Yvonne Latty: Is this 151?
Neighbor: This is 153.
Yvonne Latty: Where is 151?
Neighbor: Do you know the name of the place?
Yvonne Latty: I’m a little bit turned around. Thanks.
YVONNE LATTY: IT’S A WARM, SUNNY DAY IN AUGUSTA, GEORGIA, AND I AM TRYING TO FIND THE SMALL BRICK BUILDING THAT GAYLON TOOTLE, A DISABILITY RIGHTS ADVOCATE, WORKS OUT OF. I AM LOST, TOTALLY LOST.
Yvonne Latty: Hello. I’m tryin to figure out… Yeah, I turned in where it said 147, 149, which one are ya?
YVONNE LATTY: THEN I SEE HIM.
Yvonne Latty: Oh, there you go, there you go. Hi.
YVONNE LATTY: HE IS STANDING OUTSIDE SMOKING A CIGARETTE.
Gaylon Tootle: Hey, how’s it going?
Yvonne Latty: Nice to meet you.
Gaylon Tootle: You too.
YVONNE LATTY: AND FEELING GUILTY ABOUT IT.
Yvonne Latty: Not good for you.
Gaylon Tootle: I know. I’m 61 years old, young lady. I know it. I’ve been out here a long time. I actually quit last year. No, two years ago. I quit for an entire year.
YVONNE LATTY: GAYLON IS AN EMPLOYMENT ADVOCATE AT WALTON OPTIONS, A NONPROFIT WHICH SERVES RESIDENTS WITH DISABILITIES ACROSS THE STATE. HE IS ALSO THE FIRST VICE PRESIDENT FOR THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND OF GEORGIA, BUT I AM HERE BECAUSE OF HIS TIRELESS WORK IN THE FIGHT AGAINST VOTER SUPPRESSION IN THE STATE ON BEHALF OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES. HE DOES THAT WORK WITH REV-UP GEORGIA, WHICH STANDS FOR REGISTER, EDUCATE, VOTE, USE YOUR POWER. GAYLON IS BROAD-CHESTED. HE’S A FORMER AMATEUR WRESTLER. HE WEARS TINTED GLASSES, AND A JUNETEENTH T-SHIRT IN THE COLORS OF BLACK LIBERATION BLACK, YELLOW, RED AND GREEN. YOU WOULDN’T KNOW HE IS BLIND UNTIL YOU LOOK INTO HIS EYES, WHICH DON’T SEEM TO FOCUS.
Gaylon Tootle: I am legally blind, but I can see.
Yvonne Latty: You can see some? OK.
YVONNE LATTY: GAYLON SUCKS HARD ON HIS CIGARETTE. HE SAYS THE STRESS OF THE NEW VOTER SUPPRESSION LAWS HAS HIM SMOKING A LOT AGAIN.
Gaylon Tootle: The evilness of it all. Who sits around and thinks about whether or not a person can get a snack or a drink of water?
JAMILA PAKSIMA: THIS IS SEASON THREE OF SOUNDS LIKE HATE, A PODCAST SERIES FROM THE SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER. I’M JAMILA PAKSIMA. AND I’M DELIGHTED TO INTRODUCE OUR NEW CO-HOST, YVONNE LATTY.
YVONNE LATTY: I’M THRILLED TO JOIN THE PRODUCTION TEAM.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: THIS SEASON, WE ARE EXAMINING THE RIGHTS AND LIVES OF INDIVIDUALS WHO TOO OFTEN HAVE DIFFICULTY BEING ACCEPTED FOR WHO THEY ARE. PEOPLE WHO STILL, DESPITE DECADES OF CIVIL RIGHTS BATTLES AND TRIUMPHS, ARE FORCED TO CONTINUE TO DEMAND EQUAL RIGHTS AND PROTECTIONS PROMISED TO ALL AMERICANS.
YVONNE LATTY: IN THIS SEASON, WE TRAVEL TO ARIZONA, FLORIDA, GEORGIA AND PENNSYLVANIA. WE WILL MEET FOLKS WHO SAY MODERN-DAY LAWS AND POLICIES CONTINUE TO HOLD THEM DOWN FROM LIVING A LIFE OF FULL POTENTIAL.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: FOR SOME PEOPLE, DISCRIMINATION AND HATE IS EXPERIENCED IN OVERT ACTIONS. OTHER TIMES OPPRESSION IS SUBVERSIVE AND DESTRUCTIVE. THESE ARE THE STORIES WE’VE BEEN INVESTIGATING. COLLATERAL DAMAGE IS A TWO-PART EPISODE ABOUT THE DELIBERATE AND CALCULATED WAY THE VOTES OF MARGINALIZED GROUPS ARE BEING SUPPRESSED AND HOW COMMUNITIES ARE FIGHTING FOR EACH OTHER’S RIGHTS.
YVONNE LATTY: VOTER SUPPRESSION BILLS ARE SWEEPING THE COUNTRY. IN PART 1, WE VISIT GEORGIA. THEIR VOTING ELECTION LAW IS CALLED SB 202, OR THE ELECTION INTEGRITY ACT OF 2021. AND ITS 98 PAGES OF RESTRICTIONS THAT MAKE VOTING MUCH, MUCH HARDER. SINCE GEORGIA FLIPPED BLUE IN THE 2020 ELECTION, STATE REPUBLICAN LEGISLATORS HAVE BEEN DETERMINED TO QUOTE “FIX” THE PROCESS. THEY CLAIM THESE LAWS ARE NECESSARY TO RESTORE CONFIDENCE IN ELECTIONS.
