The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has raised the stakes in the upcoming election, AFT President Randi Weingarten told member activists from across the country who joined a telephone town hall Sept. 22, National Voter Registration Day. The call, which had nearly 24,000 participants, focused on the importance of voter registration, voter protection and voter engagement in this year’s election.
“We need to win this election,” said Weingarten, who encouraged listeners to check that they are registered to vote, talk to friends and family to make sure they’re registered too, and commit to doing one volunteer activity. “It's really about all of us, and it's about all of us being able to have fairness and decency and have a better life for our families,” she said.
Weingarten was joined by Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Weingarten noted that the country is already dealing with four major crises—the pandemic, the economic recession, the reckoning with systemic racism and the consequences of climate change—and that now we face a new challenge: ensuring a fair and balanced Supreme Court for generations to come.
The loss of Ginsburg has made the contrast in this election even more stark, said Weingarten. “Every branch of the government is on the ballot.” With a little more than a month before the presidential election, Republicans will try to will rush an appointment to the Supreme Court, but they have done nothing to help people by passing a new COVID-19 stimulus bill, she said. She reminded listeners that on Nov. 10, the court is expected to decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act. “The Republicans want to get rid of the ACA and, with it, the protection [for people with] pre-existing conditions,” said Weingarten. A Trump appointment to replace Ginsburg “will be a vote to take away the healthcare that we have right now, and the same in terms of labor rights, reproductive rights, women's rights and voting rights.”
“We are in a final moment,” said Jarrett, who is the board chair of When We All Vote, a nonpartisan organization created by former first lady Michelle Obama to increase voter participation. “We have 12 days until the first voter registration deadline. … There are only 42 days left until the election, and early voting has opened up in some states, which means that we have to take all of our energy, frustration and passion of the last four years and really bring it home in this last stretch.”
Jarrett said voter education is critical to creating lifelong voters. “It was troubling to see so many people around the country didn't vote in the last presidential election,” she said. “People have been opting out. We want them to opt in. This is a call to action for all of us to ask ourselves what this election means to us and how much would we be willing to contribute this time to make sure we don't wake up on Nov. 4 feeling that we could have done more. We need to leave it all on the field,” she said.
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Whitehouse will be actively involved in the upcoming hearings for the Supreme Court nominee. Weingarten said the senator has also been sounding the alarm over the changing court.
For years, wealthy right-wing donors have tried to use the courts by putting in federal judges who will undermine the economic and civil rights of regular people, said Weingarten.
“The whole thing is orchestrated by a handful of very secretive donors,” said Whitehouse, “and their job—and they've been at it for a couple of decades now—is to creep up on the Supreme Court and capture it so that it does what they want.”
“But there is something we can do about it,” he said. “Take the power away from Mitch McConnell, put Joe Biden in the Oval Office and put Chuck Schumer in the majority leader's office, and they can do all the jumping around that they want but their court-packing machinery is broken. It doesn't get through the White House and it doesn't get through the Senate. We're only seeing the beginning of the mischief that they're going to be up to if we don't stop this,” said Whitehouse.
“We all collectively have to lean in and try to make sure that everybody we know is voting and that people understand that if they want things to be better, it's not going to happen if they don't vote.”