14. “Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired”—Voting Rights and Voter Suppression (with Kristen Clarke, Judge Glenda Hatchett and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson)

With Guests:

  • Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Clarke leads one of the nation’s most important national civil rights organizations in the pursuit of equal justice for all. She is the author of Barack Obama and African American Empowerment: The Rise of Black America’s New Leadership.
  • Judge Glenda Hatchett, who served as senior attorney at Delta Airlines before becoming the chief presiding judge of Fulton County Georgia Juvenile Court in Atlanta.  Her law firm, the Hatchett Firm, represented Philando Castille’s estate in the wake of his tragic death. She presides over the two-time Emmy-nominated courtroom series, Judge Hatchett, now in its 16th season. Most recently, she has returned to TV in her new television court series, The Verdict with Judge Hatchett.
  • Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center—and the first Black woman to hold that title.  She is an active participant on the governance council of the Southern Movement Assembly, and an organizer with Concerned Citizens for Justice. She has served on the National Council of the Student Environmental Action Coalition.
Listen on:

In this Episode:

At the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, voting activist and civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer described the violent injustice she and others had endured while living under the South’s Jim Crow rules and fighting for the right to vote: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

Over 50 years later, ahead of the 2020 election, we see record early voting across the country. Even so, serious efforts aimed at voter suppression persist, including curbing access to mail-in voting and shutting down polling locations.

So, what are the biggest threats to voting rights today? How is voter suppression showing up in the 2020 election? What can we do to ensure that our elections remain free and fair?

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Transcript:

00:00:04 Michele Goodwin: 

Welcome to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. Magazine, a show where we report, rebel and tell it like it is. On this show, we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. Join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times. On our show, history matters. We examine the past as we pivot to the future. Now on today’s show, we focus on sick and tired of being sick and tired, voting rights, and voter suppression. 

We dedicate this show to the legacies of Congressman John Lewis and Fannie Lou Hamer, who fought so hard for voting equality and rights for all Americans. Now ahead of the 2020 election, we are seeing record early voting across the country. In fact, as of this show, more than 20 million Americans across the country have cast their ballot early. This is a dramatic increase over 2016, but even so serious efforts aimed at voter suppression persist, including curbing access to mail-in voting and shutting down polling locations.

So, what are the biggest threats to voting rights today? How is voter suppression showing up in the 2020 election, and what can we do to ensure that our election remains free and fair? Helping us to sort out these questions and how we should think about these issues and more are very special guests. 

I’m joined by Kristen Clarke. She is the president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She leads one of the nation’s most important national Civil Rights organizations in pursuit of equal justice for all. She is the author of Barack Obama and African American Empowerment, the Rise of Black America’s New Leadership

I’m also joined by Judge Glenda Hatchett. She served as the senior attorney at Delta Airlines before becoming the chief presiding judge of Fulton County, Georgia’s juvenile court. That’s in Atlanta, Georgia. Her law firm, the Hatchett Firm, represented Philando Castile’s estate in the wake of his tragic murder. She presides over the two-time Emmy nominated nationally syndicated courtroom series, Judge Hatchett, now in its 16th season. Most recently, she has returned to TV in her new television court series, The Verdict with Judge Hatchett

And finally, I’m also joined by Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson. Ash-Lee is the executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center and the first Black woman to hold that title. She is an active participant on the Governance Council of the Southern Movement Assembly and an organizer with the Concerned Citizens for Justice. She has served on the National Council of the Student Environmental Action Coalition

I am so pleased to have these guests on our show today. As we begin our show in dedication to Congressman John Lewis and Fannie Lou Hamer, let’s take a listen to Fannie Lou Hamer’s 1964 testimony before the Democratic National Convention. In this testimony, she tells us about the experience that she and other Black women had as they attempted to vote in Mississippi. Certainly, much has changed since that time, but the realities of voter suppression remain with us. Let’s take a listen.

00:03:31 Fannie Lou Hamer:

They beat her, I don’t know how long, and after a while she began to pray and asked God to have mercy on those people, and it wasn’t too long before three white men came to my cell. One of these men was a State Highway Patrolman and he asked me where I was from, and I told him Ruleville. He said we’re going to check this, and they left my cell and it wasn’t too long before they came back. He said you are from Ruleville all right and he used a curse word, and he said we’re going to make you wish you was dead. 

I was carried out of that cell into another cell where they had two Negro prisoners. The State Highway Patrolman ordered the first Negro to take the blackjack. The first Negro prisoner ordered me, by orders from the State Highway Patrolman, for me to lay down on a bunk bed on my face, and I laid on my face. The first Negro began to beat me, and I was beat by the first Negro until he was exhausted. I was holding my hands behind me at that time on my left side because I suffered from polio when I was 6 years old. 

After the first Negro had beat until he was exhausted, the State Highway Patrolman ordered the second Negro to take the blackjack. The second Negro began to beat and I began to work my feet, and the State Highway Patrolman ordered the first Negro who had beat to sit on my feet to keep me from working my feet. I began to scream, and one white man got up and began to beat me in my head and tell me to hush. One white man…my dress had worked up high. He walked over and pulled my dress, I pulled my dress down, and he pulled my dress back up. I was in jail when Medgar Evers was murdered. All of this is on account of we want to register, to become first-class citizens.

00:05:47 Michele Goodwin: 

Thank you all for joining us to discuss these very sensitive and often overlooked matters. So, let’s start with a more general question and I want to open it up to you all. When you hear “sick and tired and being sick and tired,” what does that mean to you?

00:06:03 Kristen Clarke:

I’m sick and tired of voter suppression. Sick and tired of nonstop efforts to silence Black and brown voices. Sick and tired of efforts to silence our protest. Sick and tired of efforts to quash rights that lie at the heart of our democracy. That’s what I think of. I am sick and tired of it all, and as a civil rights lawyer I fight each and every day to use the tools that we have in our arsenal to make sure that we are lifting up those rights, that we are preserving those rights so that Black and brown people can have the voice they deserve to have in our democracy.

