By The Way President Obama, We Need to Fix This Too

President Barack Obama signs legislation in th...

Voting Is A Right, Not A Privilege by DORSEY NUNN

(First appearing in Counterpunch, 1/09/13)

In the final weeks of the 2012 campaign, I had the privilege of traveling to Pennsylvania with a national delegation of The Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement.  One of the goals of this movement is to actively engage formerly incarcerated people in civic life through voter education and voter registration.  That’s why when two of our member organizations, the Returning Citizen Voter Movement of Philadelphia and the National Council for Peace and Justice in Pittsburgh, invited us to conduct voter registration in areas hard hit by Voter ID laws, we said yes!

Many of us on the delegation were haunted by the memory of the grand theft of 2000 when Florida’s felony disenfranchisement laws prevented over 600,000 citizens from voting in a presidential race decided by 537 votes.  If that wasn’t bad enough, following that robbery, we witnessed our country being led to war. We watched as our children were sacrificed for democratic principles that many of us are unable to access because of conviction histories. We read newspaper accounts of people being allowed to vote in Iraq’s prisons while back in the US, many of us were being denied the right to vote because we had been to prison. We saw elected officials proudly hold their ink-dipped fingers in the air as an act of solidarity with the democratic efforts pursued in Iraq.  Meanwhile, these same officials continued to block our efforts to make democracy more accessible to our communities.

During the 2012 election we felt an even greater sense of urgency once we realized that the new voter suppression policies target our children and our elderly, not just us. This time around, it was more difficult for the right to disguise the heist as a safeguard against voter fraud. Why? Because college students and seniors haven’t been as thoroughly demonized as people with conviction histories have.  It was harder for the right wing to justify stealing their votes. This didn’t stop them of course.

When examined more closely, the 2012 wave of voter suppression lays bare the unpleasant national truth that there is nothing fair about our politics. The purpose of denying fundamental voting rights to entire categories of people has always been about controlling the results. The increasing restrictions on early voting, the expanding voter ID laws

and the bogus concerns for voter fraud serve the same purpose as felony disenfranchisement, to hide and legitimize this control and render the theft invisible.

Well, we’re not having it.  Our right to vote doesn’t only belong to us as individuals. It belongs to our ancestors who died for it, to our children, to our families and to our communities.  That’s why we refuse to accept the idea that our votes don’t matter and that we don’t matter. We reject the distorted media messages about who we are.  We know that off camera, millions of us ARE contributing to our communities despite all the obstacles put in front of us. The sooner more of us can vote, the sooner we can dismantle those obstacles and make even more meaningful contributions.

According to an economist’s estimate in 2008, the severe employment discrimination against people with conviction histories costs the US economy, including our communities, between $57 and $65 billion in reduced goods and services. Due to disproportionate enforcement and sentencing, communities of color are hardest hit by this loss.  So while it may be that individuals are denied the right to vote one at a time, the fact is felony disenfranchisement results in the collective punishment of particular classes of people.  Guess who?

The 2012 election marks the first time formerly incarcerated people decided to follow our own lead in regards to civic engagement.  Why? Because over the course of the last decade we noticed that no one ever came seeking our civic participation in the places that we hung out or frequented. Although our numbers are impressive, the 65 million people with conviction histories in the US face a confusing patchwork ofvoter registration policies. Consequently our voting power is deemed too difficult to tap.  Young voters are targeted by efforts like Rock the Vote and strategies are employed attaching the value of voting to new citizenship. Many of us are part of those communities too, but as folks with conviction histories and prison time we need our own GOTV efforts.  Ironically even our celebrities with conviction histories never focus on engaging us. They use their experience to sell music but I haven’t seen them talk to us about voting. It makes me wonder if political consciousness is more dangerous than crime since it’s not proclaimed as loudly.

