What does it take to move the world?
Meet the individuals who represent a new guard of social justice, building a future grounded in equality for all.
As he earned his degrees, he worked at an advocacy organization that was part of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a nonpartisan grassroots organization devoted to ending disenfranchisement of people with convictions. In four years, Meade rose to become its president and executive director. Frustratingly, his own rights hadn’t been restored. Due to Florida law, he wasn’t allowed to take the bar or vote, not even for when his wife ran for state legislature. One remedy was clemency, a process Meade criticizes as arbitrary and painstakingly slow (the backlog numbers almost 25,000), but he was denied. The other was to fight.
Meade resolved to change the law, written in the state’s constitution, during the 2018 midterm elections. First he had to amass more than 750,000 signatures on a petition. He did, boosted by an appearance on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. (The TBS show set up a website where people could download the petition.) Then the ballot initiative, called Amendment 4, had to win 60 percent of the vote. It got 65 percent. More than a million returning citizens had their rights restored in the most sweeping expansion of voting rights in 50 years, marking the end of a 150-year-old Jim Crow law. About 80,000 returning citizens registered, some for the first time in their lives and others who had last voted for President John F. Kennedy.
But in 2019, Republican governor Ron DeSantis set another obstacle in their path: they had to settle unpaid court-related fees and fines, leaving 774,000 who couldn’t pay ineligible. Undaunted, Meade raised funds—$27 million from donors including LeBron James, John Legend, Michael Jordan, Ariana Grande, and Steven Spielberg—to erase some of those debts. And in the 2020 general election, the coalition estimates 50,000 with past felony convictions did what they never believed they could: cast a vote.
When the train didn’t arrive that day and Meade stood in front of the tracks, he got his second chance—and is using it to give countless others theirs.
Illustration by Agata Nowicka