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The soul of democracy

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station description Examining what it means to live in a democracy
Democracy Works
Duration: 37:32
As we’ve heard from Carol Anderson and others on this show, the fight for voting rights often breaks down along racial and partisan lines. Desmond Meade saw that as a problem and set out to change it by channeling our shared sense of humanity and the common good to push for change.
Meade is a
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As we’ve heard from Carol Anderson and others on this show, the fight for voting rights often breaks down along racial and partisan lines. Desmond Meade saw that as a problem and set out to change it by channeling our shared sense of humanity and the common good to push for change.
Meade is a formerly homeless returning citizen who overcame many obstacles to eventually become the President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), Chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, and a graduate of Florida International University College of Law. He led the FRRC to a historic victory in 2018 with the successful passage of Amendment 4, a grassroots citizen’s initiative which restored voting rights to over 1.4 million Floridians with past felony convictions.
He is a 2021 MacArthur Fellow — a recipient of the organization’s prestigious genius grant — and was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World for 2019. He received the 2021 Brown Democracy Medal from the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State.
Additional Information
America’s Disenfranchised: Why Restoring Their Vote Can Save the Soul of Our Democracy
Let My People Vote: My Battle to Restore the Civil Rights of Returning Citizens
Meade’s Brown Democracy Medal lecture
Florida Rights Restoration Coalition
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Episode Transcript
Chris Beem
From McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University, I’m Chris Beem.
Candis Watts Smith 
I’m Candis Watts Smith.
Jenna Spinelle
I’m Jenna Spinelle, and welcome to Democracy Works. This week. Our guest is Desmond Meade, who is executive director of the Florida rights restoration coalition, author of the books let my people vote my battle to restore civil rights of returning citizens, and America’s disenfranchised how restoring their vote can save the soul of our democracy. Desmond is also the recipient of the McCourtney Institute’s 2021, Brown Democracy medal. And Chris, we had the chance to meet him recently, when he came to campus to accept the medal and present a lecture on his work.
Chris Beem
Sometimes in doing these podcasts we meet people who are just extraordinary people and desperately want meat is one of them. I mean, leave aside for moments, the, you know, his really amazing work were on on the rights restoration in Florida and just focus on him as a human being, you know, he was an addict, a felon, had not anything but the clothes on his back and was, you know, talks in the first book quite a bit about how he was just waiting for a train to come by. So he could just ended his life. And he didn’t. And he checked himself into rehab. And then he started Community College, and then he went to law school. And now he’s, he just won a MacArthur Genius Grant and had all his civil rights restored. It’s just an amazing story. And it makes me think about how I react when I see homeless people. And it makes me think about how I react, you know, when I hear about someone’s addiction, and, you know, he really forces you to recognize that there’s a human being there and an enormous amount of potential. And, and so that’s kind of where I start with him. And then, after all, that, you have the the Florida rights restoration coalition that he leads, and which led to this really breakthrough a moment in American history for the ex felons in Florida.
Candis Watts Smith 
I think what is so important about Desmond Meade’s message is that we have to put the humanity back into the center of democracy. And he’s really interested in improving democracy for everyone, despite your ideological, your policy preferences, that everybody should get a say, and, you know, just on that alone, doesn’t meet as a bigger person than I ever w
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