Gov. Brian Kemp: And after the November election last year, I knew like so many of you that significant reforms to our state elections were needed. There is no doubt there were many alarming issues with how the election was handled.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: THAT’S GOV. BRIAN KEMP ANNOUNCING SB 202. AND THIS IS JUST SOME OF WHAT GEORGIA RESIDENTS WILL FACE AS THEY TRY TO CAST THEIR VOTE IN THE UPCOMING ELECTION: THERE WILL BE LESS TIME TO REQUEST ABSENTEE BALLOTS AND THERE ARE NEW, STRICT ID REQUIREMENTS FOR VOTING WITH ABSENTEE BALLOTS. IT’S ALSO NOW ILLEGAL TO MAIL ABSENTEE BALLOTS FOR ALL VOTERS. IN GEORGIA, DROP BOXES WILL BARELY EXIST. IN 2020, DROP BOX VOTING WAS HIGH IN DEMOCRATIC COUNTIES IN METRO ATLANTA. ABOUT 56% OF THOSE VOTERS USED THIS METHOD TO VOTE.
News anchor: If you are in Richmond Hill today, it might have been hard to miss this big purple RV with writing all over it…
YVONNE LATTY: DURING THE LAST ELECTION, TWO RVS DROVE AROUND THE STATE AND SERVED AS MOBILE VOTING SITES. WELL, THAT’S NO LONGER LEGAL. IT’S NOW A MISDEMEANOR TO OFFER FOOD OR WATER TO FOLKS WAITING ON LINE. BUT GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE BRAD RAFFENSBERGER SAW NO EVIDENCE OF WIDESPREAD FRAUD. THE AUDIT, WHICH IS ROUTINE IN CLOSE ELECTIONS, FOUND NO FRAUD, AND GAYLON BELIEVES THE BILL IS DESIGNED TO SABOTAGE HIS COMMUNITY’S RIGHT TO VOTE.
Gaylon Tootle: These laws are mean-spirited. These laws are designed to marginalize or disenfranchise a certain portion of the population, i.e. Black, Brown, poor folk. That’s us within the disability community. A lot of us are Black. A lot of us are Brown. A lot of us are poor.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: AND THERE IS MORE: GEORGIA’S REPUBLICAN-CONTROLLED LEGISLATURE HAS MORE CONTROL OVER THE STATE ELECTION BOARD. THE SECRETARY OF STATE IS NO LONGER A MEMBER OF THE STATE ELECTION BOARD. THIS BILL IS LITERALLY A LAUNDRY LIST OF EVERY GRIEVANCE FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP HAD WITH THE LAST ELECTION. IT’S A VIRTUAL SALUTE TO THE FORMER COMMANDER IN CHIEF, WHOSE MISSION SINCE LEAVING OFFICE IS PROVING HIS ELECTION LOSS WAS DUE TO ELECTION FRAUD. BUT THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THIS. TRUMP AND HIS ALLIES FILED 63 LAWSUITS IN STATE AND FEDERAL COURT. HIS ONLY VICTORY WAS IN PENNSYLVANIA, WHEN A JUDGE RULED TO GIVE VOTERS THREE MORE DAYS AFTER THE ELECTION TO PROVIDE PROPER ID AND CHECK THEIR BALLOTS.
Gaylon Tootle: In that spirit, we in the disabled community, we have been impacted by this as well. I like to use the term collateral damage.
YVONNE LATTY: THAT LOSS PUTS IN PERIL THE VOTING RIGHTS OF SO MANY PEOPLE ACROSS THE COUNTRY AND, HERE IN GEORGIA, THEY’RE MOBILIZING.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: THERE ARE SEVEN LAWSUITS IN THE FIGHT AGAINST SB 202, AND ALMOST ALL OF THEM SAY MANY OF THESE CHANGES DISPROPORTIONATELY NEGATIVELY AFFECT NONWHITE VOTERS. THIS IS NANCY ABUDU.
Nancy Abudu: We are arguing that this law is racially discriminatory because it targets and was enacted specifically to target voters of color, as well as those with disabilities. We’re arguing that the law will result in harming those particular communities when it comes to exercising their right to vote, and that the government has not established any compelling or legitimate reason for why these onerous requirements are necessary in order to protect or safeguard Georgia’s election process.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: ABUDU IS THE INTERIM STRATEGIC LITIGATION DIRECTOR FOR THE SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER WHO IS LEADING A LAWSUIT AGAINST GEORGIA ON BEHALF OF A HOST OF CIVIL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS.
Jamila Paksima: What is the next step for you and for Georgians?
Nancy Abudu: So our hope is that we will at least get some kind of preliminary relief so that voters will be able to engage in upcoming elections without these kinds of restrictions. And we are just continuing to engage in education so people understand what the current law is. And assuming that these laws are on the books as elections come up, that they know what they need to do in order to not be harmed so much by, by some of these restrictions.
Yvonne Latty: Where are ya? Gaylon?
YVONNE LATTY: GAYLON IS DEEP IN THIS FIGHT, BUT FOR NOW, INSIDE HIS OFFICE, HE IS FINISHING OFF SOME EMAILS BEFORE QUITTING TIME. HIS COMPUTER HAS A 27-INCH SCREEN AND A KEYBOARD WITH LARGE KEYS. HE PRESSES HIS FACE AGAINST THE SCREEN, STRIKES A KEY, AND EMAILS ARE READ TO HIM AT A SUPER-FAST SPEED.
Yvonne Latty: That’s reading awfully fast.
Gaylon Tootle: But that’s because I’m trained to listen. But that’s how our screen readers work.
YVONNE LATTY: A SCREEN READER ALLOWS PEOPLE WHO ARE BLIND OR VISUALLY IMPAIRED THE ABILITY TO USE A COMPUTER. IT READS THE WORDS ON THE COMPUTER SCREEN TO THE USER.
