January 27, 2012

Charles McKenzie & Jeremy Fire up Crowd Before Voter Suppression Senate Subcommittee Hearing

On November 5, 2008, Republicans didn't spend much time agonizing over their loss of the Presidential election the night before. They realized that minorities and people of color had voted in much larger numbers than usual. So they set to work passing voter suppression laws in many states to make it harder for targeted voters to cast a ballot. I'm sure many Republicans would not agree with this assessment in public, but I'm hoping the courts will agree with me, and eventually strike down these laws. About 50 percent of African American voters voted early in the 2008 election. Many were bused from their churches on the Sunday before the election. Based on these statistics, the 2011 voter suppression laws passed in Florida eliminated early voting on the Sunday before the election, among many other provisions. Such a law, that further excludes people from the electorate are unacceptable; every eligible citizen must be afforded an easy opportunity to vote in order for us to achieve a true democracy.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) pressed this issue by requesting that the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights hold an investigative hearing, the first field hearing of its kind, in Tampa last Friday. The hearing itself highlighted the important questions, but the press conference held just prior highlighted people's more emotional responses. Given the history of voter suppression against African Americans, and the hard-won gains of the 1960's, this issue remains near and dear to the hearts of many. My favorite authorized speaker was Reverend Charles McKenzie from the Rainbow/Push Coalition. For example, "The power of the people is stronger than the people in power.”

My favorite unauthorized speaker was Jeremy from Occupy Tampa. Before the press conference, Jeremy got up and chastised Democrats for not holding their elected officials accountable. It wasn't enough just to smear politicians from the other party. Jeremy's approach was confrontational and he certainly got the crowd's attention. Those standing by responded with indignation. I had a chance to speak with Jeremy after the Press Conference. He believes in democracy, but is at a loss as to whom to vote for. For the record, he did applaud the efforts of those in attendance to repeal the Voter Suppression Law.

So, what about the hearing? None of the invited Republicans attended; although one of their witnesses testified. Governor Rick Scott who signed the Voter Suppression Bill into law last Spring declined to attend. Some excellent data was presented. And there was quite a crowd. The hearing room was filled an hour before the hearing got started. The overflow area overflowed with over 200 people. Unlike Jeremy, I do think that this is an attempt to hold our elected officials accountable, partisan though it may be. Those officials just didn't show up.

See an earlier post concerning civil rights impediments legislated in Florida, here, and a nationwide review in Rolling Stone, here. If you want to take action against voter suppression laws, you can sign this petition to Attorney General Eric Holder.

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