On April 22, 2016 Christopher Rashad and Tammie Hagen had their voting rights restored by a sweeping executive order issued by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Then just four months later, the Virginia Court struck down McAuliffe's executive order, requiring him to issue pardons by hand. As one of four states that disenfranchises felons for life, Virginia was a hotbed for the debate around restorative justice and voting rights. This is the story of how Tammie and Chris spent the 2016 campaign, fighting to give a voice to the voiceless in Virginia.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS: TAMMIE AND CHRIS
My name is Christopher Rashad Green, and my story, is one of redemption and hope! I currently work as a Voter Registration Organizer for New Virginia Majority, but my path to redemption opened up many years ago.
In 2010, it was revealed to me that my success in life, would only come by serving others.
After being released from incarceration in 2013, this RETURNING CITIZEN, through Volunteerism, Community Engagement, and years of working in the Food Service Industry, I was blessed to come across an organization called New Virginia Majority!
I saw how they advocated for individuals like myself. Who advocated for the rights of a better life for all individuals. No matter what race, religion, ethnicity or sexual preference! They Advocated for a new democracy!
At this time, in the summer of 2016 the governor of Virginia, The Hon. Terry McAuliffe, and then Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stony, spearheaded the legislation to restore the voting rights of 200,000 returning citizens, enabling us to vote in the 2016 election.
I was one of those individuals! And on August 15th, 2016, I had my voting rights restored. After nearly 30 years, I voted in a Presidential election for the first time.
Subsquently, through continued Service and Civic Engagement here in Richmond, I've been blessed to become a Community Organizer; a Community Researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University, a Food Justice Advocate in Richmond, and as I've stated many times before, "I'm not a Community Activist, I'm a Brother Striving to stay Active in Our Communities!"
The Walk on this Path of Redemption continues...
My name is Tammie Hagen and I'm a native of Richmond, VA. I'm 52 years old and was first incarcerated at the age of 9 for being a runaway. Today, I work in the community for New Virginia Majority (NVM). I started at NVM as a voter registration organizer for the general election.
Because of my own experience with mass incarceration, I found that I was effective at assisting others with Governor Terry McAuliffe's executive order restoring the civil rights of returning citizens . Now, I'm launching an Economic Justice campaign in the city’s north side and hope to foster the empowerment of the community to achieve jobs with a living wage, access to healthcare, and an overall dignified existence.
I want for the community all that I want for myself, my children and my grandchildren. I'm driven by the desire to live a life of meaning and contribution. Prior to my work at NVM, I was a community activist fighting for Food Justice, DIY Empowerment & Urban Gardening, a Living Wage, Homeless advocacy, and re-entry.
Learn More About Voter Suppression
The state laws that barred nearly six million people with felony convictions from voting in the midterm elections this month date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Southern lawmakers were working feverishly to neutralize the black electorate.
Poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and cross burnings were effective weapons in this campaign. But statutes that allowed correctional systems to arbitrarily and permanently strip large numbers of people of the right to vote were a particularly potent tool in the campaign to undercut African-American political power.
This racially freighted system has normalized disenfranchisement in the United States — at a time when our peers in the democratic world rightly see it as an aberration. It has also stripped one in every 13 black persons of the right to vote — a rate four times that of nonblacks nationally. At the same time, it has allowed disenfranchisement to move beyond that black population — which makes up 38 percent of those denied the vote — into the body politic as a whole. One lesson here is that punishments designed for one pariah group can be easily expanded to include others as well.
Felony Disenfranchisement: A Holdover from the Jim Crow Era
By Ben Jealous
Felony disenfranchisement has direct roots in the Jim Crow Era. In the late 19th century, states above and below the Mason-Dixon Line began to find new and creative ways to keep black voters away from the polls. Banning people with felony convictions was one of the solutions.
For example, in 1901 the Commonwealth of Virginia had 147,000 black voters on the rolls. But many lawmakers saw this growing political block as a threat. At that year’s Constitutional Convention, they hatched a plan to disenfranchise African Americans through a combination of black codes and felony disenfranchisement. One legislator said on the record that the plan would “eliminate the darkey as a political factor.”
Ninety years later, Kemba Smith-Pradia was an undergraduate student at Hampton University. She got involved with the wrong crowd and found herself behind bars as an accessory to a nonviolent drug offense. President Clinton granted Kemba executive clemency in 2000, six years into her 24-year sentence. She went on to become a college graduate, law student, mother and foundation president — but until 2012, when her rights were finally restored, not a voter.
The race-infused history of why felons aren’t allowed to vote in a dozen states
By Janell Ross May 24, 2016
It was not until the period immediately following the Civil War, a time of vast but short-lived political and social gains for African Americans known as Reconstruction, that interest in felon disenfranchisement laws seemed to intensify. Congress and the states ratified the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which respectively outlawed slavery except as punishment for a crime; created birthright U.S. citizenship, which explicitly included freed slaves; gave black men the right to vote; and demanded support from Southern states as a condition to reenter the Union. In short order, black Americans began running for and winning local, state, and federal offices, purchasing or homesteading for property, and voting. It was a sea change that many whites and the Southern white-controlled Democratic Party found alarming and unacceptable.
Between the Civil War's end and the 1890s, states around the country — but particularly in the South — passed laws restricting blacks from entering territories that would eventually become states and implemented laws that mandated hard, unpaid labor for those convicted of crimes that lawmakers believed more likely to be committed by black Americans. And in several Southern states, the most severe, lifetime restrictions on voting were created for the same crimes.
Newspapers published editorials opining about the threat to democracy posed by criminals and African Americans. Some even claimed that civilization itself was at risk. The arguments also often mixed a little Locke with a little Jim Crow, and they warned of the threat of black political domination if the policies were not passed.