Statement Regarding Lafayette Library Board’s Rejection of Voting Rights Education Grant

Lafayette Public Library’s downtown branch in 2018, photo by Leslie Westbrook.

Voice of the Experienced (VOTE) Lafayette condemns the Lafayette Library Board’s decision to reject a grant for an educational program about voting rights and disenfranchisement. While we are pleased to hear that the program will instead be put on by University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Edith Garland Dupré Library, the decision from the parish library remains deeply troubling. Board members voted against the grant because the program speakers were “extremely far left,” and instead needed to show “both sides.” The board’s formal statement Monday doubled down on their decision to reject the program’s “potentially controversial” topics.

“This is something that they’re refusing to do as a library, which is supposed to offer facts and information that people can use,” said Consuela Gaines, VOTE Chapter Organizer for Lafayette. “It’s voter suppression to not want to educate people. It’s Black History Month, and I think that’s why they wanted to offer a grant like this, so that those people who are most oppressed by not being allowed to vote aren’t still left in the dark. They still wanted to create an opportunity for people to be educated on the long history behind voting rights.”

Gaines continued: 

“In doing this, [the library board] made it a partisan thing. Nothing that these speakers could say would be partisan because it could be fact-checked, it would be on record. A lot of the history of voting rights is unfortunately based on voter suppression and people’s skin color. History is history. There are people in our community who are really upset about this, especially since there are so few Black History Month programs being done [compared to previous years] because of the pandemic. For them to pass this up makes no sense.”

VOTE Lafayette and other VOTE chapters across the state continue to fight one of the most common forms of disenfranchisement: misinformation. While thousands of people with convictions have their voting rights back due to the 2019 passage of Act 636, many do not know they’re even eligible to register. This small grant at the public library was a chance to combat just that kind of disenfranchisement. When democratic institutions decide not to share facts because of fear — or worse, disagreement with the facts — we must question the institution itself.

We look forward to the series’ presentation at ULL and the fruitful community discussion it will create.

Biden’s Executive Order Feels Like Progress: It Isn’t

President Joe Biden signing the Executive Order on Reforming Our Incarceration System

As soon as it happened, the tweets, posts, and messages began: “President Biden is shutting down private prisons!” For some of us, we read past the headline. For others of us, we recall the day President Obama issued the same Executive Order — which was subsequently repealed by Trump.

While Obama’s order was to not renew some contracts in the federal system, none of those contracts actually ended during his administration. When Trump repealed the order, some of the contracts were renewed… But now we have a restoration of the order that the contracts should be left to expire. See what is happening here?

More importantly, the order applies to less than 10% of the facilities within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and less than 10% of the prisons that are holding people for felony convictions. It only amounts to about 14,000 people. It does not touch the many facilities that form the heart of America’s immigrant detention Gulag; around 80% of people in ICE custody are held in private facilities. It does not apply to the private prisons that hold people pre-trial, nor the ones that hold people in state custody. And of course, it does not apply to public prisons, which make up 91% of US prisons and jails.

Most importantly, the order does not get at what is actually wrong with prisons: incarceration.

Read more from our friend, author and professor Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, whose Op-ed is the most comprehensive and accurate writing on the Executive Order.