Deon Haywood, executive director of Women with a Vision, gives the keynote address.

Last June, the United States Commission on Civil Rights documented Louisiana’s outright attack on black voting rights. According to the report, the state has closed more than 100 polling places in the past six years, with fewer voting places per capita in black communities. To further compound difficulties, there are only 92 early voting locations in the entire state.

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With the federal government’s failure to uphold the Voting Rights Act and the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, state lawmakers across the South feel emboldened to pass discriminatory voting laws aimed at preserving their power while denying the most basic human rights and autonomy to black people.

Black women and other women of color know full well that the promises of equal rights are rarely extended without organized movements and legal battles. While white women first gained the right to vote in 1920, black women still didn’t have access to the polls. Today, Louisiana’s voter identification law and the shameful, widespread closing of polling places is broadcasting the same message: Black people need not vote here.

Despite concerted voter suppression measures, communities of color have profoundly shaped recent elections. Nationwide, the black voter turnout rate first outpaced that of white voters in the 2012 presidential election, with the highest rates occurring in Southern states. More recently, the 2018 midterm elections broke records for diversity. Pundits concluded that the notable impact of grassroots voter engagement to turn out black voters fundamentally shaped electoral outcomes like Alabama’s senatorial race — with story after story documenting the importance of black women’s votes.

Here in our state and across the country, black women are knocking on doors, talking to our neighbors to register and educate voters. We’re fed up with the constant attacks on our voting rights and our human rights. The ongoing assaults on our reproductive justice — the freedom and resources to make our own decisions about when and whether to have children and the ability to raise them in safe communities with dignity — leave Louisianans constantly battling for our most basic freedoms.

That’s why we’re building a year-round movement to engage voters before and after they vote. The attacks on our rights are unending, so our engagement with the political process to hold elected officials accountable must be unrelenting.

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Louisiana’s next election will profoundly shape the future for black women, and our freedom is not up for negotiation. From increasing the number of polling places to replacing old voting machines, Louisiana must take concrete steps to remove barriers that level the playing field for black voters.

We plan to participate fully in democracy, and we expect the state to protect that right.

Deon Haywood

executive director, Women with A Vision

New Orleans

Marcella Howell

president, in Our Own Voice

Washington, D.C.