Gaylon Tootle: A lot of accessible equipment, which in turn would allow us to actively apply for jobs, requires money, and in most cases, we can’t afford it. Most of us are on fixed incomes or whatever. And this is one of the reasons a lot of our people aren’t employed.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: STATISTICS SHOW THAT THE TOTAL NUMBER OF GEORGIA RESIDENTS WITH DISABILITIES IS OVER 2.1 MILLION, MAKING UP ABOUT 28% OR ONE IN FOUR GEORGIANS. AND THEY HAVE A LOT AT STAKE. PRIOR TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, ONLY 36.3% OF THEM HAD A JOB. THE STATE HAS 650,000 ELIGIBLE VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES. 74% OF THESE VOTERS USED MAIL-IN BALLOTS OR EARLY IN-PERSON VOTING. NATIONALLY, IN 2020, MORE PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES VOTED THAN EVER, TOPPING 17.7 MILLION, AN INCREASE OF 6%. ALL THE NEW OPTIONS TO VOTE INSPIRED ADVOCATES AND PEOPLE LIVING WITH DISABILITIES.
Zan Thornton: We had no money, no money at all.
YVONNE LATTY: ZAN THORNTON IS THE CO-DIRECTOR OF GEORGIA ADAPT.
Zan Thornton: But we just got people to come bring your vans, come pick up people. And so we ended up with 500 rides. It was just amazing. I couldn’t, I still can’t believe it.
YVONNE LATTY: GEORGIA ADAPT IS ONE OF THE NONPROFITS WHO HAVE JOINED THE LAWSUIT, SIXTH DISTRICT OF THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH V. KEMP, ON BEHALF OF VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES. THE LAWSUIT WAS FILED BY THE SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER AND JOINED BY THE ACLU OF GEORGIA, AND A HOST OF OTHER ORGANIZATIONS. ZAN SAYS THE EFFORT TO ENSURE BASIC VOTING RIGHTS FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES WILL BE AN UPHILL BATTLE.
Zan Thornton: I feel my responsibility is to help people vote. And it’s going to be five times harder. It’s going to be five times more expensive. It’s going to be a challenge.
YVONNE LATTY: ZAN IS A VETERAN WITH DISABILITIES. THEY USE A WHEELCHAIR, HAVE HEARING LOSS, PTSD, SPINAL CORD INJURIES, CHRONIC FATIGUE, ADHD AND DYSLEXIA. A SOCIAL WORKER DURING THE LAST ELECTION, THEY MADE IT THEIR MISSION TO GET HUNDREDS OF VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES TO THE POLLS. THEY CALLED THEIR FRIENDS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY WHO HAD VANS AND ASKED THEM TO DRIVE TO GEORGIA TO HELP. THEY SAY EVEN BEFORE THE VOTER SUPPRESSION LAW IT WAS TOUGH FOR THESE VOTERS.
Zan Thornton: From my experience, and what I’ve experienced with other people, it’s, you have to wait in line. They make it unnecessarily long waits.
YVONNE LATTY: AND IN THE LAST PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, DESPITE ALL THEIR EFFORTS FOR OTHERS, ZAN DIDN’T VOTE.
Zan Thornton: I felt bad. On the day to vote, I kept postponing going to vote. I couldn’t get up to do it, because I knew I’d wait probably twice as long. Even though I’m in my wheelchair, even though I can bring a lot of water, it’s just, usually I lay down every hour or so. So all the waiting is just exhausting for me. And COVID was happening. And I don’t think we had the shots by then, so it just felt overwhelming. So I did not vote in the election. I did vote in the runoff. That’s the first time I’ve missed an election in ages. I felt so disempowered then, I felt so lousy. I couldn’t even go vote.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: DESPITE EARLY VOTING AND ABSENTEE BALLOTS, VOTERS IN GEORGIA STOOD IN LINE FOR HOURS. HERE’S MARK HILL, A 65-YEAR-OLD SAVANNAH VOTER.
Mark Hill: We arrived at 6:15, now the polls don’t open up till 7. By the time we got there, that line was already wrapped around the building. And we waited in line until two. I think we cast our votes at two twenty. Just about eight hours, yeah.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: MARK DECIDED TO MAKE THE 8-HOUR WAIT FESTIVE FOR HIMSELF AND FELLOW VOTERS.
Mark Hill: You get three gay guys in a line, and we were playing disco music and dancing the whole time. ’70s disco, the good stuff, not the bad John Travolta stuff.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: ANOTHER GEORGIA VOTER WHO DID NOT WANT TO GIVE HER NAME SAYS SHE WAITED THREE HOURS TO VOTE.
Anonymous Georgia voter: We did early voting, and we got there in, like, an hour early. And then by the time I left, the lines were wrapped around the building. I even had a chair.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: BUT THE VOTERS WHO SPENT HOURS EXERCISING THEIR RIGHT WERE NOT GOING TO BE DETERRED,
Anonymous Georgia voter: You can tell, you know, there was something different this time. People were really, like: ‘We are out here to vote. I don’t care what’s going to happen.’
Mark Hill: I would do it again in a heartbeat. There’s no question in my mind that I would stand in line and do that again.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: 2021 MARKS THE 56TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE LANDMARK VOTING RIGHTS ACT, WHICH PROHIBITS RACIAL DISCRIMINATION IN VOTING. IT WAS PRESIDENT LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON’S SIGNATURE ACHIEVEMENT – FINALLY GIVE BLACK PEOPLE TRULY THE RIGHT TO VOTE AFTER SO MANY STATES THREW OBSTACLE AFTER OBSTACLE TO STOP THE BLACK VOTE. PRESIDENT JOHNSON ADDRESSED CONGRESS IN 1965.
President Lyndon B. Johnson: Every device of which human ingenuity is capable, has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists and, if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name, or because he abbreviated a word on the application. And if he manages to fill out an application, he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of state law.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: NOW, WITH SMALL CUTS AND SLASHES, THE RIGHTS OF SOME AMERICANS TO VOTE ARE STILL BEING DENIED. NANCY ABUDU, THE SPLC ATTORNEY, CALLS THESE ATTACKS ON VOTING RIGHTS… RACISM.
Nancy Abudu: It is what racism looks like today. It is how it operates in our current system where we don’t have the same widespread kind of violence against communities in the south. But we have violence happening in a different way in terms of voter suppression, and just as they updated their racist tactics, we have to update our strategies in terms of how we address it.
