Welcome to Louisiana Lefty, a podcast about politics and community in Louisiana, where we make the case that the health of the state requires a strong progressive movement fueled by the critical work of organizing on the ground. Our goal is to democratize information, demystify party politics, and empower you to join the mission. Because victory for Louisiana requires you.
I'm your host Lynda Woolard. On this episode, my conversation is with Omari Ho-Sang, who works with Black Voters Matter in Louisiana, started ASAP - or All Streets All People - Shreveport, and is a classic community organizer working in North Louisiana. We talked about the work Black Voters Matter is doing in concert with their partner organizations across Louisiana. And we underscore the significance of the work of these community groups in our state. If we are power building, if we are movement building, if we are making the state a better place for workers and families, this is the space in which we need to be investing our energy, our time, and yes, our dollars.
I'll note that, as often occurs when we're doing these remote recordings, we had some connectivity issues early in the interview. But as we talked, we did continue to troubleshoot and ended up with a better quality recording eventually. That saif, if you're not already aware, we post transcripts to each episode on our website, LouisianaLefty.Rocks, and include closed captions on our Louisiana Lefty YouTube channel.
Omari Ho-Sang! Thank you so much for joining me on Louisiana Lefty today.
Thanks for having me. I'm so excited to be back. Well, am I back? It's actually my first time on Louisiana Lefty, but we've talked.
I always start with how I met my guest and I met you actually through your statewide partner calls for Black Voters Matter. And we can talk more about that in a little bit.
I just wanted to let you know that I was so impressed by your calls. They're so well run, so well organized. And so that was just an impressive entrance to getting to know you.
Thank you. I spend a lot of time planning those.
You can tell, it's very evident. Tell me what your political origin story is. What first got you interested in politics?
My political origin story? I don't think that question has ever been been posed to me in that way. That's pretty cool. Well, you know, for me, it's always hard to answer this question because I've had the privilege and opportunity to be able to work in different types of movements spaces. But being able to be in those different spaces has really given me an opportunity to reflect like, how did I really get into this work? And, you know, I believe the best way I can answer this question is, if I didn't do that work, what would I be doing? I'd probably be dead.
My political origin story, is my origin story, who I am and how I came to be, the different circumstances in terms of my growth and development in the community I'm from, where I was educated, and the differences and divisions between where I attended School, which was a college preparatory school and what they call the over-the-mountain area in Birmingham. And so being educated there, but then living down-the-mountain, so to speak, in a community that in terms of socio economically looks so different, in terms of when I went to a basketball game or football game at a cousin's school, the cultural differences that I saw emerge, that also translated into people's quality of life, right?
It makes me think of a really amazing book I got exposed to when I was a freshman at Tuskegee called "Malcolm and Martin." I was actually taking the class Malcolm and Martin, and it's a book by James Cone, who actually just recently died, but it's a worthwhile read if you're into Kingian philosophy origin stories, you know, for both Dr. King and Malcolm X. But Dr. King described this environment called the bees hive versus the bird's nest, and he talks the about how integration introduced so many young, aspiring Black families, but really the children to a bees hive as they integrated into mostly white spaces, versus during segregation, or in an all Black environment, the birds nest that coddles and nurtures the baby birds within the nest. And that was indicative of these all black environments, especially pre-integration.
Dr. King talks about that, and the reason why that really resonates is because my mother was seeking to expose me to an environment and quality of education that she believed would help me to elevate. And that meant that in that space, I had to be proximal to whiteness, proximal to white wealth. 2001 is when I started middle school. I started middle school a week before 9/11. My experience as a minority person in that environment really exposed me to some some social issues that I really think changed me.
And so my senior year in high school, I was a theater nerd, and I got an opportunity to do an independent study on Lorraine Hansberry, who's like one of my heroes. She's a wonderful writer. Of course, her most known work is "A Raisin in the Sun" but she was prolific. She wrote many stage plays, and she grew up in Chicago to a Black middle class family, right? And her upbringing and her circumstances and kind of being "other" in terms of the ghetto Black and middle class Black, really contributed to her idea of an American dream. So I was able to do that play, which in and of itself, helped me to reflect and understand my experience in an all white environment, but also gave me the ability to really do my first nonprofit thing, right? So for me, it's like there's the social justice perspective, but then there is the perspective of the infrastructure through which change happens. And many times that's within the nonprofit industrial complex. So through that play, we charged people a small fee, and I said, "Hey, I want to donate to one of the schools that was not over-the-mountain."
Because in Birmingham, a majority of our city schools are all Black. If you attended Birmingham City Schools, it will be a majority, predominantly Black group. That's just that's how the system is, right? And so we gave to a theater program at one of those predominantly Black schools, so that they could start to be able to really build out their program. And so I was like, "Okay, you know, I'm a theater nerd, but yet I am able to use my privilege to change some things."
And then after that, I went to Tuskegee, and from there, it was all uphill. I was really radicalized in the all white environment in a way because of what I saw and the things I experienced, but I was sharpened and built into the organizer, in the vein of Ella Jo Baker, that was really groomed and developed at Tuskegee.
From Tuskegee, between then and now, can you give me a mini bio, some career highlights that got you to Black Voters Matter?
In 2013, I moved to Shreveport. I was recruited to work for an American Federation of Teachers local for teachers. And so essentially, my job was a project organizer. I was responsible for recruiting teachers and school personnel like cafeteria workers and custodians, front desk secretaries, everyone really except for administrators, into the Union. And so that's how I got my feet wet in terms of Louisiana, because I actually was still living at home at the time. And so I work for Red River United and organized for them for until 2016.
