Park Cannon, the Black queer legislator arrested Thursday while trying to enter the Georgia governor’s office as he signed a bill restricting voting rights, is vowing to continue her fight and receiving widespread support.
Cannon, a Democratic state representative from Atlanta, was knocking on Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s door Thursday evening during the bill signing. After she refused to stop, state troopers placed her under arrest and led her away. Video of the interaction has circulated widely on social media.
Kemp was signing Senate Bill 202, which “imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, empowers state officials to take over local elections boards, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it a crime to approach voters in line to give them food and water,” CNN reports.
The bill, like others pending in numerous states, derives largely from Republican reaction to Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. Donald Trump and his supporters have alleged that there was voter fraud in several of the battleground states Biden carried, although there is absolutely no evidence to back up these claims. Opponents of such bills say they’re a means to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning citizens, especially people of color and the poor. Georgia’s is the first such bill to be signed into law.
Cannon was charged with felony obstruction and preventing or disrupting a session of the General Assembly. The process of signing a bill into law is considered part of a General Assembly session.
She was jailed briefly. When released after a few hours, she tweeted, “I am not the first Georgian to be arrested for fighting voter suppression. I’d love to say I’m the last, but we know that isn’t true. … But someday soon that last person will step out of jail for the last time and breathe a first breath knowing that no one will be jailed again for fighting for the right to vote.”
Cannon was the youngest person ever elected to the Georgia legislature when she, at age 24, won the race in 2016 to replace Simone Bell, who had been the first out Black lesbian in any state legislature. Bell resigned to take a position with Lambda Legal, and Cannon was her chosen successor. Cannon bested two other Democrats in a special election in January of that year but didn’t win more than 50 percent of the vote, so she had to face the second-place finisher in a runoff the following month, and she prevailed. She has been reelected three times.
She has made her mark in the legislature with her opposition to a so-called religious freedom bill, which could have led to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and others (it was vetoed by then-Gov. Nathan Deal in 2016), and her championing of reproductive rights, voting rights, and more. She is one of six out members of the Georgia House, and the state’s Senate now has its first member from the LGBTQ+ community, Black lesbian Kim Jackson, elected last year.
The Democratic surge in Georgia has led to the election of two U.S. senators from the party, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, both in runoff elections early this year that gave Democrats control of the chamber. Warnock is the first Black U.S. senator from the state and Ossoff the first Jewish one. Both have expressed solidarity with Cannon in the wake of her arrest.
Warnock visited her in jail; she is a member of his church, the famed Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta, once led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Warnock and Ossoff also tweeted supportive messages regarding Cannon and condemned the new Georgia law.
The LGBTQ Victory Institute, which is dedicated to creating a pipeline of out leaders, also expressed support for Cannon. She was elected with the endorsement of its sister organization, Victory Fund. A Victory Institute press release noted that Cannon “was not destructive or disruptive and did not resist arrest,” and its president and CEO, Annise Parker, released this statement:
“Rep. Cannon is an elected representative who was attempting to speak with a governor hell-bent on signing legislation to disenfranchise her constituents. Her arrest is a disgrace and only deepens the embarrassment caused by Georgia lawmakers who resorted to Jim Crow-era tactics to suppress the vote in their state. Rep. Cannon’s arrest, in the state capitol where she serves, is only the latest in a legacy of abuse directed toward civil rights leaders demanding the right to vote. We proudly stand with Rep. Cannon and demand all charges against her be dropped.”