Friday, December 9, 2011

Community Profile: Peggy Rayas Matthews of VOTE-NOLA

From our friends at VOTE-NOLA:
Though Peggy Rayas Matthews has been with VOTE for less than a year, her accomplishments have established her defining presence and commitment to the mission of the group. “I came out to a meeting this January for the first time and I was impressed with what VOTE was about,” she says. “It seemed everyone was on the same page and I joined that night.”

Matthews heard about VOTE from her co-worker, member Betty Allen who sparked her interest by advertising the paralegal class that was about to begin. Since then, she has expanded her involvement to include legislative research and outreach, participation in the Greater New Orleans Organizer’s Roundtable, and fundraising efforts for November’s leadership conferences, which she also attended.

Matthews’ passion for the issues VOTE endorses comes from both personal and professional experiences. “I have a 29 year-old son who has been involved in the criminal justice system on and off,” she says. Matthews has been a social worker for about 30 years, in which she has worked with the formerly incarcerated, the homeless, mentally ill, and the physically disabled. “The target population that seemed the most handicapped to me was the ex-felons,” she explains. “Formerly incarcerated people were getting the short end of the stick, which is why I choose to focus on that group.”

The community opportunities that VOTE provides are central to Matthews' experience, from the Undoing Racism training she participated in with the People’s Institute, to the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement conference, to VOTE meetings themselves. “I feel we accomplish something coming together,” explains Matthews. “And the platform that the FIP movement presented was the epitome to me, that was something concrete in the end that we can go forth with.”

Matthews sees registering FIPS and pre-conviction detainees to vote as one avenue of concrete change. “When we have that 5,000 people behind us building that strong voting block, I think the sky is the limit,” she says. In the short-term, she sees VOTE’s economic improvement campaigns as urgent antidotes to present societal problems she encounters everyday on the job. In her future with VOTE, Matthews would like to help implement more classes and resources to aid FIPS immediately after their reentry. “Everything in this country boils down to economics,” says Matthews. “In this country it’s supposed to be we the people, so let’s let it be we the people.”

Photo above: Ms. Peggy works on legal research with other members of VOTE’s paralegal class.

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