Why We’re Calling to Eliminate the Filibuster

A flag flies outside the US Capitol.
Photo by Gage Skidmore.

The last time Congress attempted to pass sweeping climate legislation was 11 years ago. Democrats held the presidency and both houses of Congress, and were poised to take action to spark a transition to clean energy and get us off the path toward catastrophic climate change. But they were stymied by an obsolete piece of Senate procedure — the filibuster.

Had the filibuster not stood in the way, we’d be so much further along in addressing the climate crisis. From today’s vantage point, we can see the immense cost of not acting on climate change sooner. My state, California, is once again facing extreme drought, and experts see “no mitigating factors’’ that would prevent the state from experiencing yet another record wildfire season. From Midwestern farmers to Texas families, too many of us are now painfully aware of the climate crisis’s heavy toll.

I could tell similar stories about measures to curb gun violence, ensure everyone access to affordable healthcare, and create a more humane immigration system. Though the filibuster has occasionally derailed destructive legislation, it’s overwhelmingly been used by the extremist few to block progress on nearly every major challenge our country faces — progress the majority of Americans have been demanding.

The filibuster, created to empower slave-owning states in the South, was used almost exclusively to block Civil Rights legislation during Jim Crow, and continues to perpetuate our country’s systems of white supremacy. Today, it allows Republicans — who are intent on only representing a small minority — to block the agenda that a diverse group of 80 million Americans voted for President Biden to enact.

It’s time to end the filibuster’s legacy of obstruction. With more than 500,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, a slew of states enacting anti-democratic laws, an unabating crisis of racial injustice, and fires, floods, and hurricanes getting worse every year, we need our government to pass ambitious legislation to build a brighter future — now. The American people voted in record numbers in the November 2020 election to demand change and demand progress. They’ve said it clearly: We can’t afford to wait another 11 years.

That’s why the Sierra Club is calling for the Senate to eliminate the filibuster in its current form. Doing so would open up enormous, perhaps unprecedented opportunities to strengthen our democracy, tackle the climate crisis, and create a more just and equitable country. We could pass the For the People Act, a landmark democracy reform package that would make it easier to vote, curb the influence of big-money donors, and restore voting rights for 1.7 million formerly incarcerated people. We could unlock trillions of dollars and create millions of family-sustaining jobs building the infrastructure for a clean-energy future. We could protect the Arctic, strengthen safeguards for endangered species, and do more to keep our air and water clean. And we could ensure that the demands of the majority are not only heard but acted upon.

This Jim-Crow era rule belongs in the history books — not the legislative chambers where our leaders are supposed to move this country forward. Tell your senator: If we want a more just and sustainable future, the filibuster’s to go.

Dad, husband, executive director of the @sierraclub, writer, Jersey Shore native, Little League coach, #Yankees fan, climate hawk. Optimist. Love the Bay Area.

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