And then after that, when I left them, I was just kind of in a place where I kind of didn't have anything to do, i.e. no job. At the same time in Shreveport, there was an uptick in violent crime. It was like out of control. It was in May, it was the summer, it was hot. And it was just like one of those times where it was like, "Okay, this is getting pretty rampant." So we convened like a team. You know, when something happens in the community -- we saw it a lot during George Floyd -- community members come together, and we had these conversations like, "What can we do? Like, what do we do? How do we do it? What is the actual issue?" And I noticed that these conversations, we kind of kept going in circles. "The problem is you don't have nothing to do. Okay. Well, the city doesn't provide anything to do. Okay. The programs don't have the money. Okay. And then the people who had the money don't want to help the issue. Alright, we're back in this little circle. And we haven't developed any solution."
I was a newbie, and I was like, 23, 24, 25. And so people in Shreveport didn't really know me. I'd been organizing for the Union and that was pretty insular. But I decided to host a community meeting. And during that meeting, it was like, a Muslim minister, a lady who is always commenting on social issues, like the lady on the block who you go and ask who to vote for, a couple of friends, one of them who was really into tech, he actually works for Apple, like it was just like a hodgepodge of people. It wasn't a huge group, maybe 10 or 15 people. And we had that circular conversation.
But then that circle started to straighten out and it became more linear. Because what we did was we decided we wanted to leave that room, that space, with at least the one solution that we would together implement. And the thing that we landed on, because what we saw when we looked at the data was that most of the perpetrators and victims, people who were getting killed by gun violence, and people who were doing the shooting, the majority of them were between the ages of 14 and 29. And so we were able to take this pervasive issue and take a chunk of it, and then as a community to develop the way that we would target it.
And we decided we wanted to do a summer job training program, one that would focus not on hard skills, but soft skills, those skills that actually get people into the door, that help them to achieve and acquire the job. Because we know that a majority of the hard skills that we learn on the job are learned on the job, right, not before the job. It's the soft skills that get us the job. And so we did that, no money. I literally lugged around a printer, so that during our workshops, we could print out students' resumes. We did guerilla marketing to target and get young people and parents to know that we were doing these free workshops every Saturday. We would provide professional introductions, resume writing, job training skills, interview skills, and then we took it even a step further in our second year.
We were connecting the young people, actually in our first year we did it but it was like really grassroots, like literally we had folks to sign up to have a yard cut. And we had a team of young people going out and doing landscaping. But that second year, we were able to partner with organizations like Fire Tech Systems, which is like a fire ordinance organization, private company here in Shreveport. And we were actually able to attach young people with jobs. So not only provide the training, but provide the actual job. We even had a partnership with McDonald's. Every McDonald's restaurant owned by Roy Griggs opened up their employment process to our young people. So what that presented to us is that we as just regular everyday people can develop a program that helps to number one, target a specific group, target the impacted people, and then create a system, a pipeline, not just the program, but a pipeline that gets our young people from the starting point, which we believe the starting point is what leads to the gun violence, veers them away down a pipeline that helps them to secure something that's tangible and meaningful, that can help them change their life circumstances.
And so that is what became ASAP. That's how ASAP was born. And ASAP is an acronym that means All Streets, All People, and we believe that we have to answer the question, how do we solve long term problems with a sense of urgency? That is our goal. And so we believe in order to answer that question, first of all, we need to be in all geographies, including places where people are commonly left out of decision making processes. And we need to engage with all people meaning that every everyone plays a role in this work, everybody, as an ally, as an impacted person, as a researcher, as an idealist, or visionary, as someone who's going to be boots on the ground. And so we take that theory of change, and we focus on four root causes: inequity in schools, lack of employment, health disparity, and economic disparity.
Did I see that you've done some housing work around ASAP, too?
In a way, yeah. What I've done is partner with Housing Louisiana, and I partner with them in a variety of ways. But the first entry point into Housing Louisiana, which I'm not sure if you've met the inimitable Andreanecia Morris, with GNOHA, and the Housing Triad. You should meet her! Now, you want to talk to somebody who is a champion for housing justice, and leaning into the word justice, not just housing, you got to talk to Andreanecia Morris. I was connected with the housing work when I realized I was impacted. I was impacted by cost burden. And so essentially, I was paying more than 35% of my income to be able to sleep under a roof. And I didn't even recognize that was an issue. I just kind of lived with it, right? But I attended a listening session, and they were talking about cost burden; they were talking about homelessness; they were talking about housing, equity, and the different systems, the entities, the organizations, the committe's, like the Louisiana Housing Committee, the different decision making entities that play a role in this housing, and how and what a housing crisis the state of Louisiana is in.
And so through ASAP, I was able to do some traditional grassroots organizing to identify people who have been impacted by housing issues, and do not only advocacy around it, but to do organizing - which to me are two different things - and to provide mutual aid to people who are actually in need, to provide the support that they need right now, while also building the movement to advocate against the system that's causing the issue, right? We have to be able to create a system or an infrastructure that allows us to do so. So I would define work, not only with ASAP, but with Black Voters Matter as a part of that building, right? Because with Black Voters Matter, of course, you hear it and you're like, "Okay, it's all about voting." And even though right now, everything is about voting, I'm really glad to be able to play a role and actually play a couple of different roles in terms of housing. But first, you know, through Black Voters Matter, we're partnered with Housing Louisiana, and we work to support their work, their electoral work that they do through their candidate interviews, and their trainings that they do. But also in terms of just the work that they're doing to bring housing justice to the state.
So Black Voters Matter is doing work beyond just voting issues.
