BY SOMMER BROKAW
As the Republican National Convention took over Tampa this week, some African-Americans about town and a few at local protests said they were already sick of it, especially considering their concerns about voter suppression.
Black diners at the Open Café, a popular spot in Tampa to get soul food and talk politics, said that while they hadn’t been downtown near the delegates of the convention, they were sick of what they were hearing in the media coverage.
One comment that had people around town buzzing was Republican U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri’s comment about abortion. Akin said abortion shouldn’t be considered in cases of rape because “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut the whole thing down” to prevent a female rape victim from becoming pregnant.
One diner, Melvin (who declined to state his last name), said, “I think the idea of them trying to tell women what they should do with their bodies, I think that’s out of line because anybody that has a daughter or a wife or granddaughter or anything should be up in arms.”
All about Obama
He also opined about voting rights: “They’re doing everything possible to keep people from voting, to make it hard for them to vote, and that is just your right as a citizen of this country, and the thing about it is it’s happening all over the country.”
Another diner, Willie Hart, agreed. “I think they’re just doing everything they can to keep us from voting for Obama,” he said.
Most Blacks (94 percent) support Obama, and none – zero percent – support Republican challenger Mitt Romney, according to a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal survey.
A few people at a voter suppression protest rally Tuesday evening in Ybor City shared their views on how tougher voting laws could affect the Black vote.
More than 30 states have debated changes to voting laws, including photo ID restrictions. “Five [states] went after early voting,” said Ella Coffee of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, who spoke at the rally. “Three states made it harder for felons to vote.”
Florida’s GOP-dominated legislature shortened the number of early voting days from 12 to eight back in 2011. “African-Americans were more likely and in fact almost double the number of voters that were utilizing early voting,” Coffee said.
A federal court ruled that restricting the number of early voting days could result in a dramatic reduction in participation by Blacks earlier this month. The ruling applied to five counties: Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe, which, because of a history of racial and language discrimination, are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and are required to get federal pre-clearance to change voting laws.
“The battles are being fought in the court, in the legislative halls, but we must take it to the street,” Coffee said. “We are losing in the legislative halls because we are and have been outnumbered. We don’t vote all the way down the ballot, but the courts are seeing through this blatant attempt to discourage our basic constitutional right.”
She added, “Give your family and friends a reason to vote personally. Let them know how you’ve been affected by any laws positively or negatively, and then take that family member or that friend to the polling site.”
Diminishing the vote
Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union said that more than 13,000 ex-felons may be eligible to vote but don’t know it, citing data obtained from the Florida Parole Commission. The commission said that restoration of rights certificates have not reached their intended recipients, and many of these people have not registered to vote because they don’t know that they’re pre-cleared to register.
Florida is also one of a minority of states that don’t automatically restore a felon’s rights, which protesters at the Ybor City rally said diminishes the Black vote.
“This new voter suppression thing we’re marching for today is nothing new. It’s just being produced from a different angle,” said Life Malcolm, a spoken word artist and member of Black People Advancement and Defense Organization. “That is another form of voter suppression. It’s almost like voter eradication in our communities.”
‘I can’t vote’
Hip-hop and spoken word artist Kelvin White, known as “Crown Deon” from St. Petersburg, entertained the crowd and shared his personal struggle. He went to prison after selling cocaine.
“I gave 10 years of my life to the penal system,” he said. “I got custody of my children. When I got out, I sent two of them to college and for the first time in my life, I voted four years ago. Now they’re telling me I can’t vote.”
White asked the crowd: “Voter suppression, right?’ Someone from the crowd screamed, “Yeah!”
Return to ‘Jim Crow’
Similar to earlier RNC protests this week, Tuesday’s crowd was screaming the slogan of the Occupy Wall Street movement against corporate greed: “We are the 99 percent!”
Connie Burton, an East Tampa resident and president of the Black People Advance and Defense Organization, had seen few Black protestors in Occupy.
“The issue was narrowly defined when it started out with Occupy,” she said. “These issues African people have been dealing with for so, so long and now it has knocked at the door of White America…We understand we have to be a coalition, but for it to be a legitimate coalition it has to be under the leadership of African people. We can’t afford to allow them to benefit again from the ongoing struggle of African people like we’ve seen in the ’60s.”
She added, “Voter suppression is the next wave of an ongoing bygone era called Jim Crowism. That’s where we’re at.”