The United States is founded on exclusive voting power
The U.S. Constitution gave states the power to decide who was qualified to vote. States typically restricted voting to white males, 21+ who owned property. Some states had religious tests to restrict voting to Christian men. In 1789, George Washington is elected president with 100% of the electoral college. Only 6% of the US population was eligible to vote. In the 1820s, land ownership was removed as a clause for voting.
Fifteenth Amendment Ratified
In 1868, the 14th Amendment grants African Americans citizenship, but not the right to vote.
In 1870, the 15th Amendment is ratified, stating the government can’t deny citizens the right to vote based on race. States used Jim Crow Laws and other barriers like poll taxes, literacy tests and language requirements to attempt to disenfranchise Black voters.
Women granted the right to vote
American woman are granted the right to vote through the ratification of the 19th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. However, the women’s suffrage movement and the 19th Amendment are not fully inclusive as the amendment does not intend to benefit women of color and purposefully pushes their plight to the boundaries. It will not be until the 1960s that all women can truly exercise their right to vote, but even that freedom is still being threatened today with new legislation restricting voter access.
Barriers to Voting Reach a Tipping Point
In the 1960s, states ramped up voter supression policies such as literacy tests, poll taxes and English requirements to suppress people of color, immigrants and low-income populations.
Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was comprehensive legislation that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, required equal access to public places and employment, and enforced desegregation of schools and the right to vote. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The 24th Amendment outlaws poll taxes, or tax fees, used to discourage poor people from voting.
More than 500 non-violent civil rights marchers are attacked by law enforcement officers while attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to demand the need for African American voting rights.
Twenty-sixth Amendment Gives Power to Young People
Until the 26th Amendment, states restricted voting to people 21 and older. With the rise of student activism and the war in Vietnam fought by 18+ year old draftees, the movement to lower the voting age grew. The 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18.
Voting Rights Act Expanded
Provisions to the Voting Rights Act required jurisdictions to provide voting materials in other languages and multilingual assistance if they have a significant number of voters with limited or no proficiency in English.
Voting Rights Act Extended
Congress extended the Voting Rights Act for 25 years and required states to take steps to make voting more accessible for the elderly and people with disabilities.
In response to historically low voter registration rates, the National Voter Registration Act is passed by Congress to allow citizens to register to vote when they apply for a drivers’ license. It also required states to offer mail-in registration. More than 30 million people registered to vote in the first year.
The WNBA launches
On April 24, 1996, women’s basketball announces “We Got Next” as the NBA Board of Governors approved the concept of a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) to begin play in June 1997. For the next 25 years, the WNBA and its athletes stand at the forefront of using their platforms as a place to promote social justice and racial equity. From Sheryl Swoopes advancing equality for people identifying as LGTBQ+ to Maya Moore leaving to prompt criminal justice reform to wearing shirts with bullet holes following the shooting of Jacob Blake, championing social justice has always been an integral part of the W. “We are a walking protest at all times as a W.N.B.A. athlete,” Mistie Bass told the New York Times in 2020.“If you think about it, we have so many different stigmas. We’re just constantly in the fight. I don’t think we have ever not been in a fight for equality, for justice.”
Election Problems Highlighted
The infamous Bush-Gore Presidential race led to an agonizing recount in the state of Florida and highlighted problems with the outdated U.S. election process. Faulty equipment, bad ballot design, inconsistent rules and procedure all played a part.
Help America Vote Act passed
The Help America Vote Act placed new mandates on states and localities to replace old voting equipment, create statewide voter registration lists and provide provisional ballots so eligible voters are not turned away if their names are not on the list. It also aimed to improve people with disabilities ability to cast private, independent ballots.
Shelby County v Holder
Landmark Supreme Court case strikes down major parts of the Voting Rights Act, allowing states to pass laws that could potentially restrict voting.
Barriers to Voting Increase – Again
North Carolina passes a voter identification law that many saw as an attempt to suppress people of color. Texas institutes a strict voter identification law that had previously been blocked by the Voting Rights Act because of its impact on low-income people’s and racial minorities’ right to vote. Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Virginia also enacted restrictions with their newfound power from Shelby County v. Holder. Civil rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice fought and were able to strike down the North Carolina law. A federal judge said it targeted African Americans with “almost surgical precision”.
