Topic of Discussion: Felons’ Voting Rights, Part 2

By Rahsaan Thomas
Journalism Guild Chairman

There was a time when it took rampaging terrorists to keep people from the polls, now it’s voter apathy discouraging many Americans from the ballot box.

Emancipation left Blacks as the majority in the South. Freed Blacks in five Southern states outnumbered Whites. During this period, which was around 1867, African-Americans started electing Black senators, according to the history book Enduring Vision by Paul S. Boyer, et al.

The Ku Klux Klan was formed in Tennessee back in 1866. It used violence and terrorism to stop Blacks from voting, according to Enduring Vision.

Much later Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led non-violent protests in Selma, Ala., in which many people were attacked for participating. His leadership and courage led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which granted protections that allowed Blacks to return to the polls.

A Yard Talk panel met in San Quentin State Prison’s Lower Yard gym to brainstorm on how to get people back to using this right many died to make available.

Q. How can we motivate people to go to the polls?

John “Yahya” Johnson: “The solution is simple: knowing the power is in the people. Apathy in colored communities is because we show our discontent and nothing gets done. We have to start teaching the people what the power of voting really means.

“When the slaves were freed in the South, look at how much voting changed. We had Black senators, members of Congress: Harim Revels, P.B.S. Pitchback, and Ida B. Wells. They changed the whole Southern society in 10-20 years. Then President Rutherford B. Hayes pulled out the federal troops and southerners started attacking the vote, so we know that the power is there. We have to bring folks back into the remembrance.

“Although we don’t like many things about the system, if you can get enough people galvanized around an issue, you can change it.”

Eric Curtis: “There have been things that changed – people of color were able to do it – the Rockefeller law, Proposition 36. However, it’s like we score one goal and the game is over, instead of pushing for more issues.”

Jamie Sanchez: “You would be able to get more votes when more people are affected. They have to have the impression that their vote really matters because it really makes a difference.”

Johnson: “We are not the spearheads or champions of legislation — even though we made these things happen by power of the vote. The conception of these things came from parts of the system, and we became the assistants. When we realize we have the same power, we can make things happen.”

Curtis: “Basically sports figures and entertainment figures are listened to more often; they can do blogs and web sites to get people to vote.”

Johnson: “Rock the Vote was big, but on a more sustainable level, it takes us in a grassroots movement to start organizations…we have to make this a profession.

Start with making social institutions for change. We can’t rely on stars; we need to have things in place we can sustain from generation to generation.”

Many provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 expire. The expiration date was reset in 2006 until 2031, according to Wikipedia.


|“They have to have the impression that

their vote really matters

because it really makes a difference”|


Q. What do you think about the fact that certain parts of the Voters Right Act have to be renewed?

Johnson: “The implications of the Freedom and Voters’ Right Acts are we have to be protected by law to have an inalienable right granted to us, and that’s insane.

Why haven’t we passed a law that makes the Freedom Act and Voters’ Right Act permanent?”

Sanchez: “I think the reason they do laws in that way is because they don’t want to lose control. They want to be able to take it away.”

If we aren’t using our right to vote, maybe they already have taken it away.


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