Native American Mashpee tribe turns to Congress in land dispute

Trump administration reversed Obama-era decision to recognise the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation in Massachusetts.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has bipartisan support in Congress [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has bipartisan support in Congress 

Washington, DC – A Native American tribe is calling on members of Congress to help protect the status of its reservation after the Trump administration reversed an Obama-era decision to hold its land in trust.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration took the land of the Mashpee into trust in 2015, giving the tribe jurisdiction over the reservation, which is located in Massachusetts.

Less than a year later, a judge ruled that the Obama administration had acted outside of its remit in entrusting the reservation to the federal government.

That ruling was based on a controversial reading of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, which does not qualify the Mashpee as “Indian”.

In September, the US Department of Interior, under the Trump administration, decided not to challenge the ruling. The tribe then filed a lawsuit against the administration, saying its decision was “arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law, and if left unaddressed, will have a devastating impact on the tribe”, according to local media.

On Wednesday, members of the tribe and supporters from across the US gathered at the Capitol to call on Congress to use its plenary powers to pass legislation that would override the Department of the Interior’s authority on the issue.

If Congress does not pass legislation protecting the tribe and the legal challenge fails, the Mashpee would be stripped of their right to exercise sovereign jurisdiction over their land.

Jessie Little Doe Baird, the tribe’s vice-chairwoman, told Al Jazeera that loss of jurisdiction would prevent the tribe from running indigenous language schools, tribal courts, and housing projects, as well as its own police.

“We have our own police force, which is important because they’re tribal citizens and since we’ve had our own police force, none of our men have been beaten or shot, which we’ve had before with non-tribal police,” she said.

Baird, an MIT-trained linguist who has played a pivotal role in reviving the Wampanoag language, said she feared the government’s decision was the first step in a gradual encroachment on the sovereignty of Native American reservations.

Jessie Baird Mashpee has played a pivotal role in reviving the Wampanoag language [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

Disheartening

The Mashpee have the support of Native American organisations from across the country and Wednesday’s action on the Capitol drew speakers from different tribes.

Members of the Mashpee’s wider Wampanoag tribe were the first to greet the pilgrims in the 17th century, and the American holiday of Thanksgiving has its roots in meals shared between the tribe and early English settlers.

Mashpee member Cameron Frye called the tribe’s recent experience “disheartening”.

“We’re the tribe that greeted the pilgrims, everybody knows about Thanksgiving,” he said, adding, “We’re the tribe that welcomed them and greeted them but here we are still fighting to protect our sovereignty.”

We’re the tribe that greeted the pilgrims, everybody knows about Thanksgiving. We’re the tribe that welcomed them and greeted them but here we are still fighting to protect our sovereignty.

CAMERON FRYE, MEMBER OF THE MASHPEE TRIBE

Frye feared that if left unchallenged, the decision would set a precedent for future government action against other Native American tribes.

“Under this administration, it’s very frightening for all tribes, not just our own … If they can do this to us then they can do this to other tribes.”

Congressional bill

Members of Congress in both the House of Representative and the Senate have introduced bills to reaffirm the decision to take the Mashpee’s land into federal trust.

If passed, the Mashpee Reservation Reaffirmation Act would supersede the court ruling preventing the original Obama-era decision.

Massachusetts congressmen Bill Keating and Joe Kennedy were present at the Capitol on Wednesday to show their support for the tribe. The pair are Democrats but the Mashpee cause has drawn bipartisan support.

“We shouldn’t have to be doing this,” said Keating, who authored the House bill.

“The administration has taken a decision to make one decision and Congress is here to try to straighten that out.

“This is an existential issue, this is about the existence of this tribe, it’s that fundamental.”

Legislation has been introduced in Congress to reaffirm federal protections for the Mashpee reservation

 

Advertisements

FBI: Spike in US hate crimes for third year in a row: Three Years of Hate in the land of the Free.

a memorial for the Jews killed in Pittsburgh 11 worshippers were killed in the deadliest attack against Jews in US history

Hate crimes in the US rose by 17% in 2017, the third straight year that incidents of bias-motivated attacks have grown, according to the FBI.

Law enforcement agencies reported 7,175 hate crimes last year compared with 6,121 in 2016.

The rise in hate crimes is attributed to an increase of about 1,000 police departments that are now choosing to report these incidents, the FBI says.

