, the rights of people of color, the rights of our LGBTQIA+ communities, even the rights of people to marry, arson the ballot. Social workers cannot sit out any election, but must take deliberate actions and purposeful force to bend the arc of justice toward equity for all.
Contact Mit Joyner at firstname.lastname@example.org.