The United States was founded on the principle of equality and freedom, but many of the laws and policies that have been put in place by the government have and continue to uphold systematic inequality.
The right to vote is an aspect of our democracy that has been a highly contested issue for many years. The current struggle over voting rights and voter suppression can be traced back to the Civil Rights Movement, along with its many prominent activists who worked tirelessly toward gaining equal treatment under the law. Voter suppression tactics have evolved over the years but continue to share a common goal of deciding who is eligible to vote by barring certain people, typically based on race, from exercising this freedom.
The Connecticut Collaborative on Poverty, Criminal Justice & Race hosted a film screening and discussion titled “One State, One Film: Let the People Decide” to address this issue. This panel discussion was centered around Gavin Guerra’s film “Let the People Decide,” which traces the history of voting rights struggles from 1960 to present day. The main goal of this film is to connect the dots between generations of voting suppression and shed light on the current political environment regarding race and voting.
“As soon as you tell people they can’t do something … they do get motivated,” Guerra, writer, producer and director of the film, said.
The right to vote is a basic principle of democracy, and when someone is banned from having this right, their political power is essentially stripped away from them and their political voice is silenced. The Civil Rights Movement emerged as a driving force in the fight for equal rights during the 1950s and 1960s to address the struggle for social justice and work toward the ultimate goal of gaining equal treatment under the law, regardless of the color of one’s skin. Voting rights are an important aspect of civil rights, and thus arose as a prominent pillar of the movement.
“Since the founding of this country, who gets the right to vote has been a contested issue,” Andrew Clark, director of the Institute for Municipal & Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University and moderator of the panel, said.
Even though the Civil Rights Movement led to the creation and passage of important legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, minorities in this country, especially Black people, continue to face exclusionary and discriminatory treatment in the voting process.
“Just the attempt to register to vote was a life-threatening situation,” David Dennis, a civil rights icon that was featured in the film, said.
Dennis grew up in a segregated area of Louisiana and was one of the organizers of the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964, a volunteer campaign created to register as many Black voters as possible in Mississippi. He worked closely with members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to engage fellow students in the Civil Rights Movement. Young people became a popular demographic during the Civil Rights Movement as they were able to learn from the wisdom of their elders and translate this into energy to keep the movement going.
“I think that the lesson we learned from the George Floyd protests and the youth wing of the Civil Rights Movement is that pressure works … if they keep the pressure on, people will move the discussion to what they are talking about,” Guerra said.
“Let the People Decide” is an eye-opening film that allows viewers to see how events from over 50 years ago are still relevant to the current heated political climate within the U.S.
We are one week away from one of the most important and consequential elections our nation has faced. The culture surrounding voter suppression within our country must be changed to address the core of the problem.
“If you don’t change the culture you can’t depend upon the laws,” Dennis said.
If you are interested in learning more about the intersection of poverty, criminal justice and race, and the mission of The Connecticut Collaborative, visit their website for more information.