So like at our foundation Black Voters Matter is a power building organization. And so that is really our focus, to build power in marginalized communities. And so we do understand that in order to do that, that is more than a one step process, right? And so we know that one of those steps are elections, is getting out to vote, and is voting with intelligence in terms of really doing our due diligence to understand for ourselves what's on the ballot and the implications of that, but also helping our fellow man understand that, our community members, our family members, and our friends. But we also know that there has to be 365-day organizing around issues like housing. So that's why we are partnered with Housing Louisiana.
We're also partnered with other groups across the state, who deal with other issues that impact Black people in Louisiana. And so environmental justice, we're partnering with Sharon Lavigne, and Rise St. James and the Concerned Citizens of St. John, and others who are doing work in Cancer Alley, and dealing with industrial contamination and how that's causing, like literal illness and cancer in Black communities. We're partnering with organizations that are dealing with gun violence and criminal justice, mass incarceration like Decarcerate Louisiana. That's how we came into partnership with Decarcerate, when they were fighting this bill.
We also partner with statewide organizations that are dealing with providing that actual information in your hand, like Power Coalition. To me, no one really does a better than Power Coalition in terms of documenting the information that we need to know and getting it out. They make that information publicly accessible to where folks like me and our partners who are on the ground, who are in the communities, in those places in the rural areas where people don't want to go, where you can get phone service, they're out there moving and building power. In those urban centers, that people may be afraid to go into, because of community violence, we're in those streets, we're in those areas, passing out those Power Coalition ballots. And so there's an ecosystem that we're building, not only to get people out to vote, but to get people out. We need to get people out into the community to build power together. We all have a role to play.
Well, Black Voters Matter is a tremendously impressive and powerful organization, in my opinion. You've talked a little bit about this already. But from a national perspective, can you just say what the mission of Black Voters Matter is?
Black Voters Matter is to build power in marginalized communities, to go into spaces that, as I mentioned before, we don't typically go into, like rural communities and urban communities, and to work with grassroots partners, Black-led partners, women-led organizations, to provide capacity building support to those organizations to not only address voting rights issues and voter mobilization, but again, all the issues that impact Black communities. And so we do that, through our mini grant funding program. We provide mini grants to our partners, we provide training, and access to tools like the Voter Action Network, so that our partners can do traditional GOTV, like phone banking, like canvassing, knocking on doors, and being able to target specific communities and specific people in their communities who really need that focus and that love and that attention and time in order to turn out to vote.
And so you know, our second Monday calls that you have been a part of before, are one way that we work and we build movement with our partners and really, again, break the circle and create a linear movement, where all of the work that we're doing, it builds, it builds upon each other. We're building, like we're building a muscle, and those calls and that camaraderie, that community that we're creating with Black Voters Matter within our states, helps us to really build that type of infrastructure that's really necessary to grow, number one, our turnout from election to election, to grow the education of our voters so that they can be confident when they go to vote, and that also addresses the needs from day to day of our people and of our community.
And we talked about your calls a little bit earlier. It's already a pretty large group. But who are those calls for? Can anyone sign up? Are you targeting trying to get certain groups to join?
Right, so our statewide partner calls are calls that are for our partners. Our partners look, like we have such a good variety and diversity of partners. At the foundation, they look like grassroots, Black-led organizations across the state, who are either already doing voter engagement work, or have heard about the power building and capacity building work of Black Voters Matter, and seek to partner with us in their community. So every group that we've come across has been through organic relationship building, you know, working with other people in the work.
I tend to think about partners like Dr. Chris Williams in Lafayette with the United Ballot PAC and Lead Louisiana, who has created his own grassroots ecosystem of other organizations in that area, like the NAACP and SUNVESTKA and the Unity Church and so many different other organizations. And so, when we show up with our Blackest bus in America to Lafayette, Dr. Chris has worked with folks who are in Rayne, who are in Ville Platte, who are in Church Point, who are in Acadia parish, who are in these very small pockets. Building power, he's able to organize them and bring them together. And so our partnerships really give us the ability to grow our presence in communities.
And so if you're doing that work, if you're interested in doing the work, even if you're just an individual, and you're interested in being an advocate, helping to advocate, you want to be a phone banker, you want to help us with research (because we have to do a lot of research), if you want to help us by bringing snacks to an event, you can join these calls and get engaged with our work. My only ask as the state organizing manager is that anyone who joins with us don't be a bystander, right? I know we have to observe to see if we want to be a part of this. But don't just stay in an observer, get active. We provide the space for people to have an opportunity to get active and stay active, because one of BVM's most popular sayings is "We 365 -- can't stop, won't stop." And so we also have to do those things where we can get some rest too, and we can have some intentional healing.
I'll make sure people have in the Episode Notes whatever contact you'd like for them to have, so if they want to connect with you, they have that ability. I did statewide conference calls that were kind of table calls where we convened organizations back in 2017, when Trump first got into office. And we did those weekly. And they were really great because they were an opportunity for folks who had been organizing for a while to speak to a lot of those new groups like the Indivisbles and folks like that, who were just coming to it. So we really were able to connect some folks so they could learn from existing organizers who knew how to do stuff like protests and rallies and marches and legislators and stuff. So that was really nice. But the reason I bring that up is because there was a rate of attrition for me during that year where it was a little hard to keep folks engaged through the whole year. And I just wanted to know what your experience with that was, what you do to make sure people stay engaged. And and I'll tell you one thing I noticed you did the first time I was on your call was you offered follow up one-on-ones with everybody, which I thought was really great. Like you had a system where you connected back with folks and said, "Yeah, I want to speak to you, if you're new to my call, I want to talk to you one-on-one." I thought that was really great. But are there any other things that you're doing to keep people engaged?
