By: Layla A. Jones Tribune Staff Writer
Black clergy have joined forces with others to organize volunteers to monitor polling stations in African-American communities on Election Day in Philadelphia.
The Rev. Alyn E. Waller, senior pastor at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, along with music magnate Kenny Gamble and community coalition leader Rahim Islam have assembled about 400 people, dubbed “election advocates,” to prevent intimidation and other actions to discourage city residents from voting. They will also provide support to voters who may need additional assistance, such as those in wheelchairs.
“If it’s an older woman who’s on a cane,” Waller said in a press release, “if it’s somebody who’s thirsty, if it’s someone who just needs some encouragement — we’re there to do just that.”
Waller was adamant about the role of the election advocates, saying anyone who attempts to deter voters that “we will shut that down.”
Black clergy, businesses and organizations have had the election support effort in place since Barack Obama’s 2008 election. The current push will place five to seven men at polling locations in predominantly Black neighborhoods throughout the city to make sure voting goes smoothly.
Their efforts could be especially important in this year’s election, with white supremacist threatening to come to Black neighborhoods in Philadelphia and use drugs and alcohol to dissuade voters.
Politico reported on Wednesday that neo-Nazi, far-right and white supremacist groups were planning to come to Philadelphia on Election Day with “40s and weed” to discourage voters.
However, a 2016 poll by the African American Research Collaborative found that 91 percent of Black Pennsylvanians who had not yet voted were highly likely to vote in Tuesday’s election.
Donald Trump has called on his supporters to poll-watch in targeted Pennsylvania areas, and his adviser, Roger Stone, is organizing Stop the Steal, a plan to conduct exit polls in largely Democratic cities such as Philadelphia in order to identify voter fraud.
District Attorney Seth Williams does not feel Philadelphia’s electoral process will be compromised this year, despite these bizarre calls to action.
“I don’t think this election is any different from any others,” Williams said at a Wednesday press conference on voter fraud. “We’ve had difficult campaigns before with all types of issues historically.”
Waller echoed Williams’s sentiments.
“I don’t expect any interference with our efforts,” Waller said.
The pastor’s group is not alone in its efforts to encourage local voter participation. At least 50 interfaith religious leaders from across Philadelphia and its neighboring counties wrote an open letter calling on Pennsylvanians to vote against “xenophobia, bigotry, misogyny and racism.” Local signees include Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild and Philadelphia NAACP President Rodney Muhammad.
“The Trump campaign is appealing to a very racist element of our community, so it’s better to be safe than sorry,” Waller said.