KANSAS CITY, MO. — On Sunday, August 28th, Missouri’s Republican-backed “voter identification law” went into effect. The new law is one of many in the nationwide electoral assault led by right-wing extremists in a “Jim Crow-era effort” to suppress the vote of Black communities and other people of color.
As the November elections draw closer, Black civil rights leaders from across the state are becoming increasingly outraged with a number of measures on the upcoming ballot.
In response to the ongoing attacks, and to provide unified political vision for the upcoming months, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Kansas City hosted a historic convening at Jamison Memorial Temple headlined by major civil rights figure and National President of the SCLC, Dr. Charles Steele Jr.
The event, organized by Revered Dr. Vernon Howard, was packed with long-time civil rights leaders including Executive Director of Missouri Faith Voices Reverend Darryl Gray, Director of Missouri Voter Protection Coalition Denise Lieberman, as well as community leaders like President of the Urban League of KC Gwen Grant, and Councilwoman Melissa Robinson.
“We as a community and we as a church are fighting back,” Amaia Cook, Director of Organizing with the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, and a speaker at Sunday’s event said emphatically.
Cook delivered an impassioned speech to the lively congregation, particularly taking aim at Amendment 4 which she described as “an attack on our community” and an “undemocratic attempt to steal resources from our community when we need them most.”
Amendment 4 is an authoritarian proposal on the November 8th ballot that would amend the Missouri Constitution to confer Missouri lawmakers the power for the next three years to increase the minimum level of funding Kansas City must devote to its state-controlled police force.
In other words, it grants politicians who are not from, and do not live anywhere near Kansas City, the power and authority to determine how Kansas Citians must spend their tax dollars.
“We don’t have a say in what goes on in our very own community as it regards to law enforcement, as it regards to public safety, as it regards community well being…So the reason we are telling people to vote no on Amendment 4, to the state, to the politicians who don’t live in Kansas City, we are reclaiming control over what goes on in our community.”
Howard also decried the racist and discriminatory impacts of voter suppression, saying “all of them are impacted disproportionately. Black people, people of color, immigrants, students, seniors, the houseless, and those who struggle to get the various forms of ID required,” he said. “It is a throwback to the ID poll taxes, it is a throwback to the old literary tests that government put in place in the mid 20th century.”
Following the lineup of prolific speakers, Dr. Steele, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was last to take the pulpit. Steele’s fiery, righteously indignant speech was reminiscent of the revered Dr. Jeremiah Wright, and indicted not only the attacks taking place in Missouri, but all across the United States. He crossed from reparations, the U.S. legacy of white supremacist terrorism and the government-sanctioned assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (whose mother Dr. Steele knew personally), to the tendency for the Black bourgeoisie to become “afraid to speak the truth.”
He also expressed the vital importance of Black media to providing a unified political vision for the Black community.
Despite explicitly condemning Missouri House Bill 1878 and articulating the dire importance of expressing electoral power in our current crisis, Steele warned against relying solely on electoral means as a method for achieving Black liberation and freedom. He left the congregation with a phrase of wisdom;