Black clergy and labor unite against voter suppression

CLEVELAND – Reacting to Republican efforts to suppress their access to voting, leaders of the African American community and the AFL-CIO are mounting a massive effort to promote balloting by mail and in person voting at the Board of Elections prior to Nov. 6.

On Aug. 31, a federal judge overturned a GOP-sponsored law preventing in-person voting the weekend preceding the presidential election. Judge Peter C. Economus ruled that, since overseas and military personnel can vote on that weekend, Ohio could not deny the same right to all others. 

Immediately following the court ruling, Ohio’s Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine announced he would appeal the decision and GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a directive Tuesday to the 88 county election boards not to plan for voting the weekend prior to the election until the case is settled. Early voting begins in Ohio Oct. 2.  Husted had previously banned voting at the boards on all weekends and after regular working hours, times used primarily by workers and African Americans expected to support the re-election of Pres. Barack Obama.  

Husted, the defendant in the suit brought by Obama campaign and the Democratic Party, did not dispute data presented to the court that the majority of those voting on weekend and extended hours in 2008 were African American. 

In fact, as a result of a major effort by black churches to bring “souls to the polls” some 93,000 Ohioans voted at election boards the Sunday before that election. Fifty-six percent lived in predominantly African American precincts, according to Norman Robbins, a retired professor at Case Western Reserve University and director of Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates. 

“The Republicans brought us all together,” Rev. Aaron Phillips, director of the Cleveland branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, said at a press conference Friday on the steps of the Euclid Ave. Congregational Church across from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

“They are trying to discourage people from voting,” he said.  “But we are not just angry — we are organized.”

Over 30 black ministers calling themselves the United Clergy of Greater Cleveland, attended the event.  They represented the Baptist Ministers Conference, the Pastors’ Council and the United Pastors in Mission and are affiliated with the Ohio Unity Coalition headed by Pete Talley, Secretary-Treasurer of the Ohio AFL-CIO.

“We celebrate the partnership between labor and the faith-based community,” Harriet Applegate, Executive Secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO, said.  “There is nothing more sacred than the right to vote.  It is the cornerstone of democracy.”

The ministers distributed a “Voter Empowerment Guide” with a detailed plan to mobilize their congregations and surrounding communities to vote this year.  The plan includes appointing and training voter captains for each church, registering new voters and verifying the eligibility of all voters since many have been purged if they moved or did not vote in the past four years, promoting mail ballots, using church vans and buses to bring early voters to the election board and to the polls on election day and making sure everyone has information and identification needed for casting a ballot.

“While we are disappointed and even ‘in shock’ at what is occurring, we are proud to say that we are certainly not afraid, deterred, or overly downtrodden,” the guide declares.  “In fact, this climate has fueled us to stand up and stand our ‘voter’ ground.”

The Unity Coalition has also provided a van with computer terminals that travels to neighborhood “hot spots” where voters can check their status, register or re-register, if necessary, and fill out mail ballot applications.

Rev. Tony Minor, a leader of the religious coalition, blasted the voter suppression rules and laws enacted since 2011 by Republican-controlled legislatures in 19 states, as “modern Jim Crow.” 

“They are burning our rights.  They are lynching our access to the ballot,” he said. “But we are united in one voice and we will not stop ’til victory is won.”

In a more directly partisan way similar sentiments were voiced Monday by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge at the Labor Day Parade and Festival jointly sponsored by the 11th Congressional District Caucus and the AFL-CIO.

“We’re going to beat Husted,” she told the thousands gathered in Luke Easter Park.  “They are trying to stop us from voting.  But we are going to deliver a 200,000 vote margin in Cuyahoga County for President Barack Obama.”

Photo: Rev. Tony Minor and group. Rick Nagin/PW


Rick Nagin
Rick Nagin

Rick Nagin has written for People's World and its predecessors since 1970. He has been active for many years in Cleveland politics and the labor movement.