Voting Rights Rally Recap!

Attendees gather for the closing prayer. Special thanks to Steve Pavey for taking this photo.

Last Thursday nearly 200 people gathered in the rotunda to share prayer, cheers, stories of triumph, and a call for the General Assembly to do one simple thing: "Let Us Vote".

The day began with scheduled meetings with members of the State Senate beginning as early as 8:15 in the morning on the 2nd floor of the Capitol Annex. People traveled from as far away as Lynch, Kentucky to share their stories with legislators about why they believe Kentuckians deserve the right to vote. 100 people came to share their stories, talk about the value of democracy, and the need for the Commonwealth to practice forgiveness if we ever want to truly represent all of Kentuckians

As many people noted, it's not usual for 100 folks from around the state, with disparate backgrounds and little knowledge of each other, to come together into small teams, and share intimate personal stories of struggle with legislators. Yet, on days like this, it works. And even more importantly, it helps remind people why they came.

Tim Tice of Louisville, who is celebrating 19 years sobriety,  told his story for the first time to legislators while in Frankfort. He promised to definitely return.

After more than 20 meetings with legislators on the issue of House Bill 70, and similar legislation, members made way to a rally that featured a lot of dynamic speakers. The rally was emceed by Tayna Fogle of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and Mike Barry of People Advocating Recovery. They welcomed and warmed up the crowd, as other attendees performed a skit near the rotunda entrance, before opening the rally with a couple of powerful prayers from leading ministers from Lexington. They also recognized many in the crowd, and gave thanks to Senators Buford and Neal, and Representatives Owens and Hoover, each of whom filed a voting rights amendment this year.

Pastor Owens of Shiloh Baptist Church led the group in prayer, asking people to ask God to place, "Upon the hearts of our returning citizens, our brothers and sisters, [prayers for] courage to continue this struggle. Those legislators [who support voting rights], give them courage to continue. Those who continue to find creative ways to hijack and hold hostage this bill... Move by letting them know that we are not in this struggle alone. We're not afraid... We will stand... We will shout. And ask that there be liberty and justice for all until it is realilty."

Pastor Owens was followed by Reverend Watterson of Total Grace. His remarks observed the history of suffrage in the United States, reflecting that, "the evolution of the right to vote reveals an ugly truth about Americans' past. Only a privileged few had a voice. Even now, in 2015, that there is roughly about 6 million Americans who don't have the right to vote. Our vote is our voice. We stand here to declare we will not be silent unilt our voices are heard."

   A welcome addition to the rally was the performance of the Mt. Sinai Spirituals of Lynch, Kentucky. They performed several songs during the rally, providing a break from the line of speakers, and representing the southeastern corner of Kentucky. As those who have been involved in this work know, there is not a place in the commonwealth where people are not touched by this regressive practice in some way, and the presence of speakers from rural and urban areas helped serve to highlight this. 

   The rally also featured elected officials who are working on the right vote. Former Louisville Metro Councilmember Attica Scott reflected on working across the aisle to pass a unanimous resolution supporting restoration of voting rights during her time on Louisville Metro Council because another Kentucky is possible, and encouraged those in other local governments acorss the Commonwealth to pick up the work to do the same; Lexington Fayette Urban County Councilmember Chris Ford reflecting on the work he did to pass the 1st resolution from local governments in support of voting rights, which also passed unaninmously, in the value of supporting returning citizens; and  Senator Neal, primary sponsor for Senate Bill 70 [one of the 4 identical amendmetns filed to restore voting rights automatically to people who have served their time], stated that in order for these efforst to succeed, "The key to this is you. You have to keep coming and keep coming until what we call 'justice' prevails. Thank you for the work you've done historically. Thank you for being here today, and thank you for the energy that you've put into this issue. At some point, all of your efforts, all of your work,  it will prevail."

Secretary of State Grimes also spoke, telling the crowd that, "Justice is not given. It is up to each and every one of us to continue to fight."

   

Michael Hiser, the last former felon to speak at the rally, summed up the overall theme of the rally nicely by saying, "The Key the focus on us getting the right to vote. House bill 70 is a constitutional amendment. Two Senators have made the decision to take the right to vote away from all Kentuckians. I didn't come here today to fight for 'MY' right to vote; I came here today to fight for 'YOUR' right to vote!" This was followed by chants of "Let Us Vote" throughout the crowd.

Closing out the rally was Reverend Marian Taylor, the outgoing Executive Director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, who invited those remaining at the end of the rally to stand shoulder to shoulder, and led everyone in singing Siyahmba. This hymn, which closed out an amazing day for Kentuckians who care about fairness, equality, and democracy, was popularized as an important song in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

   

All who were in attendance know the battle for voting rights is not over this session. From the podim people were encouraged to continue to support House Bill 70 in a myriad of ways, and to join people at the next voting rights vigil on Tuesday, March 3.

Richard Young, a former felon from Elsmere who shared his personal story from the podium, afterwards remarked that at the rally he was surprised by the energy in dedication to the cause at the rally and lobby day. He had never before been a part of an event like this could change people's lives. When speaking of the day, he said, "This is what was meant to happen."

NOTE: Special thanks to Steve Pavey, who took the photos for this rally! You can visit his facebook albums on voting rights here and here

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