Why is the United States, that supposed bastion of freedom and democracy, such an unfree, undemocratic mess? Haha and *LOLsob*. This is a trick question: there are many reasons for the sorry state of American affairs. But a really big one is the ongoing campaign to suppress the vote. And by “ongoing,” I mean basically since the founding of the nation.
All In: The Fight for Democracy, now streaming on Amazon Prime, is a short, enlightening, enraging history of all the ways in which America has attempted to bar its citizens from voting, and often succeeded herein, plus a primer on what Americans can do right now, in this vitally important election year, to ensure that our voices are heard. Because literally the future of the nation and the planet depends on what happens in the next few weeks. (Joe Biden might be forced to take serious action on global warming. Donald Trump won’t be.)
Filmmakers Lisa Cortes (Precious) and Liz Garbus (Lost Girls, What Happened, Miss Simone?) filter this illiberal history of America through the lens of Stacey Abrams, who lost in her bid to become governor of the state of Georgia in 2018 thanks to outrageous voter-suppression shenanigans led by her opponent, Republican nominee Brian Kemp, who was, as secretary of state for Georgia also in charge of running the election. Which is some straight-up bullshit right there. The delightfully personable and suitably outraged Abrams and a slew of historians and academics — including, perhaps most passionately, Carol Anderson, professor of African-American Studies at Emory University — lead us through the full litany of undemocratic nonsense that has characterized voting in the United States. From the limiting of the vote, originally, to white male property owners (who made up, we are told, only 6 percent of the first Americans!) to the poll taxes and “literary tests” of the Jim Crow era to the disenfranchisement today of convicted felons — a cohort disproportionately and unjustly made up of black men suffering a punishment no other nation imposes — much of this will be news to many Americans, for whom an education in civics is woefully lacking. (This is by design, too.)
And what’s happening today? After Barack Obama brought 50 million new voters to the polls in 2008, those who would wish to reduce the power of nonwhite, nonwealthy people to have a say in how the nation is run ramped up all-new ways to suppress votes. Gerrymandering — the act of redrawing congressional districts to manipulate who can win — got a new boost, but new crimes nowadays included dodgy purges of registered voters from the electoral rolls and pushes for ID requirements to counteract nonexistent voter fraud (but which handily exclude many poor people). More profoundly, and almost evilly simple, access to the vote can be reduced by merely closing polling places, causing hours-long waits at those that remain open that stymie those citizens who cannot take a day off from work or family responsibilities to vote. (Election Day is not a holiday in the US, as it is in many countries. Because of course.)
All In is up-to-date enough to include coverage of some presidential primary elections in the US earlier this year, in which pandemic-related issues impacted the ability of many citizens to vote, as well as the cynical and very calculated campaign by Donald Trump and his footsoldiers to cast doubt on voting by mail, as many more people will do this year than ever before, for obvious reasons. It seems likely that 2020 will test American democracy, and its citizens’ access to it, as never before. All In is a call to action, for Americans to be prepared to have to fight for their right to vote, with suggestions on how to do that. (You don’t even have to watch the movie to do so. See AllInForVoting.com for all the resources you need in order to check your registration status, find your polling place, and more.) Make a plan, All In desperately implores. Be prepared. Don’t let the bastards trip you up.
You’ve probably heard the aphorism that goes: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal,” variously attributed, all apocryphally, to Mark Twain, Emma Goldman, and George Carlin (and probably others). It’s a pithy encapsulation of the suspicion that Americans have imbued in what is meant to be a fundamental right of citizenship in a democratic society. That doubt is deliberately cultivated, too. But it’s perfectly plain that the powers that be in the United States have long been striving to ensure that as few people as possible can vote. If your vote didn’t matter, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to suppress it. Don’t let them get away with it.