A group of Black mothers has come together to demand Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer work together on proposed legislation that would address voter suppression and racism.
Led by Tina Knowles-Lawson, the mothers of Black people lost to police violence have joined forces with other celebrities to sign a letter calling on congressional leaders to put their differences aside and take tangible steps in addressing some of the country's most pressing issues by the passing The HEROES Act.
A release sent to Blavity, which included the letter, highlights the landmark Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder, which Knowles-Lawson said "gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and upended decades of progress."
"Over the past seven years, states and localities have reverted to discriminatory practices that restrict the voting rights of Black, Brown, Native, and Asian American people and have put up unnecessary roadblocks to the ballot," Knowles-Lawson wrote.
"Fall-out from the most recent primaries makes it abundantly clear that we must act now to ensure every citizen can freely and fairly vote in the upcoming general election, and chaos at polling places in recent primaries has demonstrated that elections officials are unprepared to hold safe and accessible elections this year," the mother of two added.
The HEROES Act includes $3.6 billion specifically designated for federal election planning and is designed to address the very issues most states are facing concerning polling locations and voting machines. A key aspect of the bill focuses on absentee ballots, which have become extraordinarily important because of the coronavirus pandemic. Due to the virus, voters are more reluctant to show up at crowded polling locations.
Knowles-Lawson pointed out widely covered incidents in Georgia, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania where people in majority Black districts were often forced to stand in long lines and wait hours to vote, all while other districts had relatively hassle-free experiences. Multiple states reported a litany of issues involving missing absentee ballots, broken voting machines and understaffed locations.
Just yesterday, a video from Kentucky went viral showing Black people banging on the doors of a voting site because they had been locked out. Kentucky closed 95% of its polling locations ahead of this week's primary election, as Blavity previously reported.
"This is modern-day voter suppression plain and simple. Voters in all these states risked their health, and that of their communities, simply to make their voices heard. People should be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote and stay healthy, even during a pandemic. We should not have to choose between public health and a functioning democracy," the 66-year-old said in the letter.
"Many are advocating for structural change through legislation. Among the most urgent is H.R. 6800, The HEROES Act, a bill passed by the House of Representatives in May that would provide a $3 trillion safety net for those most impacted by COVID-19, including disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities, through provision of health care, economic security, justice system reform, housing, and voting access," she added.
Additionally, the bill will ensure that every eligible, registered voter is provided with an absentee ballot with prepaid postage, mailed with enough time for completion and return.
"Congress has starved state and local communities of the resources they need to run safe, and accessible elections. We can’t allow this in November. Our democracy can't wait. Please understand, it is everyone’s responsibility to take action and do their part to undo this country’s systemic racism," Knowles-Lawson said.
"Senators, some of you may never know what it is to wonder whether your child could be shot by the very people purportedly tasked with protecting their life. We pray that, in the future, no one suffers that fear. But to get there, we must act together, as Americans," Knowles-Lawson added.
In an interview with CBS This Morning, Knowles-Lawson explained more of what was in the HEROES Act and said it was particularly necessary right now because people are still concerned about catching the coronavirus. The longer people have to wait in line, the more likely they are to become infected by COVID-19, Knowles-Lawson said.
She added that many Black people she has spoken to in recent days feel hopeless and that she believes the bill can help people focus their energy toward voting people into office who can address the country's pressing issues.
The letter was signed by Knowles-Lawson as well as Viola Davis, Whoopi Goldberg, Octavia Spencer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Solange Knowles, Gabrielle Union, Taraji P. Henson, Kelly Rowland, Lala Anthony, Halle Berry, Yvette Nicole Brown, Melina Matsoukas, Janelle Monáe, Bozoma Saint John, Holly Robinson Peete, Oge Egbuonu, Lena Waithe, Kerry Washington and Rashida Jones.
The letter was also co-signed by Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner; Kadiatou Diallo, the mother of Amadou Diallo; Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin; Maria Hamilton, the mother of Dontre Hamilton; Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant; Wanda Cooper-Jones, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery; Rep. Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis; Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor; and Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland.
"In passing this legislation, you will take an affirmative step toward declaring that Black lives matter. You will help build an America as good as its ideals. And you will lead the country – thanks to the creation of a more accountable democracy in which all Americans’ voices are heard – toward a long-sought moment in which no mother need wonder: will my son or daughter not make it home tonight because of the color of their skin?" Knowles-Lawson wrote in the letter.