Well, number one, I just mentioned it, so it's the perfect question, being intentional about like taking space from the work. Because I think a lot of times what I see is, like you were doing those weekly calls with Indivisibles back in 2017, like ooh, I gotta bow down to ya sister, because that is a high level of commitment. And just like life is stressful. And then being in the work is stressful and can be traumatic sometimes because we define our wins and losses in ways that can be hard to take. So one way that we keep people engaged is by saying we're taking a break right now, right? And so you know, BVM in July, we take a step back the first two weeks of July, and they're very intentional, like we're taking a break, we turn off our emails, do not disturb, we don't have the call for that month. And so when we come back, we come back with a renewed spirit and commitment to the work. So that's one way.
And then in terms of the one-on-ones that we do with our partners, that is a testament to the fact that transformative work, systems change, it is about that tedious, nitty gritty, every day, follow up documentation, note taking linear work, and it requires follow up. There should be no one who says that they're in the movement, or they're running a movement space, and they have only had one conversation with somebody. It takes multiple conversations, multiple touches, multiple ways to engage to really create. We're building something. We don't start with the ground floor and go, "OK, the foundations there, see y'all later." Then we got to build the rest of this, right? And we got to do it together. And so I think, as you said, and I appreciate that, you know, I do think the one-on-one is a powerful way to do it.
But we also lean into joy and happiness and having some fun, right? Because again, the work is heavy. And so that is actually one of one of the key principles that Black Voters Matter is that we know the struggle is real. But we also have to celebrate our humanity and our community, our togetherness. We have to do that and incorporate that into the work. There will be times where we got to say, "Hey, I gotta take two weeks back, I got to take a step back." And that is okay. But we still have to, on our journey, in this struggle - because we're doing the long game, as our national field director says - we have to take some time to just be ourselves, be human and be happy.
I love that. You're in Shreveport still, but you're statewide. Right?
You're still organizing statewide. What are some of the Louisiana campaigns that BVM has been involved in? For example, I think you were involved in redistricting earlier this year. Talk to me, first of all, about the redistricting.
There's been a suit for both the House and Senate legislative maps, which Black Voters Matter is a co plaintiff, in that case. That is currently awaiting results from the Supreme Court. And so that as well as the congressional map case, which of course a lot of people knew about that, because that was the fight to add an additional majority minority congressional district in Louisiana. And so the Governor vetoed that the map that the House and Senate put out, saying that it was illegal under Section Two of the Voting Rights Act. And then they did a special session. And they passed the map.
But y'all were involved in pushing back against that, right?
Yeah. So we did what we called the redistricting takeover. And we showed up at the Capitol in Baton Rouge. We brought the big Blackest bus in America. And we organized testimony. We organized for our partners, most notably the People's Promise Youth Division showed up and showed out. It was young people in high school who were talking about the gerrymandered map in their specific parish, which they came from up north, represent up north. And we also had other partners to testify about their experience in terms of their district, and changes about representation, because really, that's what it all comes down to.
Many Louisiana decision makers are not ready for the population of Louisiana, the Black population in Louisiana, to be fairly represented. And so it is a fight that has gone out of the hands of the legislature, and now to the courts, first the state courts and now the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has weighed in, and is weighing in for Louisiana, to have fair representation for its Black population. So we think about, like why folks are so tired of voting, it's because election after election -- Louisiana has like, the most elections of any state in the country -- so we're constantly voting and we're not seeing changes commensurate with the amount of elections that we have to participate in. And so we talk about like, attrition and like people kind of falling off, people are falling off because we're tired and we've had people who in our partner network have been fighting longer than I've been alive. And here I am, I'm their comrade, fighting an issue that they've been fighting for generations, that could take the spirit right out of you. It could take everything out of you for that to be your experience in terms of change. And so I don't even remember what your question is, but I know that people are tired. But we at Black Voters Matter, we are fighting for it. And we're still building because as I said earlier, it's a muscle. It's a muscle that we build, and so we're not quite ready to flex it.
So we were talking about campaigns, and I'm using that term loosely, that you've been involved. Last year, the Freedom Ride Bus came through. Was that in relation to the voting rights legislation that they were trying to push in D.C.?
Mm-hmm. And actually, New Orleans, Louisiana specifically jumped off the Freedom Tour. And we were able to engage at the Treme Center with some actual Freedom Riders, like Jeremy Big Duck Smith. He was one of the original Freedom Riders right down from New Orleans. And he was actually able to come and talk with us because, you know, a lot of our Freedom Fighters from that age of the movement -- which we know the stakes were so high -- a lot of them are getting older. And so to be able to be in the current work and fight for the current work with folks who laid the blueprint for how we move now was an incredible honor. And then we were able to go to the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, which I don't know if you've been there.
Of course, yeah.
They are a beacon within the community. And we were able to bring Big Duck there and have a community conversation around the fight for voting rights and what has happened. And then we went from Louisiana all the way up to D,C,, where we had a humongous rally with Unite Here, the Poor People's Campaign for voting rights.
You honored some still living Freedom Riders at that event.
And I saw in the video, Barbara Arnwine said that from 2016 to 2020, Black voter turnout had increased by 17 million votes, and that was scary to the folks who want to suppress Black votes, so they've ramped up their efforts. And that's part of what we see in that redistricting fight y'all are having.
Oh, my gosh, let me tell you something. We have 942,872 Black voters in the state of Louisiana. And I can only imagine how scary that number probably is to many people who are making it harder to vote, right? Those are the people who are already on the rolls, who already have their rights to vote who are already of age, right? All they have to do is be activated. So when you talk about a senate race, and you say, we can never have a Black representative on the federal level, I'm here to beg to differ. The math shows you, people of conscious in Louisiana and Black voters and people of color, we can elect a candidate on the statewide level, we can do it. But it's just about the work that happens in between the elections that will give us the ability and capacity to do just that.