JAMILA: MARK UPDEGROVE, THE PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE LBJ FOUNDATION IN TEXAS, AGREES VOTING RIGHTS ARE NOT GUARANTEED FOR EVERYONE.
Mark Updegrove: Well, it’s clearly racially driven. But of that myriad of transformational laws, the one he was most proud of was the Voting Rights Act, because he felt that if people of color in this nation, if everybody had equal access to the ballot box, we would have truly representative government, which is really what we’re all about.
JAMILA PAKSIMA:HE SAYS JOHNSON BELIEVED ACCESS TO VOTING WAS THE HEART OF CIVIL RIGHTS AND WITH THE POWER OF THE VOTE IN EVERY AMERICAN’S POCKET, CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS WOULD NOT EVEN BE NEEDED.
Mark Updegrove: You wouldn’t need things to protect people who were vulnerable and discriminated against because they would have representatives who were seeing to their interests. So, I think that there is no question that of the critics of those who are dismantling the voting laws that we have in this country, LBJ, were he alive today, would be the most vocal.
Lee Jones: My name is Lee Jones. I am the CEO and founder of Inspire Positivity. I’m a disability rights advocate in LaGrange, Georgia.
YVONNE LATTY: LEE IS ALSO A GRASSROOTS CONNECTOR.
Lee Jones: We did door-to-door canvassing,
YVONNE LATTY: WHICH MEANS SHE WORKS WITH ARC GEORGIA AND ADVOCATES FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES IN RURAL COMMUNITIES.
Lee Jones: We did like a parade with a loudspeaker.
YVONNE LATTY: SHE HELPS EDUCATE THEM ON THEIR VOTING RIGHTS AND GETS THEM TO THE POLLS.
Lee Jones: We hosted events, every opportunity that we had to do a voter registration or education, we did it. We did social media campaigns. We pushed really hard. We sent information to the churches. We got with our local community partners and social service agencies. We asked them to give us referrals of disabled people that they may have known about that had never voted or wanted to vote, but didn’t have a way to get to the polls or if they just didn’t know anything about their disability voting rights. And we really pushed very hard to get that information out.
YVONNE LATTY: SHE DID ALL OF THIS WHILE BATTLING HER OWN HEALTH AND DISABILITY ISSUES.
Lee Jones: I have acute Crohn’s disease and autoimmune hepatitis. I’m also battling liver cancer. I survived kidney cancer. I have one kidney. And as a result of all those different things going on, I have bipolar syndrome axis 4. But I never really looked at those challenges. Those are just indicative of me. And I’ve lived with it, you know, for a good majority of my adulthood.
YVONNE LATTY: ONCE SHE BECAME A GRASSROOTS CONNECTOR, SHE SAYS, SHE GOT A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF HER OWN VOTING CHALLENGES.
Lee Jones: You know, my reason for doing an absentee ballot, I cannot stand in a line for hours without sitting down. I have chronic pain from my conditions that will prevent me from standing in line for hours on end. I do have to have some kind of hydration because of the medication that I take, I get dry mouth a lot. And just mentally and emotionally, standing in a line for hours, being in pain, being thirsty.
YVONNE LATTY: KNOWING WHAT IT’S LIKE TO LIVE WITH A DISABILITY SPARKS LEE’S DESIRE TO DO MORE.
Lee Jones: I really had to sit down one day and think about: what does being a grassroots connector mean to me personally? And I realized I found my tribe. I’m a disabled person, but disabilities can be invisible to others. You could look at an individual such as myself that has a lot going on, and they look perfectly healthy to you. But they’re not. They’re struggling. They’re battling.
YVONNE LATTY: LEE HAS LIVED IN LAGRANGE, GEORGIA, FOR THE PAST FIVE YEARS. SHE WAS BORN IN FLORIDA AND GREW UP IN HAWAII, BUT HER HUSBAND’S JOB LED HIM TO THIS SMALL CITY, JUST ABOUT AN HOUR FROM ATLANTA.
Lee Jones: LaGrange is a wonderful place to raise a family. It’s very well-connected and tight knit when it comes to community partners and just the people in general. You can get anywhere in five minutes. Everywhere you go, you see someone that you know or met or worked with or advocated with, people for the most part are very friendly. But there is a dark history here.
YVONNE LATTY: LAGRANGE IS SEGREGATED, DIVIDED BY COLOR. BLACKS ON ONE SIDE, WHITES ON THE OTHER. AND ALTHOUGH THEY MIX IN THE QUAINT DOWNTOWN, THE DIVIDE IS CLEAR.
Lee Jones: We have one African-American on the county commission, and our mayor is white. Our police chief is white. Our sheriff is white. Our fire chiefs are white.
YVONNE LATTY: AND HERE IS HOW THE LEGACY OF SLAVERY IN AMERICA DICTATES HOW A TOWN IS RUN.
Lee Jones: Slavery mentality is deeply entrenched here, especially in south Georgia, and the reason for that is because about an hour down the interstate in Montgomery, Alabama, that was the financial center for slavery. Every slave that came into the state of Georgia at some point made it to that financial center to be sold off, to go in different directions across the nation. A lot of the lynchings that went on in the nation happened here in Georgia. It’s just how it is.
Yvonne Latty: Do you feel like things are going backwards? I mean, it seems like a lot of these laws reminds me of things we were seeing, you know, 60 years ago.
Lee Jones: I think they’re going backwards. Those mentalities have been suppressed for years because of the federal and state laws that have been implemented to prevent it.
YVONNE LATTY: BUT, SHE SAYS TRUMP’S ELECTION IN 2016 EMBOLDENED PEOPLE TO SPEAK OPENLY ABOUT THE HATE THEY ONCE SHARED IN PRIVATE CONVERSATIONS.
Lee Jones: He opened up that Pandora’s box and a lot was revealed. Even here in this small town, it was very, very, very bad during the general election about how people felt about racial and social injustices. And it was sad to see, because many of the colleagues that I have been working with for the last five years that I thought were progressive people turned out to not be.
Yvonne Latty: What were they saying? What did they reveal?
Lee Jones: They revealed who they really were, that they really don’t care about equality.
YVONNE LATTY: DISABILITY KNOWS NO GENDER OR RACE, AND LAWMAKERS MAY HAVE OVERLOOKED THE TOLL THESE LAWS WOULD TAKE ON THEIR OWN PEOPLE. SHE SAYS THE FEAR IS DRIVEN BY WANTING TO SLOW DOWN THE VOTE IN MAJORITY MINORITY COUNTIES.
Lee Jones: It’s not only Black people that’s going to be affected. So why would you create a voter bill that’s going to impact your people as well? They didn’t think that through. They did not look at the big picture. They were reacting to loss. They were reacting to losing their foothold for the first time in decades.
YVONNE LATTY: GOV. KEMP SIGNED THE BILL INTO LAW SURROUNDED BY WHITE MEN, WITH A PAINTING OF A PLANTATION BEHIND HIM.
Lee Jones: That was a powerful image, and that really angered a lot of people.
Yvonne Latty: What did that image say to you?
Lee Jones: That they’re going to try to go back to the status quo. They want to get their glory back. And they’re going to try to stop us with any means necessary. And that they’re thinking that the old guard, the old way that they used to do things, was going to frighten people into kowtowing to that foolishness, but it had the opposite effect, the exact opposite effect.
Yvonne Latty: Why do you think Georgia turned blue? It sent two Democratic senators to the Capitol.
Lee Jones: No one wants to revisit anything that gives any semblance to the Holocaust. No one wants to be oppressed in any way, shape, form or fashion. No one wants that anymore. And it’s not necessarily being oppressed by Caucasians, just oppression, period. No one wants to be disenfranchised.
Yvonne Latty: Is that what it felt like these last four years? Oppression?
Lee Jones: Oh, it gave me great anxiety. I was extremely, extremely worried about Trump getting a second term and what that could have meant. Because of his rhetoric, because of his hate-filled speeches, because of the ugliness that he brought out in Caucasian people and even in some of our Black people were following him as well.
YVONNE LATTY: LEE WANTS TO SHOW ME LAGRANGE, A TOWN OF ABOUT 30,000 PEOPLE. SO WE GET INTO HER CAR AND FIRST DRIVE THROUGH WHITE LAGRANGE.
Lee Jones: So, right now we’re in District 2, which is the predominantly white side of town.
YVONNE LATTY: AS WE DRIVE, THE LANDSCAPE IS COUNTRY CLUBS, GOLF COURSES, LUSH GREENERY, A LOVELY LAKE, OLD PLANTATION HOMES, MINI MANSIONS. EVERYTHING’S WELL-SCRUBBED, PICTURE PERFECT. NO BLACK RESIDENTS OR BLACK FACES IN THIS PART OF LAGRANGE.
Lee Jones: LaGrange has a lot of wealth, and a lot of that wealth is generational wealth that has been passed down.
YVONNE LATTY: THEN WE CROSS THE TRAIN TRACKS AND WE ARE ON WHITESVILLE ROAD, WHICH ISN’T WHITE. IT’S THE BLACK PART OF TOWN. HERE THE AVERAGE INCOME IS $20K A YEAR. TWENTY EIGHT% OF THE RESIDENTS OF LAGRANGE LIVE IN POVERTY, WHICH IS HIGHER THAN THE NATIONAL AVERAGE OF 13.1.
Yvonne Latty: Oh, my God. Look, they’re like broken down. Oh my God.
Lee Jones: Do you see the difference?
Yvonne Latty: Oh, my God. It’s like a… It’s like an overwhelming difference.
YVONNE LATTY: FADED PAINT, DILAPIDATED, RUNDOWN HOMES WELCOME YOU TO THIS PART OF TOWN. THERE’S A LOT OF PUBLIC HOUSING IN THE FAMILIAR DULL BRICK FAÇADE, BUT THE HOUSING AUTHORITY IS WORKING ON RENOVATIONS.
Lee Jones: You don’t really see new construction in LaGrange. The new construction that you see will be in little enclaves that I told you about, but you can’t see it and you don’t know that it’s happening. And it’s really pretty much out of most people’s price range.
Yvonne Latty What kind of work do the Black people here do? They’re just sort of service workers, minimum wage?
Lee Jones: Service workers, minimum wage, and production workers, like for carpet manufacturers, auto parts suppliers, Kia motors. This town is an industrial town. It’s a lot of production work.
YVONNE LATTY: THERE IS NO PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IN LAGRANGE. THERE ARE NO WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE WALKWAYS. IN FACT, NOT A LOT OF SIDEWALKS IN SOME PARTS. THERE IS LITTLE AFFORDABLE HOUSING, SO THE POOR BLACK PEOPLE IN DISTRICT ONE ARE IN A PERPETUAL STRUGGLE WITH LITTLE POLITICAL LEADERSHIP TO HELP.
Lee Jones: These homes, some of these homes are so far gone that there’s nothing that you can do for them. The houses need to be just knocked down. One of the things that we really have to work on is our people and encouraging them to look outside of the box and wanting more for themselves. There’s a lot of people just don’t… They just live, just like this.
YVONNE LATTY: ADVOCATES LIKE LEE SAY, IN A TOWN LIKE LAGRANGE, WHERE THE MANY BLACK RESIDENTS WORK LOW-INCOME JOBS, THE ELECTION INTEGRITY ACT STRIKES AT THEIR VERY RIGHT TO VOTE. AND IF YOU’RE LIVING WITH A DISABILITY, GETTING AROUND IS NOT SOMETHING YOU CAN TAKE FOR GRANTED.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: ALL THE SOCIAL ILLS THAT AFFECT HOW PEOPLE LIVE HAVE A HAND IN ACCESS TO VOTING. PRACTICAL HURDLES, ID, DIFFICULTY REGISTERING OR FINDING THE RIGHT POLLING LOCATION ARE VERY REAL CONCERNS. IN GEORGIA, WHERE VOTERS OF COLOR EXPERIENCE LONGER WAIT TIMES AT THE POLLS, THE VOTER SUPPRESSION BILL INCLUDES A PROVISION THAT MAKES IT MORE DIFFICULT FOR A JUDGE TO EXPAND POLLING PLACE HOURS. LOCAL POLITICAL REPRESENTATION IN LAGRANGE IS REPUBLICAN, DESPITE HAVING SLIGHTLY MORE MINORITY RESIDENTS. TRUMP WON 60% OF THE COUNTY VOTE.
