Video: Amy Goodman and Voting Rights Activists Weigh Historic Vote to Re-Enfranchise 1.4M Floridians

Web ExclusiveOctober 31, 2018
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Voters in Florida are preparing to vote on Amendment 4, a measure that would restore voting rights to 1.4 million people with nonviolent felonies who have fully completed their sentences. One in five African Americans in Florida and 10 percent of the state’s adult population are ineligible to vote because of a criminal record. Across the United States, more than 6.1 million people with felony convictions are not eligible to vote. Florida is one of just four states that bar ex-felons from voting for life. Amy Goodman speaks with Desmond Meade, the president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, who’s leading the fight to re-enfranchise people with felony convictions in Florida. He himself is an ex-offender who was previously homeless. He is still disenfranchised. Amy and Desmond also speak with Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s a great honor to be with you all here, to be in Melbourne, to celebrate WFIT. Last night we were in Gainesville. Tomorrow we’re going to go to the Panhandle to do some reporting. And I want to acknowledge my colleagues Charina Nadura and Denis Moynihan and Libby Rainey, who have come up from New York and Denver to do this event with us. I couldn’t do the work that I do without their incredible dedication to Democracy Now!

And to be here with Howard Simon, the Florida head of the ACLU, and Desmond Meade, who I first met, not in person, but on television, on Democracy Now!, on WFIT—it’s radio, but we’re also, of course, on television, as well. And years ago, he went into a remote studio in Tallahassee to talk about this desire he had to change the law, to make a difference for, well, as he talks about—and I’d like to start right there, with this term that you use, “returning citizens.” Talk about the background to Amendment 4 and why you felt it was so critical for the state of Florida, Desmond.

DESMOND MEADE: Well, thank you so much, Amy. And by the way, you did give me my first break, so…

AMY GOODMAN: I didn’t know it was the first.

DESMOND MEADE: And I appreciate that, yes. But when you talk about returning citizen, Florida State University have a world-renowned doctoral program in criminology, and they conducted a study, and they labeled it—they called it “labeling.” And what that study showed was that if you call someone an ex-con or ex-felon, that you increase the likelihood of them actually recidivating or committing another crime. And that reminded me of that—you know, we’ve heard it before. If you keep calling a child stupid, they’re going to grow up believing that they are.

And so, we knew, when we seen that study, that we had to, somehow or another, find another term to use, because, at the end of the day, we want what everybody else wants, and that’s safer communities, right? And so, we knew that if we can come up with something that can instill, number one, a sense of humanity—right? So I’m not just an ex-something. I’m a human being. I’m a citizen of this country. I’m a citizen of my community. You know, and maybe if people see me as that first, instead of an ex-con or a felon, then maybe they’re more likely to listen and be more [empathetic] to what I’m going through and understand that the changes that we need to make is good for everyone, right? And so, that was the—our foray into that terminology.

And I think that it kind of leads into how Amendment 4 started, because we knew that once we’ve seen our current administration that came in and really undid the policies of its predecessor, we knew that we were in a fight for our lives as a returning citizen, because if we didn’t change the narrative, if we did not fight back, then we were going to forever wear the scarlet letter of shame. We also felt that—there was two things. Number one, that a more inclusive democracy is a more vibrant democracy, and a more vibrant democracy is good for everyone. And then, the other thing that we knew was that at the end of the day, when you talk about—there’s nothing that speaks more to citizenship than being able to vote. And when you talk about the decision to restore that citizenship or to restore the vote back to an American citizen, that should never be left in the hands of any politicians, whether they’re Democrat, Republican or whatever, because that leaves room for partisan politics to play a role in that. And so, we knew that we had to do something to change it.

And so that’s what started Amendment 4, recognizing that, wait a minute, first of all, this is a human rights issue, right? This is an issue that we can organize along the lines of humanity, right? And then recognizing that the system was broken, that we had to extract that power away from politicians and from that broken system, and put it in a safe place, which we felt was the state constitution, to ensure that every American citizen, when they pay their debt, that they’re allowed to move on with their lives, and they’re allowed to take a part—or, to be a part of this society in the most telling way, and that’s by being able to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Simon, if you can talk about what makes Florida so unique? I mean, the numbers of people that this amendment, Amendment 4, will affect are so astoundingly large. First explain what Amendment 4 is, if there’s someone in the room who’s never heard about it, and then explain what makes Florida number one in the country.

HOWARD SIMON: Well, first of all, I think Amendment 4 is a simple idea. Desmond expressed it a few seconds ago. I think it’s a simple moral principle. It’s that people who have paid their debt to society have earned their way back into the community, and they’ve earned their way back with all the rights and responsibilities. Now, there’s carve-outs. It does not include people who have committed the most horrible of crimes—murder or a felony sex offense. But except for those people, then anybody who has completed whatever sentence has been imposed upon them—people make mistakes. They violate the law. They violate the law, they deserve punishment. But when they have completed whatever a judge has imposed upon them—incarceration, if that’s part of the sentence, probation, parole, fees, fines, victim restitution, if that’s what’s imposed by the judge—then the person has completed that debt and have earned their way back into the community, as I said, with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, including the most fundamental right in a democracy, the right to vote or the eligibility to vote.

Amy, what makes Florida different? You know, part of the answer, I have to say, is that it’s not different. It’s only different maybe in size. So, give me a minute to talk about that, because—this is a policy that this state has had for 150 years. The people have never had an opportunity to vote on this. This all comes from—although the system of felon disenfranchisement is part of ancient Anglo-American law, it really got a new life following the Civil War. And following the Civil War, Florida was part of the Confederacy, and Florida lost the Civil War and had to rejoin the Union, was required to rejoin the Union, and was staring in the face of the post-Civil War constitutional amendments, which were going to include extending all the rights of citizenship to the freed slaves. And for some people who controlled the political power in Florida in 1868 and the constitution convention of that time, that was a serious problem, because there were many parts of the state of Florida where there were more freed slaves than white people. And, oh, my god, if we extended the right to vote to those people, they would take over, and we can’t let that happen.

So, Florida, like a lot of states, developed what’s called the Black Codes. And the purpose of the Black Codes was to rob—I mean, this was the origin of it—to rob black people from as much political power as possible. It involved gerrymandering. It involved new felonies like vagrancy. It involved being picked up by the governor’s appointed sheriff and hauled before the governor’s appointed chief judge in the county. It involved then being convicted of a felony and then going off to prison—essentially, I think, the re-creation of slavery and lifetime felon disfranchisement. Many of the states had that.

