How to Do More Than Panic About Voter Suppression

Trump’s attacks on Black protesters and Black people are inextricably bound to the arguments he will make to try to invalidate the election. In this episode, Truthout’s Kelly Hayes talks with voting rights activist Anoa Changa about how you can defend voting rights in the homestretch of the presidential race.

Note: This is a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.

TRANSCRIPT

Kelly Hayes: Welcome to Movement Memos, a Truthout podcast about things you should know, if you want to change the world. I’m your host, Kelly Hayes. As the 2020 election approaches, Republican led voter suppression efforts are in high gear and organizers are calling on the public to fight back. On Friday afternoon, a federal appeals court upheld a Florida law requiring people with felony convictions to pay all fines, fees, and restitution before becoming eligible to vote, potentially disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of people in a key battleground state. Classic voter suppression tactics like voter ID laws, intimidation and mass disenrollment have been bolstered by the pandemic, which has been leveraged as an excuse by some officials to close more polling places and create other barriers to voting. A Washington Post analysis recently found that more than half a million mail in ballots have already been rejected in primaries in 23 States this year. By comparison, less than 318,000 ballots were rejected in the 2016 general election. So, how do we meet this crisis in the 11th hour as the world burns?

Fortunately, there have been people fighting the good fight on this front for years. And in this moment they are offering some wisdom and guidance, should folks choose to accept it. Today’s guest is my friend Anoa Changa. Anoa is a retired attorney and an Atlanta-based movement journalist. She is currently the electoral justice staff reporter for Prism and host of the new video series from Scalawag, “As the South Votes”. Anoa is also host of, The Way with Anoa podcast. Anoa Changa, welcome to the show.

Anoa Changa: Thanks for having me.

KH: How are you doing today, friend?

AC: I am doing as well as can be, considering all the things going on in the world right now, and really happy to be here talking with you.

KH: I hear that and I am so glad to be in conversation with you today. Well, to dive in, 2016 was the first federal election in 50 years without the protections of the Voting Rights Act in place. I don’t think a lot of people understand what voting rights activists have been up against since the gutting of the VRA or just how much ground Republicans have gained in suppressing black votes. Can you say a bit about the organizing you are involved with right now and how it aims to address those concerns?

AC: Currently, I’m working on a project with Scalawag called As The South Votes. It’s a video series that relies on input from readers of Skyline magazine, voters across the South and just helping to shape the conversation. So we have a text tip line, actually, where we’re asking people to text us their questions or any tips on issues that we should be covering. And we’re really looking at how to shine a light on some of the uncertainty that may be surrounding the election, particularly as many folks across the South are newly using absentee ballots for the first time to be able to vote by mail.

And just some of the other issues that we’ve seen come up in the past several cycles that could be, and probably will be issues in this election as well. So I’m really excited about being able to be the voice, so to speak, of this project and help people navigate and hopefully vote with more confidence.

KH: Well, I am so grateful for this effort, and for everyone who is taking action right now, which is one of the things we really want to drive home today: that we can take action. There’s a lot of panic in the air, and we don’t need panicked action or thinking right now. We need strategy, ingenuity and solidarity. And while a lot of people are particularly afraid right now because of the brazenness with which Donald Trump may try to steal the election, we have to dig deeper. Because the people who we all need to get behind right now, the people who have been organizing around voting rights for years, have been outgunned by the other side for years, and we saw the consequences of that in 2016, when Black voter participation in Wisconsin dropped about 19 percent in the 2016 election from 2012. Milwaukee County, which is overwhelmingly Black, saw 50,000 fewer votes were cast — and this is in a state where Trump won by 27,000 votes. The voter suppression apparatus that Trump was handed went into high gear when the VRA was gutted, but I don’t think most people in the U.S. really understand the on the ground impacts. Can you say a bit about what voter suppression looks like in the 21st century?

AC: Hmm. Well, I really appreciate you going back to the gutting of VRA, right? So, we go back to Shelby County v. Holder in 2013 and what we see, we see an escalation in efforts that had already been creeping in, like even here in Georgia, going back to 2010, under then secretary of state Brian Kemp, there were different measures that were already starting to be implemented here in the state and a few others. But in 2013, after the Shelby County v. Holder case, you really saw a, it’s like a dam broke, and you immediately saw a passage of voter ID laws. You immediately saw areas that previously would have had to have their plans for poll location changes or poll closures or consolidations — they would have previously had to have them reviewed — just suddenly making all types of changes. And while on their face they may be, you know, neutral on their face, we do know how insidious it actually is in terms of the disproportionate impact of where polling locations have been targeted and closed, who is most directly impacted by voter ID laws. We’ve seen some amazing litigation coming from out West around the impact of voter ID laws on Native American communities as well, right? So, there have been this crescendo of cases happening and of work happening.

