Wednesday, September 19, 2012

‘We All Count’ Campaign To Combat Historic Levels of Voter Suppression and Disenfranchisement

From a press release from Project South:
More than 30 million people will be discouraged or prevented from voting in this election. “This is the highest number since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. We know that many of those people are African-Americans, LGBT people, people displaced by foreclosure or disaster, and young people—we are working to bring these communities together, and to say that we will not be erased,” says Emery Wright, Co-Director of Project South in Atlanta, GA.

While the Democratic and Republican parties fight for the votes of people across the country, 15 grassroots Southern groups working for social justice are taking a different approach through an effort called the ‘We All Count’ campaign.

The 2008 election, which many considered a decisive victory, was decided by 9.5 million votes. The 2004 election was decided by 3 million votes. If even a fraction of the voters who are discouraged or prevented from voting were able to vote this year, the blue-red map could look very different.

While the media and many national organizations abandon the South during election years, these 15 groups representing over 25,000 people have established 25 action sites around the South. Instead of playing beltway politics, more than 300 organizers are engaging ‘unlikely’ voters - inviting them to join with other communities, to participate, and to be counted.

“Working with the ‘We All Count’ campaign has changed my life,” says Shaquita Bell, a 22-year-old college student at Alabama State University in Montgomery, AL. “I have learned so much about how to engage my community and stay involved beyond the election, when our organizations are needed the most.”

150 people will gather in Lowndes County, Alabama on September 22 to represent their communities and vote on a plan of action for the People’s First 100 Days. Lowndes County is the historic site of Tent City on the trail of the Selma to Montgomery March that organized for voting rights almost forty years ago. While other groups focus on how to target individual voter groups around narrow individual interests, the We All Count campaign is working to shine a light on how different groups of ‘unlikely’ voters have similar interests but are often marginalized from the democratic process.

This movement in the US South is bringing together people who are often dismissed as non-voters or as people without political power. But as history shows us, the power of a multiracial, multi-generational coalition represents a significant powerbase that can respond locally, regionally, and nationally to the attacks on immigrants, youth, women, and families living on the frontlines of poverty.

“Some people have asked why an LGBTQ organization would be spending our time building with Latino and Black-led groups across the South this fall instead of working with other LGTBQ groups to push ‘our issues’’, states Caitlin Breedlove, Co-Director of Southerners On New Ground (SONG), a regional LGBTQ organization. “The answer is simple—‘our issues’ are far more alike than different—people of Color, immigrants and LGBTQ people are being blamed for lack of jobs, unaccountable government programs, and fissures in our family and community values. But, we all need and deserve good schools, good jobs and basic safety—we need to come together to make our voices heard.”

“Many people ask me why ex-felons and formerly incarcerated people would be spending time building with immigrants, gays, and youth,” states Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, a formerly incarcerated person who leads The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS) in Dothan Alabama. “The answer is simple: our issues are connected, and the disenfranchisement of any person threatens the whole democracy.” More than three million people who have served their time are still excluded from voting every election. “If we look at the economics of disenfranchisement, in Alabama alone the cost of housing inmates is approaching 30k per year. It makes good moral sense and sound economic sense to ensure public participation and reduce recidivism. We all need and deserve good schools, good jobs, and basic safety—we need to come together to make our voices heard.”

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