al-sharpton_web.jpgMIAMI — Despite having colon cancer and no job, Shannon Lee-Sin has been making phone calls and canvassing at the Pinecrest campaign office for Barack Obama since the beginning of October. She said she wanted to do her part — even if limited — to help get the president re-elected.

“I’ve been very passionate about the cause,” said Lee-Sin, 30, a Jamaican who moved to Miami and became naturalized in 2006. She cast her first vote as a U.S. citizen for Obama in 2008.

Lee-Sin is among hundreds of black volunteers — African Americans and Caribbean Americans — who are volunteering in South Florida and throughout the country to support Obama. More important, they say, is their desire to reverse the chilling effect of recent voting laws that have been championed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

The GOP-dominated Legislature last year passed a comprehensive bill that reduced the number of early voting days, prevented voters from changing their addresses when they got to the polls and gave voter-registration groups such as the NAACP two days to turn in their forms or pay fines.

“I look at those laws as a different form of oppression and discrimination to weed us out of the process,” said Treska Rodgers, one of the South Florida coordinators of the NAACP’s Civic Engagement project. 

Bishop Victor Curry, pastor of New Birth Cathedral of Faith International in Opa-locka, deemed the laws “shameful and anti-American.”

"Last time it was about making history," Curry said when blacks turned out in record numbers in the 2008 election. "This time it’s personal."

On Saturday, Curry led a local initiative, called “Operation Lemonade” that attracted the Rev. Al Sharpton to Miami-Dade County as part of a weekend of activities to turn out voters.

About 200 people attended the Saturday rally at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center, 111 N.W. First St. in downtown Miami.

“We have been handed lemons through a reduced early voting period,” Curry said. “Our community will make lemonade out of this tactic to deter voters by mobilizing and voting early.”

Once the third-party restrictions were struck down in federal court in June, volunteers renewed their commitment to increase voter registration. Throughout the summer and into the fall, blacks have been working individually and with their sororities, fraternities, churches and social networks in collaboration with the NAACP, “to fight back.”

“It’s a united front — black organizations getting together on one accord,” Rodgers said.

Volunteers have conducted a number of drives, including door-to-door registration of voters in Liberty City and other neighborhoods, community walks, and a major statewide effort Sept. 29 with the “Divine Nine” —  the historically Black Greek-letter organizations that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council.

William Johnson, polemarch of the Miami Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., helped sponsor the $2,500 affair that offered free hot dogs, baked beans, chips and cookies to residents who came to register and get information about the election. The event included a bounce house and bookbag giveaway for children.

“When the NAACP asked us if we could partner, we said we would do everything we could to make sure that people could still vote,” Johnson said.

The efforts have paid off, the NAACP’s Florida State President Adora Obi Nweze announced Saturday at the Miami-Dade chapter’s Freedom Fund Reception.

The civil rights organization registered 150,000 new voters in Florida — 25,000 of them in Miami-Dade — said Nweze, who takes over this month as the branch’s new president.

The Obama campaign has acknowledged the impact of black volunteers.

“Over the last four years, we have built deep roots and recruited and trained members of the community to own and run the campaign in their neighborhoods.

As a result, African-American volunteers are a strong foundation of our team-based grassroots program,” Jeremy Bird, national field director for the Obama for America campaign, wrote Tuesday in an email.

“The challenge now is to get them out to vote,” Nweze said. “We need your help to make sure that all of the people that we registered get to vote.”
Black celebrities are helping out with that effort, as well.

On the first day of early voting in Florida, actress Tatyana Ali headlined kickoff events in Miami Gardens to encourage supporters and volunteers to vote early for Obama.

Marlon Hill, a corporate attorney with the law firm of delancyhill, is leading an effort to have a lawyer at every precinct to make sure that blacks don’t get turned away from the polls.

“We need to have all of the bases covered,” Hill said at a recent fundraiser for Obama.

South Florida Times writer Cynthia Roby contributed to this report.