But here we are now in this moment, where I really think — post 2018 and folks watching what happened in our gubernatorial election with Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp here — I think people really started to take notice. But it wasn’t until, I would submit, until this pandemic moment we’re in now, when people saw what happened in Wisconsin, right? We saw the back and forth between the two parties in Wisconsin. We saw the inability of effective, democratic — not democratic as in the party, but democratic as in democracy — leadership, in terms of being able to put people’s health and safety first, over whether or not one party over another would have an edge. And we saw a complete failure, right, on many levels. We saw people advocating for rule changes that would actually disenfranchise or force people to put their lives at risk, which we actually saw as well. We saw that people who then went to the polls were then — there were numbers of cases of COVID-19 after that.

So, where we are now and what myself, what I’ve been, you know, I’ve been able to be involved with different organizations like The New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter. I participated in a Southern bus tour through Southern Georgia that Black Voters Matter had back in 2018. Folks may have seen images of, you know, the blackest bus in America on TV or in the news or anything. But we went through Southern Georgia, which is something that I had never really done that much, even though I’ve been living here for several years now. We went through the Southern part of the state and really, not only understood, like, some of the contemporary struggles that were happening at the time in 2018, there was a city, Stockbridge, which is just south of the city of Atlanta, that was in the process of going through a deannexation battle.

Had this been successful, it would have been the first city that had a section of the actual city proper carved out to create a brand new city. And that was as much of a racial breakdown as it was a class breakdown. They wanted to build a brand new, basically golf course community, country club community, out of an existing already predominantly Black city. This was also the first time that the city council and mayor had been all or predominantly Black, like in the city’s history. And so there was a lot around that happening.

So there were all these different moving pieces, right, and one of the organizers that I actually had went and knocked doors with, she’s now on the Stockbridge City Council. Like, that effort galvanized her and got her more involved and showed that, “Hey, I can be someone who makes these decisions as well.”

And so, thinking about these different places that we went, we were all the way down — folks may have seen things about Albany, Georgia and Dougherty County, Randolph County, Georgia, made the news that year because of the attempt to close all but two polling locations in a predominantly Black County. And the problem is like this type of stuff is not new, right? This has been happening all across the country. Texas and Georgia, in fact, according to a study from, I think last year, are actually the two highest closers of polls nationwide per population.

But we see this happening. We see similar issues happening in Wisconsin, like I mentioned But also in some, you know, more Northern areas like New York, for example. New York has had issues in terms of making sure — or, or Detroit [has] had issues in terms of making sure there’s equitable access to good polling machines that work, right? Polling locations opening on time. New York is a state, similar to Texas, that does not allow online voter registration. You have to actually mail in or turn in in person your voter registration form. So when we’re thinking about, like, what’s happening with voting rights, I mean, definitely being down here in the South, it has been like a real push for me to be more present, aware, and involved in what’s going on. But looking at how we have similar systems replicated in other communities, whether further out West or up North, it’s really clear that this is a fight for all of our communities, and not just for you know, those people who tend to live in red states.

KH: Well, I am grateful that you all are out there fighting the good fight. One of the things that really strikes me about the current conversation around voter participation is that people who are getting angry at non-voters don’t understand that Black people today are up against reconfigurations of the same apparatus that suppressed black votes prior to the VRA, the relentless bureaucratic roadblocks, like needing a license to get a birth certificate and needing a birth certificate to get a license, the closure of DMVs and polling places in black communities, the threat of investigation and prosecution for any misstep, people being removed from the rolls illegally, all while conservatives admit that they don’t want everyone to vote and are also clearly targeting Black communities.

I read this week that more than 50 percent of Americans are expected to vote by mail this year. And it has me thinking about Maggie Bozeman and Julia Wilder, who were targeted for their efforts to help Black people cast absentee ballots in 1979. Trumped up voter fraud as a form of voter intimidation has a long history. And as we know, there are infuriating modern day iterations of that legal persecution and intimidation. Is that a concern you encounter in your work, the legally intimidating nature of the system?

