National Press Club

Voting rights advocate, author urges uninspired electorate to get to the polls

October 19, 2016 | By Emily Wilkins | emrwilkins@gmail.com

Author Gloria J. Browne-Marshall told uninspired voters to exercise their power at the polls at an Oct. 18 National Press Club Book Rap.

Author Gloria J. Browne-Marshall told uninspired voters to exercise their power at the polls at an Oct. 18 National Press Club Book Rap.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Gloria J. Browne-Marshall has a message for all the undecided voters out there who complain they are not inspired by Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump: Take a lesson from African-American men who voted in 1870 and exercise your power.

African-Americans “voted in 1870,” Browne-Marshall said Oct. 18 at a National Press Club Book Rap. “Do you think there was anyone there who cared about the African-American voice?”

The power of voting is the underlying message of Browne-Marshall’s new book "The Voting Rights War: The NAACP and the Ongoing Fight for Justice." The book is a history told though battles minorities fought for the right to be represented in the United States.

Browne-Marshall, a member of the Club's Book & Author Committee, said she knew she had to write the book at the end of President Barack Obama’s second term to stir voters into heading to the polls, even though the 2016 candidates lack Obama’s charisma.

But Browne-Marshall also wants the book to make people aware that millions of Americans will not be able to cast a vote on Nov 8.

While poll taxes paid to sheriffs and literacy tests are a thing of the past, new policies have replaced them, she said. Obtaining a voter ID card means taking a day off of work many can’t afford, and millions more are barred from the voting booth by a felony conviction for which they already served time.

“Here’s the question we have in this election,” Browne-Marshall said. “We are the last standing superpower of the 20th Century … and we want to stand at the top of the pyramid and dictate to others what a democracy is. And yet we have millions of people who are not allowed to vote.”

Browne-Marshall, a former civil rights attorney with the NAACP and a playwright, passionately presented America’s history of voter disenfranchisement, starting with the first Africans to land in America in 1619 -- a year before the Mayflower.

From the three-fifths rule, to literacy tests, to a prior felony conviction, Browne-Marshall noted America has a long history of disenfranchising not only blacks but other minorities, including Chinese citizens who came to work on the railroad and Hispanics and Latinos who were encouraged to work in the United States but were denied citizenship.

A capacity crowd responded when she noted that challenging federal voting rights for the last eight years meant facing not only a black president but a black attorney general.

“I thought that riled up a lot of people,” Browne-Marshall said. “Oh yeah,” several audience members replied in agreement.

Browne-Marshall ended the Book Rap with a call to action for racial minorities to prepare for a position of power when they become the majority in the United States within the next 30 years.

“We have to think about it now because other people already have,” Browne-Marshall said. “If this is new to you, it’s not new to people who are fiercely fighting the ideal of democracy if it means sharing power.”

Browne-Marshall was introduced by Book & Author Chairman Joe Motheral and Eleanor Herman, a committee member.