It's the organizing work that needs to be done. And I'm just going to tell you, your founders, Latasha Brown and Cliff Albright wrote an article recently that changed how I'm thinking about the support I give, because I'm a small dollar donor, but I give donations to a lot of candidates. But their argument was that the people who are actually turning voters out to vote, that are swinging these elections, are groups like yours, and Power Coalition and New Georgia Project, folks who are on the ground turning out voters. And that was sort of a lightning bolt to me where I'm like, I need to change how I think about my small dollar donations and start sending them to those places where folks are actually doing that 365 organizing work and turning voters out, speaking to people, making sure they understand why it's important that they vote and the possibilities for statewide elected officials if folks turn out to vote. They won't ever know just from a candidate putting an ad on TV or whatever. It's that engagement that y'all are doing. That's really the root of how we can change our elections. And that requires funding, that requires support.
That requires funding. So many people think that this work is all volunteer, right? There's that misconception. But when we say capacity, we mean tools and resources and training. But we also mean money. Right? And so I'm so glad that you mentioned that in terms of like changing your perspective about how you invest your resources into this work. Because as someone who has been a campaign manager, I will say, a candidate can't inspire the people -- and we've seen that through the turnout -- a candidate can't inspire the people like the people can inspire the people to just get out there and use your power. Politics, many times, can be so transactional, but what we're doing is transformative. And so I'm glad that you're putting that into perspective, and that's a real conversation that we really need to have, not only statewide, but nationwide, about how dollars are invested into this work on both the state level and how we can work with folks like you and others to really increase that infrastructure and increase that capacity for us to really continue this work and the way that we need to do it.
We spoke in a video before we started recording the podcast about an amendment that was on our ballot in Louisiana this past election. I want to visit that for a little bit again here: Constitutional Amendment 7. That's the amendment where the phrase that you've mentioned before is: Slavery was on the ballot. What happened there?
That was a process that I will say happened over two years. It didn't start this year, it started really in 2021 when Decarcerate Louisiana -- Curtis Davis and Laramie, Griffin and Reverend Alexis Anderson, Maria Harmon and others in the social justice community -- came together to author legislation to remove the slavery exception clause from the Louisiana constitution. And so that first year that they brought it forward, they really met up with a lot of opposition in committee in 2021. It didn't even get out of committee. That's how much opposition it had. I know Representative Seabaugh was one of those legislators that really had some major concerns about the implications of removing slavery language from the Constitution. And so that was 2021.
Fast forward to 2022. Decarceration is at it again. They worked with their national partners Abolish Slavery National Network that was working with the Freedom Five, because as you mentioned earlier, this ballot initiative wasn't just up in Louisiana. It was also up in Alabama, Tennessee, Vermont, Oregon, and then of course, Louisiana. So we were a part of that Freedom Five movement to remove slavery. So 2022, the bill comes back up, they found their sponsor in Representative Edmund Jordan. And it passes unanimously out of the committee, out of the House and the Senate, with 30 sponsors. So now, the bill is ready to go to the ballot. And it became Constitutional Amendment 7. So it went from HB 298, SB 298, became Act 276, and then Constitutional Amendment 7, and now the people get to decide whether yes, they want to remove slavery and involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime from the Constitution, or no, they want to leave the language in the constitution.
So we were ramping up organizing efforts to get the vote out and to really explain the language. And then we were hit by a whammy when the sponsor, Representative Jordan, actually put out an article. Well, he didn't put out the article, but it was some business publication, where an article came out that Representative Jordan was urging people to now vote no. The sponsor of the bill was now urging people to vote no because of unintended consequences, that to this day, I really have not heard one unintended consequence that could happen. That has not been explained to me or any of the experts that I've been having conversations with, or the advocates or organizers, like what those unintended consequences could be. That has not been named at this point.
But what I do know is that more than 60% of the state voted to keep the language. And, you know, as I mentioned earlier, in our video interview, what happened with Constitutional Amendment 7 to remove slavery and involuntary servitude from the Constitution was a one-two punch. First, the language was confusing to begin with. So we're going from "except as punishment for a crime" to "except in the lawful administration of criminal justice." So that confused people, because then people start to ask "Well, does that change anything?" Well, the answer is, yes, it does. But people were rightfully confused. And then the the knockout punch was when Representative Jordan, sponsor of the bill, came in and began urging people to vote no.
And like dominos, it went from representative Jordan to the Democratic caucus to other groups around the state that people trust in and listen to urging people to vote no. And so it became a fight that I think was not estimated. We thought that it was going to be a slam dunk, especially since it passed unanimously, that we would at least be able to appeal to voters of conscious and Black voters to let them know slavery was on the ballot, a yes means that we remove this exception from our constitution, a no means that it stays. And so because of that one-two punch, here today is I guess a plan or a strategy to take it back through the legislature in 2023, to fix the language. There will be a large level of participation from the community and whatever happens and however it happens. But what I foresee is this looks like it could be another fight in the legislature that could have easily been avoided. Right?
It seems to me like it would have been easier to pass this, and then fix whatever language next year because you'd be forced to fix it because it had passed, rather than say, we'll take another bite at the apple and try to pass the right language next year. Because as you pointed out, 2021 could happen again, and it could just get killed in committee. But folks who don't deal with the legislature a lot aren't going to understand those little specifics like that.
