ABOVE PHOTO: Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at a “Souls to the Polls.” NAN rally held at Bright Hope Baptist Church last week.
(Photo by Patricia Hawkins)
The Rev. Al Sharpton came to Bright Hope Baptist Church to remind people of what can happen when they don’t use their right to vote.
By Denise Clay
During the 2010 Midterm Elections, the House of Representatives switched from Democratic to Republican, making it tougher for President Barack Obama to get many of the things he wanted to do for the country done.
Part of the reason for that setback was that African Americans, a group that came out in droves to elect the President in 2008, were still celebrating the big win, according to the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“Some of you were still celebrating,” he said. “But they were working. They didn’t beat us; you didn’t fight. It’s one thing to get whipped. It’s another thing not to show up to the fight. And because you stayed home, the Tea Party took over the Congress and they blocked everything this president tried to do.”
In an attempt to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, Sharpton and the local chapter of the National Action Network held a rally designed to get the faithful to the polls at Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia last Thursday night.
The rally was part of an initiative among churches across the nation called “Souls to the Polls.” As part of this, ministers did voter registration drives, educated parishioners to new voting laws including Pennsylvania’s own Voter ID law and otherwise entreated their flocks to get to the polls on Nov. 6.
While churches in the African American community have always played a role in doing such things as registering voters, helping voters to understand laws, and making sure that voters get to the polls, that role has been scrutinized quite a bit this campaign season.
A group calling itself The Coalition of African American Pastors made news earlier in the election cycle for demanding a meeting with President Obama regarding his support of same-sex marriage. While many questioned whether or not this was the most pressing issue facing the African American community, the Coalition told reporters at a Washington, D.C. press conference that it was an issue so pressing that they were encouraging their parishioners to either vote for Republican candidate Mitt Romney or sit this election out rather than vote for the President.
But while telling parishioners who to vote for from the pulpit can lead to scrutiny of a church’s non-profit status from the Internal Revenue Service, the Rev. Kevin Johnson, Bright Hope’s pastor, felt Thursday’s rally would pass the 501(c)(3) test.
“We can’t tell them who to vote for,” he said. “But we can tell them to vote.”
But while Johnson didn’t advocate for anyone in particular in his remarks, others did.
In his remarks, Sharpton told the crowd that in addition to giving the Tea Party a foothold in Congress, their decision to sit 2010 out emboldened Republicans enough that they felt they could change the rules of voting itself. With the goal of total power, GOP legislatures came up with laws designed to blunt the political power of the coalition that ushered in the Obama Administration; a coalition that included young people, seniors, African Americans and Latinos.
Among the toughest of these laws was Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law, which was supposed to take effect with the November elections, but has been stayed by a temporary injunction. State Rep. Mike Turzai, one of the main sponsors of the bill, made news when he declared at a state Republican conference that the bill would enable Romney to win Pennsylvania’s electoral votes in November.
If these well-financed, fairly extensive efforts to make it harder for some than others to take advantage of the franchise do nothing else, they should remind all of us of just how important your vote is and why you must use it or lose it, Sharpton said.
“Why would they do all of this to stop you from voting unless it was important?” he asked. “If somebody’s trying to take something from you, it must be of value. If folk break in your house, they take valuables. So if any of you think that voting don’t matter, why are they spending all this money to take something from you unless it matters to you?
Election Day is Nov. 6.