The Equity Alliance to Launch Black Citizenship in Action, a modern-day citizenship school for Black liberation

Happy Juneteenth! Today is our Independence Day! A day to celebrate and reflect.

The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the United States on January 1, 1863, but it was not until June 19, 1865, two and a half years later, that word reached Galveston, Texas that slavery had been abolished.

While this country has come a long way since June 1865, the work to ensure that Black people can exercise our full rights as citizens to shape this democracy to its fullest potential still remains.

That’s why today we are proud to announce our partnership with 12 Black-led organizations across the country and our national partners, Black Progressive Action Coalition (BPAC) and BlackPAC, to launch Black Citizenship In Action.

Over the next two years in states across the country, from Michigan to California and from Louisiana to Ohio, local partners like The Equity Alliance will hold local events that deepen our community’s shared understanding of our past and present, our rights as citizens, sharpen our analysis of the political landscape in which we are operating, and collectively develop winning strategies to demand a country that values our lives and strives toward justice and equality.


Join us TODAY to launch Black Citizenship in Action at the Juneteenth Celebration

Statement on Passage of SB0971/HB1079

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 25, 2019

Within 30 days and with minimal debate, the Tennessee General
Assembly today swiftly passed legislation to criminalize the voter
registration process, making our state the first in the nation to
assess civil and criminal penalties on individuals and organizations
who conduct voter registration drives.

On the heels of one of the state’s most successful voter registration
campaigns aimed at registering black and brown citizens, this law
is blatantly racist and mirrors the Jim Crow-era intimidation used to
stifle decades of progress our nation and our state has made to
ensure voting rights for people of color.

As a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose core mission strives
to make our democracy more inclusive, it is evident that our state
leaders want to further disenfranchise poor, black, and brown
communities.

This groundbreaking law puts handcuffs on our state’s ability to rise
above our low voter participation rates, but we will find new, creative
ways to continue registering voters.

###

Keep Voter Registration Legal in TN: OPPOSE SB0971/HB1079

RALLY TO KEEP VOTER REGISTRATION LEGAL

Monday, April 15
4:00 p.m. CT
Tennessee State Capitol
600 Dr. MLK Jr. Blvd., Nashville, TN 37243

Please arrive at 3:45 pm CT. We will begin the rally shortly after. We will then walk to the House Chambers to let our state legislators know to oppose HB1079 before the floor vote at 5 p.m.


Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett is proposing new restrictions and penalties for voter registration drives in Tennessee.

Secretary Hargett’s proposal would create restrictive regulations and the country’s most aggressive penalties* for voter registration drives that don’t precisely follow their new regulations — up to a $10,000 fine and a criminal misdemeanor.

This kind of law would have a chilling effect on any group trying to engage Tennesseans to vote at a time when Tennessee has been in the bottom five states for voting participation in the last three presidential elections.

Although we have numerous concerns about specific provisions of the bill, we believe that, if enacted, the overall effect of the bill will be to deter third-party individuals and groups from engaging in constitutionally protected activity of helping others vote.  It is the combination of seemingly innocuous preregistration requirements such as preregistration, training, certifying that one will obey the law, providing tracking numbers for mailing of registration forms, ensuring that there are no “deficient” forms—in the context of potentially draconian criminal and civil penalties—that will have a chilling effect on voter registration drives. The bill’s text and application are overbroad, confusing, ambiguous, and worst of all needlessly intimidating. Even with Representative Rudd’s proposed amendment that exempts unpaid individuals and groups registering voters from the bill’s requirements, the bill threatens to punish community members, faith groups, and civic organizations that, in good faith, lawfully run drives that register eligible voters who otherwise would not have registered.

MEDIA COVERAGE
Huffington Post
Tennessee Lawmakers Consider Fines And Criminal Penalties For Voter Registration Drives
The TennesseanPunitive voter registration drive reform bill is voter suppression | Opinion
Times Free PressSome voter registration groups could get hit with $10,000 in civil penalties, up to a year in jail for submitting incomplete, problematic forms
Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under LawCoalition of National and State Organizations Condemns Proposed Voter Suppression Measure in Tennessee
Tennessee TribuneHargett Pushing a Bad Voter Registration Bill
Talking Points MemoTN Sec Of State Pushes Bill Exposing Voter Registration Groups To Criminal Penalties

ACT NOW! On Monday, April 15th, the full House of Representatives will be voting on HB1079 (Rudd), which seeks to impose restrictive regulations on organizations and community volunteers doing voter registration drives. If passed, this would create the country’s most aggressive penalties for voter registration drives that don’t follow the new regulations – up to $10,000 fine and a criminal misdemeanor.  

At a time when our state has one of the country’s lowest voter participation rates, Tennessee should be looking for ways to encourage voter engagement – not suppress it.  Instead of fighting for reforms that actually increase voter participation, like same-day registration and automatic voter registration at the DMV, this bill would penalize voter registration drives. 

Will you take 1 minute to send a message to the committee members and urge them to keep voter registration legal in TN by voting NO on SB0971(Jackson)/HB1079(Rudd)?

Here is The Equity Alliance toolkit. It has talking points, messaging, event info on the Tuesday press conference, a link to the call to action tool to email all elected officials on the state and local committee, sample phone scripts and phone numbers for all legislators!