AC: Hmm. I think this is a really important conversation and question. And I really think that it’s… I mean, like a recent incident that really brings this to mind is — you know, it might be controversial for some folks, what I’m going to say, but Killer Mike’s recent sit down with now governor, Brian Kemp, and talking about, “He’s a decent human being.” And it’s triggering for a lot of folks here in Georgia. I wasn’t living in Georgia at the time this happened or organizing here. But what I’ve learned, and you know as a part of coming into the movement space around voting rights for certain folks, about the history of The Quitman Ten Plus Two. So this was a targeted attempt by Brian Kemp, going back to 2010. And this lasted several years, falsely accusing this group of candidates and activists in the community, all Black, of voter fraud and election tampering. It was a whole host of things they were accused of. You know, their mugshots were plastered across the newspaper. They pursued, they were frivolous charges, but they pursued criminal charges against them because they technically had the subpoena power and the right to do so under the law, right? And so, ultimately all charges were dropped, everyone was cleared, but what was happening was that they had utilized the use of absentee ballots, and encouraging people to use absentee ballots because they had a sizable black majority in Quitman, Georgia, but they had never had, like, Black representation on the school board, right? This was a school board race, the city council, anything meaningful like that. And it was a primary and they won. And this was an uproar. And this wasn’t about, you know, the political parties like Republican versus Democrat. This was just Black people versus white people, because these were white Democrats who then ran to the secretary of state and ran to the local D.A. and demanded an investigation.

So we have seen in recent times how here in Georgia, and this has happened at other places — there is a sister in Texas who was not aware that she did not have the right to vote restored to her who voted, who was sentenced to five years for her mistaken voting. We’re seeing this now happen again with the creation of an absentee ballot fraud taskforce by our current Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger. So at a time where we’re having this explosion of absentee ballot use, there are systems across the country that are not used to this large scale use of absentee ballots that need to have some type of standardization and support. And instead of investing in a commission or investigating how to make sure all 159 counties in our state are on the same page, the Secretary of State formed this criminal task force that was staffed primarily of white DA’s, or there’s like one or two Black DA’s on there, but it’s predominantly white DA’s, predominantly Republicans as well, that are geared toward trying to find quote/unquote “fraud” and prosecute people.

And some of the things they’re looking at is whether or not there are signature match issues, right? So there’s such a broad scope. Like who, even when you look through like whatever the different charges are or who is allowed to ask for forgiveness or plead ignorance, if you ever sit and listen to a state board of elections meeting, right, or whatever the requisite body is where you live, and you listened to the difference in charges and what they’re willing to send to the AG’s office. I just sat through several hours of a board meeting last week. And when you listen to someone mistakenly writing the name of their mother versus their grandmother on an absentee ballot request application versus someone who knows that they’re not to be in campaign gear at a polling location that says, “Make America Great Again.” Like the willingness that they go through to give one person the benefit of doubt and not the other and, when you look at the facts of the case, you can clearly tell it breaks down either along party affiliation or it breaks down along race, and sometimes both are combined.

But when we’re thinking about the past, a lot of folks tend to think of voter suppression as the olden days where you had like the sheriff with his gun out, or people siccing dogs on folks or the fire hose. It’s like all the images we’ve seen in documentaries and stuff. And what folks need to understand is how sophisticated it is now. It is these very narrowly construed, you know, reductive laws that make it very difficult for folks to engage in the process. You mentioned in your opening the recent decision in Florida, and what folks really need to understand about that, what’s even more egregious, because there are multiple States, particularly in the South, but across the country, that have similar laws on the books where fines and fees must be paid for full rights to be restored, right? But what the issue in Florida also is is that voters voted for Amendment 4, and Amendment 4 restored rights. There was no equivocation. But then this Republican controlled legislature decided to pass SB, I think it’s 7066. That did put this in position in terms of the restoration. There is a procedure within that law that permits people to go and petition a judge to ask for their fees to be waved, but that’s still a barrier because you still have to have a lawyer, right, who’s willing to take your case. You have to be able to afford a lawyer or find someone to do that pro bono. And there are hundreds of thousands, if not close to a million people, who this is a barrier of access for. So the decision in that case, you know, with statements from the judge that wrote the decision like, who I believe if I saw correctly was one of the recent Trump, federal appointees, you know, statements like, “Well, fees are a part of rehabilitation.” That’s nonsense. It’s like being able to pay — it’s the same type of logic that people use when they’re trying to oppose ending cash bail. Like, “Well people have to be able to pay, you know, as some measure of their innocence,” when literally the ability to pay nothing to do with rehabilitation and rehabilitation has nothing to do with your right to vote. Like, let’s just be real. Those two are not connected in the least at all.

And so when we’re looking at what’s happening now, and we’re really understanding just how intricate it is, like you mentioned also about the absentee ballots and the number of ballots to have been tossed out. I mean, it’s very, very particular. So with absentee ballots, depending upon the state you’re in, you may have like really extra above and beyond rules. And so in North Carolina, for example, you have to have ordinarily two witness signatures on your ballot. Now they have relaxed the rules, so you only now need one. But if you’re someone who in this moment is socially distancing and quarantining, how are you going to get someone to sign your ballot? And what potential risks could that put you in to have someone sign your ballot, to be able to cast it properly? I mean, another issue commonly that comes up is signature match issues, right? Like so our signatures, I mean most of us don’t write the same exact way all the time. Or our signatures are being compared to a digitized version from the DMV or whatever, right? And if you’ve ever seen your signature on your ID from the DMV, like, it can be anything other than what you wrote sometimes.

So there are all these issues in the problem. And so it’s not even a uniform standard that you have to actually give people the right to cure signature match issues. So in some places, you do have like a clearly defined three or five days, or however long it is, to cure if you have a signature match issue, to provide some other proof that that’s actually you and your signature.

But on top of that, if you forget to sign, because this is also a new thing for a lot of people, right? You might not think that you have to sign, but you have to sign your envelope. So you can have a signature match issue on your ballot, on your envelope. You can have a signature match issue on your application, and you can have a signature issue in that you forgot to sign it completely, all the way. And in some places they will discard those ballots and not give people the right to cure if they miss signing, right? And so, there are like so many levels to it and each state is completely different. And sometimes within states, different counties do different things, too.

So it’s extremely confusing. And the system of voter suppression that exists relies, in part, on that confusion. Because one would ask, “Why would a Secretary of State not try to standardize process, like, as the chief election administrator, making sure the administration of election is as uniform, consistent, and well supported as possible?” And it’s simple. They benefit from the chaos.

KH: Absolutely. Which is something people should consider more broadly right now, given that chaos is Trump’s primary strategy. This system, which has been built, as you say, quite intricately, while most people weren’t paying attention, is already in place. And Trump’s attacks on Black protesters and Black people are inextricably bound to the arguments he will make to try to invalidate this election. The specter of voter fraud has really always been code for Black criminality. It is very important, in this moment, for folks to be real with themselves about that. Because Democrats are sometimes inclined to separate issues that are by no means separate to the opposition. We know the idea that white people must be protected from the unpredictable and criminal impulses of Black people has been deployed to justify subjugation and unthinkable acts of violence since before this place was called the United States. Mainstreaming the myth of rampant voter fraud in the 2000s helped propel the deconstruction of the VRA. And it has helped propel every escalation since. And the Supreme Court’s handling of the presidential recount in 2000 doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Something else that’s been on my mind, reflecting on these historical connections and parallels, is the role of vigilantes, now and in the past, because Trump and other conservatives are rallying violence and intimidation now, just as their counterparts did in the past. And I think people understand this when it comes to things that happened in the sixties, which is where most of this struggle is situated in the history books and in folks’ minds. When people talk about the Civil Rights Movement, and how people were beaten, killed, or otherwise abused because they fought to enfranchise Black people, they tell those stories with great reverence, but I’m not seeing that level of reverence about what’s at stake for people right now. I am seeing vote shaming and sanctimony about how people have to, “Just vote,” as though it’s that simple a matter. And I am seeing a lot of victim blaming directed at people who have been left disillusioned, exasperated, and intimidated by the system. Taking your frustrations out on those people, instead of the system that brutalizes them is never okay. If you are someone who would have blamed the system for voter suppression in the sixties, and fought it, then you should be that person now. This is not the time to complain that folks aren’t motivated enough, but a time to support Black voters who are disenfranchised, and to join community efforts to help people vote, if that’s something they care about. Because we are all now who we would have been at any era in history. We all have historical counterparts and we should be conscious of who those people are.

AC: Mhmm, mhmm, mhmm, I mean, I think what you bring up is really important in terms of vote shaming, right? And I’m, hopefully I should have up this week, an article actually about vote shaming. But when we’re talking about what’s happening right now — and I understand that a lot of people are operating from a sense of fear and anxiety, right? However, for those of us who have experienced fear in their lives or have struggled through anxiety and depression, and I’m going to be real, like, I’ve had points of very crippling anxiety and panic attacks in my life. And that does not give us the right to perform that onto other people, to put that on others, right? And so I do understand where, I don’t necessarily agree with it but I understand, where some people have the anxiety that’s coming around this upcoming election, around, “What does a second term mean for this current president?” et cetera.

