We’re not new to voting rights being delayed…but we won’t have them denied
New Mexico is positioned to pass an expansive voting rights act if the bill can be given a fair chance to be heard in committee. On Wednesday, February 2nd, SB8 was scheduled to be heard in Senate Rules Committee. For three hours, community members and organizations waited for their chance to make public comment about what was important to them in the NMVRA. I was one of them.
I woke up on Monday morning when the bill was originally scheduled to be heard and again yesterday with an overwhelming feeling of the banner we are carrying forward. I can still vividly remember driving over to the Civic Center in Alamogordo with my Granny to vote. I can feel the responsibility she felt to do so.
At the mention of voting rights, what immediately comes to my mind is old photos of Black folks marching across the south demanding the right to vote and basic civil rights. People who look like me putting it all on the line with firehoses and police dogs directed at them. I see old still images of Black people standing in line waiting to take literacy tests (poll taxes) to vote, and I see the faces of friends and family who have served their sentences in full, yet whose dignity and fundamental rights continue to be taken from them. So yesterday felt monumental for me. What we are trying to accomplish in NM when states and Congress fail to protect access to the ballot, is monumental. It feels even more significant to be advocating for this moment at the top of Black History Month.
So it should be no surprise that as we arrived at the Roundhouse on Monday and made our way in to the Senate Rules Committee hearing room that we were disappointed to learn the bill would be rolled over to Wednesday. On Wednesday, the coalition of partners hosted an energizing rally that set the stage for us to move to committee for public comment. Whether in person or via zoom, nearly 50 community members and partners stood ready to tell what this moment meant for them, just as our elders and ancestors have done before us. In many ways, this was our moment. Until it wasn’t.
Public comment was relegated to two comments: one a national partner in support and the other in opposition. Folks in the room were only invited to stand, state their name and organization, and whether they were for or against. Those of us attending virtually could not clearly hear the proceedings and didn’t hear any prompts on when to raise our hand in support or opposition. Our voices, our moment, was silenced.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to overcome legal barriers at the local and state level for Black people to vote (History.com, 2022). It wasn’t until 1948 that Native Americans really saw the actualization of their right to vote (Library of Congress). For Black and Indigenous people in New Mexico, SB8 is our fight. And yet we were silenced.
Below are my prepared comments for testimony on SB8 in Senate Rules.
“Good morning Mr. Chair. Members of the committee. My name is Alexandria Taylor and I’m with the NM Black Central Organizing Committee.When I woke up this morning and thought about this bill being heard today, I felt how monumental this moment is. My foremothers and fathers were beaten, bloodied, and killed to protect the right to vote. This moment, of ensuring all people have access to this fundamental and sacred right, is monumental.As the committee and this body begins to debate the different provisions in this bill, I wish to remind you that this fight for this most basic freedom is because this country, which was built on the enslavement of African people, carried forward through the Jim Crow south , and now legalized modern day slavery enabled by the 13th amendment, are outgrowths of this countries dark past rooted in the control of Black bodies and the genocide of Indigenous peoples. We have historically and intentionally been disenfranchised.As the Honorable John Lewis, who laid his life on the line for our access to vote said, “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” I urge you to pass SB8 in its totality as we believe it is what is fair and just. Power concedes nothing without a demand. We demand this bill move forward today”.
Griswold, S. (2022). Can votings rights and elections bills race through the rest of the session? Public commenters short-changed on time to make their voices heard during a legislative hearing. Source NM. https://sourcenm.com/2022/02/03/can-voting-rights-and-elections-bills-race-through-the-rest-of-the-session/?fbclid=IwAR2sSavu2U5mnl0IgP8dTL-_bQHVZphkbaRaQpSzM3NFU8mj3alwOHWr0e4
History.com editors. (2022). Voting rights act of 1965. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/voting-rights-act
Library of Congress. Voting rights for Native Americans. https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/elections/right-to-vote/voting-rights-for-native-americans/