What’s The “TEA” on the Voter Restoration Bill

A felony conviction is life changing, and that’s putting it mildly. Imprisonment, restitution, and stigma are almost insurmountable obstacles for a formerly incarcerated person. The ways in which a conviction of this magnitude disrupts one’s life does not conclude at the end of a jail sentence or probation. Some states strip away the opportunity to own a gun, to travel out of the country, to work for certain employers, or to receive public assistance such as housing or grants for higher education.

In many ways, the most egregious of these losses is the loss of the right to vote. Voting provides a voice to the otherwise voiceless. It ensures that the will of the people gets reflected in the laws and policies that dictate everything from school funding and sidewalks to tax reform and anti-discrimination in public services.

Formerly incarcerated individuals who have arguably been among the most affected by the decisions of elected officials are cut off from the very process that protects their interests. In Tennessee, more than 421,000 people have completed their sentences and, while they go to work, pay taxes and contribute to their communities in a number of meaningful ways, they are denied access to the voting booth. Tennessee has the fourth highest disenfranchisement rate in the country and consistently ranks last in voter participation. Voter suppression and other tactics make it difficult to vote in Tennessee. Most concerning are the well-known statistics surrounding the incarceration rates for people of color and the affect that has on these communities. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 37% of all federally incarcerated individuals are African-American, an astounding figure considering that African-Americans make up only 13% of the population.

The revocation of voting rights for those who have been incarcerated touches the black population in proportions that are not seen in any other racial demographic. In essence, a larger percentage of black people than any other race are legally kept from the voting booth as continued punishment for an offense for which they have already served a sentence. In fact, 1 in 5 African Americans cannot vote in Tennessee due to a past felony conviction. It begs the question: is the revocation of voting rights an ethical, reasonable, or even pragmatic punishment for those who have committed felonies? 

In Tennessee, those who have been incarcerated are not given the opportunity to restore that right unless they take steps to navigate a convoluted restoration process. The process includes financial requirements that are prohibitive for many people. Tennessee is the only state in the country that requires all court-ordered child support to be paid as a condition of having one’s voting rights restored. This sends yet another signal that we value those who have the means to pay for their freedom rather than providing access equitably.  

The Equity Alliance believes in fair and equal access to the ballot box for all eligible voters. That’s why TEA, along with with several advocacy organizations, such as the ACLU, Americans For Prosperity, Project Return, and Think Tennessee support a new bill that would make the voter restoration process much easier. The bill removes financial obligations and streamlines the administrative process. It puts the burden on the State rather than the individual.

On Wednesday, the Tennessee State Senate will vote on Senate Bill 0589/House Bill 0547, a bill that will move Tennessee one step closer to making it easier for those who have paid their debt to society to vote. It is imperative that Tennesseans hold elected officials responsible and support this bill. The erosion of voting rights for any demographic is unjust, and it is especially troubling when minority communities are disproportionately affected. We will be at the hearing on Tuesday, March 26 at 8:00 a.m., and we hope you’ll join us. You can also call the State Senators on the committee. It takes action from all of us.

The Equity Alliance Joins Legislators, Matthew Charles, Advocates to Discuss New Bills that Will Restore Voting Rights to Tennesseans with Felony Convictions

NASHVILLE, TN – On Wednesday, February 13th, at 2:45 pm, lawmakers, Matthew Charles, advocates and re-entry experts will gather at the Tennessee State Capitol complex in Nashville to discuss new bills (SB 589 / HB 547) that will streamline the voting rights restoration process to Tennesseans with felony convictions who have completed their sentences.

The roundtable will feature the bill sponsors, State Senator Steven Dickerson and State Representative Michael Curcio, alongside Matthew Charles, a formerly-incarcerated activist who was recently released under the First Step Act, as well as prominent advocates and prisoner re-entry experts from The Equity Alliance, the ACLU of Tennessee, and Project Return. Over the course of the roundtable, participants will discuss the substance of the legislation, its potential to limit bureaucratic interference in the rights restoration process, and its impact on formerly incarcerated people living in Tennessee.

Currently, 320,000 Tennesseans with felony convictions, more than 8 percent of the state’s total voting age population, are disenfranchised by the onerous restoration process despite having already served their time and successfully completed their parole and/or probation.

The roundtable will be moderated by Colin Weaver, Director of State Affairs for Secure Democracy. Roundtable participants include:

  • Tennessee State Senator Steve Dickerson
  • Tennessee State Representative Michael Curcio (opening remarks)
  • Matthew Charles, formerly-incarcerated activist released from prison under the First Step Act
  • Tori Venable, State Director at Americans for Prosperity Tennessee
  • Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of ACLU of Tennessee
  • Tequila Johnson, Co-Founder and Vice President of The Equity Alliance (opening remarks)
  • Bettie Kirkland, Executive Director of Project Return

The roundtable will be open to the press and the public.

WHAT:  Roundtable on Restoring Voting Rights to Tennesseans With Felony Convictions

WHERE: Cordell Hull Building, 425 5th Avenue North, Nashville, TN 37243

     Room information: Conference Room 5C, 5th Floor

WHEN:  2:45 – 3:30 pm, February 13, 2019