00:06:42 Michele Goodwin: 

Thank you so much for that, Kristen, and I think many people are feeling exactly what you’re expressing there, and Ash-Lee, when you hear it, what comes to mind for you?

00:06:52 Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson:

I mean, I literally see Sunflower County. I think about my family who were sharecroppers in Kilmichael, Mississippi. I think about Fannie Lou Hamer, and as a descendant of Pap Hamer, I think about my family. Folks that have been fighting, literally putting their bodies, like Fannie Lou, on the line to fight back against anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and to end voter suppression, right? If it was a tactic that didn’t matter, then it wouldn’t take so much of us fighting and coming together across our differences to defend the vote, right, and so when I hear the words sick and tired I definitely think a lot of what Kristen said resonates for me, and what resonates to me even further is not just what I’m sick and tired of, but what the world should be, right?

I think that was the point of the quote is what would it look like for Black communities to be empowered, to be healthy, sustainable and equitable? What would it look like if folks actually practiced the “As Goes the South, so Goes the Nation,” right, and I think that when I think about sick and tired I see all of the folks that for generations now have been influenced by folks like Fannie Lou Hamer to fight and defend a better world and to sustain an actual democracy.

00:08:04 Michele Goodwin: 

Yeah. Go ahead, Judge Hatchett. Yes.

00:08:07 Glenda Hatchett: 

I’m just sitting over here just amen-ing it, a-women-ing it all the way through this, and I so appreciate you, Ash-Lee and Kristen, on this. I am old enough to remember a segregated south having been born and raised in Georgia, and the first word that I learned to read as a child besides my name was colored because I was curious to know whether the white water tasted different, and I am sick and tired of still at this point in our nation’s history, at this point in the history of the universe, that we are still fighting these same fights. I mean, we’ll get into it perhaps later, but you know, I was looking again at the Shelby County v. Holder matter and I’m looking at these Arizona cases now.

When does it stop? I am sick and tired of it. The number of things and injustices that we are facing, and so in honor of our sister Fannie Lou, and I won’t repeat what you all have said because I concur with all of that. In honor of her and so many others, and Congressman John Lewis, who I had the privilege of knowing most of my life, that I just say that I am sick and tired, but I tell you this. Sick and tired is making me even more determined than ever to do all I can and I am not leaving anything on the field. I am not going to wake up November 4th and say I wish I had tried just a little bit harder because I am sick and tired, and it’s got to change.

00:09:57 Michele Goodwin: 

And this is a feeling I think that so many Black and brown folks have across the country, and others too, who clearly are exercising that through voting early and through being out in the streets. I mean, we’re coming off of months of protests in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s murder, that of George Floyd. People are wondering what will change, and this serves as a backdrop, that and COVID and the Black and brown related deaths associated with COVID. All of this is speed lining up to the election. 

So, I want to take us a step back before we go forward and to just situate our listeners about what voter suppression means and how it’s manifested over time, and so I’m hoping, Kristen, you can just provide a little bit about that. What does the terminology of voter suppression mean, and how have we seen it even beyond these times?

00:10:58 Kristen Clarke:

So, voter suppression sits right alongside racial violence and white supremacy as tactics that have been used throughout our nation’s history to strip Black people of their power. Voter suppression today shows up in many different ways. It’s a lot of the same old stuff packaged in slightly new forms. It’s purging us from the registration rolls. It is shutting down polling sites in our communities. It’s putting in place barriers that make it harder for people to just get registered to vote, and I’ll give you some stories right out of Georgia. I think that Georgia provides, sadly, a textbook example of voter suppression in the modern day. We brought a suit down in Hancock County, Georgia. This is a place where they sent the sheriff’s office to the homes of Black people. The sheriff knocked on your door and said you are being instructed to come down and provide proof of your continued eligibility to vote. This was a purge.

00:12:06 Michele Goodwin: 

Kristen, I want to just pause one moment. Okay. What year are we talking about?

00:12:12 Kristen Clarke:

This was roughly 2015.

00:12:15 Michele Goodwin: 

2015. We’re not talking about 1905. We’re not talking about 1915 or 1965. You’re talking about 2015.

00:12:22 Kristen Clarke:

No. We’re talking about the era of Brian Kemp during his time as Secretary of State in Georgia.

00:12:29 Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson: 

Before he stole an election and became the governor of the great state of Georgia.

00:12:32 Kristen Clarke:

Right. Macon-Bibb County.

00:12:34 Glenda Hatchett: 

And purged 340,000 people from the rolls and did not give them notice. 340,000 people, and the majority of those, vast majority of those people were Black people. Of the 53,000 that were blocked from registering, 80 percent were Black people in Georgia. Okay. Kristen, you’re the expert. I’m getting…

00:12:59 Kristen Clarke:

No. No. Preach.

00:13:01 Glenda Hatchett: 

I mean, I just…because I have lived. I’m a resident here, and I see it all the time.

00:13:06 Michele Goodwin: 

So, Kristen, the sheriff went to people’s homes, or had people go to people’s homes, and tell them what?

00:13:13 Kristen Clarke:

That you are being instructed to come down to the County Elections Office and provide proof of your continued eligibility to vote. Macon-Bibb County. Macon-Bibb, they tried to move a polling site from a majority Black school to a local sheriff’s office, and we were able to work with the community. The community said look, this is not a place where Black people are going to feel comfortable and safe voting, and officials said we’re not changing course. So, we went in and worked with the community and ultimately got that site moved to a majority Black church, but that is another example of modern-day voter suppression, and then you brought up Brian Kemp. 

We’ve brought up Brian Kemp. We learned about a scheme in the 2016 election where unless every letter and every number on a paper registration form matched the state’s database, which was riddled with errors, they were just allowing those forms to sit and collect dust. So, you had advocates that were working hard, knocking on doors and trying to get people registered, and their efforts weren’t bearing fruit and they couldn’t figure out why, and we went in and learned about this exact match scheme. Exact match, and we sued and ultimately got tens of thousands of voter registration forms processed so that those folks could vote in 2016, but that gives you a flavor of what voter suppression looks like today. It’s ugly. It’s bitter. It is targeted at Black and brown people, and it’s just bent on silencing us and locking us out.

