Black church turnout effort mobilizes against alleged voter suppression

Black church turnout effort mobilizes against alleged voter suppression

Pastor Mike McBride, left, during a Live Free event in October 2019. Courtesy photo

For each day left before Election Day, Martinique Mix, a graphic designer in Atlanta, is developing promotional materials for the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s get-out-the-vote efforts.

“We’re putting them on all social media and email to make sure it has a wide range so that it does reach the person who is 17 ½ and the person who is 77,” said Mix, the granddaughter of a retired AME bishop and president of the historically Black denomination’s Richard Allen Young Adult Council. She began working on the church’s V-Alert campaign in August.

“The information that we’re trying to give is basically trying to get people to understand the importance of the election, to understand that not only do you need to register but you have to make sure that you take the extra effort to vote,” she said.

While preserving the presidency of President Donald Trump is energizing many white evangelical Christians, many Black Protestants, evangelical and mainline, are motivated equally to oppose him, pointing to the president’s unquestioning support for police after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed African Americans, as well as his handling of a pandemic that has sickened minorities in disproportionate numbers.

But most pertinent in these last weeks before Election Day are allegations that the GOP has attempted to limit minority voting, particularly since the 2013 Supreme Court decision striking down parts of the Voting Rights Act intended to prevent some states from raising barriers at the polls.

In 2018, Stacey Abrams lost Georgia’s gubernatorial race to Brian Kemp, then the state’s top election official, by single-digit percentage points, after Kemp purged thousands of voter registrations from the rolls. Two years later, in Georgia’s primary elections, voters complained of long lines and technical problems with new voting machines.

On Monday (Sept. 28), a British television news report found that the 2016 Trump campaign had targeted 3.5 million Black voters with ads designed to reduce voter turnout.

In answer to these concerns, a coalition of clergy and social justice organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Sojourners and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is mounting an effort called “Turnout Sunday/Lawyers and Collars” this year, recruiting at least 100 pastors and lawyers in each of nine states — Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — for the campaign.

They will be a “moral and spiritual presence on the ground” and can offer legal expertise at polling sites, said the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-convenor of the National African American Clergy Network, which is participating in the voter protection campaign.

Before the vote begins, the campaign will set up a “clergy hotline and call center” that will be supported by groups ranging from the NAACP to the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference to Black pastors in the United Methodist Church. Lawyers will help staff the hotline, answering questions about polling locations and consulting on voter intimidation issues.

“This election is viewed by most African Americans as a life and death situation,” said Williams-Skinner. “It is a choice between an America that continues to be steeped in systemic racism and injustice for people of color or an America that has space for every person of every background.”

While these groups often support voter mobilization, Williams-Skinner said they “never worked this tightly together because the stakes are higher.”

With the continuing coronavirus pandemic, many Black churches are complementing “Souls to the Polls” initiatives that have traditionally ferried people to the polls for early voting with socially distanced equivalents.

“More cars on the road as opposed to bus pools and van pools,” said the Rev. Leslie Watson Wilson, national director of People for the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council. “I’ve even seen where people are going to be creative and pay for Uber or share rides or Lyft services to help people to get to the polls.”

The National Black Evangelical Association is among the groups planning to share email blasts from the Turnout Sunday initiative.

“The challenges of the time, and the attacks against voter registration and people voting, particularly Black people, is cause for doubling down efforts among all of us to push for fairness, access, education in terms of voting,” said the Rev. Walter McCray, president of the NBEA.

“There is a level of energy and coordination among Black church leaders at the highest level that I’ve not seen in my 20 years of organizing,” said Pastor Mike McBride, a Pentecostal minister who is working with both the multifaith, nonpartisan Faith in Action and Black church organizations to ensure people are registered and ready to vote.

McBride is a founder of the Black Church Action Fund, which is offering weekly virtual training in tweeting and sending pro-voting memes to “turn every single Black church person into a de facto digital organizer.” He hopes to get more than 2 million people to the polls.

Abrams, who founded Fair Fight, a voter protection organization, after her loss in 2018, has not limited her efforts to Christian groups. In August, Jewish and Sikh leaders joined a conference call with her and Black church clergy (including her parents, United Methodist Church pastors who said they used to take her into the voting booth with them when she was a child). The call also promoted the new documentary “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” which features Abrams’ efforts to overcome barriers to voting.

