Photo: John Raoux / AP
John Lewis once said that “the vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool that we have.” With it, we raise our voice and decide the fate of our communities and our country.
During last November’s elections, 64 percent of Florida voters agreed to restore the voting rights of ex-incarcerated people in the state. With the passing of Amendment 4, state residents with a felony conviction that does not include a murder or sexual offense, now have the right to vote. How many is that? 1.4 million.
This change comes 151 years after the 1868 requirement that permanently revoked the right to vote from people with felony convictions – and 54 years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed into law.
After not being eligible to vote for years since being convicted for drug-related offenses, Desmond Meade registered to vote for the first time this week. And to make the moment even more special, his 15-year-old daughter Xcellence Glenn, who is an organizer with Black Youth Vote, assisted him with filling out the form.
Photo: John Raoux / AP
“That whole process just reminded me of back in the civil rights era when dad and mom went to vote they brought the whole family,” Meade shared. “It was just overwhelming. This is a moment that seemed so far away at one point, but now it’s here.”
David Ayala, a community organizer for Latino Justice who served his time for drug-related offenses, also joined Meade in registering to vote.
“My sister was the one picking me up at the halfway house when she was eight months pregnant,” he said. “I didn’t know she was going to be there. That’s when the tears really started to roll down. I was thinking back to the time in my life. If I didn’t have the support from her, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Registering to vote and witnessing others in his predicament do the same was a full circle moment for Meade. President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition meant that he led and organized many of the volunteers who spent two years knocking on doors “collecting more than 766,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot,” NBC News reports.
In 2014, Meade earned his law degree. His work and determination to rally support for this new law will empower and give voice to so many people who have been silenced for far too long. Time will tell how they collectively raise their voices, but the thought of 1.4 million new people voting in the next elections process already sounds good.