And I'm gonna say something that's Lynda talking and not Omari, because I think you'll have something to say behind this anyway. But this is from me, I just want to be very clear that having spent over a decade in a political space, and specifically, Democratic Party politics in Louisiana, I just want to say that politicians often have political considerations with what they're telling you. Whereas for me, I like to trust the community groups. They're more likely to be telling you information based on what's best for the people. So that's why when people ask me how I plan to vote on that amendment, my first stop was VOTE -- Voice of the Experienced -- to go to them and say," Hey, what are y'all recommending on this?" Because I knew that they would not steer me wrong on this sort of issue. But I know you made a comment on the video we did that I think's important. So I want to let you make it again, that it's not about an individual legislator. You didn't want to kind of put the onus on an individual legislator, and I just want to let you kind of repeat that.
Yeah, yeah, no, it's not so much that we don't put the onus on an individual legislator, because I think there is most definitely a level of accountability that will have to be directed to the decision maker. However, yeah, on a broader level, we have to really tackle and target the issue, not the person. Right? When we're designing campaigns and strategies, it shouldn't be focused just on the people who are making the decision, but the system itself, because when we are understanding and tackling it from a systemic approach, then we're taking all things into consideration, which means we're bringing in the right people, the right organizations, the right entity to tackle those individual processes and systemic issues that are causing us the problems to begin with.
When Represented Jordan was born, he didn't say, "Let's put slavery in the Constitution." That happened before any representative that we're dealing with today was even born. And so what we have to recognize with that being said is that we are tackling systems. That takes a long time. That means that sometimes we have to de-personalize it and be very objective about it, while also creating ways to call people in. I say that as opposed to calling people out, right? Because I operate off of there are no permanent enemies, and no permanent allies, right? Because we're dealing with an issue, not the person. So that's where we stand on that in terms of how we deal with accountability.
But also, one of the easiest ways to hold someone accountable is in the ballot box. It's no face to face. Right? It's not confrontational, you go into your private booth. And when the 2023 House and Senate elections come up, and we're thinking about those legislators who made it harder for us to remove slavery from our Constitution, when we get in that ballot booth, we make sure we don't press the button next to their name. We press the button next to the name of the person who we know, holds our best interests at heart. Well, how do we do that? How do we find that out? That's the organizing that happens in between and during elections, where we, as individuals, and as communities, understand who holds our best interests at heart. We look at their voting record. We look at the things that they've done in the past that demonstrate that they can help our communities. We look at the things that they've said, how they're moving, who they're talking to, and who they're not talking to. And then we educate our friends and our families on that information that we're receiving, that information that is pivotal and critical, in a language that people understand, in a language of the people.
I do want to have a lesson that we take away from this episode being that folks should listen to their community groups first and foremost. I want them to know -- because, look, people were rightly upset when they came on the other side of this and the story started to come out that Louisiana left slavery in the Constitution. And people were like, no, no, no. So when they started to process that maybe they voted the wrong way or didn't have all the information they would have liked to have had going into the voting booth, they were rightly upset about it. And so I just want to make sure people have the right places to go to get information on these issues when it happens again.
You have a radio show, you had Curtis Davis from Decarcerate Louisiana on. I thought that was a really good explainer on the issue. I'm going to link to that video on Facebook. I thought he framed it really well, that it was just a first step, that this was just a first step that we aren't going to get all the change we want in one day or one fell swoop. I don't know if you have comments on that.
I'm in complete agreement. Look, I'm following the leadership of people like Curtis and Laramie and Decarcerate. Because, you know, number one, Curtis actually spent 25 years at Angola. And he talks a lot about his experience as someone who has served time in the penal system in Louisiana. And he talks about his experience of picking cotton, right, and being paid pennies on the dollar. So that's who I'm following. So just to your point of like community, following the people in the community, following people who have been impacted, it's like, literally critical. Like you got to do it, just bottom line.
But in terms of the piece around first step, absolutely. That's why it was so disheartening. When we saw this misinformation campaign -- because to me, again, I have not heard anything tangible about what those unintended consequences are, so what I witnessed was a misinformation campaign. And so this is a first step to educating our people on not just Constitutional Amendment 7, but on all of the systems and processes and issues that impact us in a way that gets to the people, that is understood by the people, and is actionable by the people. That election, whether your person won or didn't, regardless of whether that bill that could have been a slam dunk even though it did not pass, was just the first step.
That first day in the gym, you're not going to walk out looking like the Rock in one day. We did our push ups and our our leg things, we've done a good workout, but we got some more workouts to go. So don't burn yourself out, don't pull a muscle. Take that break, drink that water, but just know we're gonna be hitting the gym again, December 10. And then after that, we're gonna have to hit the gym again for these House and Senate and for the gubernatorial races in 2023, not to mention we got leg days at the legislature. And there will be so many different policies and terms of this particular fiscal session that impact us. And so there's a lot of work that we have to do.
And I honestly left out of Tuesday, and I hate to say this, I feel like it's low key disrespectful: even though we reelected Senator Call-a-crackhead, I leave knowing how powerful we are. The bomb threat at Kenner shows you how serious people are about keeping people from getting out to vote. We're powerful. We just got to tap in. So you know one thing I want to say to people, I know it's frustrating, but don't tap out. Right now is the time to tap in. I guarantee. I really guarantee.
I do want to mention again your radio show. First of all, first of all, I love the framing of the gym, your your framing of going to the gym, but also your radio show seems like a good place for people to go in the future to get that information. When is that happening? How can people access that?