“I come to this moment of voting raised by people who taught me that faith is an action; it is not simply a thought,” said Abrams, on the call. “We have engaged communities of faith because I know if you want to see something done, give it to somebody in the church.”

Black celebrities have been recruited to the voter mobilizing effort. The AME Church has joined forces with Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Your Vote, developing a PSA featuring actress Deborah Joy Winans, a star of “Greenleaf,” on Winfrey’s OWN network.

“When segregation was the order of the day and laws prevented African Americans from voting, you held meetings in your church to protest,” said Winans, seated in front of a “Greenleaf” poster. “So now Own Your Vote is pleased to partner with you to go that next mile.”

Among African American women, there may be no greater celebrity than former first lady Michelle Obama, who co-chairs  a voter empowerment organization called When We All Vote. The group has partnered with the AME Church’s Women’s Missionary Society.

The Rev. LaKesha Womack. Courtesy photo

Some Black church members have taken it upon themselves to create their own voter education efforts. The Rev. LaKesha Womack, a North Carolina business consultant and ordained deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, held a voter education symposium as part of her “rethinking church” series. She’s also interviewing “everyday people” — from an African American pastor in Michigan concerned about gun violence to a white high school classmate in southern Alabama on Facebook Live — about why voting is important to them.

Other Black church officials are taking a more personal approach yet, pushing voter education with whomever they talk with ahead of Election Day.

“I greet people now: ‘Happy the 47th day before the election on Nov. 3,’” said AME Church Social Justice Commission Director Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker.

Faith-based voter mobilization is often officially nonpartisan — endorsements by name or party are forbidden by IRS rules about nonprofits — but the National Congregations Study found in 2018-19 that Black church officials are “by far” the most likely of faith groups to acknowledge they endorse candidates, with 13% saying they have, though it’s unclear whether they made their pleas from the pulpit or more generally.

The Rev. Walter McCray. Courtesy photo

McCray said that some of the president’s statements — such as his claim that racial violence at the right-wing protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 included “some very fine people on both sides” —  have put endorsements beyond the realm of mere politics.

“Theologically there are times for the church or 501(c)(3) to take a stand that even may be outside the bounds set by 501(c)(3) when the issues are just that important,” he said. “This season may be one of those times when, as the apostle said in the early church, we ought to obey God rather than man.”

McBride said this year’s collaborative efforts — such as Black Church PAC events on Facebook and YouTube — can also allow clergy who won’t endorse from the pulpit to direct people in the pews to more “politically pointed conversations” about the upcoming election.

“People look to the Black church, whether they attend the church or not, to at least have some kind of compass,” he said, “and I think we will and have to continue that role even if it does kind of put a little bit of our partisanship on display.”

For the most part, added Williams-Skinner, people don’t need to be told whom to vote for. “We are connecting the dots between evictions, between police killings of unarmed Black people, between those who would try to eliminate health care, and voting for people who will do right by people of color,” she said.

“When you give people the information about what’s at stake in their life, they’ll make the right decision.”

This story was supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.

Upset with elected officials after COVID-19 halted her business, woman registers people to vote

Upset with elected officials after COVID-19 halted her business, woman registers people to vote

Cassandra Wilson holds up a voter registration form and voter registration drive flyer in downtown Clarksdale days before her first drive.

CLARKSDALE — Frustrated by the response of elected officials after the pandemic slowed her business, Cassandra Wilson has used her down time for something she’d never done before: registering Delta residents to vote.

Wilson, the 35-year-old mother of three whose taxi and tourism business went from more than 50 rides a week before the pandemic to zero, was not qualified to receive COVID-19 relief funds.

She blamed the lack of federal, state and local government leadership to ensure the financial security for people in the Mississippi Delta, where the pandemic has heightened economic and health disparities.

“I felt like a lot of little people kind of got left out the loop,” Wilson said. “If you didn’t fall on the right end of the spectrum, you lost your house, you lost everything because of these big people who could not relate to everyday, average working people who were born into poverty. There are households around here with two full-time, 40-hour working people who are barely able to stay above water.”

She wanted to change how politicians’ decisions affected her life and those around her. So with the challenge of prohibitive voting laws and a deadly pandemic, she initiated the first step: registering people to vote.

