When the Georgia governor recently enacted sweeping new voting restrictions, Park Cannon, a 29-year-old state representative from Atlanta, was knocking on his door.
Cannon wanted to witness Brian Kemp sign the bill, but was denied entry. She finished handcuffed, dragged out of the state capitol and charged with two felonies, obstruction of law enforcement and disruption of the general assembly.
Images of his arrest spread around the world, juxtaposed with an image of Kemp signing the bill surrounded by white men and underneath a photo of a slave plantation. It was a remarkable mighty echo of the Jim Crow era, and the struggle for voting rights in America.
The Guardian spoke with Cannon about his arrest and Georgia’s new voting law.
Guardian: I wanted to ask you how you are doing and how the last week has been.
Park canyon: Well, thanks for asking first of all. As a black woman, self-care is a buzzword that many of us are trying to internalize and act on. So I am very blessed right now to be able to spend time with my family. We still do not have a complete medical report on my injuries. However, I am hopeful that I will be cured soon and return to the people.
Go back to last Thursday night and explain what happened. What was going through your mind?
I am internally chosen as the [state Democratic] caucus secretary, like Rosa Parks with the [local] NAACP. In that role, my job has been to witness and take minutes of legislative events such as the signing of bills. I have pens to sign Governor Kemp and Governor bills. [Nathan] I try to prove this. And these bills, as they become law, are important to Georgians. They are important to the problems we represent.
When I was notified, irregularly, that Senate Bill 202 was being signed, I was knocking on the door as I usually do. I was hoping that the police would say the protocol and that we could go into the room and sign the bills … all I wanted to do was give the information back to the members.
I certainly wanted to witness the signing of Senate Bill 202 because I had been part of the process.
Let me ask you about that photo of Governor Kemp surrounded by six white men, underneath a photo of a plantation. How was it for you to see that image?
When I see the photo of Kemp, in his office, perched on his desk, strategically positioned under an embarrassing painting of a South Georgia plantation, I immediately think of the Georgians who came up to me to say, ‘Oh my God, OMG. The family had been working there for years. ‘ And on top of that, he was flanked by a group of six white lawmakers, all male. At a stroke of the pen, decades of sacrifices, marches were erased … as well as the tears that Georgians have shed when voting in dangerous times.
So when I juxtapose that with the photo of [my] illegal arrest, it’s painful. Both physically and emotionally. I really feel like time is moving in slow motion.
What do you mean by that?
It feels like a regression of our rights is taking place. And there are so many steps necessary to revive our democracy. But we want to move forward and we want to be united, so we need Americans to keep calling.
Why was it important to you to be in that room?
This would not be the first time that I am the only person of color or black woman in the room.
As the 78-member secretary, it is my job to be present at meetings, bill signing, press conferences, and general assembly sessions to protect the professionalism of our state. So seeing the continued lack of professionalism and lack of respect for people’s voting rights reflects the lack of concern that other elected officials have for the civil rights and human rights of black and brown citizens.
The provisions of the bill that a Georgian cannot bring water or food to his friends or family when they are waiting in line, that is a violation of human rights. Being in the room to witness these violations is now more critical than ever.
I’m curious if you’ve heard from the governor’s office about this, or from the speaker or from someone who was in the room.
Gerald Griggs, Cannon’s attorney: We have not heard from the governor, the speaker or anyone in connection with this. We are in the process of contacting the district attorney, we have heard from her. But as for the members that were in the room, we have nothing from them except the public comments that the governor has made.
What have you done with what has happened this week with the companies that have taken a hard line against these bills and the Republicans saying the concerns are misinformed and overblown?
Park canyon: Make no mistake, Georgians understand corporate responsibility. The reason the governor himself calls us the number one state to do business is because we are positioned as an international state with a capital city too busy to hate. What that means for Georgians is that corporate responsibility is a historic commitment. This is nothing new.
I’m glad people are watching. I’m glad that companies are listening to people. I trust that others will keep calling.
This video of what happened to you has been seen all over the world. What do you want people to know?
This is America. This is not about Republicans or Democrats. It’s about all of our rights. We must not lose sight of this issue. We must protect our right to vote. I encourage you to keep calling.
This interview has been summarized and edited
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism