During the past eight months, Adisa Muse has been instrumental in helping more than 6,000 former felons regain their voting rights as a director of the Virginia Voter Restoration Project with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Virginia and Kentucky are the only states that automatically deny felons the right to vote without a specific pardon from the governor, even for the nonviolent who have served their time. Muse says this creates a permanent second-tier citizenry and shows “the history of Virginia all wrapped up in the pathology of the issue.”
But this is only the most recent installment of Muse's adventures in democracy.
In 2005, after a scandal involving his uncle's funeral home business forced him to vacate his seat in the House of Delegates, Muse ran to replace him. He lost to Rosalyn Dance, Petersburg's longtime mayor who held office when Muse was president of the student body at Petersburg High School. But he beat out Bishop Gerald Glenn, a popular conservative minister.
Undeterred, Muse had a rich background to draw from. He attended Morehouse College where his professors were mostly West African dissidents, but spent a semester at Johns Hopkins' celebrated School for Advanced International Studies, then led by one of the key architects of the Iraq war, Paul Wolfowitz. The neoconservative philosophy was ascendant and the idea that democracies are the best setting for people to realize their full potential translated into overseas opportunities for Muse to help sow the seeds of government for the people.
He monitored elections in a mountain village in Bosnia in 1997 and helped run the 2006 campaign of a Congolese presidential candidate. His guy, Oscar Kashala, came in fifth among 30 candidates, but the competition was stiff. “These were all people who had personal armies at their disposal,” Muse says. In 2000, he helped Bobby Rush, a former Black Panther, successfully defend his South Chicago congressional seat from a young law professor and then- state senator named Barack Obama. Perhaps he'll find a way to return the favor.