In June, Wilson set up a tent and a table on a Clarksdale street with voter registration packets, snacks, pens, masks, and sanitizers laid across the tables. Whether residents walked up to register or drove through, each individual received masks and sanitizer. With her taxi business at a halt, she decided to drop registration packets off to others who could not attend the drive due to work, she said.

She took off from work at her other full-time job, sacrificing income to work on these voter registrations drives. With help from her 13-year-old daughter and 12-year-old niece, the trio has helped 20 people register to vote so far across three Delta towns: Lula, Friars Point and Clarksdale.

Wilson’s goal is to get 200 people registered ahead of the Oct. 5 registration deadline.

One challenge Wilson has experienced is a lack of education around government and the voting process prevents people from voting.

“I think this young lady was maybe like 22 years old and she asked me, ‘What is voting? Who do you vote for?’ and I love that,” Wilson said of a registrant at one of her drives. “(I said), ‘This is how you vote, this is why you vote’ … We have a lot of that in the Delta.”

More than 23,000 people reside in Coahoma County, which has about 15,000 eligible voters. But voter turnout has remained fairly low. For example, in the March primaries, only 23% of eligible voters cast a vote, according to data from the Circuit Clerk’s office.

Ray Sykes, chair of the Coahoma County Democratic Party, said he’s heard “no one is coming out” to the polls because community members fear going grocery shopping, church and gathering in large groups.

Despite this, he expects a record turnout, but he said it falls on the local leaders to get folks out.

“Elected officials have a duty to push the turnout,” Sykes said. “Pastors have a duty to get the public involved.”

Some Delta-based political leaders expressed more concern with getting people to the polls rather than voter registration, especially now during a pandemic.

“Everyone wants to press voter registration … which is great. I’m not knocking it. The real problem is getting people out to vote,” said David Rushing, chair of the Sunflower County Democratic Party. “We’re under-resourced, and the state is under-resourced.”

But Mississippi doesn’t make it easy for people to vote.

The state has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the nation, and is one of only six states which has not taken action to make voting safer during the pandemic. For instance, Mississippians must provide an excuse in order to vote early.

In July, Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill into law stating people could only vote early during the pandemic for two reasons: if they are under a physician-imposed quarantine or providing care for a dependent under quarantine.

“It’s not the intent (of the legislation) to make it harder to vote,” Senate Elections Chair Jennifer Branning, R-Philadelphia, told Mississippi Today.

Currently, two lawsuits have been filed against state officials challenging Mississippi’s absentee voting requirements.

To register to vote, an individual must be 18 or older, a resident of Mississippi, and cannot be convicted of disenfranchising crimes. On Election Day, voters must present a Mississippi voter ID, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Pam Shaw, a longtime Democratic political strategist and president of P3 Strategies, said it should be incumbent on circuit clerks and county supervisors to create innovative and safer ways to do voting. She suggested creating curbside voting and expanding voting hours in the weeks prior to the election.

“You do it in a way that does not compromise staff of the clerk’s office and the people who come,” Shaw said. “If you say, five days before, or two weeks before, it gives them time. … It gets rid of all of the people who may be hesitant and eases the burden you’re going to have on Election Day.”

But by taking matters into her own hands — battling a public health crisis, small town politics and what many call modern-day voter suppression — Wilson said she hopes that her small efforts will make an impact during the upcoming election, even if just one person goes to the polls because of her work.

“I just want to see a better Clarksdale, want people to do better, especially African Americans,” Wilson said. “We don’t know how this election is going to go in November, but I can tell you one thing — it’s going to be very difficult for us to go to the polls the way we used to.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Electionland 2020: USPS Mailers, Pandemic Voting, Get Out the Vote Efforts and More

Electionland 2020: USPS Mailers, Pandemic Voting, Get Out the Vote Efforts and More


This article originally appeared on ProPublica.com, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. 

New From ProPublica

No Democrats Allowed: A Conservative Lawyer Holds Secret Voter Fraud Meetings With State Election Officials

The Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, whose work about voting fraud has been discredited, has been conducting private meetings for Republicans only. Read the story.

ProPublica’s Pandemic Guide to Making Sure Your Vote Counts

Here’s what you can do now to be prepared for the 2020 election. Read the story.