What makes Florida different are the numbers. We’re such a large state—1.7 million people with a felony conviction, maybe 1.4 million who have already completed their sentence or are close to their sentence. This is a scandal. Because of the numbers in Florida, it is a scandalous civil rights crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about 10 percent of the population.

HOWARD SIMON: One in 10 people of the state of Florida are ineligible to vote. Close to 1.4—excuse me, one out of four adult black citizens are not permitted to vote in Florida. This is a genuine civil rights crisis. So I want to say that Florida is not only the state that does a better job than any other state of taking away the right to vote from more people than any other state, it even takes the right to vote away from more people than any other country in the world. We sent staff members—Desmond went—to the—in Geneva. We were called to testify before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva a few years ago. They issued a report. No country that practices elections, let alone any other state in the country, takes away the right to vote from more people than the state of Florida.

But I want to emphasize something. This is where it began, but it’s 150 years later, and that’s not really where it is now. And where it is now is that it affects people from all walks of life. Black people in Florida are disproportionately affected—to the best of our research, maybe about 35, 38 percent, a disproportionate number of black citizens in Florida. But the majority of people who are faced with lifetime felon disfranchisement in Florida are white and Hispanic and not black. So, that’s maybe where it—maybe where it started, but that’s not where it is now. Right now it affects everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: Which brings us, Desmond, to the coalitions that have formed, which are really surprising and would inspire many people across this country, that—well, we just talked to you the other day on Democracy Now!, and you said, “We’re not even talking bipartisan here, not to mention partisan.”

DESMOND MEADE: Yes. So, I think that we were—I mean, it’s amazing, because when you stop and you think about it, what is it about this campaign that has brought such unlikely bedfellows together? You know, I believe that part of that process was being able to break down different myths, right? Or different narratives that has been out there for quite a number of years. And Howard talked to—spoke on one of them, where, you know, initially people were thinking, “Hey, wait a minute. You know, felon disenfranchisement? Felon. Felon equals African American. You know, African American equals vote for Democrats.” Right? And so, because of that, they’ve been this resistance to really publicly support something that made a whole lot of sense.

But when we were able to, first of all, show that, number one, it was more white people that were impacted by this, and then also show that there’s a higher concentration of felony convictions in rural areas as opposed to urban areas in Florida, and then turn around—this is something that a lot of people don’t realize. Florida convicts about 170,000 people each year of a felony offense. Now, of that 170,000, less than 25 percent of those individuals are even sentenced to prison. So you have over 75 percent of people who a judge and a prosecutor determined that the level of their offense didn’t even rise to a level of seriousness that warrant them being going to prison. So where are they? They’re in our communities. They’re in our homes. They’re in our pulpits. And so, when we were able to show that the person that people normally thought or associated—right?—the African-American man in prison, was actually a small subsection, that allowed us to have real conversations about how this is an all-American issue, which allowed us to bring in folks like the Koch Industry, bring in folks like Christian Coalition, to the table. And just recently, I think the Catholic—the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops really endorsed, Florida Tax Watch have endorsed, because at the end of the day it made common sense, and at the end of the day it did impact all Americans. And it just wasn’t an African-American issue; it was an American issue.

AMY GOODMAN: So, less than half a million people who have felonies on their record in Florida are African-American, but about a million are not African-American.

DESMOND MEADE: They look more like Howard. So, Howard is—Howard really represents probably the typical person that couldn’t vote in the state of Florida, believe it or not.

AMY GOODMAN: So, compare this, Howard, to other states. Talk about states like Maine and Vermont, where people in prison, who have been convicted of and imprisoned for felonies, can vote from jail.

HOWARD SIMON: Right, right. From prison. From prison. People in jail are most often awaiting trial, and therefore presumed innocent, but yes. Look, there’s such a variation. Florida is on the extreme end of this thing. And you talk about Maine and Vermont. Maine and Vermont, you don’t lose your citizenship right. Even if you have been convicted of a felony and you are, in fact, even incarcerated in a state prison, you can vote there. Other states may have a waiting period. Other states have disqualification for certain offenses. Other states—I mean, there’s movement in this country towards more and more, I think, respect for democracy on this. In Maryland, there was a waiting period. The Legislature passed it, the governor vetoed it, the Legislature overrode it, and so on.

Florida is in a class by itself. There are four states that have embedded in their constitution—and this is why Amendment 4 is necessary. We’ve got to take this Civil War-era provision that is in our constitution out of our constitution. That’s what’s the problem. It was put into the constitution. So, in Iowa, Kentucky, Virginia and Florida. It is four states that in their constitution it’s mandated that you lose your right to vote for the rest of your life upon conviction of any felony, except if you receive clemency from the governor.

DESMOND MEADE: Could I add to that? Could I add to that? How many people in here have kids? Raise your hand. So, I have five kids, and four of those kids are boys. And so, you know, at some point, they’re going to do something stupid, right? They’re going to—they’re going to do something that makes you want to just grab them and shake them: “What the heck were you thinking?”

This is what I thought about, though, because, see, here’s the deal. Amy, when you talk about being an American, there’s nothing that identifies you more as an American more than being able to vote. Right? And so, when I look at my sons, they’re Meades. But no matter what they do, they don’t stop being a Meade. They make foolish mistakes. They make—they make stupid—sometimes they repeat the mistakes. But they don’t stop being my son. They never do. They get punished, right? But they never are excommunicated from my family. And so, those states that never strip away the right, they have it right. Because as an American, I should never stop being an American, even if I make a mistake. I’m still an American citizen.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Howard, there are a number of ads that are running on television, online for Amendment 4. Talk about the man—one of the men who are featured, a Vietnam vet.

HOWARD SIMON: You know, there is a stereotype. Desmond touched on it before, thinking about people—people think of a ex-felon, and they think of somebody who looks like Desmond. And I want to say, this is the stereotype, I think, that has been fomented by political leaders in Tallahassee for decades and decades, that has kept policy in Florida frozen. But it’s not the reality.

So, one of the projects that we took on was to find veterans, veterans that come back from Vietnam or the Gulf War states, with PTSD and took up drugs to alleviate some kind of pain or illness that they were having. One of the people that we found, who is now one of the people who were on television in our commercial, is a fellow named Alan in southern Sarasota County, who came back from Vietnam, all sorts of awards. He was shot right through the chest—he almost died—a quarter of an inch or less from the heart. And he—this is just an incredible story. So just give me a couple of seconds, because this story is unbelievable. The doctor suggested that he go on opioids. He didn’t want opioids. So he started experimenting with medical marijuana to—

AMY GOODMAN: Because he was in so much pain.

