If there is a “foundation” for the chilling new documentary All In: The Fight For Democracy (from Amazon Studios and directors Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus, in theaters September 9, streaming on Prime Video as of the 18th), it is the instance where we are reminded that although the Constitution read, “We the people,” when it was drawn up, the “people” did not include women, Blacks, Native Americans or even young people—and for quite a long time, actually. Rather, it was only white male property owners who at the time had the right to vote…about 6% of the population.
From that inconvenient truth springs an ongoing history of voter suppression in America, which here is employed and dissected to emphasize the seriousness of what happened in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race. Had she won, Stacey Abrams, whom the doc is built around and who does much of the talking, would have been the first Black female governor in America. But beyond the symbolic loss, the racially motivated efforts to manipulate the vote carried out by opposing candidate Brian Kemp and the Republican Party go a long way to explaining how foreign governments (okay, Russia) had managed to step in and interfere with the 2016 presidential election, while everyone seemingly just looked the other way.
Abrams’ “concession” speech said it all: “To watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in this state baldly pin his hope for 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 as right, or true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that.”
The film then reaches back through her inspiring story, coming from a family that had so little, but who all volunteered at soup kitchens and homeless shelters. She was also taught civic responsibility from a very early age; in an interview her mom recalls, “When those kids were growing up, every time we voted we took them with us. And they saw us cast our ballot.”
We are then taken through the heartbreaking but genuinely heroic history of African Americans fighting for the right to vote, which eventually arrives at the recently deceased Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis famously leading a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama in the spring of 1965. They were met with a violent, and unnecessary police response.
Fast forward, and Justice John Roberts is spearheading the insidious Supreme Court effort to gut the Voting Rights Act—something at which he actually managed to succeed in 2013.
Most entertainingly, though, the stars of contemporary punditry get trotted out, making for a few good laughs. Fox crackpot Lou Dobbs is seen ranting about Nancy Pelosi’s efforts to push for mail-in voting. (And Trump then literally admits that allowing it would mean no Republican would ever be elected again.) Meanwhile, in a clip from his influential HBO show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver sneers, “If you’re gerrymandering to disadvantage minorities yes, that is illegal, under the Voting Rights Act. But if you’re gerrymandering to disadvantage voters of an opposing political party, that has generally been allowed.”
And there you have it.
But surely the doc’s most poignant moment comes via an interview with an unidentified, elderly Black man, who puts it nothing less than bluntly, “I’ve lived in America all my life, and I never seen democracy yet. So I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
If we’re going to not let him down this November, All In: The Fight For Democracy, is certainly a good start.