Another Election Year
“We used to say that ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part. And if we believe in the change we seek, then it is easy to commit to doing all we can, because the responsibility is ours alone to build a better society and a more peaceful world.”
-John Lewis, “Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America”
Congressman John Lewis is one of the young men that led the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965, contributing to the passage of the Voting Rights Act which would enable African American citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote without discrimination.
The series of marches consisted of thousands of civil rights activists and religious leaders who were fighting the discrimination and voter suppression tactics taking place in the segregated South. These brave men and women mobilized to reach their goal of ensuring that we all would be able to make our voices heard in elections.
Unfortunately, the U.S. system of mass incarceration has significantly undermined those very same voting rights.
Today, the population of incarcerated African Americans is grossly disproportionate to their overall population in the country. Because of the removal of most civil rights, including voting rights in many states, there are about 6.1 million people who cannot vote, with 1 in every 13 adult African Americans permanently banned from voting. This fact has made room for the dominant group in society to once again cripple African American voices and political input in this country.
This year A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project (ANWOL) is expanding their voter registration efforts to include those who are newly eligible to vote. The passage of Assembly Bill 2466 in 2016 has made it possible for men and women serving time for a felony conviction in county jails to now make their voices heard through voting.
The passage of this bill comes decades after men and women serving time in jail were denied the opportunity to exercise their right to vote and it’s a great start at tackling the laws that disenfranchise far too many citizens of this country.
With impending elections in June and November, the Voter In-Reach project of ANWOL will begin soon where we will visit county jails to conduct voter registration for those who are eligible.
ANWOL staff and All of Us or None (AOUON) members have submitted applications to the Sheriff’s Department to go inside of the jails for the purpose of registering voters. Once clearance is obtained, we will begin sending staff and volunteers inside to register people to vote and to conduct voter education.
Staff members of ANWOL are looking forward to spreading awareness to the men and women in jails about their right to vote.
“It’s very important. There are tens of thousands of people in the state of California who are disenfranchised simply because they do not know that they have the right to vote even when they are incarcerated,” explains Rev. Larry Foy, ANWOL Policy & Advocacy Director. “The only thing that should legally prevent people with convictions from voting in California is if they are on parole or serving time in state or federal prison.”
The goal of the project is not only to let incarcerated individuals understand that they can vote, but to also let them know that their vote is important. The volunteers will educate the men and women on the policies and politicians on the ballots so that people serving time in jail or awaiting trial will have a deeper understanding on the key issues that may affect their lives.
“Politicians travel to areas where people have a higher propensity to vote. They go to those areas and speak to their needs. There’s a whole constituency of people who are incarcerated that are eligible to vote,” said Ingrid Archie, ANWOL Civic Engagement Coordinator. “We want to maximize the number of incarcerated people who are voting so people will recognize that
incarcerated men and women do vote. Their votes have the potential to turn a whole vote or even flip a seat and once people see the power of the votes of incarcerated men and women they will realize that they need to visit jails to solicit those votes as well.”
Some people of color do not feel that their votes matter in elections or that the outcome of policies will affect them directly. That was the case for Ed Garrett, ANWOL’s technology consultant. “I didn’t think about my vote being important because my life was in the streets,” said Ed. “But you find out when you get into an institutional environment that all of the things that happen, happen because somebody voted and made a decision.”
Community organizations working on civil rights must continue the movement to mobilize for changes to voting laws that have continuously chipped away at that great victory in 1965.
Throughout the next few months, voter registration training will take place for the specific purpose of training those who will be registering men and women in jails. If you are interested in participating please contact Ingrid Archie at 323.563.3575.