HOWARD SIMON: Because he was in so much pain. And it worked. So, here he was, a Vietnam vet, a decorated, honored Vietnam vet, wounded vet, and using medical marijuana. His daughter is in a catastrophic automobile accident and is sent home to die. She dies at home. The Sarasota County coroner goes to pick up the body and smells marijuana, calls the county sheriff. He’s arrested. He has a felony conviction. No previous conviction whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean a felony conviction now for having smoked marijuana.

HOWARD SIMON: For possession of marijuana, for personal use. This is before medical marijuana was legalized in Florida, which is another outrage. He’s a felon for something that is now legal in Florida, which is—this is the craziness of our structure in Florida. In any event, this is a little bit different than the stereotype that is fomented about what the form of felon population is in Florida. Decorated Vietnam vet, no previous conviction, possessing marijuana to alleviate his pain from his war wound, and he’s a felon and cannot vote in Florida.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to say, we want you to participate in this discussion, and I know folks are going to be picking up index cards from you, if you have a question. And I’d like to be able to present those questions to our guests, so get thinking. But, Desmond, tell us your own story.

DESMOND MEADE: Thank you, Amy. Back in August of 2005, I was in South Florida, and I found myself, on a hot and humid day, standing in front of railroad tracks, waiting on a train to come so I can jump in front of it. That day that I stood there, I was a broken man. I was homeless. I was addicted to drugs, recently released from prison, and I didn’t have any hope. I didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. And I waited for that train. And the only thing I could think about, Amy, was how much pain I was going to feel when that train hit me. And even the thought of the pain I would have to endure was not enough to make me move, and I stood there waiting and waiting.

And eventually, I mean, the train never came, and eventually I had to cross those tracks. And I did. And two blocks further was a place that I was able to go and get admitted into a drug treatment program. And so, it was a 4-month program. And after I completed the program, I moved into a homeless shelter in downtown Miami. And while living at the homeless shelter, I decided to go to school, because I just wanted to do something to stop that vicious cycle of drug abuse. You know, when you’re on it, you stop, your life starts to improve, and then something happens to make you relapse, and then you’re right back down there again. And, you know, I figured that if I can get a little education, maybe that would raise my level of self-esteem.

And part of my recovery program was about giving back, service. You know, how do we make our communities a better place? And I had committed to that while I was in treatment. And with the combination of giving back, community service, and going to school, I had a very prosperous career in education, going to school, and eventually I got accepted into law school. And in May of 2014, I graduated with a law degree from FIU College of Law.

Now you can come with the boos, because my story does not have a happy ending, because I live in Florida, and I can’t even practice law. Booo!

AUDIENCE: Booo!

DESMOND MEADE: And so, yes, you know, when I went—and I could address this right now. When I decided to go to law school, I knew at that time that Florida was not going to allow me to practice law. But I still went, because when I was in treatment, I made a commitment. I made a commitment because I discovered a new life. And my commitment was that every day that I woke up, that I needed to do something to make me a better person, to make my community a better place to live. Every day I woke up, I woke up fighting for each and every one of you. I don’t even know you, and I was fighting for you every day I woke up, because I knew that whatever it was that I did, I wanted to make my community, I wanted to make my state and my country a better place for everyone to live. And that’s what I committed to. And that’s what sustained me throughout this. And so, I knew that by going to law school, that the more knowledge I had of the laws that govern every facet of our lives, the better I’ll be able to maneuver, you know, in this world of activism. And that’s what I did. That’s what I did. And that was, you know, knowing that I may never practice law, but at that moment I knew that that was the right way to go. And it’s led me here.

AMY GOODMAN: You may never practice law because you had served time in jail.

DESMOND MEADE: Because I had served—because I was—not because I served time in jail. Remember, I said, over 75 percent of people convicted of felonies each year do not go to prison. They don’t. And so, that is something that, you know, I did. I went to prison. I was bad, you know. But because—not because I went to prison, but because I was convicted of a felony, of a felony.

So, how many of you all in the audience ever had those like balloons that says “Happy Birthday” or “Get well soon” or “Congratulation, graduate”? Raise your hand if you have. Raise it high in the air. How many of you all ever went to a—keep it raised, keep it raised. How many of you all ever went to a memorial, you know, where you have the white balloons and you release them into the air? Raise your hand. If you’ve ever released a balloon in the air, raise your hand. All of you all would be felons in the state of Florida, if you were caught by law enforcement, and you would not be able to vote for the rest of your life.

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

DESMOND MEADE: Because it is a third-degree felony.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m a New Yorker. I’m a New Yorker.

DESMOND MEADE: It’s a third-degree felony to release multiple helium-filled balloons in the air. If you’ve ever—if you’ve ever—you’re walking to class, and there’s construction going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, wait, wait. We have—since we have cameras here that are videoing this, we have to get each face of each person who’s released a balloon.

DESMOND MEADE: Yes, right? No, don’t do that. Don’t do that. Don’t do that. But even when you’re walking to work or you’re walking to a class or whatever, and you happen to take a shortcut, and it may allow you to cross a construction site, trespassing on a construction site is a third-degree felony, and you could lose your rights for life. If you like to catch lobsters and you catch one and the tail is too short, that’s a third-degree felony. And so, there are just so many ways that an individual can get a felony conviction in this state that it’s almost ridiculous. But to think that that one mistake that you make—you’re walking with your friend on the beach, and you disturb turtle nesting eggs, third-degree felony. You lose your rights for life. You are no longer an American citizen.

So, those you all that raised your hand—right?—you’re not allowed to vote anymore, right? You’re not allowed to serve on a jury, right? You’re not allowed to live in probably where you’re living at now, because if you have a homeowner’s association, more than likely they have a provision that will prevent you from owning or even renting a home until your civil rights have been restored. Just think about that. That’s what we face here in Florida.

HOWARD SIMON: So, I want to disagree with Desmond. And I’m going to disagree because I want to say that in a little more than two weeks, the people of Florida are going to drag this state into the 21st century—

DESMOND MEADE: Yes!

HOWARD SIMON: —and end this Jim Crow system of lifetime felon disfranchisement, which will put into the constitution the moral principle that when you’ve completed the terms of your sentence, the disqualification from voting ends. And then there will be a big celebration down the road, when Desmond will be able to practice law.

