Building to Restore the Vote

Justin Terrell

Justin Terrell

Justin Terrell is the Justice 4 All Program Manager at TakeAction Minnesota. For more information abou the Saturday Restore the Vote MN Rally and Door Knock, contact him at justin@takeactionminnesota.org.

After every election, Minnesotans love to talk about high turnout at the polls. Even when we have recounts and narrow victories, the story on the news is always about our proud voting tradition.

But the reality about that tradition is much more complicated. Black folks are missing out on elections at an alarming rate. Many of us have had our Civil Right to vote taken away by the Justice System. Some of us just don’t believe our country’s democracy is for us. And why would we?

When I hit the block with a clip board, all I hear is “Vote? Vote for who? What are they going to do for me?” and I have finally learned to stop arguing. The answer to the question is “nothing.” No one is going to do anything for our community. As a matter of fact, they will pass policies that result with more Black folks behind bars than during slavery. Corporations will make sure that unemployment stays consistently high and our wages drop through the basement. Not only will people in power not help us, they will fight against us for their own personal gain.

Well, I say enough is enough. Instead of encouraging folks to vote, I am encouraging folks from my community to build. Build a block of voters that hold elected officials accountable. Build an agenda with policies that work in our interest. Build leaders to run for offices. Build organizations focused on power for our community.

This Saturday, we are hitting the doors on the North Side of Minneapolis and the East Side of St. Paul. Our goal is to generate support for the restoration of voting rights for people who have had their rights taken away because they are currently on probation and parole for a felony conviction. Please join us, change starts by connecting with each other in the community. Here is the information to get involved:

Restore the Vote MN Rally and Door Knock

Saturday, September 20th

10:30am – 3:00pm

RSVP HERE

Minneapolis Location

MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change

911 West Broadway

Minneapolis, MN 55411

St. Paul Location

Hope Lutheran Church

1340 Hazel St N

St Paul, MN 55119

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An Organizer’s Story: Change, Discovery, and Leading the Fight

3611273461By Justin Terrell

One of the best parts of being a mentor is the look on Malik’s face when he discovers something new.

Malik is 16 and a junior at North High School. He plays football and helped the North High Polars move to the second round in the playoffs this year.

Now that football is over, the kid needs a job. When I asked him where he would like to work, he smiled and said Target. So last week, Malik and I went down to Target and filled out an application in the store. At the end of the application I asked him “any questions about criminal background?” He smiled and said “no.”

Discovery is powerful, and even though he didn’t say it, I know that Malik understands that change is possible. He was at the Target the Racial Jobs Gap event a few weeks ago when Target announced they would be removing the question about criminal histories from their applications across the country. He was also there when I told him we were flying to Denver to talk with Gregg Stienhafel the CEO of Target about fair hiring. And Malik was there when we called, door knocked and brought the community together to encourage Target to be a stronger partner. But, I am not sure he understood what all that meant until he filled out an application.

So what does it mean?

We know that our state has the worst racial jobs gap in the country. African Americans are 5 times more likely to be unemployed and 10 times more likely to be impacted by the criminal justice system. This creates barriers to economic growth and I would argue even safety concerns in our community. Minnesota has a recidivism rate (percentage of people re-offending and going back to prison) of 61%. People have a hard time staying out of the streets if they can’t get a job. Removing barriers to employment is one way we can start to close the gap. This year when Second Chance Coalition partners and Target Corp. supported Governor Dayton when he signed”Ban the Box” into law, our state moved one giant step forward.

To do that, we had to connect people to each other and to their democracy. Now we are going back to the Capitol and asking that our state take the next step. We want to see reforms to expungement laws. When an applicant for expungement stands before a judge and earns the sealing of his criminal record, that record should be sealed from their criminal history. We want employers to no longer have access to arrest, dismissed, sealed, or any type of non-conviction records. Bottom line, if a judge says I am innocent, an employer should not be given the right to judge my suitability for employment based on my non-convictions.

The good news is that people are working on all of the above. Senator Bobby Joe Champion and Representative Deb Hilstrom are leading a workgroup and have people from both sides of the political spectrum looking at this issue. This work is backed by dedicated community leaders like Representative Raymond Dehn and the Second Chance Coalition. My hope is that the next thing Malik discovers is that he is also leading this fight.

Justin Terrell is the Justice 4 All Program Manager at TakeAction Minnesota, which is a partner of the Second Chance Coalition.

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We defeated Voter ID. Now let’s expand voting rights.

The ‘felon notification bill’ SF164 will be heard in the Senate on Tuesday, February 19 in Judiciary in Capitol Room 15 at 12:00 PM. This bill does not restore the right to vote, but rather makes improvements to how the state notifies voters if and when their voting rights are restored/revoked.

Many Voices for Racial Justice oppose this bill, not because the bill itself is bad but because it perpetuates the current policy of disenfranchisement. This bill originates from the report of the Governor’s Election Integrity Task Force, which examined both re-enfranchisement (which we support) and improving the notification process for people whose voting rights have been revoked. The report does suggest ways to improve notification, but also notes that no system will be perfect; some citizens will still not be properly notified of their voting right status.

The Early Voting bill SF 535 will also be heard this weekon Wednesday, February 20 in the Senate Elections Sub-Committee at 12 PM in Capitol Room 123. Voices for Racial Justice support this bill for opening up access to voting.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Attend Tuesday’s hearing to show your support for voting rights restoration, not merely notification improvements. Let’s fill the room to show legislators that the solution the community supports most is not this bill (despite its good intentions) but actually restoring voting rights for citizens who have served their time and are now living in the community again. Second Chance Coalition stickers/buttons may be available for people to wear and show their support.

Attend Wednesday’s hearing to show your support for early voting (along with no-excuse absentee).

Consider testifying,  making phone calls, and visiting your legislator to share your views on both of these issues. Particularly powerful would be hearing from citizens who are currently disenfranchised or were in the past, to speak on what restoring the right to vote upon release form incarceration would mean to them, or how being disenfranchised while living in the community impacted their reintegration process. What obstacles — job responsibilities, childcare issues, transportation barriers — have you faced in accessing your right to vote and how could early voting make it easier for you to participate?

Sign up for a phone banking shift to call likely supporters of these issues and have them contact their elected officials.  The phone bank dates and sign up links are below.  Please share with others who may be interested.

Contact Jeff Narabrook of the Voting Rights Coalition for more information. Call 651-757-3062 or email jnarabrook@minnesotanonprofits.org.

 

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