Juneteenth: A Celebration Of Freedom, A Call To Civic Participation

Two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved Africans in Texas received word from Union soldiers on June 19, 1865, that they were free. Today that date, remembered and celebrated as Juneteenth, commemorates the celebration of freedom for African Americans. This year, it also represents the one-year anniversary of the launch of Election Protection, a 21st Century nonpartisan program designed to protect all Americans’ right to vote.

"Juneteenth represents the freedom and liberty African Americans gained and Election Protection was launched on this day to protect the freedom to vote without being intimidated and disregarded", said Delisa Saunders, People For the American Way Foundation Director of Civic Participation programs.

People For the American Way Foundation and its strategic partners launched Election Protection last year in response to the November 2000 election disaster. African American voters in many states registered and turned out in record numbers, but many were turned away or had their votes invalidated. According to numerous reports, African Americans were nine times more likely to be disenfranchised than any other voters. The program was first rolled out in a June 19 special election in Virginia’s 4th Congressional District. In the fall of 2001, Election Protection volunteers reached hundreds of thousands of voters in Virginia and New Jersey.

"Literally millions of Americans across the country were disenfranchised on Election Day 2000," said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. "Election Protection gives Americans a chance to say, ‘We won’t let that happen again.’ It gives people resources to help them take responsibility for ensuring that their rights and the rights of their fellow citizens are protected on Election Day."

On Election Day, Election Protection provides a toll free number for voters to call if they are experiencing problems at the polls, and volunteers who distribute voter education materials, monitor polls and offer free, same-day assistance for voters who encounter problems.

The program, which has been dramatically expanded in 2002, is being implemented in conjunction with numerous civil rights and civic participation organizations, including the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, the NAACP, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the National Council of La Raza, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Council on Independent Living, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, A. Philip Randolph Institute, Coalition Of Black Trade Unionists, ADA Watch, and the National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems.

Election Protection will be provided in numerous states in 2002, focusing on areas of the country where there have historically been high levels of voter disenfranchisement. A recent Election Protection town hall meeting in Jacksonville, Florida drew hundreds of participants and widespread media coverage. See the Miami Herald story at www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/state/3483724.htm. For more information, see www.pfaw.org/issues/civic_participation/election_reform/epandawf.html.

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