by Joby Brown
(HARRISBURG)—More than 1,000 demonstrators descended on the Capitol steps in Harrisburg to protest the Voter ID law that could significantly impact the 2012 Presidential election.
Concerned citizens from all over Pennsylvania and other parts of the nation came to the state capital in busses, cars and by plane. One hundred citizens from Beaver, Lawrence and Westmoreland Counties travelled to the Capitol on busses sponsored by the Beaver County NAACP, SEIU, Beaver County Commissioner Joe Spanik and Henry T. Berry.
|RALLY ON CAPITOL STEPS—Pennsylvania NAACP President Jerry Mondesire rallies crowd on steps of Capitol. (Photo by Miriam Brown)
The Pa. NAACP says if upheld, this law will disenfranchise more than a million Pennsylvania voters, including 100,000 in Allegheny County, 200,000 in Philadelphia, 10,000 in Beaver County, 7,000 in Lawrence County and 580,000 senior citizens, including a highly disproportionate number of African-Americans and other minorities.
The massive rally was held the day before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court began hearings on the lawsuit by the NAACP and ACLU questioning the constitutionality of the law. The Honorable Robert ‘Robin’ Simpson was scheduled to hear the case and render a decision within 10 days. Appeals to the State Superior Court and eventually the Pennsylvania Supreme Court are expected, no matter what Judge Simpson rules.
Speakers trumpeted the theme of ‘voter ID, not for me,’ solidarity against voter suppression and preventing disenfranchisement of voters. The rally, though was not about the speakers, but about the people who ventured to Harrisburg to champion the cause of those affected by the law. Chants like ‘let the people vote and make the vote swell in 2012’ were encouraged by speakers.
Linwood Alford, one of the Beaver Valley bus captains said, “the importance of this is fighting back because they’ve disenfranchised millions of people from voting in this state, which I feel is very unconstitutional. We have people who died to vote, and yet they’re trying to prevent people from voting in 2012. We can’t afford to go backwards, that’s the importance of this. I’m satisfied with the turnout because there’s a lot of enthusiasm in the crowd. That’s what it takes. It’s bigger than being on fire for Obama, we need to get on fire for America.”
Others who were on the bus had relevant things to say. Noelle Wilson, of Aliquippa, said, “I think the rally was very educational and the turnout was good, nice and peaceful. And the message has gotten across that we’re not going to stand for this voter ID law. They need to abolish that, make it go away. As one of the speakers made the point, George Washington didn’t have a voter ID, and all these years we’ve been voting without a voter’s ID, that is nothing but a trick.”
Paulette Potter, of North Sewickley, a retired Black History teacher and guidance counselor, said, “This law affects the whole state of Pennsylvania, which is a big state, so this is important. I thought the rally was well put together, but one thing that stood out for me, because I’m an educator and it was glaringly obvious, is that there was no PSEA (PA State Education Association) representation there. And there is no way in the world that the teacher’s union should not be represented, especially with the cuts that he (Gov. Corbett) has made in education. The speakers that did speak were good, they weren’t too long and covered different issues, and said what needed to be said.”
Phyllis Williams, who travelled from Philadelphia, said, “I came because of the senior citizens and that this bill is going to take us back into the slavery times where they didn’t allow people to vote unless they had an ID. That was way back then, but now they decided to turn things around and do this again so they can take votes away from Obama. And I’m here to say that we are smarter than we were in slavery days and we are going to fight this all the way.”
Wally Smith of the Philadelphia NAACP said, “We came to Harrisburg today to unite with other Pennsylvanians who are totally, 100 percent against this voter ID law. This law will harm over a million people that want to vote in November. At home, to combat this thing, we are holding community forums in churches, voter registration every Sunday in churches and in recreation centers, trying to educate as many of our folks as we can, the 18-24 year olds and the senior citizen population too, those of different nationalities and language barriers. Let them know what this law can do and protect them by fighting for them. They are very receptive to this because one of the things this country focuses on is democracy.”
He also said, “Many come to this country for its democracy and now find out that they are banned from voting, just like it was where they came from, so they think, ‘we might as well go back to where we came from if we’re going to be suppressed.’”
The rally began with an invocation by Bishop A.E. Sullivan, who introduced M.C., Marvetta Coleman, Social Action coordinator of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. The audience was then addressed by a series of speakers: David Fillman, president PA AFSME; Rev. Dr. Jasmin Schlark, chairperson, Women’s Outreach Committee, Empowerment Movement; Olivia Thorne, PA League of Women Voters; Jerry Mondesire, president PA NAACP; Hillary O. Shelton, V.P. for Advocacy, National NAACP; Leonard A. Heard, PA Grand Master, Prince Hall Masons; Fred Redmond, National V.P. United Steel Workers; John DeFazio, director PA USW & Allegheny County Councilman; Richard Bloomingdale, president PA AFL-CIO; Rev. David Alexander Bullock, president Michigan Rainbow PUSH; Rev. Benjamin T. Hailey Sr., president PA Baptist State Convention; Sen. Anthony Williams; Patty Kim, Harrisburg City Council; Jose Urdaneta, Lancaster City Council; State Rep. Eugene DePasquale; Paula Peeples, Phila. Chair, Natl. Action Network; Barry Kauffman, executive director, Common Cause, PA; Rep. Ronald Waters, chair, Legislative Black Caucus; Sen. Dalen Leech and others.