Statement by leaders of the Returning Citizen Voter Movement in Philadelphia
As civil rights organizations participating in the Returning Citizen Voter Movement in Philadelphia, we call on our brothers and sisters across the United States to join us in the struggle for voting rights in Pennsylvania. Today, Pennsylvania is on the frontline of Republican efforts to steal the vote from poor people, people of color, the elderly, and new citizens. The requirement to present photo ID in order to vote denies this fundamental right to thousands of people without acceptable forms of identification, many of us people of color who have past convictions. We are asking formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people everywhere to JOIN US in assisting people in Pennsylvania to access their right to vote.
Voting rights for people with conviction histories vary widely state to state. In Pennsylvania, we have the right to register to vote when we’re released from prison or jail, but past convictions or incarceration will result in lifelong disenfranchisement in many other states. We are passionate about the right to vote because we are fighting for full restoration of our rights everywhere. We can never guarantee our civil or human rights without the right to vote, including the right to vote in prison or jail. If we don’t participate, our voice will be silenced.
People of color were enslaved and excluded from voting until the Fifteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1870, prohibiting denial of the vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Women of all races were denied the vote until 1920. Poll taxes, literacy tests, physical violence were the precursors of today’s photo ID laws – all used to stop poor people and people of color from voting. We have never been welcomed into the electoral process – we have always fought and died for the right to vote and to hold office.
Now the voting rights of students, elderly people, new immigrants, and poor people generally are also under attack. In Pennsylvania, formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people are joining other civil rights organizations in a unified effort to guarantee voting rights for all. The Returning Citizen Voter Movement will host four days of voter mobilization activities to welcome people with conviction or incarceration histories to the struggle for voting rights in Pennsylvania.