This weekend’s election results prove that the people are powerful. Candidates who believe in our rights as people with convictions won seats all over Louisiana. Here in New Orleans, we passed an amendment to form a city Human Rights Commission. Statewide elections were close, but thanks to the efforts of so many of our canvassers and partners, there were wins for justice reform there, too. To boot, this election isn’t the only success of the season. From the local to the national levels, we’ve seen leaders come into the spotlight who together prove that we are an undying movement. In other words, at every juncture, we are regaining our rights, strengthening our voices, and mobilizing our communities. Let’s take a closer look.
In 1964, the first Civil Rights Act passed thanks to the dedication of some formidable leaders from the South. From this Act, protected classes were established, which means groups of people that cannot be legally discriminated against on the basis of identity. Since the original passage, more groups have been added, but people with convictions are not one of them. On Saturday, 73% of registered voters in New Orleans passed a ballot initiative to create a citywide Human Rights Commission (HRC). The HRC will investigate, report on, and order people to testify about violations of human rights in the city, including those against formerly incarcerated people (FIP), according to The Advocate. This commission will also support and protect other unprotected classes. Fifteen New Orleanians will serve on the board, seven of which will be appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council, the rest nominated by a councilmember. We look forward to not only the implementation of the HRC starting January 1, but also holding it accountable to the promises of justice it makes.
This kind of change isn’t limited to New Orleans. We see the potential for justice reform all over the state. On March 1, Act 636 went into effect, restoring voting rights to anyone currently on probation, off papers, or on parole for five or more years. From then until the Oct. 26 deadline, our team worked around the clock to register as many newly eligible voters as possible. We relied on the train-the-trainer model, teaching groups of people at a time how to register someone. New Orleans member Nziki Wiltz led a training on the West Bank. “Nziki [has] such an amazing way of reaching out and connecting [with people],” says one trainee who then went on to register people at her local Probation and Parole Office. “We all left with the feeling that we had accomplished the start of something.” At the same time that we were getting people with convictions registered, our canvassers started knocking doors, making phone calls, and sending texts all across the state. They followed the direction of the Power Coalition, of which we are a key member. The canvassers operated specifically on principles of equity and justice, and because of that, we saw a significantly higher Black voter turnout than other racial groups.
Our canvassers signed up to work with us because they’ve found strength in our movement, and now they’re here to stay. More people waking up and joining our fight all across Louisiana, and from this we will continue to see the fruits of our collective labor. “I feel like I’m part of the change,” says Wiltz.
Directly impacted people like our canvassers and recent voters aren’t just taking charge across the state, though. They’re coming into leadership roles all over the U.S., capturing a national spotlight and leaving waves of change in their paths. You may have heard about San Francisco’s newest District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, whose parents have been incarcerated since he was a baby. Because of the impact this has had on his life, he’s already planning to make progressive strides in his new position. In Chicago last month, FIP Sarah Gad announced that she’s running for U.S. Congress, District 1. If elected, she’d be the U.S.’ first formerly incarcerated woman federal legislator. These public figures’ openness about the impact mass incarceration has had on them is one more step towards destigmatizing conversations about it. FICPFM--a national coalition of directly impacted leaders--is right there with Boudin and Gad. Collectively, we are paving the way towards a transformative healing system that recognizes the needs of both those who cause and those who experience harm. And people are listening to us. Last month we witnessed candidates running for president of the U.S. show up for Justice Votes, a forum about justice reform that was led by formerly incarcerated leaders. Their ears are open, and we can see before our very eyes how together we are changing the way that our nation thinks about and votes on justice reform.
While our movement will continue no matter who is in office, we’re excited to work with new and old faces who are committed to changing the status quo of our criminal (in)justice system. And for the other wins that we weren’t able to snag this weekend, as our fearless leader Norris Henderson always says, “we fight one day longer than our opponent.”
Want to take a close-up look at the election results? Check out this blog from our partner, Voters Organized to Educate.