As the weather turns warmer, our minds turn to the fun and relaxation of summer. Beach trips. Cooling off with pints of Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Strawberry Cheesecake. Smoothie dates at the Scoop Shop.
But for communities of color, there's no vacation from racism. Today, the Jim Crow South feels like a distant world that doesn’t have much in common with our modern experience — a world of segregated bathrooms, “whites only” lunch counters, and laws that made every aspect of life more difficult and restrictive for people of color.
Even today, Black Americans know that the damage inflicted by Jim Crow laws persists. Systemic racism is an ever-present part of the daily lives of people of color — Black families hold less wealth than their white counterparts, people with Black-sounding names are 50% less likely to get called back for a job interview than those with white-sounding names (even with an identical resume), and Blacks make up 40% of the prison population (far outweighing the 13% of the population that they make up).
Sunshine Disenfranchisement State
But the impact of Jim Crow can be seen most prominently in our voting laws. As the country began to recognize full equality for Black people — including the right to vote — politicians, civic leaders, and wealthy elites in many states, but most notably in Florida, collaborated to take deliberate steps to systematically keep the state’s Black population silent and disempowered.
Florida adopted a series of laws in 1868 that were designed specifically to keep Black citizens from voting. Possibly the most nefarious among them was Section 2, which barred all persons with a felony conviction from voting — for life. Knowing that at the time the criminal laws were already written to unfairly target Black Floridians, lawmakers knew Section 2 would be instrumental in keeping Black voters from the polls — and maintaining the white-dominant status quo.
Today, Florida’s felon disenfranchisement law has removed millions of Floridians from the voter rolls, effectively silencing their voices. The numbers draw a dark picture:
- Florida has the highest disenfranchisement rate in the country: 1.6 million Floridians cannot vote due to past convictions, even though they have now served their time
- Florida’s disenfranchised voters are disproportionately people of color, including over a quarter of the state’s entire Black population
- 27% of all disenfranchised felons in the US live in Florida, and of those who have completed their sentences but still cannot vote, 48% live in Florida
- Nationally, about 6 million Americans have lost the right to vote due to a felony conviction
This week, as the Poor People’s Campaign marches into the second week of its 40 Days of Action campaign, voting rights are front and center in mobilizations, teach-ins, and discussions. We say everyone, regardless of conviction status, has a right to be a part of the national conversation and to make their voice heard at the polls. The roots of the nation’s voter disenfranchisement laws were unequivocally racist, and their impacts today still have an outsize impact on people of color. It’s not fair, and it’s not right.
What You Can Do
The more of us who talk about this, who educate each other, who pressure our politicians and take to the streets, the sooner change will come. Join the Poor People’s campaign and you’ll receive updates about what’s going on all over the country during their 40 Days of Action campaign, happening now through June 21st.
Join The Movement!
Find an Event Near You
But even if you’re not able to get to any of the marches, protests, teaching sessions, or events, you can still get involved. Each week, these recurring events will be live streamed from Washington, DC via the Poor People’s Campaign’s Facebook page:
- Sundays: Mass Meeting, 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm EST
- Tuesdays: Truthful Tuesday Teach-Ins, 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm EST
- Thursdays: Thursday Justice Jam Nights, 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm EST
Why not invite some people over and watch it together? Start a conversation. Get to know each other. Share some food and share some ideas. The connections we make matter. We need each other. We’re all in this together, and we’re building a movement meant to last.
We’ll see you again next week, May 27 - June 2, when the theme is Militarism, The War Economy, Veterans, Education and Our National Priorities.