00:14:55 Michele Goodwin: 

So, what do you all say to those who say that this is just a bunch of whining? There’s no such thing as voter suppression and that it’s really necessary to have things like ID laws in order to keep voting safe?

00:15:09 Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson:

I mean, again, the only fraud that I’ve seen and the only push back to everyone having equal rights under the law to be able to exercise their vote has been the right wing, right? We’ve seen the current president of the United States do everything in his power to make even the way that he consistently votes something that isn’t accessible to the people, right? We’ve seen, you know, we heard Judge Hatchett just mention folks like Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner who were literally put in an early grave for registering Black people to vote in Mississippi, right? I would offer that even in a 2020 context, right, that we’ve seen folks show up at the polls intimidating folks and like acting really ugly, particularly in racialized and gendered ways, right? Nazis burned down my office before an election year to stop us from doing this work, right, at the Highlander Center.

So, what we know is that this idea that voting is just like a minimal tactic that really isn’t impactful on the road to liberation. If that was true, then I have so many questions about why there has been consistent like resourcing of right-wing white supremacists organizations to be able to preclude us from being able to be at the polls, right? 

So, what does it mean then? Like, what is democracy and how do we as folks of good will define it, and what is required of us to be able to actually see it come to fruition? And I think that what we know is that when our elders and ancestors said by any means necessary, they meant by all the means, including voter education, voter registration, getting our people out to the vote, and making sure that every single vote gets counted. 

When Kristen talks about what happens in Georgia, my dad lives in Valdosta. When Stacey Abrams ran for office, I marched holes in my shoes knocking on doors, and I can tell you that I saw the right wing doing everything in their power to keep Black people from voting. They told them the wrong date to go to the polls, right? They literally, the envelope that you would send to cast your ballot by mail had Brian Kemp’s name on it. He was the Secretary of State. It would be like being LeBron James on the court and the referee and the coach, right?

So, if voting didn’t matter and if we actually weren’t defending democracy through our participation in voting, then I would have questions about why are they fighting so hard to keep us locked out? And I don’t just mean the us that like have college degrees and work in nonprofits, right? I don’t just mean the Black middle and upper class. I also mean like currently and formerly incarcerated people. I mean like college students. I have to have my driver’s license, but I can’t use my state university issued ID. Why so complicated? Why so complicated for us? I think that we know that if it wasn’t powerful as a tactic they wouldn’t be fighting us so hard to keep us from being able to exercise our right.

00:18:10 Michele Goodwin: 

And why so complicated in a democracy, in a nation that puts forward itself as a leading nation of democracy, that upholds its Constitution and Constitutional values. Why so hard in the light of that? Judge Hatchett, as you’ve mentioned, you know, the second word that you learned how to read was colored and you had questions about did the water taste differently in the water fountain that had whites only above it? Give us a taste then of some of the history that your parents experienced and that you saw in terms of voter intimidation, and in fact what Kristen said would make you think that that was like the 1950s, but in fact the 1950s had its own flavor.

00:19:00 Glenda Hatchett: 

I was so curious about that water. I will have to share with you, my sisters, that when my grandmother’s back was turned in Sears Roebuck in Florence, South Carolina as I was visiting her, I literally went up the little side steps for the children to drink out of the white water fountain because I just really was curious, and these two white boys literally pushed me down and started beating me, and my grandmother ran over and was crying…

00:19:31 Michele Goodwin: 

And how old were you?

00:19:32 Glenda Hatchett: 

I was literally 6 years old.

00:19:35 Michele Goodwin: 

And being beaten up in the Sears Roebuck?

00:19:37 Glenda Hatchett: 

Sears Roebuck. No, 5 years old. I had not turned 6 yet. I was 5 years old. She swoops me up and she’s fussing at me. Well, it took adult eyes for me to understand her fear because I could have disappeared out of the back door of that Sears and Roebuck and never to be heard from again in the ‘50s. I mean, you know, it was like a whole different world, and so C.T. Vivian, who we just lost, this magnificent giant of a man, on the same day that we lost Congressman Lewis, stood there on those steps taking that beating, and I later had him as an intervention on my show for a young Black kid who was running a prostitution ring and a drug ring and all these kind of things, as an intervention, and what he said I’ll always remember. 

He said I took that beating so you wouldn’t have to, and then I think about how much still needs to happen because as a child my parents were there boycotting. I remember vividly the Sunday that those four little girls were killed in that church and was afraid to go back to Sunday School in my own church because I’m thinking, you know, they’re going to bomb my church too, and so the fear and the intimidation of constantly having to live with that, but there were warriors. My parents, that generation of warriors, we owe so much to because they put everything on the line. Their lives, their jobs, their health so that we would be at a place of higher ground, which is why we have to take that torch, as I see it. It’s almost like a relay race. I tell people this all the time in speeches. It’s like this relay race and we now have the baton, and we must hold it and run this leg of the race in a way that changes the world.

00:21:49 Michele Goodwin: 

On that note, Judge Hatchett, let’s take a listen to James Baldwin at the 1965 debate with William F. Buckley at Cambridge University.

James Baldwin, in debate with William F. Buckley at Cambridge University in 1965. (Screenshot)

00:22:01 James Baldwin:

Let me put it this way, that from a very literal point of view, the harbors and the ports and the railroads of the country, the economy, especially of the Southern states, could not conceivably be what it has become if they had not had, and do not still have, indeed and for so long, for many generations, cheap labor. I am stating very seriously, and this is not an overstatement. I picked the cotton and I carried it to market, and I built the railroads under someone else’s whip for nothing. For nothing. The Southern oligarchy, which has until today so much power in Washington, and therefore some power in the world, was created by my labor and my sweat, and the violation of my women and the murder of my children. This, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, and no one can challenge that statement. It is a matter of historical record.