Gaylon Tootle: This is what we call the long white cane. This is the trademark of the National Federation of the Blind. We believe in the long white cane. It allows us to travel faster, and more safely. OK.
YVONNE LATTY: GAYLON NEEDS A RIDE TO THE BARBER SHOP, WHERE HE IS GOING TO GET SPRUCED UP FOR HIS UPCOMING COMMUNITY MEETING WITH VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS, WHO HAS BEEN TAPPED BY THE WHITE HOUSE TO LEAD THE FIGHT AGAINST VOTER SUPPRESSION. GAYLON HAS LIVED IN GEORGIA ALL HIS LIFE.
Gaylon Tootle: See, I go back a long way. I can remember separate waiting rooms, having to go get a fish sandwich from my aunt who worked at the local jib joint, and she was the cook there, but in order for me to come and get something I would have to go to the back.
Yvonne Latty: So you grew up in the South?
Gaylon Tootle: Yes.
Yvonne Latty: Where are you from?
Gaylon Tootle: I’m from a town called Glennville, Georgia, which is in southeast Georgia. It’s a small rural town. And due to my advocacy work, it became incumbent upon me to leave. One guy told me for instance, ‘don’t you know your wife drives up and down the streets in this town at night? So long as you stay in your place, boy, you will be all right.’
YVONNE LATTY: HE SAYS JIM CROW NEVER REALLY ENDED IN THE SOUTH.
Gaylon Tootle: As a matter of fact, I call it James Crow Esquire, because it’s Jim Crow all grown up. But what they do is the same stuff. We look at the nature of these bills, particularly SB 202. We have to understand that this is not new, and it is the type of mentality we are up against.
YVONNE LATTY: GAYLON WAS ONE OF SIX CHILDREN, AND HE AND HIS BROTHER ARE BLIND. IT’S GENETIC: CONGENITAL CATARACTS. HIS FAMILY WAS POOR BUT PROUD, HARDWORKING AND LIVED THROUGH BIG MOMENTS IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND BEYOND.
Gaylon Tootle: We saw integration come, we saw the separate but equal stuff go away, and then I saw Barack Obama. And I really thought this work was really over with. And yet, here we are. I think in hindsight, in retrospect, Barack triggered a lot of this, not through no fault of his, but simply because of the fear and all of the other things that are tied in with the white man.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: IN GEORGIA, REPUBLICAN STATE REPRESENTATIVE BARRY FLEMING, IS A BIG PUSHER OF VOTER SUPPRESSION. HE LEADS THE GEORGIA LEGISLATURE’S SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON ELECTION INTEGRITY. HERE HE IS SPEAKING TO A CROWD IN ARIZONA CAPTURED ON HIDDEN VIDEO AT THE ANNUAL MEETING OF THE HERITAGE ACTION FOR AMERICA, THE SISTER ORGANIZATION OF THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION, ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL RIGHT-WING PUBLIC POLICY THINK TANKS IN THE COUNTRY. THE APRIL 22, 2021, EVENT WAS CALLED “RESTORING CONFIDENCE IN OUR ELECTIONS.” THE LEAKED RECORDING WAS RELEASED IN MAY, BY THE WATCHDOG GROUP DOCUMENTED.
Rep. Barry Fleming: So I can’t right now say thank you enough for the support the Heritage Foundation has given to us. I can tell you, back in February, I felt like some days we were alone in Georgia and then the Heritage Foundation stepped in and that began to bring us a boost to help turn around and get the truth out about what we were really trying to do. And I’m here in part to say thank you and God bless you.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: AND IN THE VERY SAME GATHERING…
Jessica Anderson: The problems that we are trying to fix in courageous states like Georgia…
JAMILA PAKSIMA: JESSICA ANDERSON IS THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF HERITAGE ACTION FOR AMERICA, A SISTER ORGANIZATION OF THE HERITAGE FUND. SHE BOASTED ON STAGE THAT BOTH ORGANIZATIONS WERE ADVISING AND DRAFTING THE NEW CHANGING VOTER LEGISLATION, NOT ONLY IN GEORGIA BUT ACROSS THE U.S.
Jessica Anderson: This is a $24 million investment over the next two years. As we create this echo chamber, we’re working with these state legislators to make sure they have all of the information they need to draft the bills. In some cases, we actually draft them for them or we have a sentinel on our behalf give them the model legislation so it has that grassroots from the bottom-up type of vibe. We’ve also hired state lobbyists to make sure that in these targeted states we’re meeting with the right people. I was able to sit down with Gov. Kemp three days before he signed the election package in Georgia. And I had one message for him. Do not wait to sign that bill. If you wait even an hour, you will look weak. At the end of the day, the bill that Gov. Kemp signed and the Georgia legislature marshaled through had eight key provisions that Heritage recommended.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: AND GAYLON SAYS HE KNOWS THIS IS HOW THESE LAWS WERE CREATED.
Gaylon Tootle: We know that a lot of these bills were written by ghostwriters, a bunch of conservative folks sitting in a dark room somewhere. And they came up with all of these different legislations, because if you look at the laws, Georgia’s laws are basically like Texas’ laws. Texas’ laws are basically like Arizona laws. So in other words, there was a group of people sitting down. They did research, ‘OK. The disabled folk, they tend to vote this way. Black folk, they tend to vote this way. Uh, the poor people tend to vote this way.’ And you got folk who do the research and say, ‘well, if you do this, this can cause folk to maybe decide they don’t want to be bothered with voting.’
