The Pensacola Chapter of People Improving Communities by Organizing United Florida or PICO United Florida held a workshop on Monday, October 7th, on the launch of an organizing campaign to remove the State of Florida’s civil rights ban on citizens with past felony convictions. Individuals returning to society from prison cannot vote, are restricted from access to affordable housing, limited access to occupational licenses and employment. The PICO Chapter in Pensacola is part of a network of ninety (90) church congregations and 60,000 families organizing low to moderate income communities statewide to change the laws that block voices at the voting booth, talent for the state’s workforce, and tax payers for the local and state budgets.
Rev. Marcel Davis, Pastor of Adoration Ministries on West Government Street on the south end of Pensacola opened up the session with a presentation on the purpose of PICO. Following his comments, he presented Ms. Dornita Rodgers, a trained community organizer from Orlando. Rodgers presented a case for the Florida initiative such as the statistic that one out of every four Black men in the state is disenfranchised from the voting process. She provided a mini-course on Community Organizing 101, detailing a strategy of grass roots civic engagement and involvement to change the status quo for returning citizens from incarceration.
The statewide coalition includes the Florida Restoration Rights Coalition, PICO United Florida, and the Coalition on Black Civic Participation. The coalition is focused on running a civic engagement campaign to restore rights for the disenfranchised via voter registration, canvassing, educating the community, and utilizing the ballot initiative process within the state for the 2014 to 2016 elections. Public meetings in Pensacola and around the state with local and state officials, including the candidates for the governor seat in the 2014 election, will also be an important part of efforts to begin conversations about implementing policy and solutions to address issues within communities of color, especially around rights restoration and the issues that stem from it.
In March of 2011, the Florida Executive Clemency Board (made up of the Governor and 3 other elected officials) imposed rules that place a lifetime ban on voting by every person with a felony conviction unless the governor and his cabinet choose to restore the individual’s right to vote.
According to the most recent data provided by The Sentencing Project, an advocacy group that promotes reforms in the criminal justice system, there are 1,541,602 disenfranchised felons in Florida, 1.3 million of whom have completed their sentences (NAACP 2012).
Although Florida comprises only 6% of the U.S. population, 25% of disenfranchised felons and ex-felons reside in the state.” Of the 1.54 million disenfranchises, 520,521 are African-Americans. Even without counting those who are serving criminal sentences, 23% of voting-age blacks in Florida have lost the right to cast a ballot, affecting 1 in every 4 black men in the state. According to the Florida Parole Commission’s 2010-2011 Clemency Action Report, civil rights were restored to 5,719 people in 2010. Only 11.4% returned to a life of crime. In 2011, only 52 people regained their civil rights. According to the report, none of the 52 cases entered the criminal justice system again, but many people never even received the chance to prove themselves