Today, the Will of the People Wins
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth” — Abraham Lincoln
And so it begins… The long awaited return to citizenship for many Floridians who were casted aside by an archaic system steeped in the historic revisionism of the Jim Crow Era.
But as we look towards the sanctity of a new political climate, where equality lives and segregation is dead, let’s remind ourselves how did we got here? Let us examine such saga in a Shakespearean way, shall we?
Act 1: The Origin
The year is 1868...
The Civil War is over…
Slavery is abolished…
The Emancipation Proclamation is signed…
The South is undergoing a metamorphosis of change. No longer three fifths of a man, on paper, new Americans seek a better life, cloaked in the symbolism of Freedom. The population in Florida: estimated at 154,000 people. A time when during the Reconstruction Era, when many newly “freed” blacks made up most of the delegates in Florida. The State Constitution was being drafted. Freed blacks in Florida were thought of as the “radical” delegates and fought, ideologically, the majority white “moderate” delegates over which constitution which be ratified. In the dead of the night, moderates broke into the state hall, forcibly achieved quorum by removing 2 radical delegates from their homes, and submitted their version of the Constitution to General George Meade, Military Commander of the Reconstruction. When radicals appeared to the legal hearing, they were blocked by armed military guards from entering the hall. The moderate constitution was adopted on his recommendation. Surprise, surprise…
Two factoids worth noting…
One: The moderates were aided by Democratic Governor and ex-Confederate General David Walker. See, ahem, during those times, most blacks were Republicans. Shocking, I know. Known as the “Party of Lincoln” after the Emancipation Proclamation essentially “freed” slaves in 1863, most blacks identified with the Republican Party.
Two: Rather matter of factly speaking, it stayed that way until the passage of the New Deal by FDR which stimulated the economy, creating a venerable social safety net and restored prosperity to the country after The Great Depression. For those of you keeping score, that’s over 60 years of loyalty to a Republican Party that is a blindingly stark contrast to the one we have today.
Although the State of Florida has been governed by six Constitutions, the current laws and practices that regulates the state today are almost wholly beholden to the 1868 Constitution. (The 1885 Constitution implemented a poll tax, which disenfranchised many black voters and suppressed overall voter turnout.)
Which is what leads us to the reason Amendment 4 was created in the first place, to break away from the shackles of xenophobic normalization, root out bigotry and usher in current day civility and endowment of voter participation. It was created as an amendment to the Monroe Doctrine of its time. Moreover, as a rally cry for restoration of rights to individuals whose “unalienable rights” have been taken away by a system of policies drenched in rancor and repugnance.
But alas, today the will of the people wins.
Act 2: The Contemporary
A phrase that has resonated recently in the main stream media, and has been woven into the American lexicon is law and order. Amazing. At a time in this country where most of what is coming out of the White House is unlawful and disorderly.
Finally, a moment of morality. Today, the will of 5,148,926 Floridians who resoundingly rejected the old way of thinking takes shape in the voter registration of Returning Citizens in all 67 counties in the State.
Expect heavy foot traffic at the Supervisor of Elections Offices in such Democratic strongholds in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Orange counties.
If Amendment 4 hadn’t passed, organizers would have had to wait until the next Constitution Review Board Meeting was held, in the year 2037!
Much to the chagrin of the incoming administration, Amendment 4 did pass with bipartisan support. And organizers of the movement like to tout that Returning Citizens should have the right to register to vote irregardless of party affiliation, to not dismay them from the process that have longed for.
But what is painfully obvious and undeviable is the impact that the increased number of registered voters will have on black and brown communities. They have the power to swing elections and sway the electorate in favor of Democratic candidates. The Miami Herald stated that Democrats were three times more likely to be affected than Republicans. One of out 5 black men in Florida can’t vote because of a prior felony conviction, and yet an eloquent, electible, efficient, charismatic conductor of energy named Andrew Gillum only lost the Governor’s race by roughly 31,000 votes. Tisk, tisk…
Early this year, a Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald analysis found that 52 percent of people who lost their voting rights last year were registered Democrats and 33 percent had no party affiliation. Only 14 percent had registered as Republican.