Poorly Protected Postal Workers Are Catching COVID-19 by the Thousands. It’s One More Threat to Voting by Mail.

More than 50,000 workers have taken time off for virus-related reasons, slowing mail delivery. The Postal Service doesn’t test employees or check their temperatures, and its contact tracing is erratic. Read the story.

Vote by Mail News

  • Although the cost of postage for mail-in ballots varies by state, a USPS spokeswoman said any ballots with insufficient or unpaid postage will still be delivered, with the cost charged to local elections boards. (USA Today)
  • A study of 2018 mail ballots in three California counties found that the rejection rate for voters age 18-24 was three times higher than the counties’ overall rejection rates. (KQED)
  • California Sunday went behind the scenes at companies in the mail voting supply chain. (California Sunday)
  • Maryland’s ballot vendor reportedly quit after printing had already begun, but the state has found another vendor to fill the gap. (The Baltimore Sun)
  • NPR mapped how mail ballot rules vary across the country. (NPR)
  • Some overseas voters are panicking about voting from abroad by mail this year. (USA Today)
  • Some voters reported errors with Detroit’s third-party absentee ballot tracker during the primary. (Detour Detroit)
  • North Carolina voter hotlines are getting a lot of questions about how to vote by mail. (Voting Booth)
  • California and Oregon voters who have been displaced from their homes by fires must take steps in order to vote by mail from a new or temporary address. (San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian)
  • Third-party registration forms and ballot application mailers are causing confusion among some Florida and Montana voters. (Miami Herald, NBC Montana)
  • During Pennsylvania’s primary, around 20,000 mail-in ballots weren’t counted, either because they were returned after the deadline or because they didn’t have a voter signature. (NBC Philadelphia)
  • Because of changes made to absentee ballot envelopes and other policy changes, a lower rate of Georgia mail ballots were rejected during the primary than during the 2018 general election. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Mail-In Voting Policies

  • Pennsylvania’s Department of State told counties that they cannot throw out absentee ballots over signature match problems. (Morning Call)
  • Pennsylvania couldn’t start sending out absentee ballots Monday due to legal disputes. (CNN)
  • Ohio’s Controlling Board voted against funding prepaid postage on absentee ballots. (Columbus Dispatch)
  • Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are among battleground states where local election officials aren’t allowed to start processing mail ballots until Election Day. (Politico)
  • The Michigan Senate approved a bill to allow clerks to begin processing absentee ballots the day before the election. The legislature is considering other policy changes that would affect this year’s election. (Detroit Free Press, MLive)
  • Only some Michigan counties are paying for pre-paid postage on absentee ballots. (Lansing State Journal)
  • Thanks to a court decision, first-time Tennessee voters will be able to vote by mail. (News Channel 9)
  • South Carolina’s governor signed a bill to allow no-excuse absentee voting during the upcoming election. (AP)
  • New York state says it doesn’t have the necessary funding to provide pre-paid postage for absentee ballots. (North Country Public Radio)

USPS Absentee Voting Mailers

Voting in a Pandemic

  • Missouri’s secretary of state is encouraging people to vote in person, contradicting the state’s health department recommendations to avoid crowds on Election Day. (The Beacon)
  • One Missouri county, which is not requiring election workers to wear face masks, sent an email to poll workers telling them they must keep a mask at hand or on one ear and “may act surprised” and “apologize as you put the mask on” if questioned by a voter. (KMOV)
  • More than 8,000 volunteers have applied for just 1,100 spots to serve as election judges in Denver, Colorado, but the local election commission says they’re still short of Republican applicants. (Colorado Politics)
  • States are hoping to learn from this year’s primary election mistakes to avoid long lines, confusion and delays over mail-in ballots and minimize rejected ballots in November. (PBS Newshour)
  • About 14% of California eligible voters said they were worried about contracting COVID while voting, with African Americans and voters with disabilities among the most concerned, according to a new study of California voter messaging amid the pandemic. (USC Center for Inclusive Democracy)

