Advancing Silenced Voices

By Aya Elamroussi

Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization that helps clear hurdles for people to vote through grassroots efforts.

“We work with organizations on the ground… to get ahead of hurdles to the ballot that disproportionately affect people of color,” Advancement Project Deputy Communications Director Ricardo Ramírez said.

More generally, Advancement Project works on-the-ground and helps “organized communities of color dismantle and reform the unjust and inequitable policies that undermine the promise of democracy,” according to the organization’s website.

Advancement Project is also a pioneer organization for voting rights, Ramírez said, with its national office located in Washington, D.C. Ramírez added Advancement Project’s voting rights advocacy began as result of the 2000 presidential election when Florida underwent a recount battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

“In Florida it became clear that in black neighborhoods something was wrong with the ballots,” Ramírez said. And upon the executive director’s instructions, Advancement Project played its first role in a high-profile voting rights issue.

The organization was founded with the idea that “impacted communities” know best how to improve their own situation and how to clear hurdles that keep them from having a full voice and a full sense of freedom, Ramírez said.

To help people achieve equal voting rights, Advancement Project works with organizations such as Virginia Majority, Florida Majority and Georgia Project, which are grassroots organizations that determine the voting impediments people face.

The grassroots organizations all have the same mission, which is to empower the political voice of marginalized communities and people of color. The three organizations have voter registration programs on their websites.

“Before, people talked a lot about election protection, but we think that we don’t need to protect the election as much as voters who are often cut out of the process,” Ramírez added.

With the recent changes in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, more people of color have not been able to vote, according to Ramírez.

The Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in June, 2013. Section 5 held that certain states in the South must obtain preclearance from the Department of Justice for any changes pertaining to voting. The states section 5 applied to were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia

The Guardian reported that on the same day the Court invalidated section 5, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that he was implementing instantly a voter ID law that would require voters to provide official photo identification such as a driver’s license, state-issued photo identification or a passport before casting a ballot.

Ramírez said that voter ID laws affect minority groups most.

“Opponents of voting rights know and understand that people of color tend to own ID at lower rates the rest of the population,” Ramírez added.

Which is why Advancement Project, Ramírez said, worked with organizations on the ground in Missouri to prevent an amendment in favor of voter ID law.

In Georgia, a polling place in a community of color was moved inside of a sheriff’s office. Advancement Project worked with The New Georgia Project to clear that hurdle.

“While this may not be an issue to some voters, in communities of color, that is something that might simply raise flags for people,” Ramírez said.

Ramírez added that other examples of voter intimidation take the form of people carrying shotguns or rifles around voting poll locations. In the 2016 presidential election, people harassed naturalized citizens who look like immigrants by asking them for their papers, Ramírez said. “No one wants to put up with that.”

“Everyone should have access to the ballot, and they should feel comfortable and safe doing it,” Ramírez said.




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