ABOVE PHOTO: Joe Certaine (standing), founder O.V. Catto Voter Empowerment Initiative, with community activist Dennis Lee.
By Thera Martin
Some African American voting rights activists say they believe if Octavius Valentine Catto were alive today, he’d be on the front line, fighting for and ensuring that Black voters exercise their right to vote.
A prominent name in Black history, Catto has a nonprofit organization —amongst other things — that is named after him.
The O.V. Catto Voter Empowerment Initiative is pulling out all the stops, as a group that has no major funding, to get out the vote this presidential election year across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The organization is under the leadership of Joe Certaine, a former City managing director in Philadelphia during the W. Wilson Goode administration. As founder of the Catto Initiative, he’s dubbed it a “Campaign for Power.”
Simply put, Certaine says one of the goals for the O.V. Catto Voter Empowerment Initiative is to increase voter turnout in under-represented communities across the Commonwealth.
Octavius Valentine Catto was murdered on Election Day, 1871 while encouraging Black men to go to the polls and vote. He was one of the first documented martyrs for the voting rights mission, but definitely not the last.
“Black Americans have long been the targets of voter intimidation and voter suppression since the passage of the 15th Amendment,” Certaine said.. “It is not a new phenomenon for us to feel threatened by those who seek to minimize our involvement in the electoral process. We intend to continue to maximize existing efforts and increase the influence in politics by the people of the African Diaspora.”
Through the O.V. Catto Voter Empowerment Initiative, we provide current and accurate, non-partisan information and assistance to voters, who live, work and raise their families in the traditionally overlooked and underrepresented neighborhoods, in working class communities around Pennsylvania. We assist with training and implementation of voter registration, voter education and on Election Day. We are prepared to assist in voter turnout and voter protection response activities. We provide the Logistical Support and Tactical Assistance for a coordinated statewide Voter Protection Campaign. More volunteers are needed and welcome.”
The 2020 O.V. Catto Voter Empowerment Initiative has targeted 18 jurisdictions within 16 counties in the Commonwealth where communities of color are underrepresented in that county’s electorate.
The participants in the Initiative include the faith community, civic organizations, labor organizations, sororities and fraternities, community-based organizations, voting rights advocacy groups and others.
The Catto Initiative will coordinate communications and track the progress of voter registration, by county, in the sixteen targeted jurisdictions. Use of the online voter registration option in Pennsylvania is encouraged, as it is the quickest and most direct method. .
There will be an O.V. Catto Voter Empowerment Initiative orientation for Election Day field volunteers on Saturday, October 24, 2020. The location is Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church, 1538 Wingohocking Street. (16th and Wingohocking St.). It will begin at 12:00 Noon . The following Tuesday there will be an Election Law CLE for all Attorneys. and anyone else who wants to be thoroughly versed in current PA Election Law. Please be prepared to comply with correct protocol for COVID – 19.
Traditional mail-in voter registration applications can also be utilized, based on availability through local County Commissioners offices and County Voter Services offices. The organization also widely encourages the use of the mail-in ballots option during the current COVID -19 pandemic.
The Catto Initiative will assist every participating organization in getting the materials and technical assistance required to build a non-partisan, voter registration and election protection campaign that reflects the goal of increased voter participation by people of color, especially those who travel to the polls in Pennsylvania communities.
They provide the logistical expertise and tactical management for the coordinated campaign in the designated target areas.“On the 100th year Anniversary of the adoption of the flag of Africans in the Diaspora and the 25th Anniversary of the historic Million Man March, we call once again for the mobilization of all soldiers in the Movement for Black Empowerment, “Certaine said. “It is time to prepare for the most decisive contest to face our community in a generation. We must prepare the people to vote in the 2020 General Election. We cannot let COVID-19, Voter Intimidation, or any attempt to suppress our vote interfere with us casting our ballots to vote on November 3, 2020.”
“We are recruiting active volunteers to stand against ignorance and voter suppression through the O. V. Catto Voter Empowerment Initiative, at: www.ovcattoinitiative.org. It is time once again to “WALK THE WALK” spread the word to raise the colors and join in the fight,” he added. “We must defend our right to vote.”
Some of the partners in this effort include The Historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, ACLU Pennsylvania, PA Votes, PA Common Cause, The Black Political Empowerment Project, Chester County Minority Caucus and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. — Omega Omega Chapter.
The organization is doing all of this work through dedicated volunteers. For more detailed information or to join the O.V. Catto Initiative contact: [email protected] or 215-510-9928.