August is usually the hottest month of the year in every single city and state in the United States. This has been especially true this year, as climate change has driven unprecedented temperatures. The heat of August is not limited to climate alone but to the significant events that have taken place at this time of year in our democracy’s history.
Did you know that the word august means “respected and impressive”? Perhaps this is why so many profound events in America’s history have occurred in August.
Two hundred and forty-six years ago, the colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. While the Declaration of Independence was adopted and finalized on July 4, 1776, the majority of the signatures weren’t captured until August 2, 1776. (If you haven’t read the Declaration of Independence thoroughly, it’s worth the read, if not completely for the irony of the colonial leaders’ indignation toward their own maltreatment which was but a mirror of their continued exploitation and oppression of the Indigenous peoples who inhabited the land and the Africans they enslaved to work and build this democracy.)
Brittanica.com notes, “The Declaration of Independence states three basic ideas: (1) God made all men equal and gave them the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; (2) the main business of government is to protect these rights; (3) if a government tries to withhold these rights, the people are free to revolt and to set up a new government.” Today in this country, residents and citizens alike are fighting for their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Day and night, elected leaders are making decisions about you and me, our future, our families, and our rights – with and/or without us. With recent decisions by the Supreme Court and lower courts, one would question whether our rights are being withheld and our choices are being revoked – choices that are directly related to our health, well-being, education, and economic security. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, your voice matters.
Your voice is critical, and so is your vote. That’s why in August of 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Up until then, not everyone in the United States had the right to vote. The Act deferred the literacy, knowledge, and character tests designed to keep people of color, specifically African Americans, from voting in the South. It also instituted federal voting examiners, banned poll taxes, and ensured that the right to vote is not denied based on race. Some forty years earlier, in August of 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, granting women the right to vote.
Fast forward to the summer of 2021, when Connecticut, along with New York and Washington, enacted legislation restoring voting rights to citizens on parole (CT Public Act No. 21-2). This Act also requires the secretary of the state to contract with an individual to serve as an election monitor in any municipality with a population of at least 140,000 for the 2021 municipal election and 2022 state election. While new legislation like Connecticut’s made it easier for people to vote, some states introduced bills that made it more difficult for eligible voters to cast their ballots.
There are a few more notable August events that have had an impact on how we view our democracy, public policy, and those who lead. Forever changing how we view social policy, President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935, which created the foundation for our modern-day retirement insurance and unemployment insurance. The paradigm-shifting March on Washington occurred on August 28, 1963, forever an imprint of the fight for civil and equal rights for all residents of this great land. We are still waiting for true freedom and equitable policies to ring for all, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of delivering his famous speech that day.
In the realm of notoriety in the executive branch, three events remain etched in our minds across three generations.
1. Richard M. Nixon became the only President to ever resign the presidency on August 9, 1974.
2. Over two decades later, on August 17, 1998, Bill Clinton became the first sitting President to give testimony before a grand jury in which he was the primary focus of the investigation.
3. Nearly 48 years to the date of Nixon’s resignation, on August 8, 2022, the Florida estate of former President Donald J. Trump was searched by the FBI as part of a Presidential records investigation in which the former president is alleged to have removed official Presidential records from the White House.
Fortunately, our leaders’ poor (or criminal) conduct does not prevent the wheels of democracy from continuing to turn. This month, Connecticut and 14 other states held primaries in preparation for elections in November 2022. This August also saw the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S. Senate, with a tiebreaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris. As stated in the official summary by Congressional Democrats, “The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 will make a historic down payment on deficit reduction to fight inflation, invest in domestic energy production and manufacturing, and reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030. The bill will also finally allow Medicare to negotiate for prescription drug prices and extend the expanded Affordable Care Act program for three years, through 2025.” The reconciliation package now moves to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass swiftly, bringing relief to many families navigating fluctuating gas prices, increasing interest rates, inflated rents, and greater than average grocery bills.
Indeed, August is a most impressive month in our democracy year over year; take notice, stay engaged, and make your voice heard.