African American Ministers Leadership Council

African American Ministers Leadership Council Urges Virginia Leaders to Act Quickly to Restore Voting Rights

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council praised Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell for his support of restoring voting rights to Virginians with non-violent criminal convictions in their pasts and urged him to work quickly with the Virginia legislature to enact the proposal.

“Virginia’s law disenfranchising people who have served their time for criminal convictions is nothing but Jim Crow by another name,” said Rev. Gregory King Sr. of Russell Temple CME Church in Alexandria, a member of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “A criminal justice system that disproportionately targets African Americans continues to punish those who want to rebuild their lives as engaged, productive citizens, even after they have served their time. It is a disgrace to Virginia that we are one of only four states left in the country with such a backward, unjust law, and I am thrilled that Gov. McDonnell has finally expressed support for ending it. Our legislature and governor must now work together quickly to end this form of entrenched discrimination and help hundreds of thousands of Virginians regain their full rights as citizens.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is a network of African American clergy fighting for social justice across the United States.

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African American Ministers on VAWA: Stop Putting Women’s Lives in Danger

Washington, DC – Today members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council expressed deep concern about the House of Representatives’ failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). 

Rev. Brendolyn Jenkins-Boseman of Camden, South Carolina, chair of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, released the following statement:

“Violence against women is an issue that affects everyone in America, but it disproportionately impacts women of color. The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that more than a third of Hispanic women and nearly 44% of black women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.

“For 18 years, the Violence Against Women Act has helped women across America avoid and combat domestic violence, making the country safer for every American.  Thanks to VAWA, the rate of intimate partner violence fell by 67% between 1993 and 2010.  The bottom line is that it’s an effective, life-saving law. 

“As faith leaders, we feel that it is important to speak out in support of those who are most vulnerable to violence and abuse.  The members of Congress who blocked VAWA aren’t just insulting women; they’re actively putting women’s lives in danger. Congress should act quickly in this new year to reauthorize this critically important program.” 

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Looking Back at Voting Rights in 2012

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing this morning on “The State of the Right to Vote After the 2012 Election.” 2011 and 2012 saw an influx of state laws and administrative decisions designed to make it harder for certain groups of people to vote, actions that we documented in our 2011 report “The Right to Vote Under Attack” and in a 2012 update.

People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership programs were active in combatting voter suppression efforts across the country by getting out the vote among targeted groups. PFAW Foundation’s Young People For program worked with campus leaders across the country to mobilize over 22,000 young voters. And PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council worked with African-American clergy in 22 states to facilitate 400,000 voter registrations and transport over 27,000 people to the polls.

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Religious Affairs, submitted testimony [pdf] for today’s hearing about AAMLC’s voting rights work. She wrote:

Across the country, restrictions on voting led to confusion and discouragement among voters. But they also were a powerful motivator, especially for those of us who lived and fought through the Civil Rights Movement. As Elder Lee Harris of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, put it, “We’ve come too far and fought too hard to let anybody take away our vote again.” Our task was to reach out to as many voters as we could to educate them on what they needed to vote and to make sure they got to the polls and stayed there.

Minister Malachi also emphasized the importance of the Voting Rights Act, which will be reviewed by the Supreme Court next year:

In the end, our efforts to educate and organize can only go so far. Equally important in the effort to maintain the right to vote has been the role of state and federal courts, where Americans can turn when powerful forces seek to deprive them of their right to vote. Federal courts play a particularly important role in protecting the guarantees set forth in the Voting Rights Act. From Ohio to Florida to Pennsylvania to South Carolina to Texas, the courts were critical in tamping down efforts to suppress the votes of African Americans and other targeted groups. As the Supreme Court prepares to review Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, this year offered us many powerful reminders that the preclearance provisions of the VRA are still relevant and still vitally necessary. In August, when a federal court struck down Texas’ new voter ID requirement, Rev. Dr. Simeon L. Queen of Prairie View, Texas, offered these words:

“It is inexcusable that nearly 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, politicians are still trying to make it harder for African Americans in Texas to vote.  I wish the Voting Rights Act wasn’t still necessary, but thank the Lord it’s still there. African Americans in Texas have struggled throughout our history to exercise all of our rights as citizens, including the right to vote without unnecessary restrictions meant to discourage and disenfranchise. Today, thanks to the Voting Rights Act, a major threat to that effort has been defeated.”