That’s why during the 2012 election cycle we decide to organize ourselves. We looked past the billboards threatening to punish us if we made a mistake about our conviction status and registered to vote.  Our movement reached out to people in jails, treatment centers, halfway houses and educational and vocational schools. We stood in front of probation offices and court houses and outside the various Alcohol and Narcotics Anonymous meetings encouraging our communities to become involved in the democratic process.  We also employed litigation strategies to expand the pool of people with conviction histories who are eligible to vote.

Consider the impact of the Latino vote in this past election; what might happen if Americans with conviction histories, including those who are Latino, were able to exercise the right to vote?  We already know, in states like Alabama, where we’ve won back some voting rights, we can have a significant impact on election outcomes.

In the early hours of Nov. 7th, President Obama said:  “I want to thank every American who participated in this election. Whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that.” As I listened, I thought of all the people who have never even been allowed to get ON the voting line yet and said to the TV screen: President Obama, we have to fix that too and we will.  2016 here we come!

Dorsey Nunn is the Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and the co-founder of All of Us or None, a civil and human rights organization comprised of formerly incarcerated people, prisoners and their allies. He is also a formerly-incarcerated person.

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California Prisoners Register to Vote

‘Get out the vote’ efforts go behind bars into LA’s jails

By Rina Palta | From 89.3 KPCC

The Twin Towers Correctional Facility in

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The iconic Twin Towers Correctional Facility stands just northeast of L.A.’s skyline.

In the last few weeks before the Presidential election, “get out the vote” drives are in full gear nationwide. In L.A. County, there’s even an effort to go behind bars to register jail inmates to vote.

On a recent Wednesday, Lt. Edward Ramirez joined a group of volunteers and L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies heading into Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles to register inmates in a pod on the second floor of the eastern tower. 

Twin Towers is across the street from another famous L.A. lockup: the Men’s Central Jail. The skyscrapers sit just northeast of LA’s classic skyline and have the look of a late century office complex. But their thin slats of window distinguish the buildings as what they are— home to L.A.’s maximum security inmates and those inmates needing psychiatric care.

Ramirez points out that Twin Towers have a podular, panoptic design that make the facility a geometric puzzle for those who don’t work there every day.

Three sets of pods feed into a common day room, which sits in front of the observation booth’s windows.  

“You have officers in the booth who are able to see all the way around,” Ramirez says. But as much as Twins Towers is a fortress, he says, it’s a porous one.

“The bottom line is the majority of our inmates and the majority of prisoners in the state of California will be getting out at some time,” Ramirez says. 

People pass in and out of L.A.’s county jails every day. The average stay is about two years. Before the state prison system began sending non-violent prison inmates back to Caliornia’s 58 counties under realignment, the average stay was 30 to 40 days.

Everybody locked up in the Twin Towers jail is a part of Los Angeles, Ramirez says. And the more they realize that fact, the better.

“They need to be involved in the social activities that most people who aren’t incarcerated are involved with,” he says. “And that includes casting a ballot and having your voice heard.”

For the past few years Ramirez and other members of the Community Transition Unit have been going to every jail in L.A. County, registering those eligible to vote. Unlike in many states, a felony conviction in California doesn’t disqualify a person from voting, except while they’re serving their prison time.

Those serving jail time for a misdemeanor or who are on trial or awaiting trial can cast a ballot. 

This year for the first time, the Sheriff’s Department recruited volunteers to help register inmate voters and get them ballots.

Volunteer Fanya Baruti helped inmates who trickled in from the glassed-in cell blocks to fill out their paperwork.

“I’m one of those guys who didn’t vote until I was 50 years old,” Baruti says. 

He says it’s important for these inmates to vote because there are many issues on the ballot that affect them, from a proposition that would change three strikes, to school funding, to who’ll be the next district attorney.

“People have shed blood and died for just being able to vote,” Baruti says. “And so when we look at it historically, I think that should be empowerment enough to dispel the apathy that people have.”

The biggest surprise in registering voters behind bars?

“A lot of Republicans,” Baruti says. 

The two-week registration drive garnered 1,269 new voters. Those who’re in jail for the election will fill out their ballots absentee. 

