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‘Fired Up And Ready to Vote’

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Meda

Whether their ballots are already cast or they’re heading to the polls Tuesday, voters are fired up this election season.

On Saturday afternoon, at the Chester Pruitt Park, the Okaloosa NAACP and Real Women Radio Foundation hosted a “Fired Up and Ready to Vote” rally encouraging people to vote early before the polls closed or make a plan to vote on Tuesday. In between the “Cha Cha Slide” and “Thriller,” community leaders spoke about the importance of this election.

“We need to vote like our lives are on the line, like our democracy is on the line because it really is,” said Lewis Jennings, president of the NAACP Okaloosa County branch. “Who we are as a people is on the line. Listen folks, we’re in the home stretch, but we have to get across the goal posts.” 

Ruby Dunson, civic engagement committee chair with the Okaloosa NAACP has been working with a small group to engage voters of all ages to make sure their voices are heard and their ballots are counted. While she expressed a need for an early voting site in Fort Walton Beach, (the four early voting sites were located in Crestview, Niceville, Shalimar and Destin), Dunson said there’s been no issues with early voting. What she’s seen so far is a lot of energetic voters. 

“I’ve seen a lot of people be really enthusiastic about this election because some feel it’s important for their lifestyle and the issues they stand for,” she said.

According to the latest Gallup poll, 69% of registered voters say they are “more enthusiastic than usual” for the 2020 election. And nearly equal proportions of Republicans and Democrats agree that stakes are higher in this year’s election than previous years. 

Credit Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Meda
NAACP Okaloosa Branch President Lewis Jennings says people need to vote like their "lives are on the line."

What’s impressed Donson most this year is seeing the enthusiasm among young people, she said. People like 20-year-old Alexus Lewis who spoke at the rally. Following the death of George Floyd, Lewis became a voice for the Black Lives Matter movement in Crestview. And she said that activism made her want to vote.

“I felt like if I really wanted to make a change, I had to put the time to vote because at the end of the day, voting and choosing the president is the only way to make an actual change,” she said.

Lewis also encouraged her 22-year-old boyfriend, Andrew Adkins, to vote for the first time. In the past, he said he didn’t believe that voting affected him in any way. Now, it’s different. 

“I didn’t feel like a part of the community, but change starts within you,” he said. “I just want to see change for the better.” 

Mia Mitchell will be another first-time voter at the age of 50. She said she doesn’t have a good excuse for not voting in the past, but after months of the pandemic and civic unrest, she’s ready. 

Credit Alexus Lewis
Alexus Lewis at the Fired Up and Ready to Vote rally in Fort Walton Beach. The 20-year-old is voting for the first time this election season.

“I’m a woman, I’m black and I have three African American sons,” she said. “This election is important.” 

While the NAACP is a nonpartisan organization, there were some Biden supporters in the crowd with T-shirts and signs. Richetta Brown has been volunteering for the Biden campaign every day for the past few weeks. She said she’s been fired up for much longer than 2020. 

“It started when a certain person got elected,” said Brown. “It was my mission to work to get him out of office. He’s brought nothing but shame to America’s name.”

“And division,” added her friend, Diane Dillard.

“That’s true, sister,” Brown replied.

Brown said Medicare, Social Security and “just plain healthcare” are big issues to her. A few years ago, when she was furloughed from her job, she paid out of pocket for medical bills because she couldn’t find an affordable plan with her pre-existing condition. 

Health care is also important to another Biden supporter, Terry Bozarth. Overall, she said, she wants a president who will be a leader for everyone. 

“I think President Trump has done a good job addressing the issues of the 39 to 40% of people that voted for him, but he hasn’t been addressing of the wider community of all us,” she said. “I think Joe Biden will work to not just represent the Democrats but all of the people.”