00:23:37 Michele Goodwin: 

So, you’ve mentioned, you all have mentioned Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, and for those who may not know, these were three young people who were registering folks to vote in Mississippi and were murdered in the process and their deaths, sadly, were not unusual. There are some that say that the reason why they were found is because two of them were white, were Jewish from the Northeast, but that in the process of looking for them there were so many other Black people, young Black people whose bodies were found, and they were registering folks in Mississippi because in Mississippi to vote you had to, if you were Black, guess how many jelly beans in a jar, how many bubbles on a bar of soap, memorize the Constitution and be able to then repeat passages of the state’s Constitution and more. These were the things that Black people were subjected to in their effort to try to vote in the 1960s.

00:24:34 Glenda Hatchett:

And poll tax.

00:24:36 Michele Goodwin: 

Well, and poll taxes and so much more, and so for so many the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were perceived of as efforts that would change it all. Tell me what were the roll backs. What’s happened that has made that a dream deferred in some ways?

00:24:57 Kristen Clarke:

Well, we mentioned briefly the Shelby County decision issued by the Supreme Court in 2013. That was one of the biggest blows to democracy in modern time. A 2013 ruling authored by Justice Roberts and it cut out the heart of the Voting Rights Act. The fruit of the efforts of John Lewis and Medgar Evers and so many people who were fighting for the right to vote in the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement. The heart of the Voting Rights Act, that issue and that case required that states that have very long and egregious and dark histories of voting discrimination get federal review of new changes before they could take effect. So, before people could purge the registration rolls, before Macon-Bibb could move the polling site to a hostile location, before Secretary of State Kemp, Brian Kemp could come up with this new program dictating which registration forms he would process and which ones he would not, before Texas could come up with its photo ID law that said conceal and carry permits work but student IDs do not, before these officials could do any of that, they had to get federal review, and so that core prevision of the Voting Rights Act was kind of like a checkpoint on democracy. 

It helped to block a lot of the voter suppression efforts that would have otherwise have taken root. Not all of them, but a whole lot, and so what we’ve seen since 2013 are just the floodgates have opened. They have opened wide, and officials are brazen in attempting any tactic whatsoever to strip Black and brown people of their voice, and now what we have to do is we have to fight them case by case. Case by case, and it’s a long, protracted, you know, process. You know, these cases take a long time to play out in court. You win. They appeal. It puts voters in limbo. That preemptive strike that we got from that federal review process was just critical because it allowed people to dream up all kinds of voter suppression efforts, but often that federal review process stopped those tactics in their tracks, and now we’re naked and vulnerable, and it explains in part why things are so challenging and turbulent today.

00:27:39 Michele Goodwin: 

And I’d like to pick up on a part of that because what you’re talking about are these kinds of efforts and you point out that they’ve been across the country. Beforehand, they would be dealt with in the Justice Department through this review process, and that includes even under prior Republican administrations that would’ve put a stop to that.

00:28:01 Kristen Clarke:

I started off my career as a voting rights lawyer doing cases down in Louisiana and Mississippi at the tail end of the Clinton era, but the vast majority of my time was spent during the Bush, you know, during the Bush years, and I worked alongside career attorneys who worked through Republican and Democratic administrations, but reported to the job to just do the work to enforce the Voting Rights Act. 

We’re in different times now. We’ve got a Justice Department that is highly politicized, that is not enforcing the Voting Rights Act, and an Attorney General who at times acts like he is the lawyer for the president more than the lawyer for the people as he should be. So, this time is like none other. Like none other.

00:28:53 Michele Goodwin: 

Thank you so much for that, Kristen. Yes, Judge Hatchett.

00:28:55 Glenda Hatchett: 

And I would add too to that that we are seeing to the point of this whole heart and the core being cut out of Voter Rights Act in the Shelby case, but we’re seeing such implications now with your point, Kristen, about the Justice Department being so politicized, that that in conjunction with the fact that so many federal judges have been appointed under this administration, and the case in point right now is Harris County, Texas where we have the situation where Harris County is larger than so many places in the country, but yet they are limited to one polling drop-off voter put-your-ballot-in-the-box place, and so that went to court, but when it got to the Circuit Court, the Circuit Court was made up of three judges, all of whom had been appointed by Trump, and they said no, the District Court was wrong because the District Court basically said no, the governor shouldn’t be able to do that and to limit the drop off places. 

Again, it’s one more horrible tactic that is happening and the period after Shelby is very, very telling because, to your point, people just do what they want to do and as individuals it takes too long to get there, but having said that, we also need to look at what the judiciary looks like, and I mean, as of the end of September, there were not —I’m not talking about nominated, I’m talking about confirmed — 218 federal judges, and so as an example I just talked about with the Harris County going to the Circuit Court with the three people all having been appointed by Trump, and we’re seeing that. 

The case in South Carolina recently, I’ll make this very short. It goes up to the Supreme Court that says no, you’ve got to have a witness for these mail-in ballots, and you know we’re in a tight race with Lindsey Graham and Jaime Harrison there, and I’m doing everything I can, honestly, to help him win, but North Carolina is another example. We can go on and on and on about the decision there and what’s happening, and the GOP, they’re putting out their own collection boxes for ballots, and we haven’t even gotten to the cases there that the Supreme Court is going to be hearing and will not decide until after the election. So, I will temper my passion right now and stop talking.

00:31:42 Michele Goodwin: 

I’m glad that you mentioned that because I’m going to turn to you, Ash-Lee. I love having this girlfriend conversation, let me just say that, and I’m going to turn to you, Ash-Lee, and Judge Hatchett, we’re going to come back the confirmation process and what we’ve seen with the courts and why our courts matter. So, Ash-Lee, why don’t you jump right on in there?

00:32:01 Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson:

I want to circle back to what Kristen was saying about the provisions too, and I’m glad we’re going to talk more about confirmations because clearly I have strong feelings about what’s currently being pushed through the Supreme Court. I think one thing that I would add is that like I think people think that the Voting Rights Act passed, a bunch of stuff shifted, and then we didn’t really use it afterward, right? I’m telling you as a born and bred Southerner who is still in the South, right, that even in the ‘90s communities that I lived and loved and worked in were benefitting off of having the Voting Rights Act, right? Literally from my hometown, our whole city government changed because the Voting Rights Act mandated that we had to have at least three majority minority districts versus living in a place where all the elected officials were at large, and all you had to do to vote in our community was have property, which meant rich white people would all…like 12 people owning one building and they would dictate the political realities of Black people in a Black city, right? So, even in the ‘90s, the early 2000s, the Voting Rights Act was actually increasing our opportunities for success to at least pretend there was a myth of democracy in this country, right? 

So, with the stripping of the Voting Rights Act, it put already marginalized and targeted communities even in more of a stretch, right? I just feel like that’s so critically important to understanding the story. It wasn’t just that like Jim Crow fell in the ‘60s. Everything got better for Black people, and then we only are mad now because they’re getting rid of like the easy thing that we already were going through. That’s not where it was, and I would be remiss to not say that folks like John Lewis, whose first integrated mill was at the place that I work at, right, that C.T. Vivian, who was one of my dearest mentors, that Rosa Parks and Septima Clark and others were fighting not just for the watered down version of the act that they got, right? They wanted specific laws on the books that were enforced that made sure that Black people had more power, right, up to and including the Voting Rights Act, but they were never confused that that wasn’t the end, that wasn’t the goalpost, right? That wasn’t the goalpost, that there was more work to be done. 

So, not only if we…so now there’s the debate, right? Do we just fight for the Voting Rights Act as it was, or do we fight for what our people deserve and not just what we would concede to? And I think that this is a moment, 2020 has been the moment to make impossible things possible, and so I would say like this is an awesome conversation and opportunity to be able to say like what does it look like for us to have a federal mandate that everybody gets to vote period? Period. That everybody’s automatically enfranchised to be able to vote, like as soon as you turn 18, you don’t even have to do nothing. Just go to the polls, right, and what it means to say that the folks who have been disenfranchised due to like really, really racialized racist laws that have lost their rights to vote should automatically be given those rights back, right? If we’re saying that the war on drugs was actually a racist intervention, then what does it mean that like lots of people that went to jail for those things, that now white people are becoming millionaires to do, what does it look like for those folks to get their rights to vote back, right? 

Like, there’s just some basic…it’s not a partisan issue. That’s what’s so frustrating about the conversation about voter suppression is it actually doesn’t work out for anybody when the ballots don’t get counted, right?

00:35:32 Michele Goodwin: 

That’s right. It doesn’t work out for democracy and that these are values and principles that are fundamental to a healthy democracy. You know, it’s possible that people read this as being well, these were just Black people who were advocating about Black people, and I find that that’s such a misread of what the Civil Rights Movement was and the legacy that dates back to the Antebellum time and the way that Black people saw freedom as freedom for everybody and the way in which those kinds of articulations about freedom, equality, and what those things all mean, privacy, autonomy, et cetera, have meant for so many other movements, have meant for Women’s Rights movements, LGBTQ movements, for environmental movement. All of that comes out of this kind of spirit of what true Constitutional equality means and lifting up and living out a Constitution that’s more than mere words on paper but are actually actualized in people’s lives. 

So, I want to turn then to what does this mean going forward? What is necessary to realize the dream of voter equality in the United States? What does that take? What does it look like?

00:36:46 Kristen Clarke:

Well, I’m glad that Ash-Lee brought up redistricting because that’s the other battle that lies on the other side of this 2020 election season. The upcoming round of redistricting that may be, that may be the first in decades without this core prevision of the Voting Rights Act, which means they’re going to have school boards and city councils and county commissions and state legislatures redrawing their maps for the first time since 1965 without having to take this step of going through the Justice Department to secure federal review of those maps. I am hopeful that we can harness the energy that we’re seeing around this election season into gearing up for the war that awaits us with this next 2020 round of redistricting because it’s going to take all of us.

It’s going to take all of us showing up at those hearings. It’s going to take all of us raising our voices to make sure that lawmakers are recognizing us, are acknowledging, you know, where we have seen demographic changes, where we’ve seen growth in communities of color, making sure that lawmakers are not drawing those maps in ways that diminish our power and our voice, and how they’ve done that historically is by packing us into, you know, 1 or 2 districts so that we don’t have voice in a broader community, or fracturing us in little pockets so that we don’t have the ability to elect at all. 

This is the kind of political gamesmanship that we have seen with redistricting throughout our nation’s history, and the Voting Rights Act has done a lot of work to curb some of that mischief, if not madness, and now we’ve got a Supreme Court that has given a green light to extreme partisan gerrymandering. The federal courts have just thrown up their hands and said, you know, we can’t come up with a standard for figuring out when this, you know, violates Constitutional norms. So, they’ve basically just given a green light, and on top of that we’ve got new technology that allows people, that allows lawmakers to turbo charge their gerrymandering efforts in ways that are beyond our wildest imagination. So, that’s the other war that we’re going to have to catch our breath and get ready for because at the end of the day we’re talking about power. Power at the most local level all the way up to the Congressional level.

00:39:23 Michele Goodwin: 

Ash-Lee, were you going to jump in there?

00:39:25 Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson:

I don’t think we can talk about redistricting enough. I totally agree, and what we also know is that the Census has been a farce this year, right, like both because of the intersecting crisis of COVID-19 and being able to get people out to do the kind of numbers gathering that is required, and the Trump administration’s insistence that the numbers have to be given earlier than is necessary. You know, like they are literally controlling the playing field in which we’re fighting in so many, I think, also mischievous ways, right, to consolidate their own wealth and power at the expense of literally Black, brown and Indigenous people’s lives and poor white people’s lives. 