So you can tune in live to What's Up Nation that broadcasts on 99.7 KMJJ up here in the northern Louisiana area. And you can tune in live on Monday at noon. So catch us during your lunch break. Then it syndicates on Sundays on the radio. So for anyone in the northern Louisiana area, if you turn your dial to 99.7, you'll be able to hear me on Sundays at noon. So tune in to my Facebook or my Instagram. And I'll send that information to you, Lynda so that you can share out my social media, you can tune in there live Mondays at noon for the show What's Up Nation, also known as WU Nation, where we really dissect political issues of consequence, popular issues of consequence, anything that impacts our community, we talk about it, but we also walk away with a call to action.
That's great. You've also been connected to the Louisiana chapter of the Poor People's Campaign, which is the movement founded by Dr. Reverend William Barber, is that still active here?
So the Louisiana Poor People's Campaign, that was another training ground for me, in terms of really like fusion movement, bringing together various causes and various groups to build a large mass people's movement. And I really want to see more from the Louisiana Poor People's Campaign here. I think that's something, if someone wants to take up that banner here and really grow that, there's so much potential there. From bringing in the arts community, the faith communities of all different faiths, the disabled community, and really talk about the demilitarization and the environmental justice issues, systemic racism and poverty, what they call the ills of society, and systemic racism, that movement can really, really, really do some things in Louisiana. And so you know, anyone who's interested in that, any faith leaders, and any members of the clergy, folks who consider themselves impacted by the three evils of systemic racism, poverty, demilitarization, or the war economy, rather, reach out, let me know. I know, one of my good colleagues, she was doing some things. And I know Sharon Lavigne does a lot of things in terms of the environmental justice piece around the Louisiana Poor People's Campaign. But that's something that I really want to see grow.
OK. I was checking my timeline. You were our Organizer of the Month exactly one year ago. So it's been a been a year since we first celebrated you. You also nominated Breka Peoples. You've done some work together up there in North Louisiana, right?
Breka Peoples is like one of the realest freedom fighters of our generation. Seriously, yeah. Up here in North Louisiana, and she also works with advocates across the state, wherever she's needed.
It was some of her group that went with you to the redistricting conversations, right?
Yep. She brought her People's Promise and her People's Promise Youth Division. Not only did she engage them and provide training for advocacy, she's also sent some of them to some of the most prestigious colleges in the nation. And so she had someone who started at Tulane this year, someone who started at Stanford this year. And so she is really training up and engaging our youth in a way that I've never seen done before.
The organizations you're working with, when are y'all planning to get together to look at 2023 and what you want to do there?
We have definitely had that conversation. And one thing that I really want people to think about is, like, are there people in the community who could get in some of these races? Are there people in the community that you would like to see? Right? Because we really have to deepen our conversation around vetting candidates who represent our interests and our ideals, and will push our agenda unapologetically. And so I know that it takes resources. But I think that we need to start having those conversations and start putting our people in place. And then we'll talk about the resources later. But let's find the people, let's find the people and really build that.
But, you know, again, it's just gonna be another day at the gym. We're gonna have to really flex. We're gonna have to really build so that we can have a conversation about what role our house and senate play in our legislation, what role the legislature plays in our state, what policies they impact, what things do they preempt? Are there certain things that our local cities could have more ability to do, could have power over our pay standards and our vacation? What role does the legislature play? What resources do they have power over? Right? So we have to start now having the conversation with the public about what role the legislature plays, what role do they play? What role does their legislator play? Who is their legislator? On the House sidem who is their legislator? And on the Senate side, who is their senator. What is the difference? Have they had a conversation with that person?
So let's start doing that education now. So then when it's actually time to start doing that phone banking, having those conversations on the phone, when it's time to start knocking on doors, we've already educated people on the role those offices play, and we can start to really engage people. And I also invite people to to consider issue mining, and really figuring out what are those problems? What are those concerns that folks in their community have? And then we develop a strategy and messaging that resonates with that.
Thank you for saying all of those things, both candidate recruitment to all the way to the last thing you just said, that was all highly important. With all the nonstop advocacy work you do, you mentioned joy a little earlier. What are you doing for self care? And how are you making space for joy in your life?
You know, honestly, I'm like Nike, I just do it. I just do it. Right? Look, I mean, because seriously, you know, as a mom, I'm a mom of two boys, I have an 11 year old and a one year old. And that keeps my life interesting. But I have to like be real serious about prioritizing just spending time, because this job never stops in a way. I try to wind down around 5:00 or 6:00. But I get calls at 12:00, 1:00 in the morning, sometimes regarding the work, because, again, we're dealing with people's issues. So their issues don't clock out and problems for humanity don't clock out, unfortunately.
But it's time for us to reclaim our time and spend it with ourselves, our family, our tribe, our community. You know, like sometimes we feel guilty when we take that space. And especially when I was a teenager, my mom will tell you, I didn't have no problem taking a nap, pausing, pressing stop. But as I got older and became a mom, and really got deep into this work, I started to feel like "Oh, man, I'm taking a break, I could be doing something, anything, you know, I could be looking at my calendar, I could be making a call, I could be checking on so and so, I could be writing." So there's always something to do. But we have to like really be like Nike and just like take that space, I don't care if the space is 30 minutes. I don't care if the space is putting your phone on Do Not Disturb. I don't care if that space is taking a nap when maybe you should have been at another meeting, or spending time with your children in the middle of the day, going to the park, whatever that space is, to keep us healthy, to keep us in the work. I do it unapologetically. So if you can't find me, trust me, I'm not worried. I'm taking a nap, spending time with the babies at the park, whatever. And I think that's something that we should continue to push, that the world will continue to spin if we take a break. It will continue to spin. And so let's not be guilty about it. And let's just do it.
