Voting is a right I’ve fought to protect. Our senators need to do the same, right now.

June 9, 2021 4:19 pm

Photo by Getty Images

My fellow Arizonans: I am a hospitality worker, a union member and a voting rights advocate; a Black woman and a mother; a proud Arizonan. I am also a veteran — I served 18 years in the Air Force — and a fighter for my country. 

The liberties that I fought to protect are under attack: Arizona Republicans are pushing laws that will make it much harder for all of us to vote. I have spent my life protecting that right — first in the Air Force, and now as a political organizer — and this has given me a sense of what is at stake now. 

I grew up in Holdenville, Okla. It was a good little town, but it had its share of racism. As a young child, I learned never to cross to the white side of the railroad tracks. But I didn’t want to turn away from my community; I wanted to change it. That’s why I became the first Black female police officer in Holdenville. That’s why, at 26, I joined the Air Force and gave my country a blank check for my life. 

I was deployed ten times. On each mission, I met people living without the rights that we take for granted. I met civilians in Kosovo who were persecuted for their religion. I watched Iraqis celebrate the fall of an authoritarian dictator, only to find their country in chaos after the fact. I saw armed militias attempt to overthrow democratically-elected governments. I believed that we would never go through this back home. 

When Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, I thought to myself, “I’ve seen this before.” I had never expected that pictures from Washington, D.C., would throw me back to memories of Iraq. 

I was in Georgia that day, where I had come with my union, UNITE HERE, to canvass for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the run-off elections for the U.S. Senate. Back in August 202, I had joined our campaign in Arizona. The pandemic had cost me my job at ASU – and besides, I wanted to serve my community again. Every day for four months, I put on my mask and my face shield, braved the Phoenix summer, and went to speak with voters. Maybe I even knocked on your door. 

Through those conversations, I had a close-up view of the election. I saw no fraud. Instead, I spoke to people who wanted badly to vote but were not sure how. They were afraid to fill out the ballot wrong. Some didn’t know how to find their polling place. Some didn’t even know they were registered to vote. 

I learned how important it was that most Arizonans were on the permanent early voter list. This meant they received a mail-in ballot in their home without having to request it for each election. I met many people who told me they would not have voted if they had not been on that list. 

The permanent early voter list was created by Republicans in 2007. Now, just last month, those same Republicans passed a law to remove people from the list if they haven’t voted in the last two election cycles. I know what it looks like when leaders try to prevent their citizens from voting — I’ve served in places where they’ve succeeded. And I know, from my hometown, that we were once like that here in the United States. We could easily turn that way again.

We don’t have to. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill, the For the People Act, which would prevent attacks on voting rights. But the bill is held up in the U.S. Senate because of the filibuster — an old debating rule that requires two-thirds of senators to let the bill come to a vote. I didn’t risk my life for this country just to have an outdated Senate procedure undermine my democratic rights. 

Our own senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, support the For the People Act. They can reform the filibuster and protect our voting rights. We need them to do everything necessary to pass the For the People Act, now.

My fellow veterans are watching this showdown in the Senate, too. We all took an oath to protect America against threats – foreign and domestic. What’s happening with voting rights in Arizona is an attack on America. I started campaigning last year because that is what my military experience taught me to do: fight back to protect our rights. In the Air Force, that meant putting on my uniform and risking my life. Right here and right now, that means pushing our senators to pass the For the People Act. It is their time to serve.

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Marilyn Wilbur
Marilyn Wilbur

Marilyn Wilbur is an 18-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and lives in Surprise with her teenaged son. Marilyn will be joining the Freedom Riders this summer to lobby in DC on the For the People Act.