With our voices soaring. On June 14th, 2020, JusticeAid, in partnership with The Riverside Church of New York, presented Lift Every Voice and Vote online public forum on voting and voter suppression in the age of COVID. The event followed our Voices to Protect the Vote virtual concert and fundraiser held on May 17th in support of our 2020 beneficiary Election Protection/866-OUR-VOTE.
“Let the revolution begin,” declared Reverend Michael Livingstone, Interim Senior Minister at Riverside Church, during a stirring invocation and welcome.
“The right and power of one citizen and one vote is again under attack—selectively denied to the made poor and the kept poor; denied to Black and Brown citizens; denied to students and the elderly in unfavored districts; and denied to Dreamers of all kinds—as if the vote were a privilege bestowed upon the chosen.
To that we say, ‘No. The vote is for all.'”
JusticeAid Co-founder and CEO Steve Milliken welcomed the audience by acknowledging the recent murder of George Floyd and the largest assembly of civil rights demonstrators the world has ever seen. Abeena Koomson-Davis and The Resistance Revival Chorus streamed in with a gorgeous rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing, often referred to as the Black national anthem, written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson in 1900 and set to music by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson in 1905.
Here’s some personal testimony shared by the audience during the program.
“I vote for my grandfather, who was not able to vote until his 60s.”
“I vote to stand up and fight back.”
“Voting is a peaceful way to express myself.”
“My working-class father told me I must ALWAYS do 2 things: Vote and Never Cross a Picket Line.”
U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, New York’s 8th Congressional District was introduced by Marcia Johnson-Blanco of Election Protection/866-OUR-VOTE. He recalled a time when participating in our democracy was not viewed through a partisan political lens. Since the aftermath of President Obama’s election, however, more than 40 different states have introduced 180 voter suppression laws, many of which were ultimately enacted as a result of the 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
“It is now in fact the case that some people view voter suppression as a necessary electoral tactic in order to maintain power or acquire additional representation. That is shameful,” he declared.
“Leadership matters, governance matters, voting matters, particularly in the midst of a storm. We should demand nothing less of our leaders.”
Ray Suarez, Broadcast Journalist and Lecturer, moderated a panel with Kristen Clarke, President & Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law/Election Protection and Maria Teresa Kumar, President and CEO, Voto Latino.
Clarke noted that despite the tremendous progress we’ve seen in voting rights, we are seeing similar suppression tactics that we did in the 1960s, particularly in certain communities of color. Elections are often determined by small margins, she added, and for this reason, it is crucial that we combat misinformation about voting rights and options.
“The progress is fragile. It is important that we remain alert.”
Kumar cited that only 8 out of 50 U.S. states require civic education in order to graduate from high school. Therefore, it not surprising that we have a whole generation of first-generation voters who have no idea how to navigate this system. Another startling data point she shared is that the majority of Latinos in the U.S. are 19 years old; 4 million will be able to vote for the first time in the upcoming national election.
“We had incredible voter turnout in 2018. We got “a House that actually looks like OUR house. Call your elected officials, make sure you’re registered, VOTE!”
in this third appearance for JusticeAid, jazz pianist Matthew Whitaker performed Hymn to Freedom, composed by Oscar Petersen in 1962 and swiftly embraced by people over the world as the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.
We are grateful for our partnership with The Riverside Church of New York: Rev. Michael Livingston, Interim Senior Minister; Rev. Kevin Van Hook, Minister of Justice, Advocacy and Change; Rev. Jim Keat, Digital Minister; Brian Simpson, Dir. Communications and Strategy; Jacob Schmid, Asst. Technical Dir., and Michael Arias, Video Editor.
With special thanks to the Honorary Hosts: Kristen Clarke, President & Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Sree Sreenivasan, Marshall Loeb Visiting Professor of Digital Innovation, Stoney Brook University; Union Theological Seminary; and Seth Waxman, Partner Wilmer Hale, and 41st Solicitor General of the United States.
Host Committee Chairs: Sumati Devadutt and Reuben Martinez, Co-Chairs of the Riverside Church Lift Every Voice & Vote Ministry; Marcia Johnson-Blanco, Election Protection/866-OUR-VOTE; Kim Duckett Coaxum and Therese Steiner, JusticeAid; and Host Committee Members from the Riverside Church: Jacqueline McLeod, Sheila Rule, and Ruby Sprott; ClassActHR73: Marion Dry, Sara Greenberg, Donna Brown Guillaume, Helen Hershkoff, and Ryan O’Connell; NY State Council of Churches: Rev. Peter Cook; and JusticeAid: Natalie Jowett Agoos.
With much appreciation to: The Resistance Revival Chorus and jazz pianist Michael Whitaker, Hylda Clarke, Ray Conley, Aida Montero, Esmereldo Santiago, and to New Yorker cartoonist @lizaodonnell for live drawings on Twitter, and to @digimentors for amplifying the Forum’s important messages on social media.
Last but not least, thank you to JusticeAid’s donors for supporting justice causes and making our public education programs possible.