One Person, No Vote

Anger, hurt, heartbreak, disgust, and disappointment were just a few of the emotions felt by book group members while reading Carol Anderson’s One Person, No Vote. Many group members shared that reading about the violence that African Americans endured while attempting to exercise their right to vote was especially difficult. Everyone was aware that voter suppression was (and still is) a major cause for concern, but some were not aware of the lengths that government officials were willing to go to that would ensure that votes by minorities would not be cast. For example, Anderson recalls accounts of the intimidation tactics used that included unlawful arrests, threats of physical violence, and even murder to prevent African Americans from voting.

This year, we partnered again with VCU and their Common Book Program. Each year VCU Freshmen are required to read the ‘common book’ and participate in the associated class. Books are selected based on prevalent social issues. Toward the end of the semester the author visits campus and holds a campus wide discussion. Starting 4 years ago, we partnered with VCU’s Common Book Program. VCU donates many books to us to do book groups with participants and they coordinate the author to speak to our Lifers. The first 2 years of the partnership, we were only in the jail, so we had the book group with the 150 inmates in the program in the jail. This included “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson and then “Dreamland” by Sam Quinoes – both visited the jail and presented to the men and women in the REAL Program.

Last year, we participated through the Center. The book was “Evicted.” This year’s book is “One Person, One Vote” by Carol Anderson.

Our two summer interns, Gabrielle from Regent University and Bri from VCU, lead the book group for male Lifers in our houses.

Today, disenfranchisement efforts are more subtle. Although the physical abuse to suppress votes has ended, policies have been put in place that have the same result. Requiring specific forms of identification, purging votes, and changing the rules without informing the population about the changes in those rules, eliminating polling stations, and changing polling station hours have all been just as successful at suppressing the minority vote as the overt physical abuse.

Throughout One Person, No Vote, numerous individuals described African Americans as being lazy and ignorant. Book group members believed that the actions of the African American community during Alabama’s Senate race in 2017 alone should be enough to dispel that belief. Anderson described in detail the efforts of various organizations that worked together to not only aid eligible individuals with registering to vote, but also worked together to provide transportation for voters to and from the polls. Because of their collective efforts and determination, Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore.

Although the main theme of One Person, No Vote is the negative impact that voter suppression has had (and continues to have) on democracy, the book group identified an additional theme: the resilience of the African American community. Even if the face of extreme opposition and oppression, the African American community has continuously refused to give up or give in.

What will it take to end the disenfranchisement of minorities? The book group did not know exactly. However, everyone agreed that something drastic must happen in order to enact change. One group member felt that the government will not make these changes on its own; the group member believed that the continued actions of the population that challenges the biased policies will ultimately force the government’s hand. Another group member shared that integrity is not only necessary among government officials and others who hold seats of power; integrity must be found even in those who are working at the polling stations. Until integrity outweighs greed and corruption, the injustice will continue.