An Act. An Action.
Steel necklace. Performance. Prints. Fall 2020
Steel necklace. Performance. Prints. Fall 2020
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits racial discrimination in voting practices such as poll taxes and literacy tests that were primarily designed to keep people of color from voting. Though generally regarded as the last major step towards ending voter suppression in this nation, many systemic barriers still exist today that prevent individuals from casting a vote. These include the purging of voter rolls, voter ID laws, limitations on early and absentee ballots, the closing of polling locations, and felon disenfranchisement.
Voting rights for the incarcerated are not determined by the federal government but instead vary from state to state. Conviction or even a plea deal for certain crimes can permanently strip an individual from their right to vote in 11 states. Only in 2 states are an individual’s voting rights not affected by a felony status.
When we discuss the topic of felon disenfranchisement, we are speaking about voter suppression. Generational systemic racism, poverty and oppression have disproportionately locked up people of color, particularly Black and Brown men, in our nation. Though voter suppression may not have been the intent of mass incarceration, it is a harmful byproduct that actively strips certain communities of equal representation.
“Black Americans of voting age are more than four times as likely to lose their voting rights than the rest of the adult population, with one of every 13 black adults disenfranchised nationally.”
We must fight to end mass incarceration and systemic racism within our policing and justice system. A cultural shift is also necessary to move from a belief system that values punitive measures to one that values and emphasizes restorative justice, empathy, and empowerment. From childhood, we are taught that doing something wrong or breaking the rules leads to punishment. The punished, regardless of the nature of their crimes, become powerless when they are incarcerated. Shame directed towards them from our society often bars them from support and advocacy.
If we stand against systemic racism, and if we believe in our rights as citizens to participate in a representative democracy, then it is also our responsibility to advocate for those whose rights have been trampled, manipulated, and stripped away due to their incarcerated or formerly incarcerated status.
An Act. An Action. is a multifaceted work that highlights this form of disenfranchisement. A large-scale necklace, 53” in length, showcases the text of Colorado House Bill 19-1266. This bill was passed in 2019 and restored voting right to parolees, effectively reenfranchising nearly 10,000 individuals in Colorado. The text of the bill is etched onto the surface of a steel panel and hangs from the neck with a steel cord and shackle. Its weight and materiality represent the cold, anonymous, industrialized nature of the incarceration system and the burden it places on our most vulnerable communities: people of color and those living in poverty. Whereas this necklace acts as a monument of sorts to the legislation that has been passed, its tone is not celebratory in nature, as there is still much work to be done. Bills such as HB 19-1266 are only passed if individuals put pressure on their elected officials to do so.
Punitive ideology reinforces the “out of sight, out of mind” view of our incarcerated neighbors; they are viewed as a blight on society who are rightfully paying for their crimes, locked away for their punishment and for our safety For this reason a second steel plate was etched, this time distilling the text of HB 19-1266 down for the purposes of creating a call to action for citizens and individuals to advocate for voting rights. Beginning in September 2020, I have traveled to various government buildings in downtown Denver, Colorado to print this plate by hand. Each print requires 30 minutes of a repetitive rubbing motion to transfer the ink. This intense rubbing suggests intense care and determination but also brings to mind such mundane acts like the laborious task of scrubbing a floor. This seemingly futile act produces imperfect prints, and my vulnerable position in these public forums facilitates a space for dialogue. Dialogue about labor and care. About doing work that is difficult and often dishearteningly incremental. About voting rights and freedom.
 Jean Chung and Josh Rovner, “Felony Disenfranchisement: A Primer,” The Sentencing Project, August 7, 2020, https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/felony-disenfranchisement-a-primer/.
Upcoming live prints:
- Saturday, October 24th noon (MST) @ 16th Street Mall in Downtown Denver (check instagram the day of for the exact cross streets)
- Weekly through the 2020 election. Check back for more dates.
- Friday, September 25 4:30pm (MST) @ Colorado State Capitol
- Friday, October 2nd 4pm (MST) @ Colorado State Capitol
- Wednesday, October 7th 1:30pm (MST) @ Denver City Jail (Colfax between Delaware and Fox)
- Wednesday, October 14th 1:00pm (MST) @ Denver City Jail (Colfax between Delaware and Fox)
- CANCELED DUE TO FORECAST OF FREEZING TEMPERATURES Friday, October 23rd 11:00am (MST) @ Denver City Jail (Colfax between Delaware and Fox)
This video was taken during a live print performance on September 25, 2020. The audio comes from Colorado House and Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee meetings on the bill, and a voicemail I received in the summer of 2020 from a friend who was affected by this legislation.
If you are interested in learning more about voter disenfranchisement, including what the laws are in your state, please check out the following resources:
Do you have a resource that you think should be added to this list? Email me!
-Photos by Lizeth Hernandez