BY: Samaira Bailey
Philadelphians Organized to Empower Witness and Rebuild (POWER) launched “Together We Vote” as part of a nationwide voter registration effort on Saturday.
About 60 clergy and parishioners of different congregations — Christian, Islamic and Jewish — set up at 20 locations in the city, at subway stops, in front of restaurants, churches and wherever else to register people to vote by the October 11 registration deadline.
“The idea was to engage voters in the city just to get them registered, regardless of party affiliation and engaged in the democratic process,” said Nicholas O’Rourke, POWER Community Organizer. “Voting is the last thing we do in the democratic process. We are engaged around raising the minimum wage, full fair funding formula for schools and erasing racial discrimination.”
POWER organizers were asking people if they were registered to vote, or if their voting address had changed. The organizers said most individuals they asked were registered to vote; others who weren’t registered but disappointed in this year’s candidates or overall process were engaged in a conversation about why voting is important. One organizer said he sought to dispel the misinformation that college students cannot vote in the city they attend college, when, in fact, they can.
In total, POWER registered 57 people.
“Even if they felt dissatisfied with the presidential election, we said ‘we are not telling you who to vote for, [but] vote your conscience. There are state and local issues — school funding and raising the minimum wage,’” said Kentina Washington, a nondenominational Christian and POWER organizer. “We reminded people that local and state elections are just as important. We were able to get people engaged under that issue.”
She remembered one particular “older man who was very resistant … he was very committed to ‘I don’t believe in the process’ [but] after engaging him, we got him to register.”
Washington said it was her first time participating in a voter registration effort and that she “liked getting people engaged around issues of faith” and that as a group, she and others from POWER, were trying “to get people to think about voting as an act of faith.”
After the organizers completed their rounds, they gathered at a closing meeting spot in front of the Leon Sullivan Human Services Center. Here, they shared lessons learned and ideas that could help the next time they take on such a task. Some ideas included playing music and simply talking to people.
One of POWER’s next steps is to replicate Saturday’s effort in organizers’ own communities.
“They are going into their communities to do voter registration,” said Naomi Leaphart, POWER’s suburban community organizer. “If people have made a choice to be disengaged, it’s because they’ve been pushed out of the process. We are trying to create a process they can participate in.”
For information on how to get involved with POWER’s efforts, visit their website at www.powerinterfaith.org/togetherwevote.