The foundation of the United States has always been taught as move from a tyrannical monarchy to a representative democracy, one where every citizen would have a say in who they were governed by. The problem is, as the new documentary All In: The Fight for Democracy expertly lays out, that democratic ideal has been a lie from the very start, and it continues to be a lie to this day.
Directed by Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus, the film mostly tells history of voter suppression in the United States. It may not have been labeled as such when the Founding Fathers created the country, but since only white male landowners — who represented just 6 percent of the population — were allowed to vote at that time, that’s exactly what it was.
Since that time, there have been significant positive steps for voting, including the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which stated voting rights could not be denied based on race; the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote; and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting. However, as the film shows, each one was followed by steps from either states or the federal government to continue restricting voting rights.
These measures have included poll taxes, literacy tests, barring those who have been convicted of a felony, gerrymandering of districts, voter ID laws, voter roll purges, poll closures, and the 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court. While some of those may seem like things of the past, most of them remain current obstacles to voting for many, as seen in footage in the film from recent years, including primaries in 2020.
The film is also partially a biography of Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor in Georgia in 2018, a race which was marred by voter suppression efforts by her opponent, then-Secretary of State and now-Governor Brian Kemp. Following her defeat, Abrams founded Fair Fight, a group which is dedicated to making sure elections are free, fair, and secure. Abrams has advocacy in her blood; her parents took her along to protests when she was young, and she spoke at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington when she was just 19 years old.
Abrams and a variety of other people speak skillfully about how the denial of voting rights is a systemic problem, one that infects every branch of government. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist was a poll watcher in Arizona dating back to the 1960s, who actively prevented Hispanic people from voting. Rehnquist was a mentor to current Chief Justice John Roberts, who has argued against the Voting Rights Act his entire career, and who was key in the 2013 decision to strike at the heart of it.
The good news is that there are plenty of people like Abrams who continue to stand up for everyone’s right to vote, something that resonates more than ever in a year when there is strong opposition to mail-in voting during a pandemic. All In: The Fight for Democracy is a searing indictment of the long history of voter suppression in this country, and yet also a film that remains hopeful that things can be changed for the better.
All In: The Fight for Democracy is playing in select theaters and streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video. It will stream for free on September 22, National Voter Registration Day.