'Eyes on the prize': Two activists set aside personal threats to fight new voting restrictions

이번 주, voting right activists Cliff Albright and LaTosha Brown will board a 53-foot bus and kick off a tour through the South. Their task: Rally public support for federal legislation to combat the raft of new state laws aimed at restricting voting rights.

They face big obstacles. Among them: 민주당 센. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a centrist who is a key vote in a 50-50 Senate and has opposed a sweeping voting rights bill, in its current form, that the Senate is slated to consider this month. He also has resisted changing Senate rules to allow Democrats to pass legislation by a simple majority, a position that could doom another measure that would restore some voter protections first enshrined in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
But hard jobs are the specialty of these two friends who co-founded Black Voters Matter Fund five years ago to increase political power in African American communities.
    에 2017, they mobilized voters in Alabama to help Doug Jones become the first Democrat elected to the US Senate in that deep-red state in a quarter century. 그리고 2020, they were among the Georgia-based activists who helped turn the state blue and elect Joe Biden to the presidency.
      They helped repeat that feat this year with the runoffs wins of Democratic Sens. 조지아의 Jon Ossoff와 Raphael Warnock, giving the party a slim majority in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris empowered to break tie votes on some measures. Black turnout in the special election surged, helping drive the Democratic victories.
        The duo have paid a high price for their activism, 하나. They’ve faced threats to their safety on the road and back at home in the Atlanta area. 1월에 5, the day Ossoff and Warnock won their elections, Brown got a call from the FBI, 그녀가 말했다, warning her to stay alert for suspicious activity.
        She said she soon learned the organization’s name was on a list of potential targets devised by a far-right group. So instead of celebrating the Democratic takeover of Washington, Brown and Albright fled their homesspending the days following the special election in temporary housing.
          “일반적으로, after you secure a victory, there’s some reprieve,” Brown told CNN in a recent interview. “But we got punished for being successful.
          아직도, Brown and Albright say that little could deter them from their latest campaign to confront the glut of new laws in Republican-controlled states that limit ballot access.
          What other choice do I have?” Brown asked. “We’re seeing these attacks because we are gaining ground, not because we are losing. This isn’t the moment to get dejected and pull back. We have to keep our eyes on the prize.
          적어도 22 new laws restricting voting had been enacted in 14 주 as of May 14 — beating a record of 19 such laws in 2011, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. They range from provisions that make absentee voting harder to those that empower partisan poll watchers.

          Broad campaign

          Black Voters Matterslatest mobilization campaign, dubbed the Freedom Ride for Voting Rights, starts Saturday on Juneteenththe holiday commemorating the day in 1865 that enslaved residents of Galveston, 텍사스, learned of their emancipation.
          The nine-city tour comes 60 몇 년 후 original Freedom Rides through the South, the bus trips that Black and White activists took together to protest the bus terminals that remained stubbornly segregated despite a 1960 Supreme Court ruling deeming the practice unconstitutional.
          The Black Voters Matter tour is part of a broad effort by voting rights groups and Democrats to fight the new restrictionswith lawsuits, pressure campaigns on lawmakers and voter registration drives aimed at flooding competitive states with new voters likely to back Democrats in next year’s midterm elections.
          The Texas Democratic Party, 예를 들어, is spending $ 1.7 million this year on a pilot project that aims to register 2 million likely Democratic voters in the Lone Star State before the 2022 선거, said Luke Warford, the state party’s chief strategy officer.
          전국적으로, the DemocratsSenate campaign committee this week said it would spend $ 10 million on new voter protection programs in Senate battlegrounds.
          Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group founded by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, recently launched an advocacy campaign calledHot Call Summerto rally young voters of color to support the For the People Act. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged a test vote this month on the far-reaching elections and campaign finance overhaul.
          And a coalition of some 70 groups, including Indivisible and Common Cause, has announced a Deadline for Democracy campaign to urge the Senate to pass the bill by August.