Roger Clegg, the president and general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank in Virginia said “It doesn’t make sense to have automatic restoration of rights, because most people who walk out of prison are going to walk back in anyways.”
It’s that kind of thinking that diminishes the feats of those of us who wake up everyday vowing to channel their MLK while working to disavow the those who would rather channel their inner Bull Connor.
I hope that journalists, pundits and news anchors focus their coverage today not on the salacious details of the law but on the endurance of the movement. This long, arduous process over 4 years in the making was endured by hundreds of deeply dedicated organizers, activists, scholars and legal experts who saw this battle as a personal crusade against despotism.
Here is a list of some of the organizations who forged this path to victory, with Desmond Meade and Howard Simon respectively deserving a lions share of the credit.
Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. ACLU. New Florida Majority. Demos. When We Vote, FLIC Votes, Second Chances Florida.org, Human Rights Campaign, League of Women Voters, SEIU, and many, many others activist groups and coalitions.
The heroes and heroines who worked tirelessly, canvassing, calling elected officials, writing letters to Congress, risking their livelihoods, sometimes their safety and often times their freedom time to fight so hard for the future generations of Floridians to bask in this glory.
This is Democracy personified and all Americans should rejoice when the will of the Republic works in favor of the people.
During a conference call last night, Meade and his colleagues at FRRC gave some insight on the best onboarding practices and how to navigate the welcoming process for registering returning citizens.
- Do not target felons specifically. You will not find a “list” of registered Felons. That is a severe invasion of privacy. If you are registering people to vote at an event, do not ask “if you’re a Felon”. Resist the urge to identify them. Simply ask everyone, “would you like to register to vote.”
- Be sensitive to their feelings. They may not want to tell you that they are a Returning Citizen.
- Don’t push a partisan agenda. Share as much information as possible because it is clear which party supported the issue and which party has tried to block it, undermine it and challenge it.
- For Returning Citizens, make sure your sentence is complete before you go to the SOE. And if you have restitution to settle, you are encouraged NOT to go register just yet. Let the attorneys do their jobs, look for pro bono attorneys to work with and use the online resources provided to you.
- The Florida Restoration Rights Coalition website is www.floridarrc.com
- #OurVoteOurVoice is the preferred hashtag to use on social media.
- If someone willingly confesses to being a Felon, refer them to the Commission of Offender Review if they have questions about clemency, probation and what it means to complete their sentence. The website is www.fcor.state.fl.us
- The FRRC Hotline is ready and will have a live person starting at 8am to answer any questions. The number is 1–888–698–6830. There goal is to respond to all inquiries within 24 hours.
“I’m hoping that tomorrow will be a catalyst to encourage everyone to register to vote, especially ones that are already eligible”, says Meade, speaking on the call last night.
I wholeheartedly agree. I have learned some constants from doing this work, and one single, solitary constant is this: some people will feel that they don’t have to vote because everyone else is already voting. Well, there one problem with that line of thinking: everyone else is thinking the exact same thing!
He also wanted to emphasize that this is only Stage 1. All 1.4 million returning citizens won’t be registered immediately. There will undoubtedly be unmitigated bureaucracy in the Florida Court System, by state agencies and election officials who must be checked and balanced, and especially by a an administration hellbent of suppressing the vote.
Subsequently, for laws about restoration rights, the education is equally the legislation , namely the on-going trainings, seminars and large voter registration events that will be statewide. In fact, those are happening right now.
As 2020 looms ahead, he (or she) who captures the hearts and hopes of this influx of newly registered voters will separate from a seemingly large pack, all jockeying for position to win its party nomination.
I talked with one prominent political consultant, who spoke on a condition of amonitony, who said he thinks that as many as 250,000 voters could see their rights restored before the 2020 General Election. That, he said, would impact any attempts to gerrymander districts.
Before he wrapped up the conference call, Meade said he would be voting in Orange County with his family by his side. “Its going to be an emotional day for me and my family, they have been their with me the whole time”
I hope Desmond lets the sun shine on his brow, has a spring in his step and flashes a smile as far as the ocean is wide. For he is moving with purpose, and powered by…the will of the people.
Act 3: The Promise
To be continued…