JAMILA PAKSIMA: STILL, IT DOESN’T DISCOURAGE HIM FROM FIGHTING.
YVONNE LATTY: EVEN AT THE BARBERSHOP, GAYLON IS ADVOCATING, THIS TIME IT’S GETTING HIS COMMUNITY VACCINE INFORMATION.
Gaylon Tootle: If you let me put a table in we’ll pass out flyers about the vaccination program.
YVONNE LATTY: HE SAYS OUR GOVERNMENT IS MOVING TOWARDS AN AUTHORITARIAN MINDSET.
Gaylon Tootle: They’re getting to the point where it doesn’t matter what you want, it’s what they want, and it’s all about staying in power.
Yvonne Latty: How extensive is the fight to fight these voter suppression laws?
Gaylon Tootle: It’s not as extensive as it should be. And the reason I say that is because every Black person, every poor person should be upset, and they’re not.
YVONNE LATTY: IT’S JUNETEENTH IN LAGRANGE, AND IN CALUMET PARK THE FOOD TRUCKS ARE READY TO SERVE CHICKEN WINGS AND BURGERS. VENDORS AND ADVOCACY GROUP BOOTHS LINE THE PARK. THERE’S A TABLE TO EDUCATE AND REGISTER TO VOTE. POLITICIANS MAKE SPEECHES, BUT THE CROWD IS THIN. BUCKETS OF RAIN ARE POURING FROM THE SKY. LEE JONES AND OTHER COMMUNITY LEADERS ARE HUDDLED UNDER THE AWNING OF A BUILDING WATCHING THE SPEAKERS.
Lee Jones: Thank you so much for coming out. This Juneteenth celebration, rain or shine, we’re out here. It’s very important to the city.
Kevin Littlefield: My name is Kevin Littlefield, I am the chairman of the Troup County Democratic Party here in Troup County, Georgia.
YVONNE LATTY: KEVIN IS EATING WHAT LOOKS LIKE A CHEESE SANDWICH IN A BOXED LUNCH, BUT WHEN I ASK HIM FOR HIS THOUGHTS ON VOTER SUPPRESSION, HE PUTS HIS SANDWICH DOWN.
Kevin Littlefield: You know, I don’t think you want to hear a lot of cursing and cussing in your interview, do you? But it’s just flat out Jim Crow part two. It’s straight up racist. Brian Kemp, he gets up there. God, you got me on one of my issues here. But he gets up there and he cherry picks the parts of the bill that he thinks will, you know, mollify people or he thinks that will appeal to certain people.
Brian Kemp: SB 202 also secures all ballot drop boxes around the clock, speeds up processing to ensure quicker election results, requires security paper to allow for authentication of ballots, and allows the bipartisan state election board to have more oversight over counties who failed to follow state election law.
Kevin Littlefield: Oh, God, it just makes my blood boil. And the way they package it, they want to talk about you know, and first off you know voter IDs is not a slam-dunk issue. Twenty five% of the Black community in America does not have a photo ID, and it cost up to two or three hundred dollars to get one. That’s what he wants to put out there. But that’s not the meat of this bill. The meat of this bill is to enable the Republican-led legislature to be able to affect the vote totals in the big counties that are predominantly Black, like Fulton or DeKalb. I’m sorry, this is one of my issues, it gets me going, so…
Yvonne Latty: I mean, what can be done to stop it?
Kevin Littlefield: Outvote them. That’s, that’s what we’ve been saying for years and years and years now, you know, and it’s a, it’s a tall order because the districts in the state are so gerrymandered, you know, I mean Georgia is going to be one of those minority-majority states, and I’m not just talking about the Black community. There’s all sorts of different ethnic groups in Georgia. But they’re going to outnumber the white population here in Georgia very soon.
YVONNE LATTY: KEVIN SAYS WE NEED A NEW FEDERAL VOTER RIGHTS BILL BECAUSE IT’S NOT JUST GEORGIA; EVERY REPUBLICAN-CONTROLLED STATE IS EYEING VOTER SUPPRESSION BILLS OR HAS ENACTED THEM. ACCORDING TO THE BRENNAN CENTER, SO FAR 19 STATES HAVE ENACTED 33 LAWS THAT RESTRICT ACCESS TO VOTING. NEARLY 1,000 VOTER RESTRICTION BILLS HAVE BEEN INTRODUCED IN 49 STATES AND ARE MOVING THROUGH THE LEGISLATURE.
Kevin Littlefield: And it is straight up white supremacy and racism, if you can’t see me, you know, I’m as white as they come. But, you know, the wealth gap, the inequality of voting itself, it does not benefit the white people in the state either. Well, maybe, you know, some of the extremely rich ones, but Black poverty is not helping me. Regardless of what Brian Kemp says, this voting bill in Georgia is racism.
YVONNE LATTY: BUT KEMP CLAIMS IT’S NOT.
Gov. Brian Kemp: According to them, if you support voter ID for absentee ballots, you’re a racist. According to them, if you believe in protecting the security and sanctity of the ballot box, you’re a quote, “Jim Crow in a suit and tie,” end quote.
Gaylon Tootle: If you try to put barriers out there that tells me that I’m less than what you are, who you are, then I get angry about that. Cuz, like, I have children, I have a son, I have grandchildren, and I want them to live in a better world than I have. My daddy was doing this same fight back in the 60s, and that’s amazing to me. We’ve had a Black president and yet and still we are back here doing the same stuff. We want to choose who lead.. us. And if we can’t vote, then we won’t have the ability to do that…
YVONNE LATTY: GAYLON SAYS THE PATH TO VICTORY DEPENDS ON LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE AND GROUPS WORKING TOGETHER.
Gaylon Tootle: With the wave of white nationalism and all that stuff that’s sweeping this country, chances are he is going to come to a city near you. So we need for us to get together, become one community and fight against voter suppression. This is not a political issue. Everybody should be able to have a right to vote. This shouldn’t be about disabled folk, Black folk, poor folk, uh, white folk. It should be about all folk having the ability to vote.