However, the answer is not, like you were saying, to shake your finger at people and tell them they ought to vote. I mean, I’m actually also even tired of, you know, “Our ancestors died for, you know, our right to vote.” Which, we have some amazing ancestors that put in some amazing work and did all the things to make sure that we are even able, that you and I as two free women of particular… freeish women of particular backgrounds could even have this conversation, right? So I do sit with that, but at the same time, when we’re thinking about the obstacles that stand before people, whether it is the local polling location closures that have happened, primarily widely across the South, but several other places, whether it is the issues that we’ve seen in places like Detroit, New York, where you have polling locations opening way later than they are supposed to. People have to go to work. I mean, we’re not also dealing with the means and conditions of people’s lives, right? Most voters cannot afford to wait multiple hours when they have either to worry about children to take care of, they have jobs to get to, et cetera.

So, I mean, we really need to be — if we want to make sure that everyone is taking advantage of being able to vote, several different things need to happen. One, including if you aren’t, you need to know the rules in your own state to make sure that you’re advocating for the most expansive reforms possible to bring people into the fold, right? So we need to have automatic voter registration. I mean again, New York, Texas are among the States that do not have online voter registration, even. So, I mean, that’s just like a very basic thing. But then we need to make sure that people can have paid leave to go vote. Or we need to make sure that people can have paid leave period, not just to vote, right? Like you should be able to have paid leave, whether they’re sick leave or personal leave, regardless of whether you’re going to vote or not. But you also should have it to be able to go vote. I mean, and if you have someone who’s working multiple jobs to make ends meet, the last thing they’re thinking about is voting. So people need to get better about how they’re talking to people. And so one of the things that I have been very thankful for is to be in community with folks like Black Leaders Organizing for Communities led by Angela Lang in Wisconsin, or, LIT, Leaders Igniting Transformation, also in Wisconsin. Or you have folks doing work in Minneapolis. Down here in Georgia, you have The New Georgia Project and Black Voters Matter and several other amazing organizations. All Voting Is Local is another partnership that is a collective effort between national Civil Rights orgs, that is providing on the ground support.

And so that’s really what people need to be doing instead of vote shaming, is you have these amazing organizations across the South, across the country, that are doing deep organizing year round in communities, right? So they’re not just showing up several weeks before the election saying, “You ought to vote. You better do this. You need to do this.” They’re not just simply showing up when it’s time to register people to vote. Registering to vote is often an entry point into organizing, but it’s not the only thing a lot of these organizations are doing. But most of the time, people are under-resourced, they’re under capacity, so their imprint in communities only is going so far, but they’re still doing amazing, capacity building work, without the huge funds that a lot of these national orgs that show up at election time with, “Hey, drop this link, do this thing,” are doing.

So, I mean, I really have a problem with vote shaming also because you haven’t given people reason. Now folks will say, “Well, what more reason do you need?” And I appreciate the article you wrote. I actually sent it to my siblings, my siblings who are between their early twenties and early thirties, because they are in that message. I gave it to my daughter to share with her friends, too — and she’s a first time voter this cycle — because they are feeling it like, “Yes, things are horrible. Things are rough. but when you are a Black or brown kid, you know, when you’ve grown up in certain communities in a certain era, when have things not been rough, right?” And that is the conversation that some folks are having with each other. And then if they only hear whatever soundbite they hear, because we have a news media that is so focused on trying to talk about when Trump is presidential or they’re not actually digging into the harm that’s happening, people hear various sound bites and they’re like, “Well, what’s the big deal?” So we have to also be talking to people and not at them…

KH: Yes!

AC: …and engaging around what is important. So that’s why I’m really excited about, one, the work that I get to do at Prism in terms of electoral justice, which looks at more of a comprehensive way of approaching political work as not just the horse race, election coverage.

The way I frame my coverage is really inspired by the Movement for Black Lives, Electoral Justice Round Table, how they define the concept, and looking at the deep organizing, the year round work. And also looking at other things besides, you know, the presidential election, because we have elections happening up and down the ballot, and local elections happen literally every single year. Every year, somewhere in the country, somewhere in your state, there are elections happening.

And so helping people become more involved and understanding, like, if you want to change X, then these are the levels of offices we need to be thinking about. Because it wasn’t until I started working for Democracy for America in 2018, not that I didn’t understand about local elections, but when I really understood what certain offices do, particularly certain niche ones that we don’t have on the East coast. Like the Southwest, you have folks like a Justice of the Peace in, like, Texas and Arizona and in some other places. But like, that’s not just someone from TV who, like, marries people who are running away to elope. That’s like the actual entry point for some folks in the criminal justice system.