          Alabama activism

          For Albright and Brown, the tour is a homecoming in many ways. It will begin with stops in Jackson, 미시시피, and Birmingham, 앨라배마 — the state in which they began their work together.
          갈색, 50, grew up mostly in Selma, 앨라배마. 동맹을 맺은 동방의 이웃들에 대한 안도 확인, a New Yorker whose activism began when he was an undergraduate at Cornell, followed his wife, April England-Albright, to Selma in the late 1990s, where he became steeped in the city’s living civil rights history. He co-hosted a radio show with J.L. Chesnut, Selma’s first Black lawyer and a pivotal, if lesser-known, figure in the city’s voting rights struggles.
          One of the first joint projects between Albright and Brown involved offering Black history and leadership training to middle school students in the city. They also worked on an independent campaign in 2000 that helped elect Selma’s first Black mayor and ousted Joe Smitherman, whose tenure as mayor of the majority Black city dated to 1965 — the year that civil rights icon John Lewis and other activists were beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday.
          The brutality unleashed by the sheriff’s posse and state troopers that day helped spur Congress to pass the original Voting Rights Act.
          동맹을 맺은 동방의 이웃들에 대한 안도 확인, 51, said a key principle guides their political work: Black voters matter everywhere, including in the Southern states that Democratic political operatives had long written off as Republican strongholds. They work mainly in 11 주: 루이지애나, 미시시피, 앨라배마, 그루지야, 플로리다, 테네시, 텍사스, 사우스 캐롤라이나, 노스 캐롤라이나, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
          They partner with groups on the ground, directing money and other assistance to grassroots organizations that have track records in communities. 에 2018, 예를 들어, Black Voters Matter collaborated with organizations in Tennessee to pass a referendum that established a civilian board to oversee the Nashville Police Department.
          They provided grant money to the groups gathering signatures to put the measure on the ballot, 그러나 “some of it was just giving us moral support,” said Sekou Franklin, a political scientist at Middle Tennessee State University and an activist who worked on the Nashville policing effort.
          Letting us know that we were on the right side was a big deal for us,” 그는 덧붙였다.
          Steve Phillips, a longtime Democratic donor who has worked with Brown for more than a decade, said the group plays acritical rolebecause theyare strategically focused on the places that have the greatest untapped potential.
          The organization has a combined $ 27.2 million budget this year between its two nonprofit arms. A recent tax return shows the organization dispensing modest sums — $ 6,000 또는 $ 8,000 한 번에 — to church groups, voting rights organizations and nonprofit child care centers operating in the often-overlooked communities they try to reach.

          Bus tours

          Black Voters Matter also is known for its big, motor-coach tour buses. They serve as traveling office space and mobile advertisements of their activism. Albright and Brown roll into towns, dispensing T-shirts, registering voters and urging their followers to text voting messages to their friends and families.
          They get very hands-on, 너무. When voting snarled in heavily African American counties during a Georgia primary last year, Albright joined other activists at a polling place, providing snacks and encouragement to voters who had waited until nearly midnight to cast their ballots. (That practice is outlawed by Georgia’s new voting law, which makes it a misdemeanor to provide food or water to voters waiting in line. The group has sued to stop the law’s implementation, one of at least seven lawsuits challenging Georgia’s new voting rules.)
          And wherever the Black Voters Matter’s bus shows up, music follows.
          갈색, a soulful alto who’s developing a one-woman show of freedom songs, often belts out a few bars of the civil rights anthemKeep Your Eyes on the Prizeto open her talks. “Sometimes I have to sing to soothe my own soul,” said the mother of two.
          때때로, 그러나, they and their busemblazoned with their logos and messages of Black empowermentreceive unwanted attention.
          Last fall, 약 15 minutes after the bus dropped off their group at an Airbnb rental in Cleveland, a neighbor began knocking frantically on the front door, Albright recalled. A trash can next to the house had been set ablaze, in what he believes was an act of vandalism, targeting their group.
          They both took seriously the FBI warning this year on the day of the Georgia runoffs. The organization paid for private security, and Albright moved with his wife and two of their three sons to a short-term rental for about eight days, 그는 말했다. “Anytime the FBI calls you, you know something’s up,” said Albright.
          An FBI official in Washington declined to comment when asked about the bureau’s January 5 경고.
          This month’s bus tour will wend through the South with stops in cities such as Nashville, Atlanta and Columbia, 사우스 캐롤라이나. It will include a visit to Manchin’s home state of West Virginia.
          He’s not the only hurdle that voting rights advocates must overcome. Other Democrats have had reservations about the sweeping For the People Act, with its Christmas tree of provisions that include public financing for congressional elections, limits on partisan gerrymandering and ethics rules for Supreme Court justices. And only one Republican, 이것의. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, had publicly endorsed, as of Wednesday, another voting rights bill supported by Manchin. That measure, 존 루이스 의결권 승진 법, seeks to restore and could expand a key provision of the original Voting Rights Act: a requirement that states with histories of racial discrimination obtain federal permission, 또는 “preclearance,” before changing their voting laws.
          현재, it takes 60 투표 — 어느, under the Senate’s current makeup, requires the support of 10 공화당 원 — to advance most legislation in that chamber without dismantling the Senate’s filibuster rule.
          If Congress fails to provide a federal backstop against the new voting restrictions, it will fall to Black Voters Matter and other activists to continue their fight, Albright said.
            We believe we will outwork and out-organize them and find ways to overcome voter suppression,” 그는 말했다. “That’s been the history of our experience with voting in this countryhaving to overcome those barriers.
            “하지만 하루가 끝나면, we shouldn’t have to make history,” 그는 말했다.

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