DESMOND MEADE: And that would be a perfect ending to such an illustrious career in fighting for civil rights for Mr. Simon. We’re going to put that cherry on the top with it.

AMY GOODMAN: I asked Desmond his story. Now, Howard Simon, I’d like to ask your story. I think I saw you in Alabama a couple of years ago. It was the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March. Can you explain what you have to do with that?

HOWARD SIMON: OK. So, I was a naive, stupid college student government guy, and I was the vice president, and my best friend was the president, of the student government. And I’m going to fast-forward through history, if those of you who remember the history of the civil rights movement remember Bloody Sunday, when—the brutal attack on John Lewis-led demonstrators over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in that cold day in Alabama. And after that brutal assault on the civil rights demonstrators, Dr. King sent around telegrams to civil rights allies around the country saying, “Help us. Come to Alabama. Help us organize and march.” That was for—it was a campaign for one of those two most important civil rights laws that changed this country, the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

And so, my friend and I got the call. We got on a bus. We went there. We stayed there some time. I came home and graduated and then started eventually working for the ACLU. He packed a suitcase and went back there and has been living there ever since, organizing Southern farmer cooperatives. So, I went down there. And because we were student government activists, we were assigned very important tasks, like I ran the mimeograph machine. Anybody remember?

AMY GOODMAN: This was in March of 1965.

HOWARD SIMON: March of 1965. Anybody remember mimeograph machines, the dirty stuff with the ink? And anyway, as—

AMY GOODMAN: This was right after John Lewis—

HOWARD SIMON: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —the esteemed congressmember—right?—from Atlanta, as head of SNCC, had his head bashed in—

HOWARD SIMON: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —as he started this march to march for African Americans to be able to register to vote.

HOWARD SIMON: So, this—you know, the year before—I don’t mean to make light of this. The year before—that was in 1965. I think the year before, students went south to help people register to vote. Students from my college in New York went there and were murdered. You remember—if you remember Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, two of the three of them were students at the university that I attended. In any event, so—

AMY GOODMAN: This was Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.

HOWARD SIMON: Andrew Goodman and James Chaney.

AMY GOODMAN: You went to CUNY.

HOWARD SIMON: Yeah, I went—

AMY GOODMAN: And James Chaney, who lived in—

HOWARD SIMON: Right, was from in Alabama. Right. So, in any event, I was assigned as—because of my student government expertise, as I said, to run the mimeograph machine as an assistant to Dr. King’s chief lieutenant, Andrew Young, in the basement of Brown Chapel.

By an elaborate coincidence—let me just take a minute and talk about this. If people remember that history, the Selma march ended with the brutal murder of a Detroit mother of five, Viola Liuzzo. When she was ferrying civil rights workers back from Montgomery to Selma, a car filled with four members of the Klan pulled alongside of her. Shots were fired. She was hit in the head, and she was murdered. Just a few years later, I was the ACLU director in Detroit, where we discovered that one of the four people in that car was the FBI’s chief paid informant in the Klan, may have been the person who fired the shot that killed Viola Liuzzo. I spent about the next 10 years of my life working with the children of Viola Liuzzo in lawsuits against the FBI, alleging the FBI’s responsibility for failure to control their chief paid informer and undercover informer in the Klan. So, that was my experience with Selma and voting rights. This is where I came in, more than 50 years ago, on voting rights. And now I live and have lived in the state that takes away the right to vote from more people than anywhere else in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we have some audience questions. And continue to write them, if you have any question that you’d like to put to our guests. But the first person says, “Can any of this be traced to President Nixon’s Southern strategy?”

HOWARD SIMON: No, it—no, I don’t—not that I see. It predates this. I mean, and I want to say, as much as we have—we, in the ACLU—have spent so much time fighting with and pushing back and challenging Governor Scott, this is not Governor Scott’s making. This is a structure that Governor Scott inherited. It’s a 150-year-old system.

And I want to say, it’s a system that has been manipulated by politicians of all parties. Democratic and Republican governors and administration have manipulated this system. There is—I mentioned it a little while ago—one of the odious things about this system is that politicians should not be sitting in judgment of who gets to vote for them. The people should be choosing their politicians. I mean, I thought one of the outrageous things was that before the primary—one person who is a member of the Cabinet lost an election in the primary—but before the primary, three of the four people on the Cabinet deciding who gets to vote were all candidates for office. So, I mean, they were candidates for office, and here they were deciding who gets to vote and who doesn’t get to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, interestingly, in Georgia right now, you have the situation of—

HOWARD SIMON: The worst.

AMY GOODMAN: —Brian Kemp, the Republican—

HOWARD SIMON: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —candidate for governor, who happens to be secretary of state, who’s in charge of voting, and—

HOWARD SIMON: Talk about manipulating the system. Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —has 53 voting—53,000 voter forms that he says are invalid. Seventy percent of them are African-American. And the Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, for governor, says he’s got to recuse himself. He can’t both run for governor and take out of the system 53,000 voters. Another person asks, “Should people of color register as Republicans to reduce gerrymandering?”

DESMOND MEADE: Why are you looking at me to answer that?

HOWARD SIMON: I’m not going to answer—yeah, I’m not going to answer that.

DESMOND MEADE: So, no, that’s an interesting question. I’m going to tell you why. I’m going to tell you why, Amy. I can’t think of another race of people who have already been pigeonholed like African Americans. I can’t look at a white person and say, “Oh, they’re Democrat,” or Republican. I can’t look at a Latino person, I can’t look at a person from Asia, to make that determination. But for some reason, once you see someone black, there’s an automatic assumption that they’re Democrat. And we’re—to me, it seems like we’re the only race that’s like that. And that puts us in a very bad position.

I do believe that African Americans should be able to register, and they should register as Republicans. There are a lot of African Americans, even in the state of Florida, who are registered Republicans. You know, I get confused with it, to be honest with you, because when I think back to when Howard was fighting the good fight for civil rights, I think the people that was the antagonists were Democrats?

HOWARD SIMON: Southern Democrats.

DESMOND MEADE: Yeah, they were—so, I’m confused on who—what party is cool and what party is not. You know what? I just throw them all aside, and I believe in the human party. That’s what I believe in. And so, I think that in order—I think in order to balance that system, I think, yes, more African Americans should register as Republican.