When I had a young person explain to me — who was running for office, for Justice of the Peace — who was explaining to me why that role was important in terms of, like, how truancy cases came through there, right? Like that’s the first entry point for the school to prison pipeline for some kids. I was like, “Wow, that is so amazing.” So there are people who are also thinking about these different types of offices and actually running people, and not just using the school board as a springboard to some other higher office, but actually investing in people who are going to make a difference on the school board.

And so, we really need to be digging in and understanding the organizing effort that needs to be happening. And it’s not just, “We need to get non-voters shifting the way they think about voting.” We need to shift and build our own alternative spaces around elections and our ways of engaging in political organizing and electoral organizing.

Which brings me to the Scalawag project. I’m really excited that Scalawag was interested in doing a conversation around voting rights and voter suppression in the South because we hear the gloom and doom when a court case happens or when we see the breaking news, when we hear about the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve been purged or sent wrong notices, but rarely do we have that deep conversation in media about, “What can we do? What steps can we take?” It’s rarely prescriptive. It rarely gives people the tools. And so I appreciate, like, where Scalawag also is coming from in terms of, we want to give people the information they need to then go take it back to wherever their communities are, and then to do the work.

And so, a lot of our folks, and I’m sure you know this from the work that you do, you know, a lot of our folks are organizing and working hard and around the clock and they don’t have the time to tell the stories of their work or the victories, because they’re so busy doing the work. And so I’ve always seen, you know, a role to play is helping to amplify the work that is happening.

And then also helping folks understand, like, what are the steps behind it? Cause you can do this too. Or you can take this template and make it work in your community the way it needs to.

KH: So I’m so just sitting here rooting for everything you were saying about vote shaming. I do want to circle back for a moment to the role of police. In the current moment when tensions between police and Black protesters are incredibly high, I am concerned that a lot of people are going to hear that there’s a threat of vigilante violence at the polls, and think we need to station police at every polling place, because that also reinforces an existing problem. Putting polling places in police stations naturally lends itself to voter suppression, as a general practice, because Black people are not safe around police or police stations. Given that police play a rather central role in violently enforcing white supremacy in the US, making people vote in police stations or go to polls monitored by police creates intimidation.

Like historically, police are not known for ensuring the right to vote. They are known for the tremendously violent and often sadistically violent role they played in preventing Black people from voting. So I just want people to understand the contradictions at work. People need to get invested in one another right now, whatever that looks like for them, because if all of their investment is in these institutions, if that is the limit of their problem solving, if that is the height of their creativity, that’s a real problem. The post office is warning us that 46 States have deadlines that are incongruous with postal delivery standards. It is going to take organizing and awareness to make sure ballots get mailed in time.

Native people desperately need in person sites, because as few as 18% of us receive mail at home because many of our people lack traditional addresses. Whatever institutions may have actually had the capacity at some point, and potentially the inclination to check what’s happening, have already failed in that responsibility. Like, it’s not a question of if they will fail, that failure already happened and a genocidal, carnival barker is in the White House, and it’s up to us to wrench him out now. We have to work the problems in front of us.

AC: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think folks really, actually understand what’s at stake here. And this isn’t a partisan, favoring one party over another type of conversation. This is like legit, just the facts of what’s happening, right? We’re seeing, this is the first presidential election cycle where we have had the lifting of a consent decree that previously prevented the Republican party from engaging in their ballot security efforts, which was a lot of the voter intimidation.

I mean, folks think about it coming from the sixties, but this was stuff they were doing as recently as the eighties. You know, during our younger, formative years, right? Like our very wee years, but still. So this is a very real, present in our lifetime type of thing that we’re seeing the Republican party, behind closed doors, and the president as the head of the Republican party, very much advocating for, out loud — we’ve seen organizational entities related to the Republican party and the president advocating to have former law enforcement [and] former military folks sign up to do ballot protection. And we understand, because of either leaked audio or things that people have just actually said out loud, that they’re targeting our communities. They’re targeting, you know, Black communities. They’re targeting areas where Native American voters may be. They’re targeting where API and Latino voters are going to be. Like, like they’re making it very clear where they’re targeting, right?