Returning Citizen Voter Movement Invites Formerly-Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples’ Movement to Assist in Voter Mobilization

English: Detail of Preamble to Constitution of...

Welcome to the Struggle: 

To formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people and our organizations:

As civil rights organizations participating in the Returning Citizen Voter Movement in Philadelphia, we call on our brothers and sisters across the United States to join us in the struggle for voting rights in Pennsylvania.  Today, Pennsylvania is on the frontline of Republican efforts to steal the vote from poor people, people of color, the elderly, and new citizens.  The requirement to present photo ID in order to vote denies this fundamental right to thousands of people without acceptable forms of identification, many of us people of color who have past convictions.  We are asking formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people everywhere to JOIN US in assisting people in Pennsylvania to access their right to vote.

Voting rights for people with conviction histories vary widely state to state.  In Pennsylvania, we have the right to register to vote when we’re released from prison or jail, but past convictions or incarceration will result in lifelong disenfranchisement in many other states.  We are passionate about the right to vote because we are fighting for full restoration of our rights everywhere. We can never guarantee our civil or human rights without the right to vote, including the right to vote in prison or jail.  If we don’t participate, our voice will be silenced.

People of color were enslaved and excluded from voting until the Fifteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1870, prohibiting denial of the vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.  Women of all races were denied the vote until 1920. Poll taxes, literacy tests, physical violence were the precursors of today’s photo ID laws – all used to stop poor people and people of color from voting. We have never been welcomed into the electoral process – we have always fought and died for the right to vote and to hold office.

Now the voting rights of students, elderly people, new immigrants, and poor people generally are also under attack.  In Pennsylvania, formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people are joining other civil rights organizations in a unified effort to guarantee voting rights for all.  The Returning Citizen Voter Movement will host a National Rally to welcome people with conviction or incarceration histories to the struggle for voting rights in Pennsylvania.

Join Us!!

The National Council for Urban Peace and Justice Invites Formerly-Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples’ Movement to Assist in Voter Mobilization

Welcome to the Struggle:

To formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people, their families, communities and all social justice organizations:

As  part of a growing crescendo of civil  and human rights organizations monitoring and participating in the historic voter mobilization effort throughout Pennsylvania, we call on our brothers and sisters across the United States to join us in the struggle for voting rights in the ‘keystone state’.

Today, Pennsylvania is on the frontline of Republican efforts to steal the vote from poor people, people of color, the elderly and new citizens.  The requirement to present photo ID in order to vote denies this fundamental right to thousands of people without acceptable forms of identification, many of us people of color who have past convictions.  We are asking formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people everywhere to JOIN US in assisting people in Pennsylvania to access their right to vote.

Voting rights for people with conviction histories vary widely state to state.  In Pennsylvania, we have the right to register to vote when we’re released from prison or jail, but past convictions or incarceration will result in lifelong disenfranchisement in many other states.  We are passionate about the right to vote because we are fighting for full restoration of our rights everywhere. We can never guarantee our civil or human rights without the right to vote, including the right to vote in prison or jail.  If we don’t participate, our voice will be silenced.

People of color were enslaved and excluded from voting until the Fifteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1870, prohibiting denial of the vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.  Women of all races were denied the vote until 1920. Poll taxes, literacy tests, physical violence were the precursors of today’s photo ID laws – all used to stop poor people and people of color from voting. We have never been welcomed into the electoral process – we have always fought and died for the right to vote and to hold office.

Now the voting rights of students, elderly people, new immigrants, and poor people generally are also under attack.  In Pennsylvania, formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people are joining other civil rights organizations in a unified effort to guarantee voting rights for all.

‘Breaking the Chains’: The F.I.C.P. Voting Rights Initiative, a project of the National Council for Urban Peace and Justice, will host a series of events in the Pittsburgh region to welcome people with conviction or incarceration histories to the struggle for voting rights in Pennsylvania.

