In my work as 9to5 Organizer for our Ban the Box campaign, I have been given the task to register people to vote. I find this to be the most discouraging thing I have had to do in a long time.
It really bothers me when I ask a person if they are registered to vote and the response is, “I don’t vote and I don’t care.” My question to them is, “Why?” It is so heartbreaking to hear people say their vote doesn’t matter, that politicians are going to do what they want anyway. I try hard to make people understand that we have the power to change anything, if we vote.
I used to feel that very same way, because I am formerly incarcerated. I have been convicted of a felony. Years passed when I kept doing the same things, getting the same results. One day it hit me to want to make a difference for myself and others. This is when I registered to vote. But the Secretary of State’s office kicked my application back and said I couldn’t vote because I was on probation. I didn’t give up. I kept fighting because I knew I was completely free of all state obligations.
Last month I sat through a full day meeting of the Fulton County Commission. I was there because of a piece of legislation that I helped to research, draft and organize community support for. This legislation takes the question off of Fulton County applications about previous arrest and convictions. (The county application had a total of 5 of these questions!). As I met with each Commissioner, I could say, “I am a registered voter in Fulton County, and I am formerly incarcerated. Here is a piece of legislation that will benefit people like me – and the community as a whole, that I want you to support.” Without that “I am a registered voter” statement, elected officials have much less reason to listen.
Registering to vote has paid off for me. Today, I know that because I vote, elected officials are my employees. I am their employer. They are to do what I need them to do, and I have the option to fire them. That feels good.
Through my voting privileges and with my background; with the help of 9to5 Atlanta, I have had the opportunity to change laws and to end employment barriers for people with backgrounds. If I didn’t vote I couldn’t have done this.
Marilynn Winn, 9to5 Atlanta Chapter Organizer. Pictured above, on the left