The report found the surge especially affected black and Jewish Americans.

Of the reported attacks in 2017, 2,013 were aimed at African Americans and 938 were against Jewish Americans.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker called the report a “call to action” and condemned the offences as “despicable violations of our core values as Americans”.

What did the report find?

According to the report, 59.6% of incidents were motivated by bias against race, ethnicity or ancestry.

Crimes motivated by a victim’s religion constituted 20.6% of attacks, and crimes against a person’s sexual orientation made up 15.8%.

The FBI definition of a hate crime is a “criminal offence against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity”.

The 2017 data notes that about 5,000 of the crimes were directed against people through intimidation or assault.

Around 3,000 were targeted at property, which includes vandalism or burglary.

Crimes against Sikhs, Hindus and Arabs were not counted prior to 2015.

BBC spoke to a Muslim-American couple targeted by an abusive caller

Crimes against Jewish Americans saw a notable increase of 37% over 2016.

Jews have long been the highest targeted religion, as the acting attorney general noted in his statement.

The new report comes a month after 11 Jews were killed by a gunman that burst into their synagogue in Pittsburgh as they prayed, marking the deadliest attack against Jews in US history. The suspect was charged with dozens of federal hate crimes.

Crimes against African Americans constituted 2,013 crimes, marking a 16% increase over the previous year.

Muslim individuals were the target of 18.7% of religiously motivated hate crimes, which was a drop of 6% from 2016.

What is the reaction?

Civil rights advocates say the numbers are vastly under-reported because of individual victims that choose not to come forward, and some police agencies that do not keep accurate statistics or do not contribute them to the study.

Jonathan Greenblatt of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, said the report “provides further evidence that more must be done to address the divisive climate of hate in America.

Pittsburgh survivor Rabbi Doris Dyen: ‘I’m broken and I can’t pray’

“That begins with leaders from all walks of life and from all sectors of society forcefully condemning anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate whenever it occurs.”

Civil rights organisation the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) said the findings were “shocking” and “requires Congress’s full attention”.

The Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil liberties organisation, expressed alarm at the “increase of bigotry and hate”.

“This is the third year where we witness an increase in reported incidents of hate targeted at our most vulnerable populations. Between 2016 and 2017, CAIR-Chicago has received a 50% increase in reported incidents of discrimination,” said Deputy Director Sufyan Sohel in a statement.

“We can do better. We must do better.”

In his statement, Mr Whitaker said: “The Department of Justice’s top priority is to reduce violent crime in America, and hate crimes are violent crimes.”

He shot at a mosque – and his life changed

“The American people can be assured that this department has already taken significant and aggressive actions against these crimes and that we will vigorously and effectively defend their rights,” he continued.

Wisconsin school students’ Nazi salute photo provokes uproar

Members of the Baraboo Young Professionals group held a rally at the county courthouse on Monday afternoonBaraboo residents held a rally on Monday celebrating symbols of love

A photo of mostly white US students laughing as they make a Nazi salute has triggered outrage.

More than 50 boys from Baraboo High School in Wisconsin were pictured making the “Sieg Heil” gesture.

The school district and local police have launched an investigation into the image, which was reportedly snapped before a junior prom.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum condemned the photo.

One of the boys in the picture made an OK sign with his thumb and forefinger, a gesture that has been adopted by white power groups.

An anonymous Twitter account reportedly run by students at the school shared the photo, saying: “We even got the black kid to throw it up.”

One non-white student appears in the picture, though he is partly obscured.

Some of the teenagers in the photo, which the BBC is not using because of concerns about the boys’ ages, did not make any gesture.

One of the students, Jordan Blue, told CBS News why he refused to participate in the salute.

“It did not represent my morals, and I could not do something that I didn’t believe in,” the teenager said.

The school district said the image dated from last spring and was not taken on school grounds.

It is believed to have been snapped on the steps of a local Sauk County Courthouse in Baraboo, about 120 miles (190km) west of Milwaukee.

The picture was originally posted to a local photographer’s website with other photos from the junior prom, but has since been deleted.

Baraboo School district superintendent Lori Mueller wrote in a letter sent to parents Monday: “If the gesture is what it appears to be, the district will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address the issue.”

The image provoked widespread outrage in the town of 12,000 people and across Wisconsin.

