Looking Forward, Looking Back: Black Women and American Democracy. Based on an interview with Danielle Mkali. -Hana Worku

“Honor your own African American freedom fighting elders, aunties, mamas, unnamed ancestors and yourself in a special photo shoot. This is a special tribute to all of the African American women who are leading the struggle in Minnesota each and every day. As we know the time has come again for African American Freedom Fighting Sisters to stand up for voting rights once again. The “Voter ID” constitutional amendment in Minnesota is one that is specifically targeting African Americans and other marginalized cultural, economic and age demographics. “  -Call for Sistas in the Struggle for Deep Democracy photoshoot

“The struggle recognition is the nexus of human identity and national identity, where much of the most important work of politics occurs.  African American women fully embody this struggle.” -Melissa Harris-Perry,  Sister Citizen, page 4.

According to data released by the Pew Research Center, African- American women had the highest voter turnout rates over any other key racial/ethnic/ gender demographic in the 2008 election.   In other words, in terms of percentages, the level of political participation by African American women in that recent election was higher than white men, white women, Latino men, Asian-American women, or any other group. This past week, I spent some time talking with Danielle Mkali from Mainstreet Project about black women and American democracy, following up on the “Sistas in the Struggle for Deep Democracy” photoshoot she organized in mid-October.   Danielle started our conversation by talking a bit about the voter turnout statistics.

“I think something that not many people have paid attention to – that hasn’t been headline news in many places or spaces-  but that is very important is that black women had the highest voter turnout rate of any other group in the United States in 2008… I think that’s really significant and we need to be proud of what that means for our communities, for our families, and for future generations.  We recognize the power of our vote, and we understand that’s one place that our power cannot be denied.”

For Danielle, the idea of photoshoot came as a way to recognize and honor the work that black women in particular are doing to defeat the Voter ID amendment this election as well as a way to connect this work to the legacy of struggle and resistance of black women throughout history.

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Why my husband and I are voting NO – Julia Freeman

When I met my husband Al in 2007,  he told me he was an ex-felon and had been off probation for over 10 years. He said he had not voted once in those ten years because he thought he wasn’t allowed to.

As an organizer, I had done work registering folks to vote and informing them of their rights for over a decade.  When I told Al that he could have voted the moment he was done with his probation, he was so angry.   No one had ever told him that he didn’t lose his right to vote forever.  He also never got a notice saying “your voting rights have been restored.”

I remember him asking a lot of questions about elections.   He was so proud when he cast his vote for the first time in 2007.

Since then, Al has made it his mission to tell ex-felons he knows and those he has just met that they have the right to vote if they have completed their probation. At every election, including the primary, he is up early and rushing me out the door to go vote. He does everything he can to make voting accessible to everyone.  One time when we went to vote, there were no “Vote Here” signs by the front door.  Al let them know and asked the volunteers to get some signs up right away so that people would not get discouraged and leave.  Before we left, he checked again to be sure the signs were easily visible at both entrances.  He said as we were leaving,

 If you make it too hard for people, especially people of color, they may give up and go home.  We can’t have that because every vote is important.

Al knows what it’s like to lose the right to vote and to have rules put in front of you that discourage you from voting or add more confusion to the process.  So, Al – like me – opposes the Voter ID Amendment that was proposed to the Constitution this November.  He says “this amendment is just one more barrier to go through and knocking down barriers is exhausting!”  Citizens have the right to vote, and we should be doing everything we can to make sure they can exercise that right in our democracy. 

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The People’s Carpet – Say Yang

As I walked up the block to Parkway Theater the glowing bright sign caught my attention. It read “VOICES FOR VOTER RIGHTS VOTE NO ON VOTER ID 6:30.”  Below, were countless community members walking the red carpet entrance.  Some were coming over after work or with their kids, some clearly had taken time to dress up, some were there in groups with friends, others strolled in alone.  There were familiar faces and other folks that I’d never met before gathering together posing for the camera to say “Vote NO, on Voter ID.”

In that moment, I realized the red carpet at Parkway Theater on October 11th, 2012, was truly a people’s carpet. In seeing this, a warm smiled came through me as I joined others in the entrance to the theater.

In the lobby area there were countless people engaging and socializing before the start of the event.  There were interviews taking place, volunteers registering voters, and a community table full of materials from various grassroots organizations. The community table was filled with voter registrations, community voter guides, and an abundant amount of literature and materials from other organizations in different languages. Lastly, there was free popcorn distributed by the Parkway Theater for the community as they work their way to be seated inside the theater room.

The theater doors soon closed by 6:30 pm and the beat of the 3rd generation native drum kicks off the Voices for Voting Rights Red Carpet Event. We all turned to our left to acknowledge “Ringing Shield”. I suddenly felt this deep pain in my chest as the sound vibrated through me.  As Wakinyan Lapointe puts it, “Its medicine for the people and the drum is prayer in the Lakota way in honor of life.”  I  felt that we were all truly present in that moment, to stand for democracy and honor the our collective community and struggle as we oppose the voter ID amendment.

If you weren’t there you definitely missed out an awesome full house community event with story sharing, voices for voting rights film screening, and the people’s movement. There were over 300 attendees from several ethnic backgrounds representing what our local community is made up of and this is why I called it “The People’s Red Carpet”.

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