WASHINGTON: Voting is a constitutional right in America. Although some citizens opt to sit out during election season, casting a ballot has not always been an option, particularly for black individuals prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation is hosting a call center at Howard University throughout Tuesday. The active command center is part of the coalition’s Unity ’16 Voter Empowerment Campaign, in which individuals and various partners work diligently to inform voters and monitor any reports of voter suppression.
The project works toward informing, educating and monitoring voting practices, particularly among black voters and works to combat unfair voting activities throughout the nation. With a dedicated staff and multiple volunteers, the campaign gives citizens an opportunity to have their voices heard.
The Black Women’s Roundtable is a partner in the project and policy committee member Carol Joyner is determined to make a difference in voter awareness.
“Our work started several months ago just trying to figure the races that we need to watch, making sure that we have a chance to follow the black vote,” Joyner said. “Often times people try to talk about what the black vote is and who voted and the percentages. And over the year we’ve realized that’s not always accurate. So we wanted to create a center on election day where folks from 7-8 states can record about what they're seeing on the grounds,” she said.
Many people have recognized the high stakes of this election. Depending on whom is elected as the next President of the United States, policies that impact minority communities will be affected. Robin Williams, International Vice President for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, has dual positions at the calling center.
“We represent our members in all types of areas civil rights — community actions, organizing campaigns and mobilizing young workers in our union — as well as social and economic justice activities,” said Williams, who’s also a trustee of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
“As a representative of a labor union, we have national partners such as The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and The Black Women’s Roundtable. We help to mobilize the vote, we talk about issues that are very important in the black community. We also encourage people to go out and vote, today we are running a command center, we have had more then 50 people help come volunteer today and taking calls from people in key battle ground states and they're letting us know what is going on at the polls,” she said.
Williams’ team is working not only at the campaign center but on the grounds of polling places.
“We had an issue in Georgia in an area where the voting polls system wasn’t working. Voters had to wait in line for over two hours. Our people on the grounds helped get water for people standing in line and snacks for children and encouraged them to stay in line and vote,” she said.
Muriel Cooper, Senior Manager of Stakeholder Relations for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation is active during election season.
“Traditionally we also partner with them [The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation] during the election year and part of that is our mission at CBCF is to develop leaders, inform policy and educate the public. It’s natural fit for us to partner with an organization that’s non -partisan such as we are and to reach out to the community and to keep an eye out across the country for voter suppression,” she said.
The command center makes voting information accessible to all and ensures that voters around the country know their rights. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-chair of the National African American Clery Network, said the goal is to unify leaders and voters to combat voter suppression by informing the calling center,1866OURVOTE.
“We have labor unions, pastors from churches around the country and black millennial voters, women organizations, sororities, fraternities and others who are very committed to voting for black community advancement,” she said.
Williams-Skinner addresses the urgency and crucial action of voting not only for our communities but for those who are no longer here to vote.
“It’s about the right now, its about the fact that Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner cannot vote- we don’t have to be excited about the candidates to vote. We vote to make sure Howard University and other HBCUS have money, increasing the minimum wage to 15 dollars and ensuring kids have the best teachers no matter what zip code they live in. In other words we have to vote in our own interest. The command center today allows for people to call in and alert us from the battleground states,” she said.