Members of the Baraboo Young Professionals group held a rally at the county courthouse on Monday afternoon, urging participants to bring symbols of love.

State representative Dave Considine, a Democrat, said the image was a reminder that racism endured in the town and nationwide.

“I hope we use this incident as an opportunity to take a serious, critical look at the differences between our stated values and the behaviours we see in our community,” he said.

Democratic state Senator Jon Erpenbach, also a Democrat, blamed US President Donald Trump.

“There’s no room in the world for anything like that at all,” Mr Erpenbach said.

“From what they’re seeing out of the White House, that it’s OK to be intolerant and racist. Never is. Never was. Never will be.”

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish anti-discrimination group, said such a salute “must not be normalised”, and urged the school to take appropriate action.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland said in a tweet: “We need to explain what is the danger of hateful ideology rising.

“Auschwitz with its gas chambers was at the very end of the long process of normalising and accommodating hatred.”

Meanwhile, a Connecticut lecturer has been placed on paid leave after he gave a Nazi salute during a recent faculty meeting.

Staff members said Charles Meyrick, assistant professor of business and economics at Housatonic Community College, made the gesture for up to 10 minutes at a meeting on 2 November.

“We Will Never Concede to Bigotry”: Florida Organizers Sound the Alarm over Voting Discrepancies

NOVEMBER 09, 2018

Days after the midterm elections, Florida’s contests for U.S. Senate and governor appear to be heading for recounts. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said he is prepared for a possible recount, as his margin with Republican opponent Ron DeSantis narrowed to less than half a percentage point Thursday. A recount is triggered in Florida if the winning candidate’s margin is less than half a percentage point. Incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott will likely also head to a recount in the Senate race, with Scott leading by less than a quarter percentage point as of Thursday. Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott is also suing the Democratic election supervisors of Broward and Palm Beach counties, accusing them of trying to steal the election. Andrea Cristina Mercado, executive director of The New Florida Majority, joins us to discuss the group’s grassroots organizing to expand the electorate in Florida. She also details reports of widespread voting problems on Tuesday, including confusion over ballot design and problems with accessing polling sites and navigating Florida’s voter ID law.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we go to Florida, where, days after the midterm elections, the state’s races for Senate and governor appear to be heading for recounts. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said he’s prepared for a possible recount, as his margin with Republican opponent Ron DeSantis narrowed to less than half a percentage point Thursday. Gillum conceded to DeSantis election night after the race was called for his opponent, but the margin has since tightened. A recount is triggered in Florida if the winning candidate’s margin is less than half a percentage point. Incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott will likely also head to a recount in the Senate race, with Scott leading by less than a quarter of a percentage point as of Thursday. That’s .2 percent.

On Thursday evening, Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott sued the Democratic elections supervisors of Broward and Palm Beach counties. He accused them of—quote, “unethical liberals” of trying to steal the election.

GOVRICK SCOTT: We’ve all seen the incompetence and the irregularities in vote tabulations in Broward and Palm Beach for years. Well, here we go again. I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida. Senator Nelson hired one of Hillary Clinton’s lawyers from D.C., and the first thing he did was tell reporters that he’s here to win the election. He did not say he is here—he did not say that he wants a full and fair election or even an accurate vote count.

AMY GOODMAN: These will be the first statewide recounts since Bush v. Gore in 2000.

For more, we go to Ft. Lauderdale, where we’re joined by Andrea Cristina Mercado, executive director of The New Florida Majority.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Please explain to the country what’s happening in your state, Andrea.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: I’m here in the heart of Broward County, where we are still waiting for every vote to be counted. You know, this was a—we had a race, in the governor’s race, that was historic and significant. Andrew Gillum had an upset victory in the primary. We endorsed him and ran one of the largest field programs, because we know that candidates that run on transformative platforms can energize a new electorate and bring out people who don’t usually come to the polls. And we saw historic turnout: 250,000 people who didn’t vote in 2016 voted in this election. And yet, on election night, as is so often the case in Florida, it was razor-thin margins. And it was pointing towards a DeSantis victory.