And I think that the Republican Party should not automatically foreclose on African Americans. They don’t foreclose on anyone else. They court everyone else but African Americans. And that puts us in a very precarious position, because here’s what happens. We’re the girlfriend that no one really values anymore. Right? And so, that means that the Democratic Party does not have to worry about our needs, because all they have to say is that we’re the lesser of two evils and that the Republican Party already foreclosed. So we’re just stuck there. I believe—this is what I believe, and it’s controversy. But, hey, it is what it is. I know that if I am neglectful to my girlfriend, all right, and the best way to get my attention is for another guy to go and try to talk to her. That’s for real. And so, I think that creating a system or creating an environment where the Republican Party can really go after African-American voters create a more challenging system that would dictate compromise, that would dictate collaboration from both sides, because no one side have a lock on any one group of people.

HOWARD SIMON: I want to add something to that. There are a lot of people out there trying to manipulate our campaign, the campaign that Desmond and I are some of the leaders of, and trying to make it a little bit different. And one of the ways in which they’re trying to make it different is that they’re trying to make it partisan. This is really—I can’t imagine a more nonpartisan, almost apolitical, campaign.

I keep saying—and I’m sorry for beating a dead horse about this—that this is a moral issue. You pay your debt, you’ve earned your way back into the community. The effort to try to make this as something partisan, that it’s going to benefit one party or the other, the honest truth of the matter is, nobody knows who the former felon population is in the state of Florida. As we said, maybe about 35 percent of the former felon population in Florida is African-American. Most of them are white. Does anybody know how they’re going to vote? You know, Trump won a lot of the working—the white working-class vote in the last election. People are trying to make this a partisan issue, and it is not.

And it’s one of the reasons why, when we—we have these meetings, that Desmond and I attend, of the executive committee of this campaign, and there is a lot of discipline to make sure that it stays on this moral principle issue and not slip into anything that is partisan. Every politician has manipulated this. Some of this is a big difference between the Republican Party. When Jeb Bush was governor of the state of Florida, 52,000 people got their right to vote back in his eight years of governor. Fifty-two thousand people. Only three now in the seven-and-a-half years of Governor Scott. This is kind of like a—

AMY GOODMAN: Three thousand?

HOWARD SIMON: What?

AMY GOODMAN: Three thousand?

HOWARD SIMON: Three thousand, I’m sorry, not three.

DESMOND MEADE: Three thousand.

HOWARD SIMON: Three thousand, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened under—I mean, talking about Republican and Democratic parties, you have—right?—the governor, Crist, who switched from Republican to Democrat.

HOWARD SIMON: Right.

DESMOND MEADE: But he was a Republican at the time.

HOWARD SIMON: He was Republican at the time. And—

DESMOND MEADE: That’s another thing, too—not to interrupt, but that’s another thing, too, because there have been that narrative, right? And we’ve seen maybe in some other instances, that has created that narrative to where automatically we think that all voter suppression is coming from Republicans, and Democrats don’t do any voter suppression, right? But at the end of the day, when you look at states like Texas, that’s been a red state forever and a day, they allow people to vote. South Carolina, Georgia, they allow people to vote. You know, I tell people, when I was arrested, the police didn’t ask me if I was Democrat or Republican. And when I was in front of the judge and he sentenced me, he didn’t ask me that, either. You know, and so, I think when you see—when you look and you strip away that red and that blue argument—like I was telling people the other day, I’m not trying to get another blue state. I’m not trying to get another red state. I’m trying to get a united state. That’s what I’m trying to get.

AMY GOODMAN: So, not that we respect polls very much, but in this two-and-a-half weeks before the election, people are already voting in Florida. Is that right?

HOWARD SIMON: Oh, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What do the polls indicate?

HOWARD SIMON: And early voting starts on Monday. The mail ballots are already out. People are already voting by mail. And in many counties, early voting, as I said, starts on Monday. So, what—your question was: What do the polls show? Well, the polls show that—I think the polls show that this is an idea whose time has come. And the polls are showing that there is more than 70 percent of the people in Florida who are polled and, you know, in support of this thing.

But I want to echo something Desmond said a little while ago. If you only look at how many people and the percentage of people that support this, you’re missing half the story. And the other half of the story is the breadth of support, from law enforcement, the religious community, conservatives, Republicans and Democrats. It is really across the board, because we’ve done a good job, I think, keeping it on track about this second chance message.

DESMOND MEADE: Can I do a quick poll? All right, so, I like audience participation. If anyone in the audience—now, I need you to listen very closely. If you don’t ever want to be forgiven for anything that you’ve ever done, raise your hand. When you raise your hand, you’re saying, “Listen, I don’t ever want to be forgiven for anything that I’ve ever done.”

That’s how we’re polling right now. Just see this. We’ve just got one hand up. That’s how we’re polling in this state, because at the end of the day, deep down inside of each and every one of us, is a concept about forgiveness. At some point, we all want to be forgiven, right? At some point, we know that when we pay that last car note, when we pay that last mortgage payment, we’re not expecting another bill in the mail. We know that when the debt is paid, guess what. It’s paid. And so, we know—listen, I was admitted into the hospital two days ago. I broke out yesterday to hang out with Amy, right?

AMY GOODMAN: I didn’t know that.

DESMOND MEADE: I literally did, right? But before I broke out, something told me to ask my doctor if she voted yet, if she was a registered voter. She was like, “Yeah, I’m a registered voter, and I’ve mailed my ballot in.” And I said, “Well, how did you vote?” She said, “Well, I know one thing: There was something on there about restoration, and I know I had to vote yes on that.” I said, “Then you’re a great doctor.” But I know that there’s so many people that are excited about it. There’s so many people that connect about it, because, you know, we, as a human being, how could we want to be forgiven if we’re not willing to forgive others? Right? How can we? And so, at the core of this is about restoration, about redemption. Right? When a debt is paid, it’s paid. And folks can connect to that on a very up-close-and-personal level.

AMY GOODMAN: How does the system work right now in Florida? What do you have to do if you have a felony on your record, even if you’ve served no time in jail, you’re beyond probation, parole, any court supervision? What happens?

DESMOND MEADE: I’m going to use me as an example on that one. This is an easy one. Today is October—

AMY GOODMAN: Twentieth.

DESMOND MEADE: —20th, right?

AMY GOODMAN: 2018.

DESMOND MEADE: October 20, 2018.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, he was in the hospital. You know.

