Melissa Harris-Perry | April 28, 2012
HARRIS-PERRY: who wants to revolutionize the way we vote in America . I think it's about time.
HARRIS-PERRY: We've talked a lot today about the arguments being made on Capitol Hill this week and heard from many of the usual suspects. But right now, I want to turn your attention to one argument and one man you probably didn't get to hear this week. He, too, spoke on the Hill . And this is what he had to say: "A little over six years ago, after being released from prison, I stood in front of a set of railroad tracks in Miami , Florida , contemplating how much pain I would have to endure before dying when I jump in front of an oncoming train. At the time, I was homeless, unemployed and addicted to drugs and alcohol. I had no self-esteem and saw no hope for my future." Thankfully, that man Desmond Meade stepped off the tracks that day, and found his future in service. Today, as the president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition , Desmond speaks on behalf of millions of formerly incarcerated people who have been disenfranchised and denied one of their most fundamental rights as American citizens. Desmond 's mission is personal. After years spent battling addiction, his last criminal charge, a firearm possession by a convicted felon, earned him a 15-year sense in state prison . He is released early and today, as a second-year law student at Florida International University , but he's also one of the approximately 5.3 million people with a felony, and in some cases, a misdemeanor conviction who are denied the right to vote nationwide. And like Desmond , more than 1.4 million of those disenfranchised citizens are African-American men. That amounts to 13 percent of black men who have lost the right to vote , a rate that's seven times the national average. On Wednesday, Desmond's testimony on Capitol Hill was in support of the Democracy Restoration Act . Currently, felon disenfranchisement laws are administered at the state level, with varying degrees of severity from state to state . Many of these laws are confusing and often misapplied and they also continue an ugly legacy of criminal disenfranchisement that has been historically used under Jim Crow to suppress the black vote in the late 19th century. The Democracy Restoration Act would create a national standard, a single rule for all states to return voting rights to former felons. And it would give people like Desmond who haven't just paid their debt to society but gone on to contribute much more, the chance to make their voice and their votes heard. For his efforts on behalf of the millions like him, Desmond Meade is our foot soldier this week. That's our show for today. Thank you to Jessy , Abby , and Mona for sticking around. And thanks to you at home for watching. I'll see you tomorrow morning 10:00 a.m . Eastern, when we're going to tackle the death penalty and the resurrection of the Reagan playbook. Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT". THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS