Activate85; Grassroots Effort to Raise Voter Turnout
March 30th, 2016
In the last two presidential elections, black voters turned out in record numbers to support President Barack Obama.
Felisa Dillon was one of those voters.
â€œIt was such a historic campaign,â€ Dillon said, â€œa â€˜no one thought it could happen in your lifetimeâ€™ kind of thing. So we were caught up in that, and then kind of shame on us that we didnâ€™t support the President we promoted.â€
Dillon lives in Omahaâ€™s predominantly black 2nd District. Sheâ€™s an avid voter, but said many of her neighbors are not.
In the 2014 midterm election, with the governorâ€™s seat and two congressional seats on the ballot–only about 15 percent of district two voters actually voted. Which means about 85 percent of the registered voters, did not vote.
Thatâ€™s a lot of people who could vote, who maybe did vote before, not voting. And itâ€™s why Dillon was at North Omahaâ€™s Salem Baptist Church on a weeknight, not for a prayer group, but to learn about a grass-roots organization called Activate 85. Their mission, as the name implies, is to get that 85 percent of registered voters who didnâ€™t vote, to vote again.
â€œWe fought for this right,â€ Frank Hayes, one of Activate 85â€™s founding members, said.
â€œI came up in the South, at a time when we couldnâ€™t even vote,â€ Hayes said. â€œWe couldnâ€™t even go to the polls, and the people that preceded us fought long and hard to get this right, and now itâ€™s disappointing when we donâ€™t exercise it, because itâ€™s right there for us. It doesnâ€™t mean that anything and everything you want will get done, but you certainly have a voice, andÂ you can express that voice.â€
There are all sorts of reasons why people donâ€™t voteâ€”work, illness, bad weatherâ€”but Hayes said whatâ€™s happening in District 2 is more than that. He said, like other black communities, thereâ€™s a dis-connect between voters and local government. He said itâ€™s a shame, because most of the politicking that matters is local.
â€œItâ€™s your mayor; itâ€™s your city council,â€ Hayes said, â€œThese are the people that are making a decision about your community. The President, he is not doing that. Thereâ€™s an indirect impact, but the direct comes locally. If you vote, you have a voice in whether your streets get cleaned up from snow, whether they get repaired. â€œ
Hayes said voting is the only way to keep elected officials accountable. If people donâ€™t vote, he said those officials have no obligation to listen. He hammers this point home during his presentations for Activate 85.
â€œWhy should [elected officials] listen to you if you donâ€™t vote?â€ Hayes asked the crowd at Salem Baptist. â€œWhen you vote, you have a voice. You can bring investment back into your community. The officials who make those decisions on where the money is invested, theyâ€™re the ones who you vote for.â€
Activate 85 doesnâ€™t want to double the efforts of other organizations already providing people with information about candidates; groups like the league of women voters for instance.
Activate 85 is strictly focused on convincing people to vote.
Felisa Dillon said thatâ€™s easier said than done. She said, â€œThe African-American community, as a whole, [doesnâ€™t] believe government really represents them. People of color donâ€™t think about how government really represents them or how [government] can help them. Itâ€™s not the first answer. Itâ€™s not the first thought. So thereâ€™s a myth or lack of understanding, and then thereâ€™s some sense of truth to it too, when we donâ€™t see things change.â€
There are two black senators in Nebraskaâ€™s 49-seat Unicameral.
Two of Omahaâ€™s seven City Council members are also black.
Aside from a one day political ploy in the 1980â€™s, the City has never had a black mayor.
On the national political scene, the U.S. Government has never been more diverse. To be fair, government still doesnâ€™t mirror society in terms of racial breakdowns, but the fact 17 percent of Congress members are a minority is still a historic high.
Hayes said people in North Omaha should take the excitement of voting for the Nationâ€™s first black president, and apply it towards voting for things like school bonds, city council members, county commissioners, and so on.
â€œIf we can get to that point what will happen Â immediately,â€ Hayes said, â€œis this community will have the attention of the elected officials, and if the elected officials are looking at us and wanting to know what weâ€™re going to do, that at least gives us a voice.â€
Because without a voice, the concerns of a community canâ€™t be heard.
Activate 85 will hold its next forum on Thursday, April 7th. It starts at 6pm at Salem Baptist Church, 3131 Lake Street.
Comments are closed.