Rallies And Rides Aim To Turn Out Black Voters
With just a few days remaining in the 2020 General Election, there’s a last minute push to encourage African-American voters in Northwest Florida to go to the polls and to help get them there.
"Our first shuttle started on Friday and then we also had shuttles going over the weekend at Souls to the Polls, and we’re going throughout the week," said Jonathan Green is with the group Escambia County Good Trouble Seekers, an affiliate of Black Voters Matter, which is providing shuttle service to individuals in need of a ride in order to cast their votes.
"We want to encourage people to get out to the polls early. We don’t want them to encounter any mechanical errors or long lines on Nov. 3. We want to encourage people to from now through Oct. 31 to utilize early voting and really go into disenfranchised neighborhoods and communities, where they don’t have access to transportation, and provide that transportation."
On this day, Green, who runs the social justice advocacy firm, J. Garrett Green & Associates, has set up at Attucks Court, near the Fricker Community Center. Other pickup locations include the ECAT station, Woodland Resource Center and Wedgewood Community Center, with rides available through the end of early voting on Saturday.
"6:30 a.m. going to 6:30 p.m., because the last polls close at 7, so anticipating them going through the lines and traveling, that way that last person that’s picked up at 6:30, hopefully they’re out by 7 and we can have a good successful day of voting.
As an independent contractor driving for the cab company zTrip, Kadrrius Madison was motivated to provide the shuttle service by the memories of his elderly grandmother, who, before she died, had trouble getting to the polls.
"Most of the people I’ve transported have been voters that haven’t voted in a long time and they’re very enthusiastic about this election, for whatever reason they want to be," he said. "I don’t really get into that. But, they really love just the interaction and participating this time.
“Good evening, Attucks Court," said Mary Randolf, one of the Attucks Court residents Madison took to the polls. She launches into an impromptu PSA of sorts.
“Ya’ll get out and vote now. Ya’ll young folks want Trump out of the chair now so ya’ll get out there and vote now. It’s time to vote, time to get it together. Alright, I did it. It’s great. I’ve been doing it for years. Come on, let’s get this thing together.”
Green engages with resident Renicker Moorer, whose eligibility to vote is in question because of a past conviction.
“The last time I voted I was in my 20s, and the last time I tried to go vote, I couldn’t," said Moorer before heading home to grab her ID. "I feel good that I can vote now.”
Transporting African-American voters to the polls is one thing. Mobilizing and building Black political power is another.
Jasmine Burney-Clark is the founder of the Black-led Equal Ground Education Fund headquartered in Orlando. The organization is working to build Black political power in Florida.
"We work to register, educate and turnout Black voters ahead of the election cycle," she said. "We also work to help protect voters and their rights in the Voting Rights Act, so making sure they aren’t targeted because of their race and ethnicity in order to either dilute or suppress their vote."
This year, the Equal Ground Education fund is holding a series of massive “Souls to the Polls” events in 25 Florida counties, including Escambia and Okaloosa.
"Souls to the Polls is certainly nothing new in the state, but we decided to add a bit of a twist to it that recognizes COVID-19 and social distancing in the process," said Burney-Clark. "Where traditionally we would gather and party at a local church, community center or park, we are still gathering, but gathering in our cars.”
Locally, residents can attend “Park and Praise” rallies Saturday afternoon in Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola.
“They can hear inspirational messages from their church leaders, elected officials, NAACP chapter members, and folks who are really influential in their community about what’s at stake, why it’s important, why you need to bring other people with you and why you need to vote as early as possible and not wait until Election Day to do it," she explained.
Burney-Clark says the importance of turning out the Black vote extends beyond federal and state races to those down-ballot races and issues that impact their lives.
“We’re affecting local change and we know the local institutions we work with are also going to be deeply impacted by how we show up in this moment and how we show up in future opportunities like during legislative session, during the redistricting process," she added It isn’t just a one-time opportunity. We see this really being and having long-lasting effects for Black folks in the state.
Back at Attucks Court in Pensacola, Jonathan Green and the Escambia County Good Trouble Seekers are doing their part, by providing transportation to the polls. This particular day, the call volume is slow, but Green is undeterred.
"If out of all this effort one more person votes who would not have, I think that makes everything worth it; because you have to understand that a lot of people have been disenfranchised for so long, they feel disempowered, that being able to empower people and being able to empower our community I the whole reason we exist."
To arrange a ride to the polls, call 850-490-5050. Pick up times are 6:30 a.m.to 6:30 p.m. Locations are ECAT station - 1515 W. Fairfield Fricker Community Center – 900 N. F St. Woodland Resource Center – 111 Berkley Dr. Marie Young/Wedgewood Community Center - 6405 Wagner Rd.
Additionally, mail ballots can be dropped off at the local “Souls to the Polls” events to be held Saturday at noon at at Community Maritime Park in Pensacola, where voters will be close enough to walk to the early voting site at the Escambia County Supervisor of Elections office.