NASHVILLE, TN – After the two astonishing Democratic victories in Georgia last week, three experts briefed the minority press about how fragile voting rights still are.
They talked about how minority voters showed up at the polls to defeat two Trump loyalists and how activists contacted people two or three times during the runoff campaign to make sure they were registered, knew how to vote, and where to vote.
“We don’t empower people. We help them empower themselves,” said Dr. Gabriela D. Lemus, Chairman of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund and Co-Chair of the Center for Common Ground’s Reclaim Our Vote program. Mi Familia Vota has been organizing Latino voters for 20 years and works with other grassroots groups on the ground and digitally.
“We educate we mobilize, and we activate Latinos and we did this specifically this year in ten states. We ran the largest grassroots field operation in the Latino community,” Lemus said.
They concentrated on swing states, including Georgia, and they worked in places with significant Latino populations. “The pandemic presented a big challenge because a lot of what they do is ‘one on one’,” she said. Organizers used cellphones to reach Latino voters for the General Election in November. And it worked.
Four national Latino civil rights groups worked with local groups in Georgia organizing people to vote in the runoff election. “We believe we reach ever single Latino voter in Georgia almost twice which really helped us turn out the vote,” Lemus said.
“Let’s give Stacy Abrams her kudos. She helped organize all of us and brought us into working together and raised up the importance of it. It’s people like her who think out of the box who help us do the same,” she said.
Judith A. Browne Dianis is a civil rights lawyer and co-director of the Advancement Project. “We are lawyers, and we’re communicators, and we’re movement builders. We’ve been around since 1999,” Dianis said.
The Advancement Project works with grassroots civil rights groups to eliminate structural racism by building power on the ground. Dianis lives close to the U.S. Capitol in Washington and noted some people carried confederate flags into the Capitol that they briefly took over last week.
“It is reminiscent of many painful points throughout our country’s history, particularly Reconstruction era political violence. The forces of racism and hatred have often been move to violence when they feel disempowered,” Dianis said.
In her view, the Capitol was overrun by Whites racists, egged on by Trump, who find the idea of having to share power abominable.
“It is when we see a rising majority of people of color that there are these attempts by those who believe in white supremacy, who are in power, and who feel that is their country and not our country, that they move to disempower the voices of the many, “ she said.
The idea of a democracy based on “one man one vote” is anathema to White supremacists. As historic as the 2020 Election has been, its aftermath will determine if democracy shall prevail in America. Dianis said the big question is “Who gets to be in power?”
She said the “stolen election” narrative, that incited White supremacists to take over the Capitol, was fueled by Trump’s propaganda and focused on cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, where Black voters turned out in record numbers. She said the Trump forces painted Blacks as criminals who stole the election by fraud even though no credible evidence has surfaced that was the case.
“After we pass these moments of advances in the power of people of color what we see is not only that kind of backlash but we see state legislatures and the federal Congress, although we won’t see that this time but we’ve seen it in the past, moving to restrict the right to vote.”
Dianis said in the wake of the 2020 Election, state legislatures are already moving to limit voter registration and voting access to the ballot.
“What we are seeing in Georgia, for example, is the proposal to eliminate no excuse absentee voting, requiring photo ID to obtain a ballot, outlawing drop boxes, purging voters about signature problems which we call we call ‘curing’, “ she said.
With Democrats now in control of Congress and the White House, Dianis is hopeful the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act will pass. It would amend the 1965 Civil Rights Act to reign in these abuses and make it easier for people to vote.
Myrna Perez, Director, Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Protections Program, said voting rights activists were behind changes in 35 states to make things easier to vote in this election. They included things like free postage, expanding how people got absentee ballots, and changing the ways voter could correct voter registration mistakes.
“We pulled off an election in spite of incredibly powerful forces who wanted to stop brown and black voters from participating. We did this in the face of a once in a century global pandemic, we did it amidst an economic crisis, and we did it amidst politicians at all levels of the government purposely trying to confuse, mislead, and lie to voters,” Perez said.
She said a lot that went wrong in the 2020 Election could be fixed if election officials were given more resources.
“Sometimes the resources are straight up money. Sometimes resources are having the bodies on the ground that can do the advanced planning,” Perez said.
She said if we better resource our elections we could have the preparedness to be able to deal with election problems when they occur.
“We must force Congress to do its job,” Perez said. There are two important pieces of legislation pending in Washington. One is the Voting Rights Advancement Act that would send out federal observers during elections. The other is HR1, the For The People Act. It deals with election administration problems that impact all marginalized voters regardless of race.
This article comes to you from Ethnic Media Services with the support of the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the California State Infrastructure Fund, and the James Irvine Foundation.