And it's really important because, as you've said over and over again, this is not just 365, there's no end to it. Right? I mean, this is lifelong commitment. And through different phases of our lives, we may have more or less time to invest in it. But when we're in one of those times when we're investing a whole lot of time in it, as you mentioned before, you'll burn out if you don't take the time for yourself.
You got to do it. So just do it.
So let's get to the last three questions I ask a version of every episode.
I do have to get in the car line.
I appreciate your giving me so much time today. Omair, what's the biggest obstacle to progress in Louisiana?
Anti- Black racism. And it's something that you would think that just white folks do that. It is a system. Look at the policies, like we got a really obvious one this time, about slavery, and how they're using prison labor as the new slavery. Right? That's, that's anti-Black racism. And because who is disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration is Black men and women, Black mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. So that's just one example of how those pervasive systems that were built to keep a certain group of people in their place impact everybody. And I mean, everybody, no one, no one is immune. I don't care if you're not Black, you are impacted by anti-Black racism, because it is embedded into the system and the very way that we do things, the way we do elections, the way we choose candidates, right?
Because as we've seen -- and I think that the Poor People's Campaign has such an astute and eloquent conversation on this -- this systemic racism leads to poverty, which impacts every color, right? It impacts everybody, right? It leads to this world economy, it leads to communities being impacted disproportionately by cancer, because factories and entities and private businesses think it's okay, to put their toxic chemical making factories in the middle of poor and Black communities. Call it what it is unapologetically. Because if you can't name a thing, you can't fight the thing. If you can't name it, what is it? We have to we have to name it, unapologetically and fight it together. And then we're gonna see everybody's situation improve.
And what's our biggest opportunity?
The people, because again, like, I don't care what happened Tuesday, I saw people of all stripes, doing their duty, helping to mobilize their friends and family members, digging into their humanity to make it work. We just got to keep that up. Now, we are the army. We are the freedom army, those of us who did the right thing and do the right thing for every election, and in between elections, we are the freedom army. And now we have to get more recruits. And I'm here to say that the 947,000 Black registered voters that are there, those are recruits that are already ready, they just have to be reminded. So this is not an impossible thing.
And we know there's white folks of conscious in this state, I'm talking to one. And there are many. There are things that Lynda can say to a white voter that I can't say, that will be effective. That is the part of the work. So we organize in our communities. And then we come together to fight the beasts, to fight the system right together. So we have a lot of opportunities. We got a lot of opportunities. But it's the people that are going to take advantage of the opportunities. December 10, we have an opportunity. November 2023, we have an opportunity. November 2024, we have an opportunity. And in between that, we have other opportunities to organize and build together.
I love it. Omari, who's your favorite superhero?
Well, I have a few. So can I name my two? One that I know personally and one I don't know, personally. This is gonna be cliche, but my mom was definitely my superhero, a Black woman in the South, daughter of a sharecropper, who was born in 1916 in Talladega, Alabama, and a homemaker in the South, went on to become educated, and took a job I would never take, became an accountant. She deals with numbers, deals with numbers, and that's not that's like so literally the complete opposite of who I am. Do not put a number in front of me, okay? I'mma freak out. I like words and people. But she's done that and she has sewn into me and helped to not just inspire who I've become, but has actually supported, provided that capacity of building for me to be able to not just be a change maker, but have the ability to raise my family, have the ability to be healthy, and be a change maker. And so she's my hero, right? Because she's made this happen, literally.
But the hero that I don't know, who I would have loved to have met, is Ella Jo Baker. Because her story and her philosophy has taught me how to really organize. The union sent me to tens of dozens of trainings. I've been to trainings with Black Voters Matter and other community organizations, but it's it was Ella Jo Baker's approach and the fact that in this community that I live in, in Shreveport, Louisiana, in the 50s, Dr. King came here twice. The second time he came here, he said he would never come back. Because he believed that many of the people here were too afraid to do anything about racism. But when he said he would never come back, Ella Jo Baker came after him, and she stayed. She stayed for several months to organize to register people to vote, not register people to vote, but to organize to register Black people in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, to vote in a place that they refer to as Bloody Caddo. She stayed, she had a one-on-one conversations, she had lunch with people, she helped people in their time of need. And then on that fateful day, she had people all around the block, hundreds of people lined up at the Caddo Parish Courthouse to try to register to vote.
If she could do that in 1958, I can actually use the tools that we have now to register people online. We can do it online. She had to do all that just to get people to line up to try and pass the poll test to register. If she could do that, through building relationships with people and meeting people where they are, we can do so much in 2022 We can do so much. But she always said, "You don't need strong leaders when you have strong people." And we are all strong people within our own right. We just have to be reminded. We just have to be reminded. So Ella Jo Baker has taught me, and she actually inspired the Ella Jo Baker Movement School that we lead as a program with ASAP, where we teach how to build a movement and how to organize. So those are my two heroes, my mommy and my Ella Jo Baker.
Well, those are powerful answers Omari and the spirit of both those women live on in you. So thank you for joining me. Thank you for sticking with me through some technical difficulties. I know you've got to get to the carpool lane, but thank you so much for everything you do.
Oh, thank you, Lynda. And I appreciate you and Louisiana Lefty. I hope that you continue your work. Thank you for your support and your encouragement. The work continues. And we are going to really shut it down in Louisiana. Just you see.
Thank you for listening to Louisiana Lefty. Please follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Thank you to Ben Collinsworth for producing Louisiana Lefty, Jen Pack of Black Cat Studios for our Super Lefty artwork, and Thousand Dollar Car for allowing us to use their swamp pop classic "Security Guard" as our Louisiana Lefty theme song.