I was among hundreds of people at the state capitol a couple of days ago supporting the Second Chance Coalition and their work with ex-felons. This 2015 “Day on the Hill” event was spent advocating for “Restore the Vote.” Humanists of MN has endorsed the work of this Coalition since hearing from one of their key leaders, Sarah Walker, at a chapter meeting in the fall of 2013 when they successfully lobbied for “ban the box” legislation. But why should humanists take a stand on these issues?
“Ban the box” legislation offers the vast majority of ex-felons a second chance at an opportunity for employment. It restricts an employer’s ability to inquire about criminal histories on an initial job application—and lets everyone to at least get a foot in the door for a potential job. Now the Second Chance Coalition has set its sights on restoring the vote to parolees and probationers as soon as they are out of jail. It gives this marginalized and disenfranchised demographic a second chance to fully participate in the civic life of our society.
These are humanist issues. Our commitment to democracy makes us natural allies with any and all who work to expand opportunities for everyone in our society—in their personal lives, work lives and in their civic lives. When we silence those who live among us, we dismiss their life experience and make it so much more unlikely that we can figure out how to live together constructively. When we discount people unnecessarily as they try to put their lives back together, we create an environment that is toxic for human flourishing.
Some people at the capitol the other day were pleading for their own lives or for those whom they love. We heard from those who have been silenced politically but who are otherwise fully contributing members of society. So many ex-felons want to turn their lives around and become totally integrated back into society. Voting rights are essential to that participation.
Others of us were at the capitol to advocate for these disenfranchised folks because we understand that democratic governing is designed to serve the general welfare. In a democracy, everyone’s voice, experience and needs are represented at the table. We give equal voice to citizens of very unequal circumstances, education, resources and abilities. Yes, my life matters. But so does everyone else’s. Government of the people, by the people and for the people is about our common life—figuring out how to live good lives together—in the here and now. That’s humanism.
And that’s what I saw the other day at the capitol. A wide variety of people attended the rally. We were from many different walks of life, social classes and political affiliations. We were democrats and republicans, progressives and libertarians. It was heartening to see that voting rights—at least here in Minnesota—is not such a partisan issue. It’s a humanist issue. So please, humanists all, be sure to contact your legislators and senators and implore them to “Restore the Vote!”