Enfranchisement News

  • College campuses are normally an important venue for mobilizing young voters, but advocates and voting groups say they’re still struggling to figure out how to reach students scattered across the country by the pandemic. (McDowell News, The Guardian)
  • Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said it wasn’t until he got involved with Lebron James’ voting rights project that he was able to reinstate his own right to vote after serving a prison sentence. “I didn’t understand or know that I could vote…it took until this campaign [to find out] that I did have rights to vote,” Vick said. (Sports Illustrated)
  • A new Arizona policy will allow prospective voters with nontraditional addresses, particularly Native people in rural tribal communities, to register to vote online with digital location codes. (Cronkite News)
  • North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said the state’s elections board won’t stop the enforcement of a court ruling that would allow more convicted felons to vote this fall. (Associated Press)
  • North Carolina elections officials are trying to identify and contact nearly 5,000 people with felony convictions whose right to vote could be restored by a court ruling. (Carolina Public Press)
  • Advocates working to register prison inmates to vote are worried USPS cuts could threaten ballot access for hundreds of thousands of eligible inmates, whose right to vote hinges on reliable mail. (The Guardian)
  • Some advocates are concerned there hasn’t been enough outreach to Kentucky felons after their voting rights were restored. (Spectrum News)
  • Two Texas congressional representatives are questioning why 20 Houston-area Post Offices reportedly threw out or refused to distribute voter registration cards to patrons. (KHOU)
  • While homeless people often face major barriers to voting, advocates in Washington, D.C. are registering homeless individuals and helping them participate in November’s election. (Washington Post)
  • More than 400,000 people have registered to vote through a new Snapchat feature. (The Verge)

Disinformation on Voting

  • Attorney General William Barr attacked mail-in ballots again, claiming without evidence that they’re more vulnerable to coercion than in-person voting. In an interview, Barr suggested fraudulent ballots favorable to Democrats would be “discovered” on Election Day. (The Hill, Chicago Tribune)
  • Twitter and Facebook flagged President Donald Trump’s posts telling North Carolina voters to vote by mail early and subsequently visit the polls on Election Day. The head of the state’s election board said the president’s comments could cause unnecessarily long lines during the pandemic. (GPB)
  • Twitter is expanding the types of voting-related content it will label or remove to include “false or misleading information intended to undermine public confidence.” (Forbes)
  • Trump told a crowd in Nevada he will “negotiate” a third term and claimed without proof that Democrats will “rig the election.” (Slate)
  • Connecticut’s Secretary of State has hired an expert to thwart online disinformation campaigns targeting the election. (CT Mirror)
  • The Chicago Tribune debunks election season misinformation for Illinois voters, including false claims that voting is available by text message and that voter information is being sold online. (Chicago Tribune)

Creative Approaches to Getting Out the Vote

  • Live Nation announced an initiative to try to convert concert venues into voting centers around the country. (Rolling Stone)
  • Fashion designers launched a new voter registration campaign, which will also debut at New York Fashion Week. (Harper’s Bazaar)
  • Kentucky is offering lawyers continuing education credits if they serve as poll workers. (WTVQ)
  • An El Paso church is registering people to vote at food distribution sites. (KTSM)
  • Dancers and choreographers in St. Louis are encouraging people to vote through a series of commissioned dance videos. (St. Louis Public Radio)
  • TikTok creators are launching a “Tok the Vote” voter registration campaign. (CNN)
  • Facebook kicked off a poll worker recruitment drive that will appear on users’ news feeds. (Techcrunch)

The Latest Lawsuits

  • News on lawsuits to expand mail-in voting in Louisiana, Montana and Vermont.
  • News about litigation over absentee ballot applications in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Texas.
  • News on lawsuits involving mailing absentee ballots in Wisconsin.
  • News about litigation over absentee ballot rules in Arizona and Missouri.
  • News on litigation involving absentee voter eligibility in Texas.
  • News about lawsuits over counting absentee ballots in Arizona and New Jersey.
  • News on lawsuits over voter ID in North Carolina.
  • News about felon voting lawsuits in Florida.
  • News about in-person voting litigation in Georgia.
  • News about mail-in ballot drop box litigation in Ohio.
  • News about voter registration litigation in South Dakota.

