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January: A Year In Preview
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A Year In Preview

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© President Gerald R. Ford Extending the Voting Rights Act, US National Archives


If You Have the Right to Vote

by Antoine "Aziz" Brown
November 2, 2020

This interview with Antoine "Aziz" Brown, office associate at Re:Store Justice, was conducted and condensed by franknews.

Aziz | My name is Antoine "Aziz" Brown. Aziz is my Muslim name. I've been out of jail for two years now. I was tried and convicted as an adult for first-degree murder and attempted murder. I was sentenced to 36 years of life in prison. I served 23 years of the 36 years. My time was commuted by governor Jerry Brown in 2017.

I went to the board in 2018 in front of two commissioners, and I had to talk about my life, what I learned about myself and what led me to commit the crime that I committed at the age of 17. I was found suitable for parole on May 20, 2018. I had to wait three months for my parole date to be confirmed by the Governor. Everything went through, and I was paroled in 2018 on August 17th.  I started working at Re:Store later in 2018. 

frank | Can you describe what Prop 17 is? 

Proposition 17 is a bill that is geared towards bringing the right to vote back to people who are on parole. It allows people, like myself, who are on parole the right to vote. Right now in California, people on parole cannot vote. 

I'm living a productive life, working, paying taxes and I'm an active member in my community. But, I am voiceless when it comes to the elections.

I have no say in which government officials will be voted in to serve in my community. Nor will I have a say in who the president will be. Proposition 17 addresses the issue to try to restore the votes of people on parole so we can have a say in the elections that will affect our lives, and the lives of generations to come.  

When I was incarcerated, there was a possibility that I may have never been on this side, talking to you in this capacity. While I was incarcerated, I was focused on working on myself and trying to give myself an opportunity to get out of jail. Being out here now, as opposed to being isolated behind bars, has made me more actively involved in what is going on right now. 

How many people stand to have their right to vote restored?

Around 55,000. Due to the pandemic, many more people will be released early that will be on parole or probation.

What do you think are some of the misconceptions that are inherent to the arguments in keeping people on parole from voting? 

I think the misconceptions are that we haven't paid our debt to society, and that we are still dangerous, so we shouldn't have a right to vote.

The laws that are being passed are negatively affecting us and we can't really progress out of here because the odds are stacked against us. So a lot of people end up going back to jail.

The purpose of prison is to rehabilitate. If the people who oppose Proposition 17 think that we still pose a threat to society, that means that the system is flawed and needs to be corrected. 

What else do you want people to know about this bill? 

On a state level, it is important that everyone in California understands that the right to vote is critical. Voting is a civic duty. Everyone should have a say in determining the elected officials that will represent us. We need people elected into these positions that can actually help us better our communities — communities that are constantly degenerated and ignored by those currently in power.

Incorporating this effort on a national level is very important as well. Seeing that votes are being suppressed shows us how important voting is when it comes to putting the right people into positions of power.   

It should be criminal to suppress votes.

You say this is a democracy. You take this democracy across seas for other people to have, but you suppress the vote of your own people.

That is hypocritical. What are you trying to control? Who are you trying to control?

We see what is going on and we want change. The only way we are going to get change and bring change to our communities is if everybody votes. We have to make our voices heard and understand the gravity of voting. We can’t think that our votes don't matter. That’s what they want us to believe so that we stay home and do nothing at all. They want things to continue the way they are going now, but that doesn’t benefit the oppressed population. If you have the right to vote, take advantage of it.