I think that what we need to be paying attention to is that we are going to have an election season that we’ve never seen before, y’all. We’re not going to have an election night where we just like get together. It’s like a tailgate party and we watch the results come in at nine o’clock and we wake up in the morning knowing it’s a new day, right? 

What we’re going to do is we’re going to wake up on November 4th and likely not know the results, right? Doesn’t mean that Trump won’t say he won, whether it’s true or not, right, but what we’ve got to do is be ready to position ourselves not just to protest because we won’t know what’s happening yet, but to actually be like in the streets making a narrative that’s saying we got to count every ballot, right? We’ve got to count every single ballot. Our mayor needs to be there. Our election commissioners need to be there, and we need to make sure that every single one of the votes get counted, right? 

Before we even get to November 4th though, we need to be telling our people that we could win, right? I think we’ve done all of the work to tell people about the scenarios that are not in our favor. Folks are scared. Folks get it’s intense. They understand it’s important. They understand that lives literally depend on them voting. What we haven’t done yet is tell them that if they actually go and vote we might win this outright, right, and preparing for what that means because I think going back to what Judge Hatchett and Kristen had said earlier is that we’ve never been in a positionality, from abolition to now, where we won and there wasn’t blowback, right? So, it’s never been that we won and it’s done, right? It’s always been we won and then the powers that be push back and it’s a constant contest for power.

00:41:45 Michele Goodwin: 

We saw that during the Obama administration, didn’t we? The rise of the Tea Party, people coming to DC with effigies of someone with bone in the nose.

00:41:55 Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson:

Absolutely. It’s like 25 years into a 50-year strategy, right? So, what are we doing to prepare? Like, one, to encourage our people to see our vision that we could win, and that doesn’t mean that the fight is over. We’re going to have to fight Joe Biden and Kamala Harris just as much as we’re fighting now to make sure that we get through progressive policies, right? The work won’t be over. We’re picking our next target, not our next savior, and what does it look like for us to make sure that we’re preparing people now for that season, right? Go vote. Vote on E-Day. Vote before…E-Day, Election Day is the last day to vote, right? So, vote. Vote. Vote, and then come November 4th count every ballot is what we should be saying, and then we should be preparing ourselves for the first 100 days, right? 

Some of the demands that we’ve been making in 2020, in January people would’ve said was impossible, but come March and June have been the name of the game, right? When we started talking about divesting from policing and investing in community solutions so that we have healthy, sustainable, and equitable communities for all people, people said that was impossible, right, but now look at Minneapolis, right? Look at LA. Look at New York and the ways that folks are fighting for defunded budgets for fair and equitable budgets so that all of our people have the resources that they need. 

So, what would it look like for us to go into January 2021 and be a united force, like the frontline, like the rising majority, like the Movement for Black Lives? Folks coming together across their differences to say we have demands of this government that is supposed to be for us and by us, right? What does it look like to fight for the Green New Deal, to fight for reproductive justice, to fight for the BREATHE Act, which could be the 21st century modern Civil Rights Act of our time, right? We have the policies. Now, we need the people power to make sure that we get what we’re organized to win.

00:43:41 Michele Goodwin: 

So, Judge Hatchett, you mentioned our courts, and we could take any one of these slices and actually have a wonderful show for a whole weekend. We could do retreats. I find with these shows, I mean, I just love getting together with my guests. Judge Hatchett, I want us to turn back to the courts because the courts in the wake of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing and you mentioned the number of judges that have been confirmed to the federal bench. Right now, Judge Amy Coney Barrett has gone through confirmation hearings. As of July, of the 53 or so federal Appellate Court judges that had been confirmed, none were Black, one was Latino. What role will the courts play in the time to come with regard to election safety? What are you concerned about, and do you see any hope in sight?

00:44:36 Glenda Hatchett: 

Yeah. I’m very concerned because I do think that this is going to land up, and Kristen of course is the expert on this, I do think this is going to land back up in court, and the difference now in this court is just going to be…we can do, right, a whole weekend about that. The impact of Justice Ginsburg’s death, this vacancy, the rush to fill it, and what will happen going forward will be horrendous, and it won’t just be this election cycle, and so Ash-Lee, I really appreciate those comments because it is not over in November. It is not, and it has to be, and one of things that we’re going to have to do, I believe, is that we’re going to have to really be intentional about these legal challenges beyond this November and not wait until the next four-year cycle to try to ramp up for it. 

We have long lines. You know that Georgia is the poster child for voter suppression and we’re fighting, but we can’t wait and we can’t give up and we can win, and to your point the Georgia PAC that I’m working on now, Georgia Blue Project, we’re really taking a bottom to up approach to this election, purposely, to try and talk about what happens and these local levels. What happens with the state legislature that will be in charge of redrawing these lines and the implication for that, and how important it is not to stop at the first part of the ballot with the federal elections and how we’ve got to drill down and we’ve got to be consistent, but the Supreme Court, and people, I’m telling you, this will survive the presidential election. 

This new justice will be appointed, that is a lifetime appointment. We’re talking about decades of her being on this bench and the implications for voter’s rights, for women’s reproductive rights, for, I mean, you name it, the healthcare situation. These implications are horrific for us, and if we don’t get out and vote, and when 33 percent of Black men in Georgia recently polled said they’re leaning toward voting to Trump*, I mean, what are we doing? What are we saying? How are we communicating? 

[*Editor’s note: A recent unreleased poll noted that a third of Black men in Georgia were “open to voting for Trump.” A political professional told Ms. that political insiders have seen alarming trends about the willingness of Black men to consider voting for Trump—a trend Trump’s campaign has clearly tried to exploit.]

So, one last point on this. Aside from the courts, Michele, I have to say that we talk about voter suppression, but we also have to talk about voter depression, depressing the vote because the tactics for voter suppression, but also the misinformation, the tactics, the targets of all of this false information. Click here and send your ballot in. Please don’t do that. We as educated women, you know, we say well, that seems obvious, but it’s not obvious because there is so much disinformation. A campaign targeted toward Black people and poor people who don’t necessarily know the difference, and so we’re seeing that over and over. Aside from the blatant things that are happening and across so many states, there are only 18 states that are required to give notice if something is wrong with your absentee ballot. Only 18. Well, why haven’t we changed that?