DESMOND MEADE: Yeah. If I were to have completed my sentence today, I would have to wait until October 20 of 2025 before I’m allowed to just apply to have my rights restored. And I’m just applying. Once I apply in October 20th of 2025, from what we’re seeing, it would not be until October of 2035 before I find out if I have a shot at having a hearing, because even after waiting those 17 years, I’m not guaranteed a hearing. And so, if I’m lucky enough in October of 2035 to have a hearing, when I walk in those doors I have less than 1 percent of a chance of getting my rights restored.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. And where do you have to go?

DESMOND MEADE: I have to go all the way to Tallahassee. And if I am a poor person that’s barely making ends meet, I have to make a decision: Do I miss time from work to have to drive to Tallahassee, because flying is not an option, because this is expensive.

AMY GOODMAN: So you can only go to Tallahassee. And who are the judges?

DESMOND MEADE: Woo! The judges are the governor, the chief financial officer—

AMY GOODMAN: The governor himself?

DESMOND MEADE: The governor himself, he’s there—the chief financial officer, the secretary of agriculture and the attorney general.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the governor actually himself?

DESMOND MEADE: Himself.

AMY GOODMAN: The secretary of agriculture?

DESMOND MEADE: Himself, yes, who have said, he and CFO in the past—the previous CFO—have said that they don’t understand how they’re experts in trying to figure out whether or not a person deserved to have their rights restored or not, you know.

HOWARD SIMON: But wait a minute. But, Desmond, it has to be added that what you just described is accurate. Of course it’s accurate. But here’s what makes it so outrageous. What you just described is accurate up until January. The system is going to change in January. The system changes with every different governor, every different administration.

DESMOND MEADE: Yes.

HOWARD SIMON: The rules say who gets to vote in Florida depends upon the personality and the politics of who is the governor and the other three statewide elected officers, completely and, you have to add, because this is now in the federal courts, without any standards whatsoever. The governor is very proud of saying to people who appear before him—he says, “You know there are no standards. We can do whatever we want.” And he said—he has said to people things like “Well, congratulations. I see you’ve turned your life around. Very good. Congratulations to you. But, you know, I’m just not feeling it now. I’m just not feeling it today, so I’m going to deny your civil rights.” Or—

DESMOND MEADE: And that person was actually an employee from the state.

HOWARD SIMON: Yeah.

DESMOND MEADE: That person was a state employee. So, she was good enough to work for the state, but not good enough to be able to vote.

HOWARD SIMON: Another person said, “You know, if I was able to vote, I was really wanting to vote for you.” “OK, I’ll return—I’ll restore your rights.” He did that. And I thought, you know, this is the CFO, who is a candidate for re-election now, said to people who were coming hat in hand to show that they should get their basic right of citizenship—says to them, “Do you attend church? How often do you attend church? Gee, you seem to have a lot of children. I see your family here. How many women have you fathered children by?” How the hell is that relevant to a person getting their basic right of citizenship restored.

AMY GOODMAN: There are a lot of good questions here. What percent of Florida felonies are for simple marijuana possession?

DESMOND MEADE: You know, there’s no way I can answer that question. But this is what I can tell you, that if you look at all of the felonies that people are convicted of, all right, in any given year, what you find, in every single one of the individuals, 170,000 people in Florida appear before a judge and appear before a state prosecutor. Right? And they thoroughly examine that case, and they make the determination that over 75 percent of them don’t even deserve to even go to prison. Right? So now that leaves just a little bit less than 25 percent that’s there. And when you get that 25 percent and you put those people into prison, what you find is about 70 percent of those individuals are there for nonviolent offenses.

So, what you have—I mean, you do the math. If over 75 percent of 170,000 people don’t even warrant prison, and then the people that do, 70 percent of them are nonviolent, I’m pretty sure you’ll come to some type of conclusion that we’ve been spending a lot of taxpayers’ dollars that could have been going towards educating your children, that could have been going towards strengthening your police and fire department, that could have been going to improving your infrastructure. But we have been spending it in the prison-industrial complex system that profits nobody but private prisons and the people that do business with them.

HOWARD SIMON: I want to—whoever submitted that question, I really want to say I’m grateful to, because this—we’re only talking about a piece of this issue. The issue of lifetime felon disfranchisement in Florida intersects with the abuse of the criminal justice system and mass incarceration and the growth of our prison population largely as a result of successive decades of wars on drugs and the way in which politicians in Tallahassee have played politics with criminal justice issues, in terms of longer sentences, mandatory sentences, a rule that says you have to serve 85 percent of your sentence and so on. A few years ago, we hired a think tank in Washington, D.C., called the Urban Institute. Urban Institute reported for us that a majority of the people in Florida prisons are there for a nonviolent felony. And a larger majority are there having no criminal—previous criminal conviction. We are using prisons as an alternative in Florida toward—for treatment for drug addiction and mental illness. And the conviction of people for felonies has exacerbated the problem of voting disfranchisement.

AMY GOODMAN: How many cases does the panel review per year? What percent does the secretary of agriculture and the governor accept? And they also have to be able to meet together, right? What happens—they have to coordinate their schedules, as well.

HOWARD SIMON: They only meet four times a year. So, you do the math. We will never—1.7 million people with a felony conviction in Florida, a body that meets four times a year. We will never dig ourselves out of this.

AMY GOODMAN: What percent are accepted?

DESMOND MEADE: Well, you know, I couldn’t tell you that. But I could kind of partially answer that question. To go back to something you said about—you remember you said, “You mean to tell me those four people sit in judgment?” Right? Here’s the thing. Those four people have an administrative body. It used to be called the Florida Parole Commission. Now it’s called the Office of Offender Review, right? Now, basically, they are like the parole commission. They are tasked with doing a thorough investigation of every application. I mean, and they investigate everything. They do on-site investigation. They visit people in their homes. They talk to their employers. They do a very deep, deep, deep investigation and come up with recommendations to the board, to the parole—to the governor and his Cabinet. They don’t even accept half of those recommendations. And those are the people that’s out there doing the work. And so, when you look at the people who are applying and appearing, and look at the people who are getting it, you do the math. I think the first year, they did less than 75 people were able to get their rights restored in 2011. And then, over the last almost eight years now, you’re looking at 3,000.

AMY GOODMAN: How many did Governor Crist do?

DESMOND MEADE: Thirty-five thousand per year.