 

Electionland 2020: Nursing Home Voting, Election Guides, Creative Enfranchisement and More

Electionland 2020: Nursing Home Voting, Election Guides, Creative Enfranchisement and More

Black Conservatives Debate Black Liberals on American Politics (Extended Version)


The Latest Election News From ProPublica

Hundreds of Thousands of Nursing Home Residents May Not Be Able to Vote in November Because of the Pandemic

Renowned inventor Walter Hutchins has voted in every presidential election since 1952. This year, as many states stopped sending teams to help seniors vote, his nursing home was on coronavirus lockdown and his streak was in jeopardy. Read the story.

What to Know About Voting in 2020

Vote by Mail News

  • More than 550,000 mail ballots were rejected in this year’s presidential primaries, per a new analysis. (NPR)
  • University of Florida professor Michael McDonald is tracking mail ballot requests by party in several states. (Michael McDonald)
  • North Carolina is the first state to begin voting for president and has seen 10 times the number of absentee ballot requests as in the same period in 2016. (ABC News)
  • Democratic super PACs plan to spend more than $7 million on ads encouraging mail voting. (CNN)
  • Some Black and Latino voters are distrustful of mail voting, surveys show. (Politico)
  • Missouri spent tens of thousands of dollars on ballot drop boxes that won’t be used the fall. (KSN)

Trump’s Attacks on Voting

  • On Friday, Trump raised the possibility of sending law enforcement to polling places. (The Washington Post, Election Law Blog, CNN)
  • Over the weekend, he made false claims about mail ballot drop boxes. (BuzzFeed News)
  • Trump continued attacks on mail voting while speaking at the RNC, and on Twitter. (Rev, Twitter)
  • Politico obtained audio from a conversation Trump had in 2017 in which he said that low Black voter turnout benefited him. (Politico)

The Latest on USPS

  • Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified before Congress on Friday and Monday, and said postal workers would prioritize election mail ahead of other first-class mail. He said he was not trying to sabotage the election. (The Washington Post, News Hour, The New York Times)
  • Democrats claim DeJoy was chosen to run the Postal Service in a “highly irregular” process. (Politico)
  • The House of Representatives passed a bill that would provide $25 billion to the Postal Service and reverse the agency’s recent cost-cutting measures. (NPR)
  • On Tuesday, New York’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the president and DeJoy over changes to the Postal Service, joined by New Jersey, Hawaii, New York City and San Francisco. (Reuters)

Enfranchisement Innovations

  • Pro sports teams are offering up their arenas as election super centers for fall voting. (Politico)
  • A new group called Black Coaches United aims to convince colleges to use their stadiums for voting centers on Election Day. (ESPN)
  • A Florida professor developed an app that uses a ticketing system to help reduce lines at polling places and allow voters to social distance. (4News)
  • A Rhode Island doctor founded an organization to help people vote who are hospitalized before the election in November. (Boston Globe)
  • A Missouri organization teamed up with coffee shops and restaurants to give voters easier access to notaries to sign-off on mail ballots. (KCUR)
  • A physicist in Maryland developed an air filtration device that he hopes can be used to make in-person voting safer at polling places in the fall. (Baltimore Sun)
  • A nonprofit initiative called Drag Out the Vote is recruiting drag stars to work as poll workers and election observers, and to get out the vote among the LGBTQ community. (SFist)
  • An athletes’ collective headed by LeBron James is planning a multimillion dollar project to ensure there are enough poll workers in Black electoral districts. (The New York Times)
  • Carnegie Mellon professors compiled and mapped data in swing states to identify where in-person voting bottlenecks could occur. (WESA)
  • The cast of “West Wing” is reuniting for an HBO special to encourage people to vote. (Reuters)

Election Lawsuits

 

Women, Black History, and the Right to Vote

Women, Black History, and the Right to Vote

 

Rosyln M. Brock reflects on how her great-grandmother, Cousie Pittman, could not vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed, despite the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote in 1920. On a video published by the First Woman Voter Campaign, she talks about how Ms. Pittman, who lived in rural Florida and the segregated South, cast her first vote in the 1968 presidential election.

“My family often shares the story of how my grandmother would get dressed up in her Sunday Best, and wait for a ride to the polls on election day,” said Brock in the video. 

Brock is Associate Minister at the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, VAand a nationally recognized health policy advocate, social justice change agent, and noted public speaker. She holds the distinct honor of being the youngest person and fourth woman in 2010 elected to the role of National Board Chairman for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in its history. Brock currently serves as its Chairman Emeritus.

