On October 28, Voters Organized to Educate (VOTE) held Justice Votes 2020, a first-of-its-kind town hall on criminal justice reform for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Cory Booker and billionaire Tom Steyer attended the event, which was held in Philadelphia at Eastern State Penitentiary.
The 10 Democratic candidates who qualified for the third debate were invited to the town hall. Several candidates chose to attend only a criminal justice forum held in South Carolina the weekend before, while five did not attend either event. At the event itself, there was capacity for only 65 attendees in the room, but at least 130 watch parties were held in 20 states around the country. Among those in attendance at the event was poet and memoirist Reginald Dwayne Betts, an Art for Justice Fund grant recipient for his work with visual artist Titus Kaphar.
“The other candidates who happen to not be African American are going after the traditional path to gaining the African American vote, going to historically black colleges, going to black churches,” Vivan Nixon, executive director of College & Community Fellowship, said in an interview with Mother Jones before the town hall. “They figure they are going to get a bigger bang for their buck. They believe people who have been involved in the criminal justice system don’t vote, which is simply not true.”
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site received the Changing Narratives Through Art grant as part of the Art for Justice Fund’s Fall 2018 cohort. College & Community Fellowship received the Promoting Reentry grant as part of the Fund’s Fall 2018 cohort.