By Senator Lena C. Taylor
This week I boarded a plane and headed to Washington, D.C. Like legislators from more than 30 states, I joined other Wisconsin Democratic elected officials in calling for the U.S. Senate to pass the For the People Act. The plane ride was eerie. I couldn’t shake the idea, that in the year 2021, I was going to the nation’s capital to beg for voter protections for my people. In all of my preparations for the flight, it wasn’t until I peered out to the run way that it hit me like a ton of bricks: 156 years after the official end of slavery, as a Black woman, my right to vote is still not secure.
It was a big deal when national news outlets reported that roughly 50 Texas legislators fled their state. In an effort to delay the passage of restrictive voting legislation, these democratic lawmakers broke camp and left. They needed to buy themselves some time. Frankly, they needed to buy this country some time to do the right thing. In leaving, they denied Texas’ Republican controlled legislature the quorum needed to pass even more regressive and oppressive voting and elections laws. Therefore, when the “all call” went out for help, it was a no brainer. Many of us packed a bag, kissed our families good-bye and headed out for a week.
It wasn’t until the plane ascended into the clouds, that I saw Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. The anticipation of what lie ahead in D.C., wasn’t anything like Mississippi in 1964. Back then, hundreds of volunteers answered a similar call for help: protecting and enhancing the rights of Blacks to vote. While Freedom Summer, or the Mississippi Summer Project, was a voter registration program intended to increase the number of registered Black voters in Mississippi, it had broader and national implications. It was also about fighting voter intimidation and discrimination at the polls. In securing protections for Black voters, all voters would benefit.
Students and people, from all over the county, came to Mississippi to help. They knew it would be difficult and dangerous. As supporters descended on the state, some of them knew there was a chance they might not make it back home. They came any way.
As the plane climbed higher into the darkness, my ears popped and my head began to hurt. It wasn’t a headache though. It was the stress, the frustration, the anger, and the disbelief that this flight was even necessary. When I ran for office, I imagined the big policy debates. I looked forward to discussing ideas, persuasive floor speeches, and working to improve the quality of life for Wisconsin residents. I didn’t see that I would be fighting many of the same battles of my parents and grandparents. I wasn’t prepared for the color of my skin to continue to be a determinant in how I would be treated as a voter. I closed my eyes to stop the pain.
And then the plane landed. Elected officials of every hue and race, socioeconomic background, faith and age, were in the airport. Texas legislators called and they came. And that’s the point this week, as long as there is a need to protect voting rights and equal treatment, we must keep fighting, we must keep coming. To my colleagues, Rep. Christine Sinicki, Rep. David Bowen, Rep. Lakeshia Myers and Patricia Ruiz-Cantu thank you for coming.