More than 100 guests turned out Wednesday afternoon for a screening of the documentary “Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook.”
“Voter suppression is wrong, and it’s real,” Mac Heller, the documentary’s executive producer, said before the show.
The event at the Brown School was a joint effort between the Voter Access and Engagement (VAE) initiative and community partners whose vision is to protect democracy by increasing awareness of voter suppression tactics. “We also want to engage in discussion about strategies that encourage and safeguard voting rights for a thriving democracy,” said VAE Director Gena Gunn McClendon.
Heller was a panelist with the Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould, who is executive director of Missouri Faith Voices and who is in the film. Heller became interested in the issue of voter suppression after he read the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which swept away a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. That 1965 landmark civil rights law was to ensure state and local governments do not pass laws or policies that deny American citizens the equal right to vote based on race.
But the 2013 high court ruling “created an umbrella” under which states began passing laws with the “intent to suppress poor people’s, black people’s and brown people’s votes,” Heller said.
Previously an investment banker and executive chairman an electric car manufacturer, Heller’s interest in starting the film project stemmed from his belief that democracy only works when everyone can vote.
‘Worth fighting for’
Gould grew up near Selma, Alabama, and her mother regularly traveled to Selma to work on voter rights. Gould said that, 50 years later, she herself is involved in the same fight.
“Democracy is still the one thing that is worth fighting for in America,” Gould said.
Gould fought against Missouri’s voter identification law. The Missouri General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment mandating voter photo identification in 2016. In October 2018, a Missouri judge ruled that state election officials can no longer tell voters they must show a photo ID. The ruling only blocked part of the state’s voter identification law. Missouri is one of 35 states now with laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls.
“The ballot box should be the most inclusive place in America,” Gould said.
Narrated by actor Jeffrey Wright and shot during the 2016 election, “Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook” outlines ways a concerted, well-funded effort to disenfranchise voters and maintain power. They include purging voter rolls, strict voter Photo ID laws, “cracking and packing” (gerrymandering) congressional districts to consolidate power for one group and break up power for another, and other tactics.
Between the 2014 and 2016 elections approximately 16 million names in the U.S. were removed from voter rolls, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Obama’s 2008 victory revealed a rising demographic tide of non-white and younger voters that threatened GOP success into the future. Mark McKinnon, a former Republican strategist, notes in the film that Republicans could have moved toward the center and appealed to the rising minority majority, but instead the GOP “figure[d] out how you turn out more of your people and less of the other guys.”
The film crew visited North Carolina, Missouri, Texas and Wisconsin. Heller said the goal was for the film’s characters to stick in viewers’ minds, for viewers to say “not in my country,” and for them to become active defenders of voting rights.
‘Not just isolated incidents’
Karon Majeel Hatchett said she was “disheartened and sickened” by the documentary. A St. Louis-based activist, she is a former Colorado elections official.
Denise Lieberman said, “I found the documentary to be incredibly powerful on many, many levels.”
Lieberman is director of Advancement Project’s national Power & Democracy Program. A constitutional and civil rights lawyer for more than 20 years, Lieberman has litigated challenges to photo ID laws in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina. She was an adviser for “Rigged,” as well.
The film “connected all the dots,” she said. “These are not just isolated incidents” but part of a national, concerted effort to keep people from voting.
“As you know, civil rights work is unending,” said Nimrod “Rod” Chapel Jr., president of the Missouri chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Special interests are turning a bedrock of America – the right to vote –into quicksand for people of color, he said.
“Gather together and band against this!” Chapel said.
DeMarco Davidson, the Voter Program lead at Metropolitan Congregations United, vowed, “I will do whatever I can to make sure as many people as possible see this movie!”
Hatchett, Lieberman, Chapel and Davidson served as panelists after the documentary. Vicki C. Washington, who spent her career as an attorney advocating for civil rights, moderated. The documentary made clear the duplicity of elected and public officials involved in suppressing the vote under the guise of protecting of protecting “voter integrity” despite a lack of evidence of voter fraud.
Viewing the film provokes a sense of urgency to “stand together” and take action, said Jennifer Slavik Lohman, attorney and civil rights advocate.
She and Kimberly R. Beck, president of Gamma Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., challenged attendees to act now to protect voter rights. Beck left attendees with this thought, “Stay woke, get yoked and go vote.”
The Center for Social Development hosted the event in partnership with the St. Louis Area Voter Protection Coalition, the St. Louis Area Voting Initiative, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.’s Gamma Omega Chapter, and Metropolitan Congregations United.