In the initial portion of the 2020 documentary film All In: The Fight for Democracy, you see Stacey Abrams, politician, lawyer and voter rights activist speaking at a function after her loss by a slender margin to former Secretary of State of Georgia, Brian Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial election. The election was marked by accusations that Kemp resorted to voter suppression.
As a development in the US, the scene is arguably irrelevant to India although the US and India are among the world’s biggest democracies. But as a piece of articulation, what Abrams says in the film is priceless for its healthy blend of fact and emotion. Besides serving as spine for the documentary which deals with the suppression of voting rights in the US, the speech shines for its choice of words. Her address has been spliced into parts that appear at various points in the narrative.
In the portion affixed near the beginning – it eases us into the film – she says, “ to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people and the state, boldly pin his hopes for the election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling. So let’s be clear – this is not a speech of concession, because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I can’t concede that.’’ Later, towards the movie’s end, there is this portion, “ pundits and hyper-partisans will hear my words as a rejection of the normal order. You see, I am supposed to say nice things and accept my fate. They will complain that I should not use this moment to recap what was done wrong or to demand a remedy. You see, as a leader, I should be stoic in my outrage and silent in my rebuke. But stoicism is a luxury and silence is a weapon for those who would quiet the voices of the people. And I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right.’’
As said, this film is rooted in the American context. At a time when political and economic inequality is a burning issue globally and the Black Lives Matter movement has been gaining traction in the US, it shows us how the voting rights of the African American community (and other minorities) were hemmed in by a series of regressive laws and practices in the US, even after the country officially embraced democracy and diversity. Notwithstanding its story born in the US, the film holds much value for democracies everywhere, including India, the world’s biggest democracy. These are times when democracy is facing multiple challenges and the vast majority of us cannot even explain what is going wrong although we are dead sure of the rot by subversion. We know the fault isn’t democracy’s; the fault lay in how it got subverted by powerful forces. Yet many of us have begun dodging the subject and more dangerously, commenced justifying it and even trashing democracy for its inherent imperfection and lack of industrial efficiency. For nothing but the clarity resident in the words from her speech, Abrams appeared worth listening to in these times rendered murky by storms of mistruths and misinterpretations.
That said, this film is not about her; it is about the larger and older problem of voter suppression and the subject has been beautifully explored with the story of Abrams as contemporary backbone holding things together. The film exhorts us to value our democratic right to vote and back that simple act constituting the bedrock of democracy with considerable awareness. Above all, it warns us to be vigilant of the many ways in which the right to vote is systematically weakened by well entrenched forces seeking a world cast to their convenience.
The film is available on Amazon Prime. Don’t miss it; especially, if you live in a democracy.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)