And so, we understand the history involved. One thing that was of interest was, last week the Louisiana Secretary of State was actually in court defending his emergency election plan, which the governor is opposing along with several civil rights organizations, that the NAACP legal defense fund actually took them to court over it in part, because one, it doesn’t make things safer for voters in the election cycle. But two, it is actually relying on some of those intimidation tactics we’re talking about. So they’re talking about possibly using police officers and the National Guard.

Now we saw in Wisconsin, them trying to use the National Guard as a last step effort, because it was like all of a sudden, allegedly all of a sudden — and they didn’t have polls to be open, right? They closed all those polls in Milwaukee and other places. But as a plan, with more than enough time to plan ahead of the general election, as having the National Guard as a part of your long term plan and strategy, and possibly other law enforcement, that is very intentional and sending a very real message to voters. And so that is being challenged right now in court.

But when we’re also just thinking about, like, what is happening and how they’re simultaneously trying to make people be afraid of using absentee ballots for voting. And I keep specifically naming that it’s absentee ballots because when we’re talking about vote by mail, for the majority of the country, it is scaling up the use of absentee ballots and not a vote by mail system, which Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and a few other States, couple of other States have whereby they actually send out an actual ballot to all their eligible, registered voters, and they have an election period. It’s a big difference.

So you have, you know, the president tweeting out and stating mis — like, like blatantly stating, it’s not even misinformation, it’s disinformation because it’s intentionally misleading and wrong. And then you have, you know, the head of the RNC and other connected affiliations doing the same exact thing. This is a very intentional thing and it makes people concerned. And then you do hear about a story here or there, where something may have gone wrong, and people automatically assume the entire system is a problem. Plus, combined with what we know about high rates of rejection of absentee ballots of, you know, Black folks and Latino folks, in particular, we know that there’s a higher rate of rejection as compared to our percentage of overall voters using absentee ballots, too.

So there’s a lot of mistrust built into the process, and understandably so. And so we acknowledge the mistrust that is built into the process that is being intentionally put upon us, but at the same time, we help walk folks through. What are the alternatives? How do we navigate this and how do we bring more of our folks in the process? Because I think something that was really interesting that you brought up before, and I know there might be some discussion about the use of the term “harm reduction” in this way. And so I am interested in also learning new language, but when we’re talking about what is at stake right now, when we’re talking about being on the cusp of actually entering into actual fascism, it’s not that people, the majority of us, think that we’re going to somehow be saved by one person winning this election versus another, but it’s the recognition that there is this broader issue at stake.

I mean, he’s talked about in the past couple of weeks, sending in agents to protect the election, so to speak, right? I mean, they’re already gearing up to prepare what happens if he doesn’t win on election night. And so, I don’t think that Democrats who’re spending their time vote shaming are really actually prepared for what is coming. And either way, regardless of whether Biden wins or loses, there is going to be a fierce struggle that’s not going to end with election day, or when he’s sworn in, either.

He’s very clearly, like, he’s very clearly deputizing vigilantes, these militia types. He’s very clearly saying that white nationalists who want to go get their guns and defend democracy, i.e. you know, kill folks as he has done. He and his son justify the murders that took place in Kenosha. Like, he is very clearly saying what is and isn’t acceptable, and all things are on the table, while he’s simultaneously lying.

And we have this respectability hand-wringing happening that isn’t going to save any of us. The Biden ad that denounced all types of violence across the board, I have not seen any numbers suggesting that that has actually helped his campaign at all, but it did tick off a lot of folks who, despite their personal feelings and beliefs about him as a candidate or his running mate, have been still trying to organize and encourage people to participate in the process.

The last thing I would add is, I see my vote as something that I am casting and doing. And in my work, it’s not that I think that the vote is going to save us, the voting is a tool. And this is not even a new thing, right? This is not a new way of looking at elections. This is the way our predecessors who were fighting for suffrage looked at this, right? Like, we know that the women that predate us, they were left out of the voting rights process and our women’s suffrage. And women like Ida B. Wells, they were looking at voting as a tool for advancement and addressing these issues that needed to be moved down the line for their communities, not that it was the end all be all itself.

So what I would submit to folks is, if we get through this election in one piece, don’t give up the possibility of building out electoral alternatives, whether that is running amazing movement candidates, like Charles Booker from Kentucky, or several of the amazing folks that we saw win in New York, or it’s running for office yourself, or just looking at what citizen lobbying can do, right? Like, I’m always impressed and amazed at the steadfastness of folks in Chicago, despite this administration or Rahm [Emanuel] and how adamant, especially the young people working around getting SRO’s [School Resource Officers] out of school. I mean, I know that’s not the only thing they’ve been working around, but I have been so impressed with the determination and diligence that we’re seeing in places like Chicago around that issue.