00:48:11 Michele Goodwin: 

Right. Meaning that the other 32, no requirement to let you know. A vote uncounted.

00:48:17 Glenda Hatchett: 

There’s no requirement, and so we are talking about, and then how do you cure it? I mean, that’s the big fight right now in North Carolina about the procedure for curing it and that’s tied up in the courts, and so we won’t get any clear definition until after this election. So, Ash-Lee and Kristen and Michele, I can’t agree more that this fight is not over. People have got to vote like they’ve never voted before, and I think we’re seeing some great signs in early voter lines and voter registration, but you went and had to stand in line for eight hours in Georgia to vote.

00:48:56 Michele Goodwin: 

Now, that is the truth.

00:48:57 Glenda Hatchett: 

And so, what have we done to challenge that before November? Where has that happened in terms of polling? One last…I keep saying one last thing. COVID affected 14 poll workers at a single polling place in Georgia. So, now that’s the real question now, people being afraid to go and vote in-person. So, we have got to triple, I mean, quadruple our efforts. We’ve got to get people to vote early, and if they mail in ballots, be sure that they comply with the states regs and know that their ballots are going to be counted and go online and check.

00:49:36 Michele Goodwin: 

So, I want to turn back to Kristen before we go to the last question of the episode, which has gone so quickly. We could’ve tagged on easily another hour on here. Kristen, you recently discussed voting rights in relation to Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. You said that during her confirmation hearings “Judge Barrett would not concede that voting discrimination still exists, saying that she could not endorse that proposition and calling it a very charged issue when talking about the court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision.” Now, given Judge Barrett’s refusal to comment on whether voter intimidation is illegal, even though it’s outlawed by the Voting Rights Act and federal criminal laws, what’s your sense then in terms of what threat her confirmation poses possibly to the Voting Rights Act and to the cases that are coming before the court?

00:50:34 Kristen Clarke:

Yeah. So, I was called to testify as a witness at the hearing and chose to focus my testimony by digging in deep on her record on voting rights. She does not have a long record during her very short time on the Seventh Circuit on voting rights cases, but it was astonishing to see her when asked by the Senators say I can’t say whether voter intimidation is illegal. I can’t say whether voting discrimination is ongoing. I can’t say whether absentee ballots are needed during the pandemic, and remarkably she also left open the possibility that if confirmed she would hear cases if there were cases that went before the court that arise out of the 2020 election. 

I think that any American that cares about civil rights and voting rights in our country should be deeply concerned about the nomination of Judge Barrett, which is being put forward under incredibly politicized circumstances. Over 30 million people have already gone to vote in our 2020 election, and for many of those voters, the Supreme Court may be top of mind. We should let this process play out and let whoever the public determines is the next president, you know, be the one who gets to pick who fills that vacancy. We should let the public, who are voting right now, have the opportunity to decide the Senators who get to provide advice and consent on any such nomination. I think that we should not give up. We should not give up. We should continue to raise our voices about how inappropriate this nomination is. I’ll tell you it doesn’t stop there. 

If I can, very briefly, you know, there are two employment discrimination cases that went before Judge Barrett during her short time on the court. I just want to underscore that. I mean, she spent a lot of time in the classroom, you know, where you can talk about theories of originalism. It’s very interesting, but she’s not really engaged these theories in the real world, and you know, she’s gotten a taste of that during her short time on the Seventh Circuit. There was a case, EEOC versus AutoZone, which involved separate but equal rule applied in the workplace. AutoZone in Chicago literally decided to assign Black and Latino workers to Chicago stores based on the predominant race of the customers being served. Black employees would serve Black customers. Latino employees would serve Latino customers. I mean, if that doesn’t violate the spirit underlying Title VII, which says there will be no discrimination in the workplace, what does? And she refused to grant the government’s request to have a full court review of a decision that allowed that separate but equal rule to remain in place and that was very troubling, then there was another case. 

Smith versus Illinois Department of Transportation, involving a Black traffic patrol driver who alleged that he was subject to hostile work environment, and among the various pieces of evidence that he put forth was the fact that he was subject to use of the N-word repeatedly in the workplace, and she said, you know, the N-word is an egregious racial epithet, but this evidence was not enough to prove discrimination. If you can put the smoking gun evidence before a judge and that doesn’t get you there, then what will? 

Judge Barrett will be devastating for our country if confirmed. She will turn the clock back decades. She will unravel the, you know, hard fought battles that we have made to move the law forward. Her staunch commitment to originalism and desire to look at the law through the eyes of the Founding Fathers would just roll back everything. Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, LGBTQ Rights, you name it. So, we oppose this nomination. We’ve got to walk and chew gum. We’ve got to get folks out to vote, but we’ve got to speak out about how dangerous a Judge Barrett would be on the court. 

Last point. The Supreme Court, Judge Roberts just joined Sotomayor, Kagan and Breyer in leaving in place a Pennsylvania ruling that arises under state law that says that ballots postmarked by election day can be counted as long as they arrive within three days. If Judge Barrett were on that court, we would’ve had the fifth vote that would have produced a different outcome, and it would have resulted in the disenfranchisement of thousands of people in this election.

00:55:37 Michele Goodwin: 

This is what is so concerning to so many people. Our courts, what’s happening in terms of protection of the Voting Rights Act, the fact that voter suppression is live and well and occurring across our country, the ways in which it’s impacting students, Black people, brown people, Indigenous folks, poor people generally, and of course, it’s not living up to the legacy of what was left behind by Congressman John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others. Very, very quickly. Our last question relates to a silver lining. What do you see as coming forward that gives you a sense of hope about creating equity in voting? We’ll start with you, Ash-Lee.