YVONNE LATTY: A FEW MORE SNIPS, A THIN MUSTACHE TRIM, AND THE HAIRCUT IS OVER.
Gaylon Tootle: And guess what? With my barber, I don’t even have to look in the mirror. You know why? Cuz he goin’ make sure I’m straight.
YVONNE LATTY: A FEW DAYS LATER, I GIVE GAYLON A CALL TO SEE HOW HIS MEETING WITH THE VICE PRESIDENT WENT.
Yvonne Latty: I bet you looked good with your new haircut.
Gaylon Tootle: You didn’t see the pictures, I ain’t seen… You didn’t get no pictures, did you?
Yvonne Latty: You should send me one. Do you have one of you and her together or something like that?
Gaylon Tootle: I’m about to send it to you right now.
Yvonne Latty: Yes, please do. That would be fun.
Yvonne Latty: I wanted to follow up on, how did the meeting go with Kamala Harris?
Gaylon Tootle: It was a great meeting. It was an intimate meeting. It was not a photo op. There were no journalists and camera folk in the room. It was real. It was sincere. And I spoke to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
YVONNE LATTY: TITLE II OF THE ADA PROHIBITS DISCRIMINATION AGAINST INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES IN ALL PROGRAMS, ACTIVITIES AND SERVICES OF PUBLIC ENTITIES.
Gaylon Tootle: And what we need is the DOJ to come down and enforce it. We already got the laws on the books, but we need it enforced because here in Georgia, the blind vote is totally disenfranchised and ADA Title II would go a long way towards fixing that because if the feds did their job of enforcing the ADA, then they wouldn’t be able to lock us out of the system as they have.
YVONNE LATTY: HE SAYS THEY NEED BETTER MESSAGING.
Gaylon Tootle: So when you speak about voter suppression, make sure you mention my people and not as an afterthought, not as the last one on the list, but people who have certainly been impacted by these Jim Crow voter suppression laws.
YVONNE LATTY: BUT AT THE MEETING, SEN. JOHN OSSOFF TOLD HIM STOPPING THE WAVE OF VOTER SUPPRESSION WON’T BE AN EASY FIX.
Gaylon Tootle: Y’know, we gotta be realistic in our approach. Despite everything that we do, it’s a 50-50 split.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: THE SPLIT MADE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE SENATE TO AGREE ON ANY SWEEPING VOTING PROTECTION LAW, INCLUDING THE JOHN LEWIS ACT, NAMED AFTER THE LATE CONGRESSMAN AND CIVIL RIGHTS ICON JOHN LEWIS. THE PROPOSED LEGISLATION WOULD HAVE STRENGTHENED THE VOTING RIGHTS OF PEOPLE OF COLOR AND PEOPLE LIVING WITH DISABILITIES. AND SO WHERE DO THINGS STAND NOW? WELL, SENATE DEMOCRATS ARE STILL PUSHING TO STRENGTHEN THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT. AND ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND IS LEADING THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT IN A LAWSUIT AGAINST GEORGIA.
Merrick Garland: There are many things that are open to debate in America, but the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them. The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: THE GROUNDS? GEORGIA IS DISCRIMINATING AGAINST BLACK VOTERS. HERE IS ATTORNEY GENERAL GARLAND AGAIN.
Merrick Garland: In keeping that promise, today, the Department of Justice is suing the state of Georgia. Our complaint alleges that recent changes to Georgia’s election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color in violation of section two of the Voting Rights Act.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: KEMP AND THE REPUBLICANS ARE READY TO FIGHT IT.
Gov. Brian Kemp: Let me be clear, the DOJ lawsuit announced today is legally and constitutionally dead wrong. Their false and baseless accusations are quite honestly disgusting. But I will tell you right now, we are not backing down. I am not backing down, and I can tell you that Joe Biden, Stacey Abrams and Merrick Garland don’t scare me.
YVONNE LATTY: AND GAYLON’S READY FOR THE FIGHT.
Yvonne Latty: Do you think you’re going to win?
Gaylon Tootle: Absolutely. I always win. Now sometimes it takes a long time. Disability rights are civil rights which means that we’re lining up with most of America. We can’t help but win.
YVONNE LATTY: ON THE NEXT EPISODE OF SOUNDS LIKE HATE… PART 2 OF COLLATERAL DAMAGE: IN FLORIDA, THE FORMERLY INCARCERATED HAD THEIR RIGHT TO VOTE YANKED AWAY BY REPUBLICAN LEGISLATURES.
Marquis McKenzie: You know, you got a million people that can’t vote. That’s a problem.
Rosemary McCoy: We should not be denied our right to vote. You cannot disenfranchise us from voting for the president of the United States and our federal Congress.
Marquis McKenzie: It was like, ‘Oh, this is a Black thing and this and that.’ No, it affect more people who are white.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: THESE ARE COMPLICATED STORIES ABOUT PEOPLE WHO FIGHT FOR THEIR TRUTH. THOSE WHO ARE DEMANDING AFFIRMING POLICIES, WHICH WILL NOT ROB PEOPLE OF THEIR POWER, NOR STRIP ANY AMERICAN OF HAVING EQUAL ACCESS, INFLUENCE, PROTECTIONS AND VOTING RIGHTS.
YVONNE LATTY: IF YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO HAS EXPERIENCED A HATE INCIDENT OR CRIME, PLEASE CONTACT THE APPROPRIATE LOCAL AUTHORITIES OR ELECTED OFFICIAL. YOU CAN ALSO DOCUMENT WHAT HAPPENED AT SPLCENTER.ORG.
JAMILA PAKSIMA: THIS IS SOUNDS LIKE HATE, AN INDEPENDENT AUDIO DOCUMENTARY BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER. PRODUCED BY UNTIL 20 PRODUCTIONS. I’M JAMILA PAKSIMA.
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