By MICHELLE HOLLINGER
MIAMI – Before an audience that included members of the Gamma Zeta Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority,many decked out in pumps and pearls, a panel of community leaders discussed the political climate and urged mass participation in the upcoming elections.
The Pumps, Pearls and Politics forum on Aug. 6 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Doral was a standing room only affair that emphasized the importance of people getting to the polls to vote, not only in the presidential election,but also in the state and local races.
Offering a larger perspective on the importance of voting, State Senator Oscar Braynon II explained that the black community’s low voting numbers adversely affect his ability to advocate effectively for them in Tallahassee.
“One reason our community doesn’t get the voice in the legislator,on the county commission, in Congress, or in the mayor’s office is because we don’t vote in the numbers that we should,” he shared, offering a comparison between voting trends for an area like Kendall and his North Dade/South Broward district,each of which has about 400,000 residents.
“In Kendall, there are 300,000 registered voters. On any given time…250,000 get out to vote.I have a district with the same amount of people, but only 190,000 people registered to vote,”Braynon said,adding that voting is low even when “a candidate like Barack Obama who looks just like them” is running for office.“We need those numbers so that when someone like me stands up and says something in the legislature,they know that I’m speaking for 300,000 voters who look like me and sound like me.”
Umi Selah, executive director of Dream Defenders, made the argument that a sizeable number of voters could be added to the roster if ex-convicts’ voting rights are restored.
“We have over 1.5 predominantly black men and Latino men who can’t vote even if they wanted to vote,” Selah said.
A statewide ballot initiative to restore the right to vote for most people with past felony convictions failed to garner the required number of signatures for its inclusion on the November ballot – falling short by 632,690 signatures.
Selah also theorized that many young people are unlikely to go to the polls in November because of their“earned distrust and earned animosity around the political process. We need candidates,parties,platforms that truly reflect the views of the changing demographics. Until we get that, I don’t think a lot of young people are going to be inspired by the same old political rhetoric.”
Actress Tichina Arnold,in town stumping for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, made a brief appearance at the forum before heading to another scheduled visit at the Florida Democratic Party Miami Gardens office.
Beverly Counts-Rodrigues moderated the panel discussion that included Adora Obi Nweze, whose frustration with the status quo and voters’ complicity in maintaining it was palpable.The head of the state NAACP challenged voters to recognize their oneness and to make bold choices that reflect the interests of the black community.
“We are one.We don’t know it yet,that is the piece that keeps us from moving forward,” said Nweze. “We are asking you to help us register voters.We must go to the polls in November. If we don’t do this we will not be in control of our lives.”
Congresswoman Frederica S.Wilson was scheduled to appear but had to return to Washington,D.C.unexpectedly.Other panelists included Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade; Makeda Mclune,government affairs lobbyist, Ronda Vangates, assistant attorney for Miami Dade Public Schools and Alfred Lewers, senior law enforcement project manager.