And yet, every vote remains to be counted here in Broward County. Many of our votes have not yet been tabulated. And Andrew Gillum is now within what is triggered for an automatic machine recount. And Senator Nelson is headed for a manual recount, a recount that happens by hand when a race is won or lost by less than a quarter of a percentage point. This is, you know, 15,000 votes in a state with over 20 million people. So there’s a lot of people on the edge of their seats that are really hoping that actually the forces for unity and a vision for a Florida where all of us belong will prevail in this election, in some of these key races.

AMY GOODMAN: Florida’s chief legal officer, the secretary of state, Ken Detzner, told county election supervisors to plan for three statewide recounts.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: That’s correct. So we have Andrew Gillum and DeSantis, the governor’s race, is heading to a machine recount. Senator Nelson and Rick Scott is headed to a manual recount. And Nikki Fried, the agriculture commissioner, is now up 3,000 votes as the votes in Broward County continue to be tabulated.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you explain, Andrea, what’s going on in Broward? I mean, we all—those who were born by 2000, with Bush v. Gore, the whole issue of chads and everything else—explain what’s happened on that ballot and how difficult it was to read and why so many people who filled out their choice for governor actually didn’t vote in the Senate race.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: Yeah. I mean, it’s very frustrating for all of us here in Broward County. I was in that voting booth with my two daughters and really had to search for where I was going to vote for U.S. Senate. It was on the left-hand side and below many of the other significant statewide races. And so it was a little bit hidden and obscured. The design of the ballot was flawed. And we believe that that’s resulted in, you know, tens of thousands of people not voting in the race for U.S. Senate, while they voted for many other statewide races.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened in Little—

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: And it’s very concerning.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened in Little Miami—rather, Little Haiti in Miami, the early voting site different than the voting site on the day of the midterms?

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: Yeah. I mean, I think the—you know, we’ve seen, for years, the ways that the vote is suppressed. Some of it is done by laws, like the law that we had on the books where people with a criminal record, after they had done their time, were not allowed to participate in our democracy—over 1.4 million Floridians. We just overturned that on Election Day, which is incredibly significant. There are all kinds of other laws, voter ID laws. I spoke to an 86-year-old woman yesterday who had to fill out a provisional ballot because her driver’s license was expired. Imagine that: She’s 86, she doesn’t drive anymore.

And in addition to that, there are attempts to confuse voters. So, in Little Haiti, there was one very prominent site in the Haitian community that was used as an early voting site. And on Election Day, hundreds of seniors were lined up there to cast a historic vote for Andrew Gillum, and yet that location was not actually a voting place on Election Day, and people were told that they had to go elsewhere. And so we were scrambling to find out how do we get seniors and people with limited mobility to the correct voting place.

So, you know, and I think we’re still investigating other ways that the vote may have been suppressed. And I wouldn’t be surprised if—you know, stories have been emerging, and I wouldn’t be more surprised if more stories continue to emerge over the next few days.

AMY GOODMAN: So, finally, the issue of Amendment 4, this historic amendment that passed overwhelmingly that means 1.4 million Floridians will now be allowed to vote, one of the largest enfranchisement actions in history. You know, young people being able to vote back in the ’70s, going from 21 to 18, and back to women being able to vote in 1920. One-point-four million Floridians could now vote in 2020, who had felonies on their record, were barred from voting. Now they will be able to. What difference would that make today?

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: Oh, absolutely. I mean, essentially, Andrew Gillum got within half a percentage point while he was missing 18 percent of the black vote in the state. You know, we all know that criminalization disproportionately impacts African Americans and communities of color. And there is now 1.4 million Floridians who have been disenfranchised, largely people of color, who will be able to vote in the next election. So, I think this has forever changed the political calculus in Florida. And, you know, we truly believe that the forces for social justice and economic justice and racial equity, it’s just a matter of time before we prevail and that we will overcome all the odds and voter suppression and every other dirty trick in the book, and soon secure victory and elect politicians that we believe will really fight for our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: If Andrew Gillum were to win the governorship, he’d be the first black governor of Florida. He seemed as surprised as many other people, Andrea.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: At the narrowing—at the shrinking margins? Or—I mean, I think it’s been a—

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that there could be a recount triggered.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: Absolutely. I mean, I think Tuesday night was a—it was a hard night. It was a bitter pill to swallow. But, you know, I think, for us, we know that our movements will never concede to hate. We will never concede to homophobia. We will never concede to bigotry. And we will be here insisting that every vote is counted. There were hundreds of volunteers across the state yesterday making sure that people who had cast provisional ballots had done what they needed to do to make sure that their voice was heard. And we’ll continue to see everyone taking to the streets. On November 20th, we’ll have a statewide day of action for us to stand up for a Florida for all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrea Cristina Mercado, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of The New Florida Majority.

