Atlanta Daily World Staff Report
ATLANTA – In one of the most unique voting efforts this year, 18 NAACP branches in Georgia in 19 counties launched an ambitious plan to get more than 40,000 African American voters to the state-wide election on the last Saturday of early voting.
It’s called Party to the Polls, a day that includes symbolic civil rights-era marches, bus caravans, and carpooling that culminate in election parties of music, food, speeches, and prizes, and in times of coronavirus, masks, social distancing, and more Disinfectants, the organizers promised.
The date is October 24th. From Savannah in Chatham County to Augusta in Richmond County to Peachtree Corners in Gwinnett County and Columbus in Muscogee County, organizers have planned a range of mobilization efforts for individual voters. NAACP offices in Bibb, Clark, Clayton, Cobb, Dekalb, Dougherty, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Henry, Houston, Lowndes, Newton, Paulding, and Rockdale counties are also involved.
The non-partisan NAACP is the country’s oldest civil rights organization and has been mobilizing the African-American electorate since it was founded in 1909. However, this year the Georgian leadership decided to take a more strategic approach to maximizing black voting rights.
“While the regions we are targeting represent only 12 percent of Georgian counties, they comprise 77 percent of all African American voters in the state,” said Richard Rose, who leads efforts as president of the organization’s Atlanta branch. “So we have come together as a collective to concentrate our energy and capital and get a larger percentage of blacks to vote.”
President Donald Trump easily won Georgia in 2016, but the presidential race, as well as two races currently being run by Republican senators, have become extremely competitive this year. Experts say African American voter turnout could make all the difference.
Black voter turnout in the 2016 presidential campaign declined nationally for the first time in 20 years, falling to 59.6 percent in 2016 after hitting a record high of 66.6 percent in 2012, according to the Pew Research Group.
The 7 percentage point drop from the previous presidential election is the largest in African American history. The number is even grimmer in Georgia, said Rose, where just 48 percent of black men and 62 percent of black women voted in 2016, compared with 67 percent of white men and 68 percent of white women.
Aside from flashy events like Party to the Polls, Rose said, the NAACP branches are trying to increase black voter participation by focusing on local races.
“Understandably, the nation is paying a lot of attention to the presidential campaign, but we believe that by focusing voters in Georgia on county and state races, we can get more people to vote,” he said. “When you understand that it is these offices – the sheriff, the prosecutor, the state officials, the commissioners, the judges and the school board members – that have a huge impact on their daily lives, we believe they are more likely to vote . “
“Our offices have hosted online candidate forums on Facebook, Zoom, and other platforms to better educate people about their local issues.
Still, Party at the Polls will be a signature event, branch presidents said.
The organizations have received financial and logistical support from a variety of groups: Vote Your Voice, an initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta; The New Georgia Project, a turnout project launched by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Staci Abrams, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Georgia, numerous churches, the 100 Back Men, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, and the National Pan Hellenic Council was called consists of nine African American brotherhoods and sororities.
In Fulton County, after displaying their “I Voted” stickers, voters are admitted to one of three locations, 1362 Metropolitan Parkway in Atlanta, East Point Downtown Commons in East Point, and the South Fulton Library in Union City which they are celebrated with food, drinks and music. In Richmond County, Rev. Melvin Ivey, branch president and pastor of the Greater St. John Baptist Church in Augusta, is loading people into five New Georgia Project donated vans, along with buses owned by the Greater Augusta Interfaith Coalition for a trip to the James Brown Arena, voting in the Bell Auditorium, the county’s largest polling station.
The Richmond office, with the support of the OneAugusta community, had previously held voter registration and census events and handed out baskets of fruit to participants.
“This time we’re going to be in the arena parking lot, where World Central Kitchen is delivering groceries that people can just walk across the street to vote.” Ivey said. “We’re planning a fun day doing something very important.” The branch, which, according to Ivey, has hosted online forums for positions for the local school board, a Senate race, and a prosecutors race, is expecting 1,0000 people.
“This choice is really important,” he said. “We need change. It feels like they have tried, locally and nationally, to reverse the profits blacks and America have made in more than 50 years.
More than halfway across the state, the Rockdale and Newton County NAACP branches have teamed up with Rev. J. Phillip Baker, Pastor of Shady Grove Baptist Church, and J. Demetrius Myatt to create a symbolic “1,000 Man -March for the elections ”. The two events are followed by a tailgate in the surveys.
In Newton County, Debbie Hillman, activist and co-chair of the NAACP branch’s Political Action and Participation Committee, said 1,000 black men and others will meet at the old prison at 8 a.m. before taking a short walk to the Newton County Administration Building .
They will be joined by 1,000 men in nearby Rockdale, who will gather at Wheeler Park at the same time before heading to the polling station an hour later. The Rockdale County Commission and NAACP member said the marches are for everyone, but they focus on black men because it is important that they resume their roles with black as responsible voters.
“As an attorney and county commissioner, I see elected officials affect their lives every day,” said Washington, one of the organizers of the Rockdale event. When you see elected officials, sheriffs, judges, and prosecutors affect their lives, they must be the first to vote.
The Post-18 NAACP Georgia branches for “Party at the Polls” in the key state first appeared in the Atlanta Daily World.