If I had a nickle for every current state legislator I could name, I’d have to borrow money to get an afternoon coffee.
But I know who Park Cannon is.
Representing Georgia’s 58th district in the state legislature since 2016, Park Cannon was arrested for trying to knock on Governor Brian Kemp’s office door to question the governor. Gov. Kemp was signing a bill that restricted voting rights in a private ceremony.
Rep. Cannon wasn’t invited.
Governor Kemp signed the bill just a few hours after the Republican dominated state legislature passed it, surrounded by a select group of legislative allies–all older, white, Republican men. The photos commemorating the ceremony showed the bill’s champions assembled in front of a painting of a plantation.
I can’t tell you whether the tone-deaf composition of this tableau was deliberate, but it certainly didn’t help Governor Kemp’s claim that the bill wasn’t directed against Black voters.
Rep. Cannon had a better sense of strategy and composition, and at least a little bit of a flare for the dramatic.
She refused to retreat when Georgia police stopped her from banging on the door, much less entering. They arrested the elected legislator, handcuffed her, and dragged her off to jail.
She was charged with two felonies, and was able to post $6,000 in bail in short order–although if anyone is sure to return for a court day to contest an arrest, it will be Park Cannon.
The dispute is about a Senate Bill 2, which requires sweeping changes in the way elections are run in Georgia, including requiring photo identification, limiting the use of drop boxes for ballots, reducing the time allowed to request an absentee ballot photo identification for an absentee ballot, and allows the state to take over the administration of local elections. There’s much else in the 100 page bill, and opponents have drawn particular attention to the restrictions on offering food or water to people waiting on line to vote, noting that some people in some neighborhoods can end up waiting for hours to vote (Guess which people. Guess which neighborhoods). Supporters (all Republicans) say it’s about ballot security. Opponents (all Democrats) say it’s about keeping Black people, poor people, and young people away from the polls. This is, of course, a recurrent dispute in American politics.
The 2020 election saw the highest voter turnout nationally in more than 100 years–though still notably lighter than in most rich countries. In Georgia, the new slant in turnout produced two Democratic US senators in run-off elections–and Democratic control of the US Senate. At once, SB 2 is Georgia Republicans’ response. But Georgia is just the first victory in a coordinated Republican campaign to tighten voting requirements–and limit turnout–across the country.
But this post is about Park Cannon. Although Gov. Kemp didn’t answer her knock, national media did. The image of Rep. Cannon, a small Black woman in a bright red blazer with matching mask, dragged away by police, went viral in no time.
Coverage of the arrest and arraignment went national, and voting rights activists turned out to protest outside Atlanta City Hall. Interest groups immediately filed court challenges to the new bill. In addition to putting a spotlight on the debate in Georgia, Park Cannon sparked attention to similar efforts across the United States.
Such attention isn’t free. Park Cannon has already endured some physical discomfort, has had to come up with bail, and risks trial and maybe even jail time. But the payoff for the cause–and for Park Cannon is big. Now YOU know who she is (young, queer, bilingual, ambitious, brave); at this moment, she has 111,000 followers on Twitter.
I suspect you’ll hear from her again. And if Georgia actually makes the mistake of prosecuting her for knocking on the governor’s door, you’ll get to spend weeks learning about the struggle for voting rights.