You can read Minister Malachi’s full testimony here [pdf].

 

PFAW Foundation

Michigan Pastors Speak Out Against Anti-Labor Law

Michigan members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council spoke out today against so-called “Right to Work” legislation that was signed today by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.

Rev. Frank Raines III of Farmington Hills, a member of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, said:

“Our state has a long and proud history of a strong middle class backed by a strong labor movement. This so-called ‘Right to Work’ legislation is nothing but a politically-motivated attempt to weaken the labor movement at the expense of working people. As faith leaders, we feel it is our duty to stand up for those who are the most vulnerable, those who work hard to care for their families, those who band together for fair wages and fair treatment. We’re disappointed that our legislature and governor have chosen to stand instead with big corporate interests out for political gain.”
 

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Restrictions on Early Voting and Voter Registration Used for Partisan Gain

Florida members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council said they were "appalled but not surprised" by the report and the claims that the restrictions exclusively targeted minority voters.
PFAW Foundation

Florida Pastors ‘Appalled but not Surprised’ by Report that Voter Suppression Measures Intended to Target African Americans

Jacksonville, Florida – Florida members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council today said they were “appalled but not surprised” by a Palm Beach Post report this weekend that restrictions on Florida early voting and voter registration were explicitly intended for partisan gain. The Post interviewed current and former GOP officials who said the restrictions were targeted at African American voters, and specifically at turnout operations at black churches.

“There’s a reason African Americans stood in line for hours on Nov. 6,” said Elder Lee Harris, Pastor of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville. “We knew that these early voting and voter registration restrictions were meant to keep us away from the polls. But we’ve come too far and fought too hard to let anybody take away our vote again.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council worked to bring African Americans throughout the country to the polls through the nonpartisan “I am a VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

“I am appalled but sadly not surprised by these officials’ admissions that their goal was purely to suppress the African American vote,” continued Elder Harris. “Even while cloaked in the dubious language of ‘voter fraud,’ the real reason for these measures was always clear. African Americans in Florida knew that, and we fought back – by voting.”

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Ohio Ministers to Husted: Every Vote Must Be Counted

Cleveland, Ohio – Ohio members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council urged Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to drop his attempt to disenfranchise Ohio voters who cast provisional ballots. Three days after the election, tens of thousands of provisional ballots remain uncounted. Secretary Husted attempted last week to change the rules for counting provisional ballots, making it more likely that ballots would be invalidated, and the rule change is currently being considered by a federal judge.

“Voting is over and most of the races have been called, but this election won’t be completed until every vote is counted,” said Rev. Tony Minor of Cleveland, Ohio Coordinator of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Every single person who shows up to vote on Election Day should be confident that their vote will be counted and their voice will be heard. Secretary Husted is trying to throw up last-minute barriers in an effort to stop some of these votes from counting. That’s undemocratic and unacceptable.”

Yesterday, Husted reportedly floated the idea of dividing Ohio’s electoral votes by congressional district in the future, making it possible that the winner of the popular vote in Ohio would not receive the majority of the state’s electoral votes.

“Secretary Husted’s job is to help Ohioans vote and to guarantee that our votes count,” added Rev. Minor. “Instead, he’s fighting in court to suppress this year’s votes, and planning how to make Ohioans’ votes count less four years from now. Sec. Husted should know that every person who turned out to vote in Ohio on Tuesday is invested in our political process, and we will continue to fight for our voting rights.”

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PFAWF Supports Young People, Communities of Color in Getting Out the Vote This Election Day

Whether by reaching out to people of color, young people, women, or other key communities, People For the American Way Foundation has been on the ground all across the country these past few weeks getting out the vote.

The VESSELS project of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, which is committed to increasing civic participation in communities that have traditionally experienced disenfranchisement and discrimination, has organized GOTV events in more than thirty cities across the country. From Buffalo to Miami, Las Vegas to Baltimore, and many places in between, VESSELS have been organizing in their communities to get people to the polls. Ms. Ruby Bridges spoke at a rally in New Orleans, while Dr. Ralph Abernathy III took the stage in Cleveland. In other towns, volunteers have organized trips to the polls following Sunday worship services and GOTV concerts.