The First Woman Voter campaign and national women’s organizations, such as the National Women’s History Museum, the League of Women’s Voters, and Obama’s When We All Vote, celebrate the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. This bipartisan campaign encourages women to pay tribute in a unique and personal short video to the first woman voter in their family or the one who most inspired them to vote. Four former first ladies, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Rev. Bernice A. King, and other high-profile women in academia, business, the arts, entertainment, government, and more fields are participating in the virtual video campaign. Even with the heartwarming messages by women of all races noting the 100-year milestone, Brock’s story and others underscore acknowledging that the struggle didn’t end in1920 for many Black women in the South.  

“The history has to be told that black women were fighting for the right to vote in the 1800s, through the AME clubs, the black women’s clubs … the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs were active in the early 1800s well before the white women were organizing to think about coming into the public square,” said Brock. “White women can celebrate that they marched in 1912 or 1913 and then seven years later, in 1920, when the 19th Amendment was passed. Black women had to wait almost half a century until the 1965 Voting Rights Act before they had full, unfettered access. Now, many black women in the 1920s lived in the North and were able to vote. I was from South Florida. My grannies … it took us a little longer.”

August 2020 marks the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act’s passage, which, according to the Justice Department, is hailed as the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress. However, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted a vital part of the Voting Rights Act, which required municipalities, counties, and states to get federal approval before changing their voting laws. It didn’t take long for voter suppression efforts to resume.  

“I chose to participate in the campaign because it gave me an opportunity to share my great-grandmother’s first voting experience. And I believe it’s important as a black woman in today’s society to acknowledge the role that we did play and continue to play in securing the right to the franchise,” said Brock. “As many of us know, voting remains the only power that we have to affect change in our communities. And the only language that politicians seem to understand is the power of the vote. That’s why I believe so many today are trying to suppress votes by those in minority communities.”

According to a study last year by Pew Research, Millennials and Gen Z will make up 37% of the 2020 electorate. However, older generations are more likely to go to polls or actually vote. This year, voters are highly engaged, but concerns are mounting about difficulties in actually voting. That’s a big deal when so many critical issues are top of mind for many voters — access to affordable health care in the era of COVID-19 and beyond, violence and discriminatory policing, climate change, unemployment, and homelessness. 

As a leader in the social justice, racial equity, and community investment space, Brock is inspired and hopeful as she sees the next generation push forward despite the obstacles and political games. Her philosophy is embodied in an African proverb: Care more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical, and expect more than others think is possible.

“Courage must not skip this generation. And as Black women stand confidently now in their place of power, they no longer have to accept that they don’t belong at the political table or don’t have a seat. We’ve got to remember Shirley Chisholm, who said, “If they don’t have a seat for you at the table, you come in and bring your own folding chair, and you sit down.”

Before Kamala Harris became Biden’s running mate, Shirley Chisholm and other Black women aimed for the White House

Before Kamala Harris became Biden’s running mate, Shirley Chisholm and other Black women aimed for the White House

Kamala Harris, a U.S. senator from California, endorsed Joe Biden for president in March. Now she is his vice presidential nominee. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, the American daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, is Joe Biden’s choice for vice president. If Biden wins in November, Harris would break three centuries-old barriers to become the nation’s first female vice president, first Black vice president and first Black female vice president.

Geraldine Ferraro was the first female vice-presidential candidate on a major party ticket, in 1984. In 2008, Alaska’s then-governor Sarah Palin was Republican John McCain’s running mate.

Before Harris was picked as Biden’s running mate, she was his competitor for the Democratic presidential nomination. She is one of many Black American women who have aimed for the highest office in the land despite great odds.

Biden, himself a former vice president, understands the significance of the role. Mark Makela/Getty Images

Hands that once picked cotton

African Americans have endured many hurdles to political power in the United States, among them slavery, Jim Crow and disenfranchisement.

Black women, in particular, have hit barrier upon barrier. Women didn’t gain the right to vote in the U.S. until 1920, and even then Black people – women among them – still couldn’t vote in most of the South. In the 1960s, Black women helped organize the civil rights movement but were kept out of leadership positions.