HOWARD SIMON: Well, it was a total of 155,000, and he only served one term. So, in four years, the previous governor, who was a Republican at the time—I think he was uninvited in the Republican Party for—largely for this reason. But in a 4-year term of office, he restored—well, he and the Cabinet restored the right to vote for 155,000 people. The eight years prior to him, by Jeb Bush, were about 52,000. And the seven-and-a-half years after Charlie Crist is about 3,000.

AMY GOODMAN: What happens if a convicted felon moves to Maine and then moves back?

HOWARD SIMON: Oh, and then moves back.

AMY GOODMAN: So, they move to Maine, they vote.

DESMOND MEADE: They move to Maine. They establish residency in Maine, right? And then they become a registered voter in Maine. And then they move back to Florida? That’s a doozy.

What I can tell you, though—this is what I can tell you, a brief story. You have twin brothers, Howard and Howie, and they both live in Georgia. And Howie decides to rob a grocery store. Howard decides to beat up a postman. They both get caught. They both get sentenced to prison. They serve their time. Twenty years later, Howie and Howard become deacons in their church, and then they decide to move to Florida. As soon as they cross the state line, one of them will lose their rights all over again, without even doing anything wrong.

And that’s because the state of Florida, we have what we call full faith and credit, where the state of Florida with honor with another state. So if another state restore your your voting rights the state of Florida honor that. However if that charge that caused you to lose your rights was a federal charge. There’s no fair full faith and credit, where the state of Florida would honor what another state does. So, if another state restore your voting rights, the state of Florida will honor that. However, if the charge that caused you to lose your rights was a federal charge, there is no full faith and credit with the federal government. And so, that person would lose their rights, simply by just moving into the state of Florida, and would have to apply to have their civil rights restored. How you like that?

AMY GOODMAN: I was just interested that two brothers would be named Howard and Howie. I think one of their parents should be convicted of a felony for that and at least lose their right to name the next child. OK. How soon after we pass this amendment, says the questioner, will it take effect?

HOWARD SIMON: Well, it was written in a way—Desmond can remember this. We spent a year and a half writing this amendment, vetting it and testing it. It says that the disqualification from voting ends upon the completion of all the terms of your sentence. So it should take place immediately, when any other constitutional amendment goes into effect that is passed. It was written, in a way, intentionally—I mean, you know, I don’t want to count chickens before they’re hatched, but if this passes—and I pray that it does—when it passes, I would not be surprised if the politicians somehow try to insert themselves in there. But it was written in a way to try to exclude any role for the Legislature, any role for the governor, any role for Cabinet or state officials. The disqualification from voting automatically ends upon the completion of a sentence. So it should go in.

Now, that’s the next big issue: And then how do you implement it? That’s another—but let’s talk about that the day after the election.

DESMOND MEADE: Yes, on November 7th. Well, you know, it goes to this narrative—right?—that, you know, I think—like, when I said the most like important expression of citizenship was voting. But the second most important expression of democracy is when citizens come together and take matters into their own hands. And in the case of this, we, as citizens, said, “Hey, politician, you’ve had this in your hands for far too long, and you didn’t get the job done. So we’re taking matters into our own hands, and we’re doing it in such a way that we don’t even want you to be meddling with this when we get done with it, to mess it up.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that goes to this question. Are people still at risk legislatively? But this is—I think that means, “Could the Legislature overturn this?”

DESMOND MEADE: This is not—I’m going to let Howard speak. But let me tell you—

AMY GOODMAN: Or could a court overturn this?

DESMOND MEADE: I have—so, first of all, we went before the Florida Supreme Court, and the justices unanimously approved this language, which says a lot, that all judges agreed on the same thing in this day and age. But the other part of it is this, is that if the Legislature wanted to do something to impact this or even clemency, they would have to do it through a ballot initiative. And so, if they want to do anything to undo what we did, they would actually have to put an initiative on there and ask the same people who voted for our initiative to vote against our initiative the next time around.

HOWARD SIMON: So, let me say, I have been a member, supporter, donor, contributor, activist, volunteer and staff member for the ACLU for maybe somewhere between the last 45 and 50 years of my life. I am not going to be naive enough not to think that the politicians, in some way, are not going to muck—to try to muck this up and resist it, because they have attempted—they have resisted it for decades and decades.

I think about the last big battle that we had that was similar to this, and those of you in the audience may recall this: the “Fair Districts” amendments. OK? So, the “Fair Districts” amendments were amendments to the constitution. They prohibited members of the Legislature who would be drawing the district lines from doing various things, from engaging in partisan gerrymandering and so on. Did that prohibit the—bar the Legislature from making an effort to do that, from drawing district lines that favored them? No. Nothing is unconstitutional unless some judge with authority says it’s unconstitutional.

So, I would not be surprised if the Legislature does something. But now, with Amendment 4 passing, we will be armed with a major constitutional principle to be able to go into court to resist what the Legislature may do to try to interfere with us.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, interestingly, and maybe everyone knows this, if you’re all Floridians, but this issue of needing 60 percent to pass this. It’s not the majority of people. Explain how that happened.

HOWARD SIMON: Well, our Legislature got sick and tired of the people going over their head and, as Desmond says, taking matters into their own hands because we have a Legislature that isn’t very responsive. So there were all sorts of things. I think the thing that probably threw the Legislature over the cliff was the class size amendment. Remember? We were going to do something, actually maybe the most significant thing, for educational quality in Florida by limiting class size. That may have been the last straw for the Legislature. So they put on the ballot a requirement that to change the constitution, you need 60 percent. That provision passed by 55 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: Do private prisons exert any influence here?

DESMOND MEADE: Do what?

AMY GOODMAN: Do private prisons, the private prison lobby?

DESMOND MEADE: Surprisingly, one of the things that we have enjoyed—and to a lot of people, surprises—that we have not encountered organized opposition to this. And so, as it relates to the ballot initiative, I can—I think I can safely say that no one has mounted any kind of attack.

I think that has a lot to do with the fact that this has been an organic grassroots movement. Matter of fact, I need to highlight this, because I don’t know how much time we have, but one of the things that I tell people, especially when we talk about a organic grassroots movement that welcomes and enjoys bipartisan support—one of the first things that I highlight is that the first congressional district that we were able to qualify to get to the Supreme Court was this congressional district here. And it had a lot to do with the work of people from Brevard County, that busted their butt collecting petitions. In a county like Brevard, in a congressional district like this, somehow or another, they beat out every—you would think that, oh, you would get those signatures easy in Miami or Broward County or in Orange County, but Brevard was head and shoulders above everyone else, and they were the first ones to qualify.

