Editor’s Note: What’s Free is a column that began in 2020, that asks the incarcerated community what freedom means to them. Inspired by the movement of enhanced earned sentence credits, we have raised the topic every year to keep the momentum alive as more brothers and sisters remain behind bars in the Virginia prison system. This year, Q has decided to talk about the freedom that comes with participating in our political system.
Virginia criminal justice reform has been shifting back in forth between a full, most needed overhaul and virtual crumbs to keep the majority of our loved ones seeking more from our state leaders. This year though, one hundred seats in the Virginia House of Representatives are up for reelection. This is where the power of the vote will have its greatest chance to reflect the voices of the incarcerated in the form of our loved ones active participation in the voting process.
When it comes to voting and change as a whole, all of us who have been dejected by the losses we’ve taken must be wary of a most destructive attitude – political skepticism – which only serves to keep the chains on the mind, soul, and in our case, the body.
It’s no secret: every stride gained in regards to who gets to vote in America, has come by way of combat. Normally, this form of combat has placed minorities in position of a proverbial David versus the very real Goliath of bigotry and racism. Continuous combat of this nature will leave a sense of dread and despair no matter how many times we have overcome…
For example, for the last 10 years, Virginia governors fought to ease the path to Restoration of ex-felons rights. In a single term, Glenn Youngkin secretly rolled back automatic expungement without ever addressing the public about the change. But why? What does Glenn Youngkin have to fear from a fuller version of the right to vote? He has to fear YOU!
Political skepticism is the biggest threat to change. Feeling like your vote doesn’t matter, your voice won’t change anything, that the vote is ‘rigged,’ are all thoughts that trap you in a form of political slavery where you willingly give up your fate to the hands of those who’ve already condemned you.
We’ve already heard the stories about how vicious southerners became when former slaves were granted the right to vote. Through those acts of brutality and intimidation, we can surmise how important and powerful the vote is in this country. Even in modern day – look at how Donald Trump played with the idea of the vote being rigged to charge up his base and turned them on the capitol.
Minorities often complain about how politicians are constantly pandering them – encouraging them to get out and vote for them – yet minorities are still skeptical about whether their vote even matters. The fact is that Democrats need a large portion of the minority vote to win the presidential office in any given year.
Let’s look at it this way: if the vote is real (which I most certainly believe it is), then not going out to vote has very real life-costing consequences. The greatest threat that must be overcome is the captive thinking of political skepticism.
What’s Free!? Freedom in this country looks like every single American voting in EVERY election – whether they’re an ex-felon, incarcerated, or free.
Prompt Questions (Thought Starters for the Incarcerated Population):
- Can you identify examples of political skepticism in your every day life? Does it affect you? Why or why not?
- How do you feel about the recent changes Govorner Youngkin made to the restoration of rights?
- Being ineligible to vote yourself, how do you plan to be involved in the upcoming state elections for the Virginia General Assembly members?
- How do you think that society can benefit from every American being able to vote?