Capping off an election season complicated by a viral pandemic and ongoing demonstrations for racial equality, Utah State University is presenting a six-week voting rights symposium.
“It’s a chance to talk about what we love about our democracy and also what challenges our democracy faces,” said Tammy Proctor, head of USU’s history department.
The symposium was originally envisioned as a two-day event in the spring, which was shelved due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We were supposed to do it in March for Women’s History Month,” Proctor said, “and then, as you know, the world closed.”
Now the symposium is back, with an online discussion once a week for the next six weeks.
“The timing might actually be better,” Proctor said, given than there will be one discussion a week almost all the way up to Election Day.
Access to voting has also been in the headlines recently as officials work out how the election is going to work under pandemic precautions. There’s been more conversation about racial injustice, too, with Black Lives Matter demonstrations happening in various parts of the nation, including Logan, since late May.
The symposium’s first discussion will examine racial inequality and voting access together.
The discussion features civil rights advocate Carol Anderson and will begin at 5 p.m. Thursday. Anderson, professor of African American Studies at Emory University, wrote “One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy,” among other works. The discussion will focus on access to voting throughout U.S. history as well as in 2020 and will be moderated by USU sociology professor Marisela Martinez-Cola.
“I really want people to see the urgency of this year’s election,” Martinez-Cola said. “There are various forms of voter disenfranchisement that a lot of people don’t realize are happening around the country. And honestly, democracy is at stake.”
Martinez-Cola said voter disenfranchisement can be subtle. Many people don’t see a problem with ID laws, for example, because they don’t realize how much less common it can be to have an accepted form of ID in a poor community.
“If you think about all the identifications we have, they’re all attached to some form of privilege,” Martinez-Cola said. “A driver’s license assumes you have a car. A passport assumes that you travel. … A school ID assumes that you’re going to school or that you’re going to a school that has the resources to create IDs for all of their students.”
Martinez-Cola said she hopes Thursday’s discussion really breaks down those complexities for attendees.
“When Dr. Anderson explains the challenges and the obstacles that have been put in place, particularly for lower-income voters of color, it blows your mind,” she said.
The symposium is co-sponsored by the Center for Intersectional Gender Studies and Research with help from several other organizations.
All events in the symposium are scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Future events in the series include:
— Sept. 24: Lisa Tetrault (Carnegie Mellon University): “When Women Won the Right to Vote: Myth & Memory.” Moderated by Tammy Proctor.
— Oct. 1: Selina Gallo-Cruz (College of the Holy Cross): “Invisibility, Resistance, and Women’s Political Power.” Moderated by Angela Diaz.
— Oct. 8: Mona Siegel (Sacramento State University): “Making the World Safe for Democracy: The Global Battle for Women’s Suffrage after the First World War.” Moderated by Susan R. Grayzel.
— Oct. 15: Kimberly Jensen (Western Oregon University): “Registration, Education, and Voting: Black Women and Civic Organizating in Oregon, 1913-1916.” Moderated by Evelyn Funda.
— Oct. 22: Roundtable: “Utah in the National Debate.” Moderated by Christy Glass. Panel members: James Courage Singer, Diversity Fellow in Sociology & Ethnic Studies Salt Lake Community College. Katherine Kitterman, Historical Director for Better Days 2020, American University. John Mejia, Legal Director of the ACLU of Utah. Jeanetta Williams, President of NAACP, Salt Lake Branch. Sheri Newton, Voting Access Director, Disability Law Center.
The events are free and open to the public, but registration is required to get the Zoom video conference address. To register for the event, visit history.usu.edu/voting-rights-symposium.