Youth organizers have also been working hard to turn out the vote. Despite the fact that nearly 85% of young people were not reached out to by either campaign, we know from our Young People For (YP4) Fellows that young people are busy organizing. They are centering their efforts around a campaign called ARRIVE WITH 5, because while every vote is powerful, they know that when they ARRIVE WITH 5 (or more!) friends to polls, the impact of the youth vote is magnified. At Pitzer College in California, YP4 Fellows are organizing an ARRIVE WITH 5 caravan to the polls – providing electric go-cart rides from their campus to the polling station. At Oberlin College in Ohio, student leaders are hosting voter information events, phone banks, and dorm storms. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, they sang to get out the vote. Local bands and a cappella groups performed everything from jazz to techno while attendees got excited about making their voices heard on Election Day. And these are just a few of the events YP4 Fellows organized this year, collectively reaching thousands of students across the nation.

People For the American Way Foundation was founded more than three decades ago with a vision of a vibrantly diverse democratic society in which all Americans are encouraged to participate in our nation’s civic and political life. The hard work of PFAWF’s Fellows, VESSELS, and other volunteers this election cycle have helped bring that vision to life in a very real way.

PFAW Foundation

The Right to Vote Under Attack, 2012 Update

Here we detail, as of October 6, 2012, except where otherwise noted, the latest efforts across the country to suppress the vote, as well as some encouraging successes in expanding the franchise.

Ohio Ministers Celebrate Supreme Court’s Upholding of Early Voting Rights

Cleveland, Ohio – Ohio members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council praised a U.S. Supreme Court ruling today that ensures Ohio polls will remain open in the three days prior to November’s election. The state legislature eliminated early voting in the weekend before the election despite the fact that over 90,000 Ohioans had taken advantage of that period to vote in 2008. Ohio’s Secretary of State appealed a lower court ruling reinstating the early voting period to the Supreme Court.

“This is a great victory for voting rights, and for voters, in Ohio,” said Rev. Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland, Ohio Coordinator of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Weekend voting in the days before the election was an unmitigated success in 2008, helping to increase turnout and reduce long lines. But some of our elected leaders saw this great success as a failure, and worked hard to make sure it wasn’t repeated. Their efforts to restrict turnout – especially among African Americans – weren’t just wrong, they were unconstitutional. Community and church leaders will take advantage of this restored early voting period to not only repeat, but expand the voter turnout success of 2008.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation founded in 1997, works nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls through the non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

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SC African American Ministers: Voter ID Decision Shows Continued Need for Voting Rights Act

 A three-judge US District Court panel yesterday upheld South Carolina’s restrictive new voter ID law, but ordered that the law go into effect after November’s election. South Carolina softened its interpretation of the law during litigation. Under that interpretation, voters without proper photo ID are required to cast provisional ballots, although the presumption is that the voters' ballots will be counted unless a clear case can be made that they lied about why they do not have proper ID.

South Carolina members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council reacted, expressing concern that that even the softened law could might keep African American South Carolinians from the polls in future elections.

“Today’s decision shows the continued necessity of the Voting Rights Act,” said Rev. Terry Alexander, pastor of Wayside Chapel Baptist Church in Florence and member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. “Because of the VRA’s preclearance provisions, South Carolina had to reinterpret a law that would otherwise have disenfranchised many African Americans. We now urge the state of South Carolina to enforce this law in a way that lives up to its promises in court, ensuring that every South Carolinian, with or without photo ID, can cast a vote that counts. If even one person is disenfranchised because of this law, that will be one person too many.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation founded in 1997, works nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls through the non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

Rev. Brendolyn Jenkins-Boseman, pastor of Abundant Life Fellowship in Camden, who was recently named the first-ever female co-chair of AAMLC, added, “We’re working every day to make sure every member of our congregations and communities can cast a vote that counts. While we work to educate voters on their rights under this law, we will also continue to work to make our elections fairer and more accessible.”

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Voter ID Blocked in Pennsylvania

While it is now guaranteed that voters without an ID cannot legally be turned away, the ruling only applies for the 2012 election. Concerns over voter disenfranchisement continue to exist.
PFAW Foundation

Pennsylvania Pastors: State Supreme Court Voter ID Decision ‘Encouraging’

Philadelphia, Penn. – Pennsylvania members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council cautiously praised a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision today that could prevent a suppressive voter ID law from taking effect before November. The state Supreme Court ordered a lower court that had previously refused to block the law to reconsider that ruling, encouraging it to issue an injunction if the state cannot show that the law will not disenfranchise any voters.

“Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was intended to suppress the vote, and will have the effect if it is allowed to go forward in November,” said Rev. Michael Couch of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia, a member of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Although I believe there was more than enough evidence for the Supreme Court to issue an injunction without this extra step, the decision to send the case back to the Commonwealth Court is tentatively encouraging. Our courts must consider the real impact this law will have on Pennsylvanians trying to vote in November.”

People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, founded in 1997, works nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls through the non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

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AAMLC Praises Expansion of Florida Voter Registration Rights

 A federal judge in Florida yesterday said that he will permanently block new restrictions on voter registration drives that have suppressed registration in the months leading up to the 2012 election. The new restrictions had all but shut down voter registration efforts by major civic engagement groups in Florida.

Elder Lee Harris of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, issued the following statement:

“My fellow church leaders and I have been working to get everybody in our community to participate in our democracy. Unfortunately, some of our elected officials want to discourage new voters and drive people away from the polls, rather than drawing new voters in. Discouraging civic participation is a cynical and short-sighted way to try to win an election. Yesterday’s ruling means that more people will have more opportunities to register to vote. This decision is good for Florida, and good for our democracy.”

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African American Pastors Praise Court’s Upholding of Voting Rights in Florida

Jacksonville, Fla. – The African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC), a national coalition of African American clergy, today praised a federal court’s decision to strike down Florida early voting restrictions in five counties that would disproportionately affect African American voters.

“Sadly, the voter suppression tactics that the Voting Rights Act was meant to combat are alive and well in Florida,” said Elder Lee Harris of Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville. “But thanks to the Voting Rights Act, those trying to suppress the African American vote in Florida aren’t going to get away with it. The court was right to apply the act to what was a blatant attempt to keep African Americans from the polls.”

A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Florida legislature’s decision to cut early voting from 12 days to eight, for as little as six hours a day (potentially all during the standard workday), violated section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal review of voting rights changes in states and counties with a history of voter discrimination. The court’s decision applies just to the five counties covered under section 5 --Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe. The panel said it would approve a plan where the five counties held early voting open for 12 hours a day for each of the 8 days.

“Thanks to this sound decision, which we urge Gov. Scott to accept, Black voters in five counties will reclaim access to the ballot box during these critical early voting days,” continued Elder Harris. “However, residents of counties not covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – including Duval County – continue to face these suppressive new rules. We urge officials in all of Florida’s counties to adopt the same early voting opportunities as approved by the court.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, founded in 1997, has been working nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls in every election, most recently through the newly-launched non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

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Ohio Ministers: New Early Voting Rule Hurts Everyone Equally

Cleveland, Ohio – Members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, reacted today to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s order to standardize early voting hours statewide. The order equalizes early voting hours throughout the state by eliminating all weekend early voting, a critical part of what made early voting in Ohio so successful four years ago.

“Secretary of State Husted could have lifted everyone in Ohio up together, but instead he brought us all down together,” said Rev. Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland. “Secretary Husted was right to standardize early voting hours in Ohio. But a deal that leaves everyone worse off isn’t a victory. In 2008, one quarter of Ohio voters took advantage of convenient hours to cast our ballots early, eliminating the long lines of 2004 and contributing to a strong turnout.”

“Secretary Husted’s cynical solution to the discriminatory mess of laws he helped create was to bring everyone down to the lowest common denominator ” added Rev. Dr. Minor. “Husted should be trying to make it easier for everyone in Ohio to vote, not to make it equally difficult.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, founded in 1997, has been working nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls in every election, most recently through the newly-launched non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

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