On Saturday July 25th, a meeting was held discussing voter registration, absentee ballots, gentrification, civic engagement social justice, and police brutality moderated by Judge Greg Matthis. Panelists included Equal Justice Now co-founder Tony Smith, Urban Leauge Young Professionals’ Andrew Lewis, activist Trell Thomas, Real Estate Broker and VH1’s Love & Listing’s Star Tai Savet, and Social Impact Strategist Mir Harris.
The main theme surrounding the panel was the importance of voting from local to federal. The panel began with each panelist giving an introductory speech. Judge Matthis began by discussing the importance of voting and how voting has had an impact on every step of the black community’s progress. He explained the way that voting allowed for the prosecutor who’d been negligent in the Mike Brown Case to be replaced and how after Ferguson elected their first black mayor, police brutality significantly decreased.
Activist Trell Thomas discussed how black people are actively being suppressed from voting but how it is quintessential for black communities to vote as they have the power to impact their day today. Thomas emphasized the importance of voting locally as this can affect what’s happening economically as well as police brutality. He then began talking about another topic that was heavily discussed in the panel which was absentee voting. Given the current pandemic, it is natural that many people are not comfortable going to polling stations but this should not stop people from voting. In the state of California, it’s been ruled that anyone can vote absentee regardless of their situation and all people should receive their ballots in the mail. He emphasized the need to let the black community know about absentee voting as traditionally black people usually vote in person. https://www.vote.org/ is a great resource to learn more about voting, when the next election is, and how to register to vote. It’s important that people realize the power they have with their vote and that it does impact their day to day, hence the reason voting locally is so necessary.
Another important topic that was touched upon was the HEROES Act. The HEROES Act, aka the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, would give Americans hazard pay “of up to 10,000$ for essential workers, 43% of whom are people of color”. It includes several other protections for people of color and would push for funding so that every state can vote by mail. It would set aside 3.6 billion dollars for funding for machines, staffing, and paper so that it would be possible to vote by mail. Here is the link to sign the petition to sign the HEROES Act.
Mir Harris followed up the discussion by discussing the definition of social justice and what is meant by “defund the police”. She defined social justice as the view that “everyone deserves equal political and economic and social rights”. Often times on the internet, when people come across the words “defund the police” they picture a lawless society, but that’s not quite what it means. It merely means that money should be diverted into different areas to support people. The criminal justice system is overfunded and, according to Harris, “feeds a deeper level of systemic racism”. More money should be given to mental health programs and schooling programs. Harris also emphasized that sheriffs and district attorneys are elected and therefore if one wants to fix the police brutality issues, a place to start is by voting for better sheriffs and district attorneys. She also mentioned that lots of voices are being left out of the conversation whose voices need to be heard and a way to improve this is to vote. Judge Matthis also agreed with Harris and argued that he believed in “education over incarceration”.
Another topic that was briefly discussed was gentrification and the way that it affects voting. Gentrification, according to the Google definition, refers to the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle class-affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displace poor people. With gentrification, those areas are less likely to have a high voter turnout due to the lack of community feel as communities are usually disrupted. It was discussed that gentrification usually moves the vote around and negatively affects poor communities and communities of color. Judge Mattis suggested that gentrification could be reduced with a more compassionate government. It was also discussed that certain areas require gentrified areas to pay more money in increased taxes and home repair which would allow families to stay in their homes rather than be forced to move out.
Following the theme of the importance of voting, Andrew Lewis emphasized the need to create a plan to vote. This includes knowing when the election is, doing your research on who to vote for, knowing when the ballot will arrive to your place of residence, etc.
An important question that was asked was how to avoid voter suppression. All members of the panel agreed that voter suppression was a serious issue within the United States and one that people should be aware of. One way to avoid voter suppression is to get educated. Vote.org is a helpful resource. It’s also important to know your voting rights and criminal justice reform and be educated in general. Voting was made to be difficult, so people are deterred from voting which is why it’s essential to stay educated and use resources to stay educated and to not fall victim to fearmongering. Thomas suggested texting five people you know and asking them if they’re registered and if they know whether or not they are eligible for an absentee ballot. It’s also important to know when ballots will be issued.
The topic of economic empowerment was also discussed. Judge Matthis suggested the importance of economic literacy, especially for black communities. In order to bridge the wealth gap between white communities and black/POC communities, homeownership is key.
Overall, the panel was incredibly helpful in discussing relevant topics today and emphasizing the importance of voting. It emphasized that your vote does matter but also that it is so important to vote locally as that will impact your day today. It was also helpful in discussing what is meant when people say “defund the police” and what to do in order to avoid voter suppression.