DES MOINES, Iowa — Des Moines Black Lives Matter found out about Governor Kim Reynolds signing an executive order to restore felon voting rights like much of the rest of Iowa, on Twitter.
After more than two months of advocating in the streets, at the State Capitol and even drafting their own executive order – the group says it was extremely disappointed they were not invited to the signing.
“Us not being invited to the signing is being silenced, in a way, because we have fought. We have been abused we have been exploited. We have been harassed, in many ways, and Kim has not reached out.”Activist Courtney Caldwell
As of Wednesday, 13 members of BLM are banned from the State Capitol after confrontations with police on July 1, 2020. Up until then, the group had been at the Capitol every weekday advocating for an executive order. Matthew Bruce, an organizer for BLM, says it’s this type of work that helped the executive order come to fruition.
“What it shows us is that this works, no matter what anybody else got to say about it actually works. And it works a lot quicker than the 10-year process that Betty and everybody else sponsored. That process would have still been processing had we not stepped up and did what we had to do to get it to finish line,” said Bruce.
Although the group considers this a small win, they did not want to undermine the fact the executive order gave roughly 40,000 Iowans their right to vote.
“I want to urge that we recognize what we’ve gained today as a community. This is a big step forward, not only in the actual you know mundane aspects of the order which is that people thousands, 10s of thousands of Iowans did gain their right to vote today,” said Bruce.
BLM isn’t the only one who was missing at the signing, activists say organizations like the Union of Black Americans, Iowa CCI, and the Democratic Socialists of America should have also been recognized that day.
Most notably, BLM recognized state representative Ras Smith from Waterloo. Rep. Smith and his team aided in drafting BLM’s executive order, which was delivered to Reynolds three weeks ago. Smith told WHO 13 that he was not notified that an executive order would be signed Wednesday nor was he invited to that signing.
Rep Smith said in a statement:
“While this executive order wasn’t as expansive as the order we drafted, it is a win. It’s a win and I am happy for the 10s of thousands of Iowan who will be able to let their voices be heard in November. And at the same time I am steadfast in working to make sure thousands of more will one day have that same opportunity. I am grateful to be able to work along side and support such hard working and dedicated individuals in DSM BLM. Without you all this doesn’t happen. Without you all putting your bodies, your time and everything in your being into this fight for social justice, that ordered doesn’t get signed today. You all are a testament to us all that the work we do is greater than any one individual. You motivate and inspire me everyday. While we rejoice in this small victory today, we know we must get back to work tomorrow. In this fight for equality, we need all hands on deck, so; if you haven’t done anything do something, after you’ve done something do more, and if you know you have more in you, do all that you can.”
BLM’s executive order championed an automatic restoration of voting rights for those who complete their prison sentences. It required no restitution and didn’t exclude persons based on what crime they committed.
“We were fighting for the voting rights of every single person who has been convicted of a felony, and this executive order does not go far enough in re-enfranchising every single Iowan who’s been convicted of a felony,” said Jaylen Cavil, a Des Moines Black Lives Matter organizer. “In the United States of America, voting rights shouldn’t be conditional on anything.”
Moving forward, Bruce said the group will now focus on educating people on the voting process and will be pushing forward to be included in the drafting of a constitutional amendment which would permanently restore voting rights.