In the book of Genesis, 50:19, Joseph tells his fearful brothers, who sold him into slavery and subsequently discover he is alive, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
I reflect on that passage when I think about the change made by the Florida Legislature that has reduced by seven the number of days we have for early voting than we did in 2008. The lawmakers may think their action will make us politically dead but we plan to show them otherwise.
There are two ways by which we shall do so. Firstly, there is Operation Lemonade, a countywide umbrella movement led by the National Action Net-work, with Bishop Victor T. Curry of New Birth Baptist Church as the local representative, which will be on Saturday. Then there is “Souls to the Polls,” led by Pastor Carl Johnson, which will be on Sunday.
MAKE THE MOST
I’m asking my congregation at The Church of the Open Door United Church of Christ to make the most of this political lemon we’ve been given and turn it into political lemonade by making every vote count. Therefore, we are holding voter-education workshops after church services to review the ballot and to help our elders, who can’t stand in long lines, to electronically order absentee ballots.
We must not be afraid of the challenge because the legislators are not God. Indeed, what they mean for harm God means for good, as was the case of Joseph.
Black voters turned out in large numbers in Florida and around the country in the 2008 Presidential election. And it was the churches which led the way in making sure our members voted during the early voting period or on Election Day, or by absentee ballots.
Now we’re faced with new rules that make it tougher for groups to register voters, rules which have reduced the number of Sundays during which there can be early voting. Sundays were the key to victory in 2008, the days when we went to polling places in large numbers. Weekend voting is most beneficial for us because many in our communities work weekdays and the polls are closed after their workdays.
The change, in my opinion, was designed to suppress our turnout. Even the former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer said so. He was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, “I was upset because the political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting.”
The attacks on voting rights here in Florida and across the country are the worst many of us have seen since the struggle in the 1950s and 1960s for the passage of the Voting Rights Act. They mean Florida has entered a new era of Jim Crow.
But, as in the past, we won’t be turned around. So starting at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, we will start making our Godly lemonade under the leadership of Bishop Victor Curry of New Birth Baptist Cathedral of Faith International in Opa-locka. Operation Lemonade stretches from Perrine in South Miami-Dade to Broward County and includes 150 pastors and churches.
In Miami, a host of us pastors will lead our congregations to the polling station at the Stephen P. Clarke Government Center — County Hall — in downtown Miami. We’re asking all church folks — members, deacons, deaconesses, trustees, members of usher boards and choirs — to meet us at the polls during all early voting events and efforts.
You see, it is crucial now more than at any other time in recent memory that black people in Florida and the rest of the United States take a stand. The right to vote is a cherished privilege that many bled and died for and no one, not even the state government, can take it away from us.
We will not be deterred. Civil rights heroes and heroines such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Fannie Lou Hamer and those four little girls who died in the Birmingham bombing all withstood far worse in the fight for equal rights and our privilege to vote.
I’m reminded that the marchers and protesters were comforted by freedom songs as they were set upon by vicious dogs and water hoses and had to face angry stares and racial epithets.
We should march with Pastor Johnson at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, to the Joseph Caleb Center in Liberty City singing some of these songs during our “Souls to the Polls” march, a church service, a rally, a feeding and a vote-in.
Here is one song we can sing:
“Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around: Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around. I'm gonna keep on a-walkin', keep on a-talkin,'
Marchin' up to freedom land.”
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or firstname.lastname@example.org