I’ve been away because I was packing my life into 4 boxes, 2 suitcases and a carry-on bag. That involved a lot of document-gathering, packing, and cleaning. Well, on Friday night, I landed in Atlanta, and *walked* through the airport, instead of taking the shuttle to the baggage claim area (ATL is the 2nd largest airport in the United States.) Well, I was just glad to be out of there.
So what am I doing in Alabama? I am co-organizing a movement to register homeless populations, ex convicts and low-income communities to vote. These three groups have historically been disenfranchised in the U.S., and because they are excluded from the political process, their needs are also excluded. Politicians don’t merely serve their constituents- they serve their voters. It is expedient for elected officials to take into account the wants and needs of the voters in their constituency because their job security partly depends upon it.
For this reason, I have joined to co-organize “Homeless but not Powerless.” I am not interested in encouraging homeless voters to vote for a specific party or a specific candidate. The goal is political empowerment.
Another facet of this effort is voter rights reinstatement for ex-convicts. In the state of Alabama, conviction of a felony is grounds for disenfranchisement. However, there are 5 felonies that are exempted:
- aiding/permitting/facilitating a prisoner to escape
- doing business without a license
- driving under the influence (DUI)
- possession of any drug or controlled substance
- simple assault and violation of liquor laws
Meaning, people who were convicted of the above NEVER lost their right to vote, but many do not know this. Persons convicted of other felonies have to apply to have their voting rights restored by either applying for a pardon or submitting an application for a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote (CERV).
This is related to my earlier work/research on the foster care systems, the prison industrial complex and the military industrial complex, because all three are related to homelessness. In the US, a sizeable number of children in state custody (wards of state) become the homeless when they age out of the foster care system. Fewer than 1% of them ever complete their undergraduate degrees, and the choices they are offered are few- prison or the military. About 70% of prisoners in the US are former foster care children. And because some states strip former and present inmates of their rights, they have no safety net against housing and employment discrimination. Many are ineligible for food stamps or public housing, and thus comprise a large part of the homeless populations in the US.
As for the military industrial complex, it is becoming increasingly clear that “Support the Troops” is an empty moralism. Soldiers and veterans come home without the guarantee of an education or a job, and many never get the mental healthcare and support they need to be reintegrated into civil society. This mirrors the issues faced by former prisoners- both populations are in need of rehabilitation, and neither populations are particularly visible- especially in terms of homelessness.
I don’t claim to have all of the answers. I am just one person who wants to help disempowered populations leverage the political system and be heard. I am not a particularly strong believer in American “democracy,” but I do not doubt the importance of mobilizing voters in marginalized communities. This isn’t a mere band-aid on a bullet wound. In the last 2 years, there has been a wave of state legislation across the U.S. aimed at disenfranchising people of color, low-income communities, former inmates and homeless populations. This, coupled with the increased incarceration of immigrants, women and people of color, is an alarming trend that requires our constant vigilance and proactivity.
That is, in sum, what I’m doing in Alabama.