African-American churches have always held “Souls to the Polls” — an election-year tradition in which they take their whole congregation to vote — in high esteem, but with this year’s election, it’s especially important for many of them.
On Sunday, Oct. 30, and a week later on Nov. 6, congregations will bus out to Early Voting centers and exercise their basic American right to vote after the regularly scheduled church services.
“We have a choice between continuing the progress made under President Obama, or electing the most extreme candidate in modern history to ruin our childrens’ future,” said Phillip Thompson with For Florida’s Future during a press call Friday morning.
He said they would be enacting an aggressive Souls to the Polls campaign this year that hopefully will increase the number of voters by a huge amount.
He isn’t alone — faith leaders throughout the state are similarly impassioned. The campaign is focusing on building support from churches, barber shops, salons, and other places, to enfranchise people who may not be able to vote because of a lack of transportation, a busy work schedule, or other reasons.
Pastor Victor Curry with the New Birth Baptist Church in Miami said he always gets excited around this time of year in election years due to the Souls to the Polls. He said it was a way to ensure the voices of the people are heard.
“You know what someone believes by their actions,” he said. “Well, we believe in progress and building a stronger America, and we will show that by voting.”
He said it was important to him to uphold President Barack Obama’s legacy, to ensure health care for people, to enact meaningful criminal justice reform, and to prevent immigrants from being separated from their families, among other things.
“They say they want to make America great again,” he said. “But what that means to them is calling for disenfranchisement, for voter restrictions. We have come too far. We can’t let them stop us now.”
But not one to take too fatalistic of a tone, Curry put a positive spin on his statement and added that “as long as we come out to vote, our community can’t lose.”
He said the country was “without a shadow of a doubt” moving in the right direction, and that good things could happen if people vote not only for president, but also for House and Senate candidates that represent them.
Pastor Derrick L. McRae with The Experience Christian Center in Orlando brought up another positive to increasing voter turnout on a platform as broad as the church’s — inspiring confidence in those who may think their vote doesn’t matter.
“We can show them power through numbers,” he said. “Especially some of the younger community, who may believe the scales are tilted and that their vote isn’t necessary or needed. We are coming together and doing a concentrated effort on the importance of voting.”
Bishop A.J. Richardson, with the 11th District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, said churches have a duty to act as community leaders, including in the duty of voting.
After speaking to more than 200 people on the importance of voting for social change, Richardson said he’d seen an outpouring of support for continuing Obama’s legacy and “moving forward.”
Richardson added that while their Souls to the Polls effort has always been nonpartisan and will continue to be so, this election pointed to a very clear choice for him personally.
“We have a choice, and I think that choice is obvious this year for the progressive agenda,” he said, without naming either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.