But it says something, too. And I think that that leads to why I believe—and this is just me being naive, I guess, but it was that naive in me that believed that we could get this thing on the ballot and we could be where we are today—right?—is that what I believe is that when you do truly have an organic grassroots movement from people from all walks of life, it’s very hard to attack that. It’s very hard to go against the everyday all-American citizens, that are conservatives, that are independents, that are are progressives, that are young, that are old, or white, black and Latino. You know what I’m saying? It’s very hard to go against that, because that is a formidable—that’s a formidable force.

And we were able to collect signatures throughout this state without any money to get before the Supreme Court. That’s never been done before. Right? And then we collected over a million signatures in less than five months. In less than five months. And so, listen, I walk with pride now because of the work that people like the people in Brevard County have done, and I tell them that we’re the only amendment on the ballot that was by the people and for the people. The only one.

AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times had a very interesting piece on this in The New York Times Magazine. I encourage everyone to read it. But one of the things it says is that this amendment, Amendment 4, could enfranchise more people at once than any single initiative since women’s suffrage.

HOWARD SIMON: You know, I—please, let’s not take our foot off the gas pedal. We’ve got a little bit over two weeks to do. But this is the most important voting rights measure in the country that’s on the ballot in two weeks. It could transform our state. It could end an injustice. I mean, look, there are a lot of—I think we’ve made it hard for the opposition, because this is—people are kind of trying to figure out how to oppose this thing. I mean, look, there’s a savings of money that’s involved. I don’t want to get into the details of that, but there’s like millions of dollars spent on maintaining the structure of the Florida Commission on Offender Review, on the clemency board, on—there’s a whole—there’s, you know, millions of dollars spent. There’s millions of dollars’ savings of the Department of Corrections budget on this thing, because of the one-third of the recidivism rate is by those people who have their rights restored and are reintegrated back into the community.

AMY GOODMAN: So, wait, explain that, and maybe some people don’t understand that term “recidivist” and “recidivism rates.”

HOWARD SIMON: Well, in Florida, more or less, the average rate by which people who are released from prison or released from the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections reoffend, commit another offense, is about 33 percent. The state’s own study shows that those people who have left the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections and have received the restoration of their civil rights, including voting rights, the rate at which they reoffend is 11 percent. So, you translate that into money—

AMY GOODMAN: So, voting is a crime-fighting measure.

HOWARD SIMON: Yeah. We are safer as we—that’s what I meant. Look, we save money, and we’re safer. And it addresses a 150-year-old injustice. How do you oppose this?

AMY GOODMAN: OK, rapid fire, because we’re almost out of time. If someone disagrees with ballot amendments, ballot initiatives, how do you convince them to vote yes.

DESMOND MEADE: That’s a great question. So, there’s two things I typically ask. And, listen, when I first started collecting petitions, I went to counties and places that I wasn’t supposed to go. And I approached people that had Rick Scott T-shirts and Adam Putnam T-shirts. And those were the people who signed my petitions when I started. And it was very simple, just really asking them if they’ve known anyone that’s ever made a mistake in their life, you know. And if they have, you know, do you think that they deserve a second chance?

And almost always—you know, in all of my years of traveling this state on this issue, there was only two people who I couldn’t convince. Only two. And there was a Latino clergy that was in a biker bar in Viera, all right? Ask me what he was doing in the biker bar, I don’t know. And then there was a guy at the Jacksonville Jaguar game who—I’ll never forget it. I got to tell this story. It’s a quick story. But I asked him if he knew anyone that’s ever made a mistake. And he said, “Yes. My son.” And in my head, I’m like, “I got him! I got him!” Right? Because he already told me, when I approached him, that he was voting for Donald Trump, you know. And then I said, “Well, don’t you want your son, when he—after he’s paid his debt, to be able to vote?” And the guy said, “Hell no! He’s too stupid!” And I just shook his hand, and I knew that was a lost one. I was going to get him. But those are the only two people. You know, I’m not saying that there aren’t more people out there, but in all of my travels—and I traveled over 50,000 miles each year in my car, to all parts of Florida—and in all these years, I’ve only ran across two people who I could not convince.

AMY GOODMAN: Amendment 4 excludes certain felonies. Should it? What do other states do? Is the right to vote absolute?

HOWARD SIMON: Well, most states in the country, you lose your rights when you’re convicted of a crime; your rights are restored when you pay your debt to society. Florida is an outlier. And one of the things I would add in answer to the last question is, Florida is such an outlier. Think about this, and try to convince people to vote for Amendment 4. We have a permanent class of second-class citizens. A million-and-a-half people are second-class citizens. They’ve paid their debt, but they don’t have their rights back. That’s the basis upon which—look, we could save money. We can make the community safer. But at the end of the day, this is a 150-year-old injustice that we have, for the first time in Florida history, an opportunity to correct.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the socioeconomic profile of felons in Florida? How much is white-collar crime?

HOWARD SIMON: I don’t think either of us are criminologists, so I don’t think we can give an answer to that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me end with this question: What are you doing to motivate young people to vote?

DESMOND MEADE: So, I go and I talk to Lil Boosie, and I talk to Webbie, and I talk to people who a lot of these young folks listen to. But, you know, I’ve spoken at colleges. And what I’ve seen, to be honest with you, this election cycle, that—and part of it has to do with Parkland, you know, where kids, these young folks, this year, are more energized than I’ve ever seen them, and they want to get engaged. A lot of these young folks have family members, whether it’s their parents—we were at—with John Legend. We hung out with John Legend in Orlando a couple weeks ago at a high school. And there was a high school senior there that talked about how both her mother and father were incarcerated and can’t vote. And so it was very personal to her. And so, these young folks are connecting with the issue, particularly around Amendment 4. And there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to see an uptick in the young voters this year.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s the slogan on the T-shirts as people go around, and on buses?

DESMOND MEADE: “Let my people vote.” “Let my people vote.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for this fascinating discussion. It really, I think, goes to show how critical it is to look at local struggles, which so often have global implications. You know, the U.S. government will often look to other countries and ask whether they have free and fair elections, whether people can vote for their leaders. And it looks like that’s very much the direction that you are pushing for in Florida.

So, thank you for another edition of Democracy Now!, this one live and in person. Thanks so much, everyone, for coming out. I’ll be going to the back with Denis Moynihan, talking with people there. And I know you two are both going to make some final comments. So I want to thank you so much for this fascinating evening.

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