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Press release/statement

STATEMENT: Silenced Citizens Demand a Voice and a Vote

New York, NY — In the shadow of the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Foley Square, standing before the African Burial Ground Memorial Sculpture, New Yorkers representing persons with felony convictions will stand in silent protest on June 22, 2005 at 2:30 p.m. to demand the full restoration of voting rights to the formerly incarcerated. The New York City Unlock the Block Campaign (UTB) is coordinating the event in recognition of a historic en banc Federal Court hearing of Muntaqim v. Coombe and Hayden v. Pataki, two cases central to efforts aimed at ending felon disfranchisement in New York State.

The hearing and silent protest comes as the nation recognizes the 40th anniversary of the passage — and President Lyndon B. Johnson's signing — of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The landmark legislation extended voting rights confirmed in the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to disfranchised African Americans in southern states. The Act has since been reauthorized and its protections extended to language minorities and northern jurisdictions with a history of vote dilution, voter intimidation, and discriminatory polling practices.

Joseph "Jazz" Hayden, the Director of the NYC Unlock the Block Campaign, notes the historic nature of the court hearing and its connection to our nation's democratic framework: "When we enter the courtroom at 40 Foley Square to have oral argument before twelve judges to determine whether the Voting Rights Act applies to felon disfranchisement laws in New York State, we will be making history, we will have taken the next step in advancing the struggle for political equality and full citizenship fought by our ancestors."

The silent protest will be staged to symbolically represent citizens, who for no other reason than having been incarcerated on felony convictions, have been denied their voting rights yet are expected to fulfill all other civic obligations, including paying taxes. The Federal Court hearing is a significant departure from past motions in the case. All active judges will be seated to hear oral arguments--an unprecedented step by the court and one that acknowledges that critical issues of law, in particular the application of the Voting Rights Act in New York State, are at stake.

New York State stands in opposition to a growing international movement that recognizes the centrality of voting to the successful reentry into civic life of individuals who have paid their debt to society for offenses committed. The UTB Coalition is working to ensure that the 131,000 disfranchised citizens in New York State will be afforded the opportunity to secure their place in their home communities by once again becoming engaged citizens through the ballot. The coalition represents 85 community-based organizations and advocates committed to the proposition that voting is a right, not a privilege.

The silent protest will occur at 2:30 pm at 40 Foley Square, at the African Burial Ground Memorial Sculpture.

The New York City Unlock the Block: Release the Vote Campaign, housed at Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action, is part of the Right to Vote campaign, a national effort to restore the right to vote to people with felony convictions. Unlock The Block is advocating for legislative change to repeal or amend New York State's felon disenfranchisement statute and policy change to expand and improve eligibility notification, voter registration and absentee voting procedures in New York's criminal justice agencies.