Video: Florida’s Chance to Make Right What History Got Wrong in November

From the New York Times an Opinion Video supporting the movement to restore the rights of formerly incarcerated citizens who have paid their debt to society and deserve a say in the future.

The right to vote is how we each have a say in the future. But when it comes to voting, the past may hold us all back from a better future. For individuals who made mistakes in their past and were convicted of a crime, many states prohibit or make the restoration of voting rights difficult, foreclosing on one of the best possible forms of rehabilitation, giving people a second chance at building community with a new start and a voice and vote to help shape the future. This November 6, the Second Chances Florida campaign gives voters the opportunity to restore the voting rights of 1.4 million friends, neighbors, or colleagues who’ve paid their debt to society and want their rights restored.

Even if we don’t live in Florida, we should all want that for our fellow citizens because as this video from the New York Times Opinion section reminds us, collectively we are all being held back from fulfilling the promise of a more perfect union by our nation’s tragic history with slavery. Collectively, we’ve failed to dismantle our racist past built into Reconstruction Era laws passed in reaction to fears stoked by those who lost the Civil War. We became repeat offenders through Jim Crow segregation laws. Even today’s whitewashed racism that allows the sitting president to make the egregious claim of there being “good people on both sides” of last year’s white supremacist riot, is a crime — figuratively speaking, of course — some of us still believe free speech is free in spite of the Supreme Court’s decision to give privilege to paid speech in Citizens United and related cases.

Florida voters have an opportunity to right the wrongs of 150 years of history and begin to unshackle us all from a past that we can never forget, but like formerly incarcerated individuals, can come to a place of understanding, reconciliation, and forgiveness that allows us all to move forward to a better future, together.

For all of our flaws as a nation, it is this crazy idea captured in our founding documents that every individual is created equal, with certain inalienable rights, that every generation of Americans since has read, taken to heart, and decided if we really believe that, we should act on it. That’s no easy task — acting and living into the promise of American democracy — because it means recognizing the people we most disagree with in all the world have just as much say as you or me about the future we all share.

Some people in Florida, including Gov. Rick Scott, captured in this video as a serial offender in denying people their rights, want you to believe this isn’t about race, or the past, or even the right to vote — they want you to believe its about partisan politics because they think many of the formerly incarcerated people will register as Democrats.

Ironic, isn’t it, that the party of Lincoln perpetuates thinly-veiled Jim Crow segregationist laws as the only way they can hold power given demographic shifts. Laws like those that disenfranchise people who’ve done their time, or close polling places in black neighborhoods, or make registering to vote more of a burden than it ever should be in the digital age, or purge voter rolls, or make student voting harder, or require multiple forms of identification, or gerrymander districts to create imaginary majorities out of a minority of votes, or keep the arcane Electoral College around as opposed to electing a president by a majority of the popular vote — these are all barriers to participation to keep people down instead of pursuing policies that lift people up. Those laws all have roots in our racist past. And that makes politicians like Gov. Rick Scott serial offenders, perpetuating crimes against democracy because they believe in their power more than they believe in the people.