How many women are there in the US Congress?

History was made in America on Tuesday with women winning more seats in Congress than ever before.

It was the culmination of two years of resistance to President Donald Trump – primarily led by women – following his unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The day after his inauguration, millions of women joined protests against him across the country.

As the mid-term elections approached, Democrats saw a surge of women who wanted to represent the party – a stark contrast to previous years when they appeared reluctant to enter politics.

This led to suggestions that 2018 could become another “Year of the Woman” – a reference to the 1992 elections in which the number of women in Congress nearly doubled.

That jump 26 years ago was put down to a controversy over claims of sexual assault against a Supreme Court nominee – a situation similar to the case of Brett Kavanaugh this year.

So with most of the results in, here’s a closer look at the numbers and what they mean.

In 2016, just over
300 women filed to
run for Congress.
This year, the number
of women candidates
rose to a record 529.
The majority of them
stood as Democrats.
Just under half of them
were chosen to be their
party’s official nominee.
And we now
know that at least
111 of them won.
Added to the 10 sitting female senators not up for election, it means there will be at least 121 women in the next Congress.
Although it represents a big jump, there’s still a huge gender divide.
As results stand,
men are expected
to make up 76% of
Congress overall.
But the 2018 results do show that women candidates are winning across America.
This is where women
were standing for the
House – the lower
chamber of Congress.
This is where they won.
And the women elected this year will help change the face of Congress.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former Bernie Sanders volunteer, is the youngest woman ever to win a seat in Congress.

The 29-year-old, a Bronx native from a Puerto Rican family, overcame a top Democrat to become her party’s nominee for a House seat in New York.

This time last year she was working in a bar in Manhattan.

In a video that launched her campaign, and quickly went viral, she said: “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.”

Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Omar, 37, is one of two Democrats to become the first Muslim-American women to enter Congress. She won a House seat in Minnesota.

Born in Somalia, Ms Omar and her family fled the country’s civil war in 1991. She arrived in the US as a teenager after spending four years at a refugee camp in Kenya.

She is also the first Somali-American member of Congress.

Speaking after her win, Ms Omar said Minnesota was delivering a clear message by sending a Somali refugee to Congress at a time when President Trump had banned Somalis from entering the country.

Ms Omar will be joined in Congress by Rashida Tlaib, a Muslim woman who won a House seat in Michigan. The 42-year-old is also the first Palestinian-American congresswoman.

Deb Haaland

Deb Haaland, 57, is one of two Democrats to become the first Native American women in Congress.

Ms Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, won a House seat in New Mexico. During the campaign she spoke of her own struggles as a single mother relying on food stamps.

The other Native American woman to be elected is Sharice Davids, a 38-year-old former mixed martial arts fighter. She is also the first openly gay woman to represent Kansas.

In Rebuke of Trump, Democratic Women Help Seize House & 7 Governorships in Historic Midterm

STORY NOVEMBER 07, 2018

In a historic midterm election, Democrats have seized control of the House of Representatives, flipping more than two dozen seats. This gives Democrats subpoena power for the first time since President Donald Trump was elected two years ago. While the Democrats will control the House, the Republicans picked up two more seats in the Senate. The midterms were a groundbreaking election for women. At least 100 women will serve in the U.S. House for the first time in U.S. history, including the first two Native American women and the first two Muslim women.

Why the repeal of a racist 19th-century Florida law is important

On November 6, Florida voters chose to allow some one million ex-felons to vote. This is historic.

Black Lives Matter activist holds Black Voters Matter wristbands designed for the midterm elections on November 6, 2018 [Lawrence Bryant/Reuters]
Black Lives Matter activist holds Black Voters Matter wristbands designed for the midterm elections on November 6, 2018 [Lawrence Bryant/Reuters]

Amid the highlights of the US midterm election results was the triumph for voting rights in the state of Florida. The nation’s third largest state, which often plays an important role in presidential elections, voted overwhelmingly to approve a constitutional amendment restoring the right to vote for those with a felony conviction.

