Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. CC ’73, LAW ’76 spoke to Columbia students about his new book Our Unfinished March: The Violent Past and Imperiled Future of the Vote in an event alongside Professor Frank A. Guridy at Low Library on Thursday evening.

On Thursday, Attorney General and Columbia graduate Eric Holder spoke at Low Library about his new book Our Unfinished March. The event was opened with a speech from Dean of Columbia College Josef Sorett and moderated by Professor Frank A. Guridy, Executive Director of Eric Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights. The Eric Holder Initiative is housed at Columbia. 

In his introduction, Sorett spoke about opening up Columbia’s Core Curriculum and helping students to make a positive impact using the Core, while Professor Guridy noted that there is “no shortage of challenges students can use a Columbia education to address” in helping “cultivate a broad conception of justice.”

Mr. Holder spoke at length about the history of the vote, his time in office, and the steps that need to be taken to protect democracy going forward, proffering advice on how American citizens and Columbia students alike could support democracy and access to the vote. Holder noted that Our Unfinished March was “an optimistic book,” sharing that “[i]n some way, I want to be a part of the movement…I want to be a part of that army for positive change,” which contributes to his “enduring affection” for Columbia.

Speaking on his entry into office, Holder shared that he “thought the primary focus of [his time in office] would be national security issues,” but that the “empowerment of Republicans in state legislatures because of redistricting” showed him the urgent need to prioritize the issue and to “use the Justice Department to fight.” Holder noted that when “scholars look at [the results of the 2010 midterm elections], it is as a result of gerrymandering,” which pushed him to find solutions, both during his time in office and after as the Chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

Some of the actionable items from the book—which were highlighted during the discussion—included introducing term limits of 18 years for Supreme Court Justices to end the practice of timing retirement, expanding the Supreme Court in the short term, doing away with the filibuster, making election day a national holiday, ensuring 14 days of guaranteed early voting, and getting rid of the Electoral College. 

Holder also noted that “vote by mail increases turnout, and doesn’t help one side or the other,” and should continue to be expanded. “We, as Democrats… have to play the long game. We should be engaged in this stuff all the time; we have got to get more organized, more focused,” he reflected moments later. And he emphasized the importance of fair redistricting maps and the upcoming November elections: “If the maps are fair, [Democrats and Progressives] have better candidates, better positions…there is nothing more important than remembering: democracy is on the ballot this November.”

Holder shared that a realistic way to look at democracy is as a “constant struggle on whose voice is heard and whose voice counts” and that “this nation, this American experiment, is ongoing, one where we’ve succeeded and one where we’ve failed.” Holder sees this as a call to continue working until we succeed, despite intentional efforts to limit democracy. Later, he noted: “I understand the pessimism, but we can’t let it be so infused in us that it leads to inaction. Suffragettes had to imagine a world they had never seen…they pushed through that, and that’s essentially what we need to do now.” Holder noted that with “continued time, focus, and commitment, we can do it.” 

Remembering the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” Holder advised: “Put your hand on that arc and pull it towards justice.” Mr. Holder concluded with words of encouragement for the students gathered in Low Library and beyond:

“Read the book. Be moved by the book and the classes you take at this great institution. Find a way to be engaged, find a way to be moved. We can do this.”

Book Discussion via Kyra Chassaing