Protesters deserve the right to vote

Illustration by Tonesha Yazzie

Voting in the United States is considered a civic duty and is a constitutional right. In light of recent events, many people have come to realize that voting is another form of protest that has the most direct impact on the average citizen’s life.

As expected and observed, there are politicians who disagree with social injustice protests, claiming that they are too violent and that the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) is a domestic terrorist group.

However, while these statements are false, they have not extinguished the movement as protests continue to pop up around the country.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee took his visible disapproval to a whole new level by signing a bill that would as stated by The Hill, “ramp up punishments for certain kinds of protests, including losing the right to vote.”

These increased penalties and additional mandatory minimum sentences have been implemented in an effort to try to arrest protesters specifically for disorderly conduct, disrupting a meeting and other commonly used protest tactics. 

Protesters in Tennessee now have targets on their backs and, worst of all, they were placed there by the very government that should be serving them. This is a deliberate and vile attack on Tennessean protesters and their First Amendment right to voice their beliefs, assemble and petition their government. 

I was taught in high school that we the people were given the right to challenge our government.

Now, I’m unsure of what rights we, the people, will have left if politicians like Lee continue ramping up consequences for rights granted to the people in the Constitution.

Protesters are fighting for those that have been lost at the hands of law enforcement. George Floyd, along with countless others, such as Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade.

A statement issued by the Tennessee American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated it “had earlier urged Gov. Lee to veto this legislation” and it, as an organization, is “very disappointed in Gov. Lee’s decision to sign this bill.”

Tennessee ACLU executive director Hedy Weinberg reacted by saying the bill “chills free speech, undermines criminal justice reform and fails to address the very issues of racial justice and police violence raised by the protesters who are being targeted.”

This bill prevents protesters from getting their message through to politicians like Lee and puts Black Tennesseans a step further from equality. If anything, it will feed more people into the prison system and force crime statistics in further favor of the rich white man.

The Tennessee ACLU also wrote in their statement that camping on state property that has not been designated for such use results in a felony and “creates a pre conviction punishment by requiring a person to spend 12 hours in jail if they are arrested for any of the offenses listed in the statute, even if they are not convicted, unless an official finds the person is unlikely to resume the action they were arrested for.”

Across the nation, if a person has a felony charge, they lose their right to vote. Which will take away one of their most powerful forms of protest and change.

The Tennessee state government would rather see these people — these human beings in grief — locked up rather than listening to them and reflect on what could be changed to better the community.

On top of that, they will also  destroy the one avenue available to the people that would force them to listen to the protesters: their right to vote.

This bill feeds into the very concept  the people are protesting  Yet again, the government has failed to serve the people and instead chooses to punish the minority. All this because people are exercising their right to protest and express their beliefs. Nay, because Black people are exercising their right to protest and express their beliefs. 

The U.S is now the land of division and the home of the rich white man who can afford it.