Member Spotlight: Tony Gant

VAAC member, Antoniese (Tony) Gant wants to inspire people to participate in our electoral process. He found his own inspiration when he saw the historic election of Barrack Obama from behind bars. Unable to vote, he knew the excitement he felt then would stay with him when he got his rights restored upon release. He has committed himself to voting rights work ever since.

As a child, Tony developed a love of reading which nurtured and sustained him during a long period of incarceration. He especially enjoys works of fiction by Toni Morrison, Richard Wright and other authors who move him. While incarcerated, Tony also began writing short stories, eventually publishing a novel in 2016 after his release. (Check out Midnight Whispers on Amazon at this link.) His goal is to “write stories that ring true in the soul of the reader. Words that give voice to those who have been silenced by life and death”.

Currently, Tony is employed by justice advocacy organization, Nation Outside, as Policy Analyst and Mid-Michigan Regional Coordinator. He believes that “directly impacted people should have the power to impact the political process so that their communities are safe and vibrant, with real opportunities and support for people who have been incarcerated.”

About his work with Nation Outside, Tony says, “we are always looking to advocate for laws that lower barriers for people with criminal records. We want to break down barriers to housing, employment, or even access to higher education, anything that addresses the collateral consequences that impact people with convictions.”

His personal intention as an organizer is all about getting “as many people as we can engaged in civics, to recognize the power of their vote, and know the basics of how government operates. Even if year after year they see things don’t change, I can show them that things can change – If you get involved. I tell them to talk to your council person & know who your representatives are.”

Below, Tony answers our Member Spotlight questions about his passions and motivations for involvement in VAAC.:

How did your life lead you to an interest in voting access specifically?

I think for me the long period of incarceration showed me the importance of voting, watching from the sidelines when Barrack made his historic run and wishing I could have been there. It lit a fire in me as to why it was so important to be invested in the political process. And, of course, an important part of that investment is voting, and then following up with those who get elected to hold them accountable. That’s what lit a fire in me watching so many people get excited in 2008.

What do people need to know about their voting rights that they don’t know?

All people, not just justice impacted folks, need to know that they have a right to vote, although reaching out to justice impacted people is more important. Voting is part of our contract with society. It is a responsibility of citizenship that we engage in our political process by voting. We need to use our voice and put the people closely aligned to our philosophy in office.

What has given you the biggest feeling of success or impact?

On a policy level – fair housing is catching fire. Four cities I know of in Michigan have passed fair chance housing ordinances to limit some of discrimination in housing for formerly incarcerated.

On a personal level, I am excited by seeing traction for jail-based voting. That said, I believe we do need an overall system change to protect this constitutional right for people in jail. For now, we rely on the “good actors”, meaning a good county sheriff who creates an effective jail voting program, working with local clerks and others. I am pretty surprised it has been so hard to get counties on board. I have been most inspired by going into jails to talk to people in there and tell them what life can look like on the other side.

I am also proud of the work done through ARISE, a program of the Ingham County Jail that provides “A Rebuilding of Individuals through Skilled trades and Education” They provide inmates with several classes and other resources.

What do you see is the biggest problem we face as a society?

Wow, that is a big question! I would have to say that poverty is the biggest problem facing society. Poverty is something I really want to work on in my life in a real meaningful way. It seems to be the root of all problems. First, we need a system that gives a clear picture of what things are really like today. We need to change poverty guidelines. The ALICE formula is an improvement, but there is a lot of work to do.

We have so many pretty horrible situations in this country. It is shameful that our country, with so much wealth, has so many people in serious poverty. We need to do better as a society to care for each other.

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