The National Council for Urban Peace and Justice/NCUPJ (www.ncupj.net) is an organizational member of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement/FICPM https://ficpmovement.wordpress.com

Contact Khalid Raheem @ (412) 606-0059 or kraheem322@yahoo.com for additional information

JOIN US!!!

FICPM Issues Statement in Solidarity With Father’s Day March to End Stop and Frisk

Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement

Image

June 17th 2012 Silent March against Racial Profiling

Letter in Solidarity

There comes a time when the American people must recognize that we lead the world in prison cells.  The American people must also recognize that these cells do not fill themselves, as mass incarceration is the result of policy decisions.  The American people must finally recognize that all of us are not created equal in the dark shadows of the prisons, the courthouses, the legislatures, or the New York City Police Department.  The Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement stands together with those who believe the “Stop and Frisk” policy belongs in fascist countries with brutal rulers, not in the United States of America.

On Ellis Island there is a plaque reading “Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  A torch is held aloft to the Atlantic Ocean, while Lady Liberty’s back is turned away from us.  What has been going on behind her back has been police tactics that have no connection to crime rates.  We can look at the data, compare the rates among different neighborhoods, compare New York City to other large cities, and we can see the one clearest fact:  People of Color are the ones being stopped.  Young Black and Latino men living in the communities targeted for high rates of crime are being hassled by the police in this city; they are being  targeted and dehumanized by tactics that demean and oppress them as young people, they are being put up against the wall and frisked, only to find nothing, and then released to go about their business.  These hassles, these frisks and uses of force do not make our communities safer, and do not make our children safer.

Three officers question a young New Yorker for 15 minutes…

The NYPD are stopping more Black and Latino people than actually live in the city, harassing nearly 700,000 people last year alone.  They say that this is because crime victims are predominantly Black and Latino, yet in most crimes the race of the perpetrator is not even reported.  They say crime is going down, but they don’t say crime is going down at a similar pace in all major cities.  When we look at the statistics, we see that the ten whitest areas, like the Upper East Side and Bensonhurst have crime dropping at double the rate as the ten most Black and Latino, such as BedStuy, Central Harlem and Hunts Point.  Coincidentally, people in these ten precincts, all of which are over 90% Black and Latino, are stopped by the police four times more than those in the ten whitest precincts.  The NYPD’s own statistics show that the more you Stop and Frisk, the less crime goes down.  The people ask Bloomberg for books, teachers, and classrooms, yet to the Black and Brown people of this city: he sends guns, police, and jails.

while three more stand by.

Those who have heard the phrase “Crash the System” can recognize when the criminal justice system is creating policies to crash itself.  Consider all the 90% of Stop and Frisks last year that resulted in no arrest nor ticket; stops where people were just told to then “move along.”  Stops where people were sometimes frisked, sometimes thrown to the ground, and then expected to “go about their business….”  There were twice as many of these harassment stops than there were arraignments in all of New York City.  Harassment Stops were double the actual arraignments.  Consider also that a quarter of all summons handed out by the NYPD are thrown out as being invalid.  If all of these wronged people were to take their claims to the courts, where the System expects people to handle their wrongs, the System would be hit with a tidal wave the same way that the NYPD is hitting certain communities in New York.

Fathers need to pass on an example, to tell stories about life that inspire their children to strive and succeed.  Black and Latino fathers in New York City however, have to tell their children to stay away from the police, to fear them, lest they be a statistic of someone being manhandled for just walking down the street in a “High Crime Area” (otherwise known as a place where People of Color are trying to build their communities) and making “furtive movements” like texting on their cell phone.

When the police overwhelmingly target Black and Latino men as suspects, they will be the ones who fill the court houses.  The courts create prisoners, and the prisons (when we are fortunate) return men to us with criminal records.  The discrimination against people with criminal records has replaced racism in education, housing, and employment.  And the next time the police come in contact with that father, son, sister, or mother with a criminal record: the vise is already so tight there is hardly room for any innocent person to escape.

From throughout the country, the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement calls on police departments to rejoin their communities rather than occupying them.

For More Information:  www.silentmarchnyc.org

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