Activists Hosted Teach-In in Doylestown to Help Community Members Fight Right-Wing Extremism and Defend Democracy

The “Slice of Democracy” event included presentations about protecting voting rights, attacks on public education, and money’s corrupting influence on politics.
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Democracy isn't functioning unless youth are voting.

Community members and activists grabbed a slice of pizza, and democracy, at the Salem United Church of Christ in Doylestown on Thursday night. 

Tim Brown, organizing director of Philly Neighborhood Networks, hosted the first “Slice of Democracy” teach-in at the church to discuss the Freedom to Vote Act and different ways to combat extremism and corruption. The event began around 7:30 p.m. and ended around 8:45 p.m. 

State Representative Tim Brennan heard about the event through word of mouth and came because being an active and engaged citizen is one of the most important responsibilities a person can have, he said. 

“That’s what we need more than ever is to have informed, active and engaged citizens and it starts here,” he said. 

Likewise, Rose Johnson from Philadelphia came to learn more about issues facing Bucks County. 

“As far as education and the things that have been happening with the school board, you really need openness and people exposed to more things, not less,” Johnson said. “And it seems to me like a lot of people who’ve been talking about parental freedom just want to take freedom away from other people.” 

The teach-in featured presentations from Brown, activist organizations Red Wine and Blue, and March on Harrisburg. 

Brown spoke about voter disenfranchisement, starting with America’s founding when only white male landowners could vote through Jim Crow through Shelby County v. Holder, a 2013 Supreme Court case that undermined the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Before 2013, states with a history of voter discrimination had to obtain federal approval before making any changes to election laws, but Shelby v. Holder found that the method for determining which states were covered was outdated and unconstitutional, the Atlantic reported

READ: Pennsylvanians Must Reject Restrictive Voter ID Laws

This decision led to massive voter disenfranchisement in the south, according to a 2020 study published in American Politics Research journal. 

The Freedom to Vote Act was introduced as H.R. 11 to the House of Representatives on July 18, 2023 and would automatically register all eligible voters, standardize ballot dropbox locations and make election day a federal holiday, Brown said. 

If passed into law, the Freedom to Vote Act would also restore voting rights to approximately 4.6 million felons. Felons deserve voting rights because they are still Americans, Brown said. 

The second presenter was Natalie Cimonetti from Red Wine and Blue, a national organization dedicated to fighting book bans and extremism in school districts. 

Cimonetti spoke about recent events in Central Bucks and Pennridge school districts, including Pennridge board’s decision to sign a contract with Vermilion Education, which has ties to the extremist Moms for Liberty and Hillsdale College. Central Bucks’s anti-LGBT policies, including banning any kind of pride materials, was also discussed. 

Cimonetti also spoke about relational organization, the practice of talking politics with friends, family and other community members and encouraging them to vote. 

“Everybody in this room is dialed in to what’s happening but that’s not the case for most people,” Cimonetti said. 

Red Wine and Blue also hosts workshops on how to talk about difficult subjects at school board meetings and general information sessions with speakers to explain political issues, Cimonetti said. 

READ: New ACLU Complaint Reveals Central Bucks School District Lied To The Community, Illegally Retaliated Against Teacher

Rabbi Michael Pollock from March on Harrisburg, a nonpartisan anti-corruption group, was the third and final speaker. 

Pollock explained how lobbying undermines democracy and is essentially legalized corruption.

“We are the divorce lawyers there to wreck the relationship between big money, special interests and our government officials that leads to so much policy violence and suffering in our communities,” Pollock said. 

March for Harrisburg is currently pushing for a “Gift Ban” to limit lobbyists’ influence in politics and restore trust in the system, according to March on Harrisburg’s website.

Lobbyists can legally give politicians gifts, transportation, hospitality and lodging and most gifts are not reported, Pollock said. 

“Giving an item of value to a public official to advance your interests is the dictionary definition of the word bribe,” Pollock added. 

READ: 18 Pennsylvania Candidates Who Spread Election Misinformation Are Poised to Oversee Local Voting in 2024

Unlimited gift giving lets the rich control politics by bribing politicians and paying for biased studies to promote conservative viewpoints, Pollock said, robbing ordinary people of their voice. 

Knowing how politicians use propaganda to sway voters and turn people against each other is important to devising counter-strategies, like targeting politicians’ legitimacy and fundraisers, Pollock said. 

“Figure out what they care about, go after it. Force the encounter,” Pollock said. 

Attacks on voting rights and freedom of speech and money in politics are all threats to democracy and Brown hopes attendees left with a better understanding of the issues discussed and how they are connected, he said.

“We’re going to try and have more of these, get more people to show up and eat more pizza,” Brown added. 

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Picture of Eden MacDougall

Eden MacDougall

Eden MacDougall is a freelance journalist and Temple University alum. He also covers education for Billy Penn.

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