On Sept. 4th, at Grace Christian Fellowship in Southwest Philadelphia, POWER launched a non-partisan voter engagement campaign to engage thousands of voters in a prophetic vision for racial justice and a Full, Fair Funding Formula for public education in Pennsylvania.
Volunteer teams from diverse faith communities throughout Philadelphia announced their goals for turning out their own congregations and contacting other Philadelphia voters for the November election. The latter number includes over 12,000 conversations with “unlikely voters”, not just about the issue of a Funding Formula but about their dreams for living in dignity in their communities.
Clergy and lay leaders of POWER connected the protests in Ferguson, MO to the urgency of using voting as a tool to achieve policy changes for racial and economic justice here and now in Philadelphia and PA. Several POWER pastors, including Rev. Cean James of Grace Christian Fellowship, travelled to Ferguson in the first weeks of protests.
“Does Ferguson have to come to Philadelphia before we wake up? Do we need to smell the teargas infesting our Sunday evening dinner before we wake up? When will we wake up?” said Rev. James in a sermon he delivered at Thursday’s assembly. For video of the reflection, click here.
POWER’s voter engagement efforts in Philadelphia began successfully last spring, when congregation-based volunteers contacted nearly 50,000 thousand voters about a referendum to raise wages for workers subcontracted by the City. The referendum passed by a landslide and POWER’s efforts significantly increased turnout among thousands of “unlikely voters” – mostly young people and low-income people of color – in an election where overall turnout was down. In the precincts where POWER teams spoke with voters, turnout was 33% as opposed to 19% voters in Philadelphia in the primary.
This fall, POWER members will emphasize the importance of a new funding formula that will ensure all Pennsylvania public school students have the resources they need to thrive. Pennsylvania is one of just three states without a formula that determines the funds allocated towards school districts, which has led to wide disparities in funding that have left Philadelphia schools in dire straights for years. The first contacts with voters will begin Monday, when volunteers will register voters and talk to parents about the impact of education cuts on their children at the first day of school at 5 public school locations across the city.
POWER’s voter engagement work coincides with a national campaign that is being launched Thursday by PICO National Network–the nation’s largest faith-based organizing network in the United States that works with 1,000 religious congregations in more than 200 cities and towns. Let My People Vote is a massive multi-racial and multi-faith-based effort, spanning 15 states to turn out 350,000 new or low-propensity voters in the 2014 election and beyond, to intentionally empower those have been ignored and often even systematically locked out of the voting process.
Pastor Michael McBride of the PICO National Network, said, “When we do this work, we don’t just talk to voters about issues, we’re letting people know that they matter. We’re telling them ‘your life matters, your voice matters, ‘your voice matters.”
In that vein, at Thursday’s launch, clergy revealed a “prophetic purpose” distinguishing POWER’s voter work from partisan political campaigning through its emphasis on higher values.
“The goal of our voter engagement work is nothing short of creating a radical awakening in our communities, an awakening that lifts up the value of every single person and mobilizes collective and persistent action that will transform our state,” says the statement, which can be read in full on the POWER website.