I mean here we are, over a hundred days of uprisings, and we still see folks in Dallas, Louisville, multiple places that are still protesting, but at the same time, still pushing their city councils on issues around defunding police and the budgets and how they can move them. So there’s so many different things that we may not think about in combination with the electoral politics and voting, that really are a larger part of an entire strategy as a whole.

So I would just end that part by saying, we need to be more collectively strategic in how we’re moving, regardless of how it breaks down if we end up supporting different candidates for president. But when it comes down to all these other things at the state and local level, we need to have a real tight strategy for how we’re moving things forward, because this issue that we’re seeing down in Florida with the overturning of the district court ruling that found, you know, the current law to be unconstitutional. That’s an issue. That proves why state elections are important, because Amendment 4 passed because the majority of Floridians, regardless of party affiliation, felt that it was important that people be restored the right to vote if they were formerly incarcerated folks, right? And the state legislature decided that they don’t like that, and went against the people’s will. And how we make sure that people’s will is met, is by making sure there are people in these legislative bodies that are going to pass legislation that we need. And so, co-governance needs to become a part of our lexicon.

KH: Well, I am sure the youth with Cops Out CPS, who have been organizing to get School Resource Officers out of Chicago Public Schools, would be heartened by that shout out. They have gained a lot of ground. The school board has not done right by them, but they organized hundreds of young people around the city to challenge their local school councils, and they got cops out of 17 schools, one local school council at a time. Anyone who knows the terrain in Chicago knows that’s mind-blowing. The city only agreed to let local school councils vote because they thought it was unwinnable. But those youth brought it. Just fierce organizing. They held their ground in protest, and when people went to jail, they held down jail support. Much like #NoCopAcademy, it’s one of those moments that you know is very much part of what’s next. And that is the kind of energy we need right now. Not vote shaming or panic. But fierce, dynamic organizing. And on that note, are there any asks you would like to extend to folks listening today?

AC: Hmm, I really think it’s important to find who is doing this type of electoral engagement, voting rights work I’ve been describing, find whoever’s doing that work in your community. And if you live someplace and you feel like it might be better to, like, support both elsewhere, you know, a lot of stuff is still virtual, so a lot of digital volunteering opportunities exist. But I do think, like, being able to contribute to capacity that these different organizations have is like super critical in whatever way that works for you.

And if you don’t have a group in your community, maybe you should start one. I mean, even at the most basic level, understanding what your county and state boards of elections are doing, is super important, so that if there is a poll closure being proposed, you have already seen or been aware of what’s happening in the meeting, so you can sound the alarm. Because what happened in Randolph County back in 2018, how people found out about it was an accident because someone just happened to see the notice buried way back where they bury the legal notices, just happened to flip all the way through the paper and just happened to see the advertisement. Had that not happened, it would have been possibly a very different turnout.

And so the more we’re able to connect together and figure out, how do we show up however that works for you? Cause I know that we are still trying to live life and engage, like trust and believe y’all, I’m over here raising two teenage humans as a single mom with my own health condition. So I understand the constraints we have in our lives, but we can find a way to do our part, however we can. Or, even if that doing our part is helping someone else who’s able to get out there and do the work, right? Like, all of that matters. So, that’s what I would leave folks with. Find out who’s doing the work where you are and try to be a support, however you can.

KH: Well, thank you for that and we’ll be including some links to help people find their way in the show notes. And I just want to thank you so much for joining us today, Anoa, I always learn so much from you and your experience and your wisdom, and I’m so utterly grateful for your work in this moment.

AC: Absolutely, thank you so much for making the space and the feeling is absolutely mutual.

KH: I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today and remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good, and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.

Show Notes:

We will now be adding show notes to some episodes of Movement Memos to centralize some of the resources and reading that get mentioned during the show, and other relevant material.

You can find Anoa’s work here. You can find As The South Votes: Vote Safe. Vote Early here.

Some organizations mentioned in this episode were:

The New Georgia Project

Black Voters Matter

Black Leaders Organizing for Communities

LIT, Leaders Igniting Transformation

Relevant articles:

Native American Voters Face Significant Barriers to Mail-in Voting in 2020

Wisconsin’s Voter Suppression Could Swing 2020 Election in Trump’s Favor

Four Ways Georgia Is Suppressing Voters as Early Voting Begins (from 2018)

We Must Understand the Sordid History of Voter Suppression to End Its Use

E-book:

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy by Carol Anderson