Awareness about voter suppression is gaining momentum, in part through screenings of “Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook.” Building on a positive response to the first screening on Washington University’s campus, the Center for Social Development’s Voter Access and Engagement (VAE) project collaborated with community partners to host a second screening on August 3, 2019 at 24:1 Cinema in the Pagedale neighborhood of North St. Louis County. “Community engagement is key to the success of our democracy. This film is a way to engage the community about voter suppression as it is detrimental to how the community will thrive,” says VAE director Gena Gunn McClendon.
More than 150 people from diverse backgrounds and age ranges came together to watch the film and participate in a lively discussion with a panel of local experts.
Denise Lieberman, director of the Power & Democracy Program at Advancement Project, moderated the four-person panel. Erica Williams from A Red Circle, 1st Ward Alderwoman Rev. Dinah Tatman, former State Representative Rita Days and 5th Ward committeeman Rasheen Aldridge participated on the panel. Watch highlights from the discussion below.
“This film connects the dots in really important ways, and shows … the concerted national effort designed to suppress the right to vote,” Lieberman said in her introduction. Synthesizing several of the documentary’s themes, Lieberman dispelled the argument that voter fraud and common-sense measures are about voter integrity, but instead that they have “everything to do with suppressing the growing political power of the rising American electorate, particularly among communities of color, women and young people.”
The documentary lays bare the coordinated efforts to target these communities. Using the example of Michael Brown’s murder, Lieberman stated that “the uprising started to show that rising political power … it started to show what happens when communities stand up and fight back. The right to vote is the structural mechanism we have to turn that into actual policy decisions.” When that right is denied or abridged, according to Lieberman, so too is the collective power of the community’s voice.
Williams offered some practical measures that A Red Circle provides: help register voters, conduct voter education workshops, and drive voters to the polls. Rev. Tatman made an impassioned plea for members of the faith community to “not be afraid to do what they’ve been called to do: strengthen, revitalize and empower” through voter initiatives.
Rita Days shared her experience as the former director of the board of elections: “On the inside, it’s a scary, scary scene … people are being disenfranchised from as early as registration … it starts from the very beginning.” Days closed with a story of people in communities of color standing in line until midnight to vote in 2008 given the limited number and capacity of polling locations. “These are suppression tactics. If you can’t vote in 15 minutes, if you gotta get back to work, if you don’t have childcare, you’re not standing in line until midnight.”
Aldridge concluded the panel discussion by using the film as a call for community action. “When our democracy is under attack, what do we do?” he asked. The crowd emphatically responded “Stand up! Fight Back!”
He demonstrated how those in power use aggressive and discriminatory language to stay on message and effectively suppress the vote. Aldridge called for unity by urging “the people—not republicans, not democrats, not white, white black—but the people to start being just as aggressive … not in hate, but in love. But we have to be 100%, and we have to be direct. Looking at this film, I’m fired up.”
Echoing that sentiment, interviewed audience members such as Rita McElhany said of the documentary, “I’m furious. I was familiar with many of the elements, but seeing it all plugged together—I’m so angry.” Linda Oliver called the themes of the film “alarming” and “frightening.”
The film motivated others, such as Jean Karr, to take action: “… I can help to make positive change … One thing I know I can do is give people rides to the polls.”
The screening was co-sponsored the St. Louis Area Voter Protection Coalition, St. Louis Area Voting Initiative, the Gamma Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and Metropolitan Congregations United. Learn more about the Voter Access and Engagement Project here. Watch the Rigged documentary trailer below.