00:56:27 Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson:

I love this question. I see a lot of silver lining, Michele. I’m not going to lie. You know, I think in a year that has been incredibly devastating. You know, I’m a girl from Chattanooga, Tennessee that grew up in the country of Hamilton County that is in a state that didn’t expand Medicaid. I’ve had loss like you wouldn’t believe, right? The impact of the Trump administration, and quite frankly neoliberalism, on my community has been devastating. So, there’s a lot of reason to be scared and concerned. My people have been fighting police brutality in Chattanooga since the ‘80s, right? It’s not been new in 2012 or 2014. 

So, we have a lot of reason to be upset and scared and depressed and devastated, but what I’ve also seen in 2020 is people coming together across their differences and building networks of mutual aid to take care of ourselves when the state failed us. What I’ve seen is 26 million people in this country hitting the streets since June, protests in every state in the United States and in 18 different countries in defense of Black lives. What I’ve seen is people saying that enough is enough, and literally not only going to the polls in a spirit of like exercising their right and like vote in protest of fascism, authoritarianism, and white supremacy and nationalism, I’ve seen people making it a joyous cultural intervention, parties at the polls, right, which is like the Blackest and most Southern way to do it, right, and so, you know, why do I feel like there’s a silver lining? 

Because I believe. I have faith. I have faith, and I believe in transformation. I believe that there ain’t no power like the power of the people because the power of the people don’t stop. I believe that the people united can never be defeated. It’s not just a chant to me. I believe it because I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen it work, and what I would say is that I know that it’s going to be possible because not only are there individuals that are coming together across their differences to do that, but I believe that society is transformed through the power of organizations, and I’ve seen the Movement for Black Lives survive the winter of 2014 and six years later build the largest social movement in US history, right, building on the history and the historic legacy of our elders and our ancestors, right? I’ve seen the frontline, the Working Families Party, the Electoral Justice Project and the Movement for Black Lives building a united front like I’ve never seen, and not only to fight for election day, but to fight through the first 100 days. I believe because I’m seeing our people come together and make impossible things possible every day through grassroots organizing. So, I think there’s a lot to be excited about and I’m excited for us to just go on out and win it on Election Day. I’m excited about seeing all of the progressive policies that our people have been fighting for for generations actually come into fruition in 2021, and I truly believe that it’s possible.

00:59:23 Michele Goodwin: 

Judge Hatchett, what do you see as a silver lining?

00:59:26 Glenda Hatchett: 

I think there’s a new awakening in this country. I have seen people who were apathetic are now saying, you know, this is really bad, and who really didn’t want to be involved who are saying but this is really bad, and sometimes, you know, it’s an old folk saying, you just have to hit rock bottom to be able to get the impetus to start climbing upward, and I do think that that’s what’s happening, and so for me the silver lining is the enthusiasm, is the energy of this new generation coming across racial and economic lines in all demographics to come to a place where we have to say we can’t do it like this anymore and that collectively we have to move to higher ground, and briefly I’ll just say is that really what Martin King talked about when he talked about a beloved community? We’ve got to stop talking about it. We’ve got to make it a living reality, and it’s going to be piece by piece. It’s not going to happen overnight. You know, it’s going to be like children’s Legos. I get this piece. You get this piece. We put our pieces together, but we have to move on because we owe our ancestors too much to say we can’t do it.

01:00:42 Michele Goodwin: 

Thank you so much for that, and Kristen, close us out.

01:00:46 Kristen Clarke:

I’ll just close out with one of the most joyous moments for me personally this year, which was standing on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama for the historic reenactment of the Bloody Sunday March that gave rise to the Voting Rights Act, and being on this crowded bridge and there’s this rumor that John Lewis, battling pancreatic cancer, was going to appear, and magically he did, and he put his hand up in the air and he said go out and vote like you’ve never voted before. To me, that is the silver lining. This is a man who came back to the place that kind of, you know, is where it all started, where the right to protest gave birth to the right to vote, and that’s been 2020, right? It has been a year characterized by tremendous and powerful protests and we need to close it out with it being a year of tremendous and powerful exercise of our right to vote. We need to work hard to overcome any obstacle they try to throw in our way. We need to make a plan to get out and vote now. We need to vote up and down the ballot and really make this a truly historic moment of transformation in our democracy.

01:02:03 Michele Goodwin: 

As we close out today’s show, let’s take a listen to Congressman John Lewis as he’s in conversation with Bryan Stevenson about the power of forgiveness and love and silver linings.

01:02:17 John Lewis:

A few short years ago, one of the members of the Klan who beat me and beat my seatmate in a little town called Rock Hill, South Carolina, left us lying in a pool of blood. Many years later, one member of the Klan and his son came to my office in Washington and he said I’ve been a member of the Klan. I’m one of the people that beat you and left you bloody. I want to apologize. His son started crying, then he started crying. He came up with his son to hug me. I hugged them back, and I saw this gentleman three other times. It’s the power of the way of love, of forgiveness, to admit it and say I’m changed, and move on.

01:03:23 Michele Goodwin: 

Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin.” I want to thank my guests, Kristen Clarke, Judge Glenda Hatchett and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, for joining us and being part of this critical and insightful conversation, and to our listeners, I thank you for tuning in for the full story. We hope you join us again for our next episode where we will be reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is with special guests tackling issues related to an extremely relevant issue for these times. Take us with you on Election Day. We’ll be joined by very special surprise guests. It will be an episode you will not want to miss. 

Now, for more information on what we discussed today, please head to MsMagazine.com, and if you believe as we do that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed, and that rebuilding America, being unbought and unbossed and reclaiming our time are important, then be sure to visit us at Apple Podcast. Look for us at MsMagazine.com for new content and special episode updates. Rate and subscribe to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” in Apple Podcast, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Google Podcast and Stitcher. Let us know what you think about our show and support independent feminist media. 

This has been your host, Michele Goodwin, reporting, rebelling, and telling it like it is. “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Maddy Pontz, Roxy Szal and Mariah Lindsay. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Marsh Allen, and music by Chris J. Lee. Stephanie Wilner provides executive assistance.