Voting Rights Organizations Get Involved
Voting rights organizations multiply and activate to protect and advance the right to vote. They challenge unconstitutional barriers to voting, charge on-the-ground advocacy groups to advance pro-voter policies and engage non-partisan efforts to register, educate and mobilize underrepresented groups.
Big Ten Voting Challenge
The Big Ten Voting Challenge is a nonpartisan initiative created to spur civic engagement and encourage more students across the Big Ten to vote on Election Day. When comparing voter turnout from the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections, turnout increased from 14 percent to 41 percent.
New York Liberty Host First UNITY Game
In 2016, The Liberty’s UNITY social justice platform was initiated by players in response to the killings of unarmed Black men and women such as Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling and countless others. UNITY aims to ignite activism, educate fans, mobilize the local community, empower players and amplify marginalized voices through key partnerships, social media activations and events. In 2017, in partnership with RISE, the Liberty hosted their first UNITY game, which includes daylong programming such as a, including a town-hall style event, concourse activations, fan giveaways and community outreach.
Voter Suppression Continues
USA Today found that election officials closed thousand of polling places with a disproportionate impact on communities of color. In Georgia, voting hours were cut and early voting was restricted on weekends, seen as an attempt to target the nonpartisan “Souls to the Polls” initiative that encouraged churchgoers to vote on Sunday after church. Both measures were defeated in the state assembly.
Record Number of Voters
In 2018, 116 million people – 49.7% of the eligible population – voted. This set a 100-year record for midterm races and saw record numbers of women and candidates of color running at every level. Voters approved important state ballot measures to expand the electorate and improve voting. This included lifting the permanent ban on voting for people with a felony criminal record in Florida.
The Plaza at Barclays Center becomes Hub for Social Justice Activism
The public space outside of the Barclays Center, home to the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty, has been the scene of a variety of protests and other gatherings starting with the 2020 demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd. “We belong here” and “You belong here” signage at the front and rear entrances, respectively, serves as a constant affirmation and call to action.
Softball players quit team, start new one after GM posts anti-kneeling tweet
Connie May, the team general manager for the Scrap Yard Dawgs, an independent professional softball team in Texas, posted a picture before the game of players standing for the national anthem and celebrated it with a tweet tagging Donald Trump. The coaches and players, many who will represent the U.S. at the 2021 Olympics, felt May used them as political pawns, and as a result they quit the team and started a separate one without May. Kelsey Stewart, one of the handful of Black players on the Scrap Yard Dawgs and Olympic team, said on Twitter, “I AM HURT … I am disgusted … as a BLACK softball player I DO NOT … DO NOT stand with a statement like this … if you didn’t understand racism and what was going on the last month. This … THIS IS IT. This is EXACTLY what we’ve been trying to change.”
WNBA players, WNBPA call for removal of U.S. senator Kelly Loeffler as Atlanta Dream owner
Loeffler, a Republican senator from Georgia, writes a letter to the WNBA commissioner “emphatically opposing” the league’s support of the “Black Lives Matter and “Say Her Name” movement. The Atlanta Dream release their own statement from their players that states “Black lives matter. We are the women of the Atlanta Dream. We are women who support a movement. We are strong and we are fearless. We offer a voice to the voiceless. Our team is united in the Movement for Black Lives. It’s not extreme to demand change after centuries of inequality. This is not a political statement. This is a statement of humanity.” Dream and WNBA players go on to endorse a Loeffler challenger for her Senate seat, Raphael Warnock. Research from the Washington Post indicated the WNBA players’ support for Warnock turned the tides in the Senate race, and Warnock eventually defeats Loeffler in a January runoff to win her seat.
Kings, RISE and When We All Vote relaunch “Rally the Vote”
The Sacramento Kings, in partnership with RISE and When We All Vote, re-launched Rally the Vote, a first-of-its-kind nonpartisan coalition of professional sports franchises focused on getting fans to register to vote and participate in elections. Starting with 20 teams in August, the coalition expanded to more than 50 organizations across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, MLL, MLS, WNBA and NWSL by Election Day.
