In late August 1776, the British redcoats routed George Washington’s Continental Army in the Battle of Brooklyn, capturing, wounding and killing more than 2,000 American troops. Washington and his remaining soldiers were surrounded by the Brits with the East River to their backs.
Had he continued to fight or surrendered, the American Revolution would have been over less than two months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But with amazing stealth, Washington led 9,000 troops across the river and into Manhattan. New York City would be under British control through the end of the war, but because of the retreat, Washington and his men lived to fight until independence was won.
In Selma, on March 9, 1965, two days after “Bloody Sunday” in which marchers led by John Lewis and Hosea Williams were beaten by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Martin Luther King Jr. led a march to the foot of the bridge. Blocked by troopers, King knelt and led the 2,000 marchers in prayer before turning around.
King was derided as a coward, but there was an injunction against the march and had he violated it, had he not retreated, King would have endangered lives and the cause for voting rights. Less than two weeks later, King led the five-day march to Montgomery, which would culminate Aug.6 with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act.
The Selma campaign in 1965 was a continuation and culmination of what began with the American Revolution in 1776.
Two brilliant tacticians —Washington and King — understood that sometimes you must retreat to keep fighting. It’s something understood by the more than 50 Texas House Democrats who recently retreated from their posts in Austin to prevent Texas from becoming the 18th state this year in which a Republican-led statehouse passed suppressive a voting bill, which experts say disproportionately hurts Black and Latino voters.
Like their walkout in May, which kept the legislation from passing during the regular session, this walkout only delays the inevitable. They don’t have the numbers to defeat the measures, and while they may be able to run out the clock in this special session, Gov. Greg Abbott can continue calling 30-day special sessions until the Democrats must return.
By denying a quorum in which the House can conduct business, they used the only remaining weapon in their arsenal. Most important, they went to Washington to pressure President Joe Biden and Democratic senators, saying the multistate assault on voting rights can only be stopped by passage of the For the People Act, a sweeping federal elections bill, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, a critical section of the Voting Rights Act gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013.
But their passage is impossible if the filibuster exists because it requires 60 votes for passage of a bill instead of a simple majority. Biden’s impassioned speech July 13 on voting rights may have been the best of his young presidency, but he didn’t lay out how he and the Democratic majorities will protect those voting rights. He never mentioned “filibuster.”
Still, the Texas House Democrats may make this work. By dramatically seizing the national stage on voting rights and relentlessly lobbying Democratic senators such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia, they may yet shame them into carving out an exception to the filibuster when it comes to voting rights, an idea to which Manchin is open.
Protecting democracy and stopping a Big Lie-fueled encroachment on voting rights should be a bipartisan mission. But it’s not.
In retreating to Washington and prolonging the fight to preserve what we thought was won and secured in Selma, Texas House Democrats are continuing the march across that bridge.
San Antonio Express-News