This past weekend, the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Houston, the Houston Defender Network and Texas Children’s Hospital joined forces to encourage the community to exercise the highest civic privilege we have as citizens – voting.
The Early Voting Rally held at Houston’s historic Emancipation Park, was hyped from beginning to end, with attendees representing all manner of organizations, faith institutions, fraternities and sororities. And all were in lock-step about the seriousness of the mission that lie before us—a November midterm election that demands the public’s full attention and participation by showing up and showing out at the polls.
One of the purposes of the Early Voting Rally was in the name of the event—to get people hyped about early voting. And the bevy of sponsoring organizations each brought contingents of people to hammer home that point. Along with the Defender Network and the LWV, the organizations included Wheeler Avenue Social Justice Ministry, Black Women of Greater Houston PAC, Greater Houston Black Chamber, Houston Area Urban League, Metro, NAACP Houston Branch, Top Ladies of Distinction, Houston Metropolitan Baptist Ministers Conference, City of Houston and the student government associations of Texas Southern University and the University of Houston.
“We can effectuate change not only by being here, but also by voting,” said Annie Johnson Benifield, president of LWV of Houston. “We’re going to go out in numbers and show the impact of communities of color on the electoral process in this state of Texas and Harris County.
A consistent theme shared by attendees was the seriousness of this November election.
“We believe that this is a critical time in the history of our nation, for our state and for our city,” said Reverend Dr. Angela Raven-Anderson, director of the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church Social Justice Ministry. “We think that it is important that people understand that their vote matters, that their voice is their vote. And we need for people to come out and elect just officials to legislate on behalf of our people.”
“My hope is that we’ll show up and show out,” said Jenell Berry, president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Houston Metropolitan Chapter, when asked for her prediction of 2022 voter turnout. “If we don’t get out and vote our voices don’t count. Our voices need to be heard.”
Joshua Martin, president of the UH Student Government Association, provided the crowd with both words of warning and words of hope regarding reasons to get out and vote.
“I’ve lived and known a girl who had to overdose on pills to have an abortion because she was scared at what would happen if she were to go and receive the proper health care,” he said. “I know people who are in the education industry who fear being gunned down in schools. I know of people who are going to school and who are sending their children to school for the first time who have fear of being gunned down in their classroom.”
Martin shared a personal testimony of being in his high school building when someone entered campus with a gun and forced the entire school to go on lockdown, speaking to his desire for gun reform.
“These issues are important to students all across our state, which is why we are doing our part to educate students. I’m proud to have been a part of initiatives to have such a great team at the University of Houston who have registered over 1,000 students to vote during this period.
“But this is just the beginning. This is just the beginning of the fight that’s going to last for years and years to come. And in 2022, we’re going to make it known that this is just the beginning. Because after this, we have citywide elections coming up in 2023. We have a presidential election coming up in 2024. And we want to make sure that we are educated students, that we’re going to get out there to vote and that this is just the beginning,” added Martin.
Demethra Orion, policy chair of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Houston Metropolitan Chapter, was more cautious than most in attendance about her expectations of voter turnout.
“I hope that we are going to show up to the polls, but the public, they’re fickle,” she said. “I think that when things get a little more difficult, they have a hard time understanding the history of why we need to go out and continue to vote so that our voices can be heard.”
And it’s that voter “fickleness” that Reverend Dr. Angela Raven-Anderson, director of the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church Social Justice Ministry, wants to convert into voting fanaticism.
“During the last legislative session we really saw this whole Jim Crow 2.0,” said Raven-Anderson. “We saw our voting rights being diminished and a whole effort to suppress our vote. Also, we’ve seen this desire to re-write history and write out our own history. That can’t be. If we allow that to happen, then those mistakes in the past will be repeated in the future.”
Raven-Anderson said that she’s personally fired up about voting because of what she sees as “the diminishing of women’s rights,” which she believes is just a hint of more diminishing rights to come.
“Not just women’s rights, we’re going to see all kinds of civil rights being violated as we go forth if we don’t speak out now. So, I think this is a critical time for us to secure a really true democracy, for now, as well as for the future for our children. The danger [of us not showing up and voting] is that we will continue to see more of the same. We will continue to see more suppression. We’ll continue to see more rights stripped away. We’ll continue to see more of our people being put in positions that they will continue to experience oppression that we haven’t seen for several years past. It will be moving us backwards instead of moving us forward. That, for me, is the danger.”