New York Liberty Host Fourth Annual UNITY Game
In the wake of the murder of Breonna Taylor in 2020, the team hosted “STAY LOUD: Why We #SayHerName” to educate fans about the origins of the #SayHerName campaign, the many Black women victims who have died due to brutal law enforcement encounters, insight behind the disproportionate media coverage, and the role of sports activism and allyship in the pursuit for justice. Players hosted a virtual panel on August 26th and key activations during their fourth annual UNITY game vs. the Dallas Wings on August 27th. Click here to view more about the campaign.
LeBron James helps recruit more than 40,000 poll workers
As part of James’ More Than a Vote, which he started in June with other Black athletes and entertainers to protect African Americans’ voting rights, James helped recruit more than 40,000 poll workers in a year when many states risked having an insufficient number of workers because of the pandemic. James and his group also helped restore voting rights and pay necessary fines for formerly incarcerated people.
Athletes, teams and open sporting venues help set record U.S. voter turnout
Athletes, leagues and organizations make voting and civic engagement one of its top social justice initiatives, and across sports, voter education and registration efforts take place. RISE holds almost 90 voter education and registration sessions for professional teams and collegiate athletics departments leading up to Election Day, and roughly 70 sports venues open their doors as polling sites throughout the process, part of an effort that began years ago that included the work of RISE board members Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and former NFL executive Scott Pioli. Said Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State: “There is no question that seeing the athletes and the leaders in athletics made a huge difference in the enthusiasm.” After the 2020 election, USA Today research indicates nearly 300,000 Americans voted in sports venues that election cycle.
Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation’s $50 Million Social Justice Fund Announces Inaugural Grant Recipients
The Social Justice Fund is driven by a $50 million commitment made by the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation to work toward racial justice and economic mobility in Brooklyn over the coming 10 years. The Fund seeks to address systemic injustice and the root causes behind racial gaps in education, health and wealth by working on social justice initiatives and making community investments in Brooklyn’s BIPOC – especially Black – community.
Renee Montgomery becomes first former WNBA player to become a part owner and executive of a WNBA franchise
As a member of the Atlanta Dream, Montgomery opts out of the WNBA season in June 2020 to focus on issues of social justice, voter suppression and education, but later in the year starts envisioning a future as a co-owner in the league. That moment comes in early 2021 with her own team, when Kelly Loeffler sells the Dream to an ownership group that includes Montgomery. Dream players and stars from across the WNBA wanted Loeffler removed after she wrote a letter criticizing the league and the Black Lives Matter movement, and Montgomery would write an ensuing letter to Loeffler that would go unanswered. Ultimately, Loeffler decides to sell the team and now Montgomery is part owner, the first former WNBA player to earn that title.
Athletes from around the world leverage their platforms to protest racism and injustice during the Tokyo Olympics. American shot-putter Raven Saunders and fencer Race Imboden both flash an “X” on the medal stand to represent the “intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.” Hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised her first to protest racial injustice before her event, while members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team kneeled before the start of their opening match for the same cause. So too did women’s soccer players from Great Britain, Chile, New Zealand and Japan. Costa Rican gymnast Luciana Alvarado took a knee and put her first in the air after finishing her floor routine. The International Olympic Committee’s longstanding Rule 50 bars athletes from expressing any form of political or social protest before, during or after competition. But leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC says it will allow athletes to participate in social activism while on the field of play before their events begin, though still preventing athletes from protesting during competition or while on the medal podium. The following day, the World Players Association union announces it will cover legal fees for any athletes who face punishment for such public demonstrations. On the day of opening ceremony in Tokyo, more than 150 athletes, academics and social justice advocates, including RISE, sign an open letter demanding changes to Rule 50 and urging the IOC to “refrain from imposing sanctions on athletes protesting and demonstrating.” The USOPC had decided in December 2020 not to punish its athletes for on-field demonstrations.