As long as states try to push discriminatory laws that prohibit anyone without an ID from voting, groups like the Hip Hop Caucus will push back.
On Sunday, the “Respect My Vote!” Town Hall, presented by Hip Hop Caucus, BET and the Election Protection Coalition, aimed to inform its audience at Charlotte School of Law and thousands watching online about voter-suppression tactics and how to organize voter turnout in November.
Local Grammy-winning poet Bluz set a solemn tone for the assembly, opening with a spoken word piece about the historic struggle in the black community for voting rights. He included a vignette about the pride his grandfather felt the first time he voted.
Host No Limit Larry of WPEG said the purpose of the event was to mobilize young voters and fight back against voter I.D. laws that have plagued states including Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado and Virginia, among others, in recent years. Federal judges recently blocked Texas from passing voter-ID laws.
If they had existed in every state in 2008, Obama wouldn't have gained the 5.5 million ID-less black Americans who sided with him.
Barbara Arwine of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights explained the urgency for the Respect My Vote movement with some alarming statistics. Twenty-five percent of voting age black Americans do not have a government-issued photo ID. Out of 3.8 million newly registered black voters in 2008, 60 percent will have to re-register for this election due to new laws. And 1.3 million black voters were purged from voter rolls in Ohio, a key battleground state in this year’s presidential race.
Arwine also outlined some of the schemes used by the private sector in what she calls “The War On Voting,” such as deceptive flyers and robocalls giving misinformation to people in urban communities and harassment at the polls of young people and minorities, widely reported in 2010.
“In any war, you can only win if you fight,” she said.
The Lawyers Committee has already started the fight by winning lawsuits it has against five out of 10 states that passed such laws. The organization is asking for volunteers to monitor polling places around the country this November and report voter harassment to Election Protection at 866ourvote.org.
The panel also included author and former congressonal candidate Kevin Powell, who called on young people to be as informed about politics as they are about entertainment. Powell urged the audience to learn about civil-rights issues of today, including immigration reform and same-sex marriage.
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of the non-partisan Hip Hop Caucus, closed the panel by sharing with the audience his personal story of being beaten by police in the Halls of Congress at a 2007 protest. His speech hammered home the event’s message: Educate yourself, and raise your voice.
“If you don’t have the knowledge, your voice doesn’t matter,” Yearwood said. “And we need every voice.”