The statement below was released Jan. 9 by Amy Husk, Socialist Workers Party candidate for governor in Kentucky.
Former prisoners in Florida proudly asserted their newly won rights by lining up to register to vote Jan. 8. Working people across the country were inspired by the overwhelming victory last year after supporters gathered over 1 million signatures to put constitutional Amendment 4 on the ballot and won its passage by a two-thirds majority. This restores the franchise to more than a million workers released from prison after serving time on felony convictions.
In their drive to strengthen their criminal “justice” system, the capitalist rulers have widely expanded what are defined as felonies to include convictions — or more often plea bargains — on minor theft or drug charges. Across the country some 5 million former prisoners are denied the right to vote.
The Florida victory is a gain for all working people. It inspires people across the country to fight all the restrictions on the franchise for workers behind bars. The focus now is on Kentucky, where I’m campaigning for governor, and in Iowa, the last two states where severe restrictions on the voting rights of ex-prisoners still apply.
In Kentucky, the state constitution permanently bars workers with any past felony convictions — some 300,000 people — from voting. The only exceptions are by personal decision of the governor. This anti-working-class restriction disproportionately affects African-Americans. It bars one in five Blacks in the state from voting.
My party defends the right of all workers who’ve been behind bars to vote. Our campaign calls for a fight to overturn this law.
The Socialist Workers Party campaigns for class solidarity between workers behind bars and those outside. Prisons and the capitalist rulers’ whole criminal “justice” system aren’t set up to dispense justice, but to intimidate and keep working people in their place.
As Ramón Labañino, one of the Cuban Five political prisoners kept in Washington’s jails for their defense of the Cuban Revolution for almost sixteen years, noted: “In the United States, imprisonment is a way of dehumanizing a human being. It’s a way of isolating you from society, including from your family.”
We are fighting to overturn efforts by prison authorities in Florida and elsewhere to censor the Militant. This fight is helping to set an example for the broader battle against prison censorship — of letters, papers, magazines and books. All workers behind bars need the right to read the literature of their choosing, to think for themselves.
Winning voting rights for all former prisoners is part of the fight to unify the working class, to bring us together as equals in the struggle to overturn capitalist oppression and exploitation.