As a political science professor, I address issues like these in my government and minority politics classes. But I also teach my students that Black women have a history of political ambition and achievement. As the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. said in 1984 about the progress Black voters made last century, “Hands that once picked cotton will now pick a president.”

Today, Black female mayors lead several of the United States’ biggest cities, including Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco. Black women are police chiefs, gubernatorial candidates, and, in growing numbers, congresswomen.

Now, Black women, who once had no chance of even voting for president – much less being president – will see one of their own a step away from the Oval Office.

Biden allies have reportedly suggested that he would only serve one term if elected because of his age – Biden would be 78 on Inauguration Day – but his campaign officially denies that possibility. Either way, his vice president would be in a powerful position for the 2024 campaign.

Harris is also of Indian descent, making her place on the ticket a meaningful first for two communities of color.

‘Unsuitable’ for the job?

Kamala Harris is a registered Democrat who served as California’s attorney general and later one of the state’s U.S. senators. But, historically, most Black female presidential candidates have run as independents.

In 1968, 38-year-old Charlene Mitchell of Ohio became the first Black woman to run for president, as a communist. Like many other African Americans born in the 1930s, Mitchell joined the Communist Party because of its emphasis on racial and gender equality. Black female communists fought Jim Crow, lynchings and unfair labor practices for men and women of all races.

A portrait of Charlene Mitchell

Charlene Mitchell, America’s first Black female presidential candidate. Wikimedia Commons

Mitchell’s presidential campaign, which focused on civil rights and poverty, was probably doomed from the start. In 1968, many states didn’t allow communists on the ballot. Media outlets from the Boston Globe to the Chicago Tribune also discussed Mitchell’s “unsuitability” as a candidate because she was both Black and female. Mitchell received just 1,075 votes.

Other independent Black female presidential candidates have been community organizer Margaret Wright, who ran on the People’s Party ticket in 1976; Isabell Masters, a teacher who created her own third party, called Looking Back and ran in 1984, 1992 and 2004; and teacher Monica Moorehead of the Workers World Party ticket, who ran in 1996, 2000 and 2016.

In 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected president, Cynthia McKinney, a former U.S. representative from Georgia, was a nominee of the Green Party. And in 2012, Peta Lindsay ran to unseat President Obama from the left, on the Party for Socialism and Liberation ticket.

Only one Black woman has ever pursued the Republican nomination: Angel Joy Charvis, a religious conservative from Florida, who wanted to use her 1999 candidacy to “to recruit a new breed of Republican.”

Unbought and unbossed

These Black female presidential candidates were little known. But as the first Black female member of Congress, Shirley Chisholm had years of experience in public office and a national reputation when she became the first Black American and the first woman to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. Chisholm’s campaign slogan: “Unbought and Unbossed.”

Shirley Chisholm announces her entry for the Democratic nomination. Don Hogan Charles/New York Times Co. via Getty Images

Chisholm, who mostly paid for her campaign on her credit card, focused on civil rights and poverty.

She became the target of vehement sexism. One New York Times article from June 1972 described her appearance as, “[Not] beautiful. Her face is bony and angular, her nose wide and flat, her eyes small almost to beadiness, her neck and limbs scrawny. Her protruding teeth probably account in part for her noticeable lisp.”

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]

Chisholm received little support from either Black or female voters and won not a single primary.

The Black women who followed in Chisholm’s footsteps from Congress to the Democratic presidential primary, including Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and Harris herself, have seen little more success. Harris was among the first 2020 Democratic primary candidates to drop out, in December 2019.

Challenges for Black women

Why did these women’s candidacies fail?

In most cases, my research finds, America’s Black female presidential candidates haven’t made the ballot. Those who did had trouble raising funds.

And because their candidacies weren’t taken seriously by the media, they had trouble getting their messages heard. Historically Black female presidential candidates have received no real support from any segment of American voters, including African Americans and women. Generally, people – even those who might have been heartened by the idea that someone who looked like them could aspire to the White House – thought they couldn’t win.

As a vice president for two terms who had a major role in governing under Barack Obama, Joe Biden knows what the office entails. He has now selected a woman who he believes can not only help him win the election but also to govern if he is elected. It is a watershed moment for African Americans, Asian Americans and women who’ve so long been excluded from so many aspects of politics.The Conversation

Sharon Austin, Professor of Political Science, University of Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.