By Rebecca Dann
Guest speaker Robert Rubin advocated for full voting rights and equal opportunities for all in his lecture, “Civil Rights in the Post-Obama Era,” at Kenyon this past Thursday, Sept. 22. Rubin is currently a professor at the University of California School of Law and the Legal Director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Rubin began by showing the audience a video clip about the execution of Troy Davis, which occurred on Sept. 21, the day before Rubin presented his lecture. Troy Davis was convicted of murdering a police officer in Savannah, Ga. on Aug. 19, 1989 and was sentenced to death after his trial in Aug. 1991.
Evidence mounted indicating Davis’ guilt, but he pleaded not guilty, and many others came to his support in trying to prove his innocence.
During the 20 years that Davis was in prison, new evidence suggested Davis may have been innocent. Many witnesses who initially testified that Davis was guilty later came forward, admitting that they were nearly forced to testify that Davis was the shooter. Rubin asked the audience how this could be fair. He said the new findings demonstrated the injustice and corruption of the criminal justice system.
Rubin then shifted to a discussion about civil rights and immigrants. Sixteen years ago, California voted Proposition 187 into action, expelling all child immigrants from schools there. The proposition was quickly challenged on the basis of equal protection, which is designed to protect the minority from the powerful majority. Rubin said that he is “an equal protection addict” and explained how denying these children of an education could hurt the U.S. economy.
“Even if you’re opposed to letting these children stay, at least look at this from a perspective of self-interest. … How can they contribute to our economy?” Rubin said. “We have enough problems keeping kids in schools. Why are we kicking them out?”
Rubin went on to discuss voting rights, specifically in California. He explained the white population’s growing fear of the Latino vote in California and stressed that no one relinquishes power voluntarily. Sixty-five percent of California’s voting population is white, which means the Hispanic opinion is still in the minority. This wealth in numbers needs to be translated into physical power, according to Rubin, who pointed out that this is a difficult task because Latinos have been “locked out of the voting process for so long, they don’t participate.”
Rubin pointed out that the simple task of voting has been turned into a complicated and confusing process with which people struggle. “We have to make voting accessible to foreigners and people who are visually impaired … so with the technology we have today, why we haven’t taken advantage of it is beyond me,” he said. “Why does it still seem as if three people are needed to pull the handle of the machine?” He proposed investing in higher quality voting machines. If voting is made more accessible, then it will be easier to get more people to vote, he said.
The voting rates in this country have significantly decreased, and the numbers are staggering, according to Rubin. A contributor to this plummeting number is the law that prohibits those who have been convicted and have served time in jail from voting. Rubin asked, “Why do we continue to punish them? Today there are more African Americans disenfranchised by the felony disenfranchisement then when the 15th Amendment was inducted.”
Rubin encouraged everyone at Kenyon to vote and to advocate for themselves and for the civil rights of others. He ended his lecture by saying, “I encourage you all to make up your own mind, stand up for your own principles and don’t let the majority sway you.”