Photo and Story by Bryanna Weinstein/Contributing Writer
Political Science Professor Dr. Sekou Franklin talked to students about the past, present, and future of suffrage and voting rights on Monday in the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building on campus.
His lecture is the first part of the Fall 2019 Honors Lecture Series, which addresses a new subtopic each week in relation to this semester’s topic of “Suffrage.” The subtopic stemmed from the fact that we are leading up to the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in this country.
Dr. Phillip Phillips said this of the anniversary and this series, “That’s an important milestone, an important event. And the topic of suffrage, as well, we are looking at it from multiple perspectives.” From those multiple perspectives, one of the first was the topic of African American suffrage and the continuous struggle for voter right justice in this country.
Franklin began by thanking Phillips before getting into the lecture. He first defined his definition of voter justice to the students, given his experience from working on voting rights issues in the past.
“The way we understand civic and political engagement, broadly speaking, that is, needs some adjustments, and what voter justice does is expand our understanding of civic advocacy and democratic participation,” he said.
Through the lens of voter justice, he also spoke about Grassroots Resistance for Voting Rights that came about in the 1950s and 1960s. African American groups organized resistance campaigns to expand voting rights, developing civic voter leagues which Franklin thinks is deserving of a book. They did this, in part, to pay for protests. They also used these groups to teach African Americans how to pass the often egregious literacy test, how to gain a civic education and how to register to vote.
But why does all this matter? The protests, disruption, resistance and learning are all essential to a functional and fair government system. During the presentation, Dr. Franklin made it clear that everyone matters politically, not just eligible voters. Ineligible voters like the youth, new Americans, formerly incarcerated persons, women and the poor all matter when it comes to a fair voting system.
It is easy to look back on our past, but Franklin states that, “The struggle for voting rights is present, it’s now, it’s here. It’s not a relic, it’s not a thing of the past. It’s right now.”
There are still problems like redistricting, photo ID laws, voter caging and voter purging. So it begs the question, where do we go from here? Franklin provided a list of strategies that voting rights groups have used to advance voter rights across the country. Things like establishing grassroots-oriented election protection systems, protests that challenge restrictive voting rights laws and holding mock elections and general assemblies to essentially mimic or replicate what an establishment does. He also referred to these as parallel institution strategies.
There is a willingness in many communities to engage in the voting system, but there is still a need to build out intersectional allies. Franklin stressed the urgency of linking your organizing work to a cross section of issues within suffrage and voting rights for everyone.
Dr. Franklin ended on this: “If you really want to build out a larger 21st century voting rights movement, a voter justice movement, a voter suffrage movement, we have to find a way to organize eligible voters and also organize ineligible voters. They are often excluded from the political process.”
We must have a fair, open political process and we must engage ourselves in not only federal government, but also local government within our communities. Hopefully, the students took these as the two main factors that Dr. Franklin wanted them to understand about voting justice and rights in the 21st century.
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