If every Louisianan with a criminal record lived in the same place, it would be the largest city in our state. In fact, it would be about double the size of Baton Rouge, Lafayette, New Orleans and Shreveport combined, as 1.7 million Louisianans have a record, according to 2016 data. In other words, since the dawn of modern mass incarceration in the 1980s, millions of people have been carrying the discrimination of convictions on their backs. That number is exponentially higher when we add in the families of people with convictions, as we know well that they are doing time alongside their loved ones.
As a massive group of people with a common experience, we have the power to vote together on the issues that affect our daily lives.
This means that we are, in essence, a voting bloc, which is a group of voters who are strongly motivated by a specific common concern. Usually, the bloc votes in unison based on that concern.
Despite being a powerful voting bloc, we are not politically popular. Yet. But last Monday offered a window into how much that is changing. Three presidential candidates joined a room full of formerly incarcerated leaders to talk about what they plan to do for justice reform. History will be the judge of what that day meant, and it is up to impacted people like us to make that history meaningful.
If the recent past is any indication, however, we’re on the right path.
In 2018, it was the leadership of people with records that ended the non-unanimous jury system in Louisiana. In our neighboring state of Florida, the same type of leaders ended the nation’s most egregious disenfranchisement scheme.
We have the opportunity to continue this trend for the remainder of this year and in 2020. We must show up in our polling stations at increasing rates, and do this while America fades deeper into the jaded cynicism of fake news and false promises. It is up to us--whether we care about a political party or not--to ensure our households are represented when politicians only react to who they consider to be their voters instead of all of the residents to whom they are accountable.
People with convictions live in every district. We are representative of every party. We care about many issues, particularly those that put people in cages and leave them there until so-called ‘justice’ destroys entire families and hollows out our neighborhoods.
When laws create two classes of citizenship, it is an apartheid state. One class receives equal protection and constitutional rights that cannot be infringed, while the other--including the 1.7 million of us mentioned above--experiences added barriers, hurdles, and exclusions. There is neither equal protection nor any truly guaranteed rights, because if it can happen to one part of the people, it will eventually happen to all of us. The next decade will determine if Louisiana, and the United States, continues to build an apartheid state. We will see if the ever-expanding number of people who are shut out becomes the majority, as it was in South Africa, and as the projections predict.
Early voting for the Nov. 16 run-off election is underway, and continues through Nov. 9. This is our chance to be heard and counted as newly-registered voters.
We have a chance to vote for people who support our voting rights and participation in the process. We can support candidates who would hold accountable the real drug-pushers--the Big Pharma employees and shareholders who have been flooding our streets with drugs. Through our votes, we can support the people who have been victimized by their predatory profiting schemes. We can vote for people who create a transparent government, rather than a kickback scheme that uses people as pawns for their enrichment.
The governor, secretary of state, twenty-nine state legislators, a Supreme Court justice, as well as dozens of city and parish officials throughout the state are up for election on Nov. 16. There are also important initiatives on some ballots, such as the one in New Orleans, where we have a chance to vote for and create a long-needed Human Rights Commission, while also raise funds to invest in our local infrastructure. Learn more here.
When we vote, we make it harder for them to ignore us. When we speak up, we make it harder not to hear us. We vote because we matter. And whether it is this group of politicians or the next, they will ultimately have to agree with us.