Protect and Ensure the Right to Vote: Alphonso David Delivers Remarks at Unite for Equality Live

by Alphonso David

The below remarks are as prepared for delivery at HRC's Unite for Equality Live event.

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask someone who I admired a simple question:

“Assume you are me,” I said. “Running the largest LGBTQ civil rights organization in the world. What would be your number one priority?”

And I received a simple answer in response:

“Alphonso, do everything you can to protect and ensure the right to vote. It is the most important thing.”

That was the advice of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Perhaps not the advice one would expect. After all, Justice Ginsburg knew the fight for LGBTQ equality well. She stood with us to ensure that we are treated with dignity under the law, that our relationships are legally respected, that we are protected from discrimination in the workplace. Justice Ginsburg believed that equality is ever-inclusive.

As this nation is mourning her passing, I have found myself reflecting on her advice to me — again and again. She understood that the right to vote is fundamental to our democracy. It is the right . . . that unlocks all others . . . that allows all voices to be heard, regardless of the color of our skin, our sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or political affiliation.

Justice Ginsburg was not alone in that belief.

In a speech before the Human Rights Campaign in 2016, Congressman John Lewis pleaded to all of us saying: “The vote is precious, almost sacred . . . We need to run, not walk to the polls. Our lives depend on it.”

Four years later, our democracy stands on a precipice. More than 200,000 people have died from COVID-19 with no vaccine in sight, and we are confronting systemic racial injustice that Black and Brown people have endured for far too long in this country. The decision announced yesterday in the Breonna Taylor case is just another stinging reminder.

Our lives depend on what we do now, more than ever before. In the next few weeks, we have the opportunity to take control of our democracy. Election Day arrives in less than 40 days. In many states, early voting has already begun, and mail-in ballots have already been distributed.

The best way to protect our right to vote is to exercise it—and help others do the same. We must indeed run, not walk to the polls. We must speak out, and never be silenced. Because without our participation and active engagement, our democracy can and will be manipulated; it can and will be weakened; it can and will be lost.

Exhibit A – anti-equality forces are trying to stack the Supreme Court. Filling Justice Ginsburg’s seat with less than six weeks before the election is not only the height of hypocrisy; but it has never been done before and it is against the will of the people. A strong majority of voters believe that the next justice should be selected by the next president. Exhibit B – anti-equality forces are also ignoring the needs of the people by failing to take action on legislation to transform policing and on COVID-19, while millions of people are out of work and thousands are dying. There is no legitimacy to government when the will or needs of the people are ignored.

Know this: We are fighting back with all of our partners. And if the Senate fails to listen to us, we will NOT go away. We will hold every single one of them accountable and ensure that a new Congress does everything it can to restore our government.

Yes . . . this is a lot. I know this is a lot to process. It has been a long 4 years and an even longer 6 months. I know that you’re tired. I am tired too. It is easy to feel daunted. It is easy to feel scared — so much feels toxic right now, every corner a disaster, and particularly for marginalized people.

Our opponents want us to give up, to hide, to retreat into silos. They want to silence us; they want to break us.

To break LGBTQ people.

To break Black people.

To break women.

To break immigrants.

To break people living with HIV.

But we are not going to break — Our will is too great. Our cause is too worthy. Our pride is too strong. And history tells us that we can do this. Just look at the movement that we have built together. We have defeated laws that criminalized us, denied us the right to marry, denied us the right to have children. No matter the barrier, we found a path forward. And that is the beauty of our communities. When we step into our light and magnify our power, we have no limits.

Remember that people struggling together can co-create liberation together. It is within this space that we find reserves that we did not know existed. We must dig into our reserves to find every ounce of energy and we must fight — make sure that our senators know that we will hold them accountable, support pro-equality candidates like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, volunteer to get out the vote, and make a plan with your friends, your neighbors and your colleagues to vote. We cannot leave anything up for chance.

And, through it all, remember to dream. That’s what my mother told me all of my life. In these dark days — we cannot forget that we are a community of dreamers. We have already confronted the narrative of impossibility by achieving the impossible. We saw the possibilities, and we made them real. Because we also are a community of builders. And I believe, like the Notorious RBG, that we can build a world that is truly equal.

We have inherited the visions of James Baldwin and Audre Lorde; of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis. Without their work, our country would be less just, our community further marginalized. But we cannot simply enjoy what they left us, we must defend it at all costs.

Principles only mean something if you stick by them in inconvenient times. And as Justice Ginsburg said to me, “Do everything you can.” Now my challenge to you. If you think you are registered to vote, check now. If you are not registered to vote, register now. If you are thinking of staying on the sidelines, please don’t. We all must vote. We need to stand tall on our principles of fairness, justice and equality. And if we do, we will shape the future of our democracy. This should be our number one priority. Let’s push for a revolution — a revolution that reflects the promise of this country; a revolution that memorializes our dreams; a revolution that includes you, includes me and includes all of us. Thank you.