This is a major step forward in a nation where millions of people are denied a basic right of citizenship, based on laws rooted in a legacy of racism.

Passing with 64 percent of the vote, in excess of the 60 percent supermajority threshold required for passage, Amendment 4 restores voting rights to Floridians who were convicted of felonies, provided they have completed their sentences. The measure excludes people who were convicted of murder or felony sex offences.

The impact of the new law is sweeping, affecting more than one million people in Florida who have been stripped of their voting rights due to a criminal record. For people of colour, the implications of Amendment 4 are even more pronounced, as the measure grants the vote to 20 percent of African American adults in Florida who have been barred from the franchise due to a felony record – and a staggering 40 percent of African American men.

In a state in which eight million voters participated in the 2018 election, the addition of over one million voters has the potential to transform its politics and policies. Florida is the most important US swing state and its vote is crucial in presidential and congressional elections. It has selected the winner of every presidential contest this century and provided the margin of victory to George W Bush in 2000.

In recent years, the state has been under control of the Republicans who have been pushing for regressive pro-gun and anti-environment policies. The more than one million eligible voters who just got added to Florida’s electorate could change all that. Given that Amendment 4 affected predominantly African American men, who tend to vote for the Democratic Party, it is quite possible that in 2020 Florida would see a different outcome at the polls. Analysts have projected Democrats gaining as many as 102,000 more votes as a result of this enfranchisement effort.

OPINION

Justice for all in the land of the free?

David A Love,Vijay Das
by David A Love,Vijay Das

But beyond its possible impact on future polls in Florida, the repeal of Amendment 4 carries a broader and more historic significance for the US as a whole; it is a major victory against voter suppression.

Many would be surprised to know that in the so-called “land of the free”, the right to vote is not automatic for many. In a nation that originally limited voting to white male landowners and regarded enslaved people as three-fifths of a person with no citizenship rights, the right to vote has been granted to marginalised groups only through protest and, in some cases such as the US civil rights movement, bloodshed and martyrdom.

During the Reconstruction era following the American civil war, liberated black people had the right the vote and took advantage of it, electing 2,000 black officials, a governor of a US state, senators and members of Congress – many of them former slaves.

The pathway to political empowerment for black people ended when white men retook control of the Southern states, presided over a rollback of civil rights and denied voting rights to African-Americans by law and through intimidation, and the threat of physical violence and death.

Felony disenfranchisement laws have their origins in the era of American apartheid, the days of racial segregation, as a means of suppressing black aspirations and rendering them invisible.

Florida’s felon disenfranchisement law dates back to 150 years ago when white elites were faced with the prospect of thousands of new black voters rendering white men a minority of the state’s voting electorate.

A lifetime voting ban on people with a felony record muted black political power, with a racialised regime targeting black men and singling them out for punishment with trumped-up charges and crimes designed solely for them. The laws eliminated thousands of black people from civic participation for life and made them unavailable as political competitors.

Across the country, as of 2016, 6.1 million people were unable to vote because of a felony conviction, with Florida accounting for roughly one quarter, according to the Sentencing Project. This includes 1 in every 40 adults, 1 in every 13 African-Americans and 1 in every 56 non-black voters. With the recent changes in Florida, of the 34 states that impose voting restrictions on past criminal convictions, Kentucky and Iowa are the only remaining states imposing lifetime disenfranchisement.

Although the changes to the Florida law are a positive and decisive step in furthering democracy, the US is still experiencing a voting rights crisis. For all of the ample evidence of foreign intervention in US elections, American officials are effectively denying the rights of their fellow citizens, working in earnest to rig elections and block people of colour, students, the elderly and others at the ballot box through restrictive voter ID laws.

The right-wing US Supreme Court has gutted the enforcement mechanism of the Voting Rights Act, allowing states and localities to deny racial minority groups’ access to democracy with reckless abandon. Between 2014 and 2016 alone, states purged nearly 16 million voters from their voter rolls. The nation’s high court also allowed the unlimited role of money in politics – legalised corruption – with its decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission.

Gerrymandering of electoral districts has amplified the voice of the majority, entrenched the powerful and sidelined the interests of marginalised groups.

Despite these many challenges, the restoration of voting rights to the formerly incarcerated in the Sunshine State is cause for celebration, as those who have served their time and paid their debt to society should have the opportunity to participate as productive members of society.