African American Ministers Leadership Council

PFAWF Supports Young People, Communities of Color in Getting Out the Vote This Election Day

Whether by reaching out to people of color, young people, women, or other key communities, People For the American Way Foundation has been on the ground all across the country these past few weeks getting out the vote.

The VESSELS project of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, which is committed to increasing civic participation in communities that have traditionally experienced disenfranchisement and discrimination, has organized GOTV events in more than thirty cities across the country. From Buffalo to Miami, Las Vegas to Baltimore, and many places in between, VESSELS have been organizing in their communities to get people to the polls. Ms. Ruby Bridges spoke at a rally in New Orleans, while Dr. Ralph Abernathy III took the stage in Cleveland. In other towns, volunteers have organized trips to the polls following Sunday worship services and GOTV concerts.

Youth organizers have also been working hard to turn out the vote. Despite the fact that nearly 85% of young people were not reached out to by either campaign, we know from our Young People For (YP4) Fellows that young people are busy organizing. They are centering their efforts around a campaign called ARRIVE WITH 5, because while every vote is powerful, they know that when they ARRIVE WITH 5 (or more!) friends to polls, the impact of the youth vote is magnified. At Pitzer College in California, YP4 Fellows are organizing an ARRIVE WITH 5 caravan to the polls – providing electric go-cart rides from their campus to the polling station. At Oberlin College in Ohio, student leaders are hosting voter information events, phone banks, and dorm storms. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, they sang to get out the vote. Local bands and a cappella groups performed everything from jazz to techno while attendees got excited about making their voices heard on Election Day. And these are just a few of the events YP4 Fellows organized this year, collectively reaching thousands of students across the nation.

People For the American Way Foundation was founded more than three decades ago with a vision of a vibrantly diverse democratic society in which all Americans are encouraged to participate in our nation’s civic and political life. The hard work of PFAWF’s Fellows, VESSELS, and other volunteers this election cycle have helped bring that vision to life in a very real way.

PFAW Foundation

The Right to Vote Under Attack, 2012 Update

Here we detail, as of October 6, 2012, except where otherwise noted, the latest efforts across the country to suppress the vote, as well as some encouraging successes in expanding the franchise.

Ohio Ministers Celebrate Supreme Court’s Upholding of Early Voting Rights

Cleveland, Ohio – Ohio members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council praised a U.S. Supreme Court ruling today that ensures Ohio polls will remain open in the three days prior to November’s election. The state legislature eliminated early voting in the weekend before the election despite the fact that over 90,000 Ohioans had taken advantage of that period to vote in 2008. Ohio’s Secretary of State appealed a lower court ruling reinstating the early voting period to the Supreme Court.

“This is a great victory for voting rights, and for voters, in Ohio,” said Rev. Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland, Ohio Coordinator of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Weekend voting in the days before the election was an unmitigated success in 2008, helping to increase turnout and reduce long lines. But some of our elected leaders saw this great success as a failure, and worked hard to make sure it wasn’t repeated. Their efforts to restrict turnout – especially among African Americans – weren’t just wrong, they were unconstitutional. Community and church leaders will take advantage of this restored early voting period to not only repeat, but expand the voter turnout success of 2008.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation founded in 1997, works nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls through the non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

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SC African American Ministers: Voter ID Decision Shows Continued Need for Voting Rights Act

 A three-judge US District Court panel yesterday upheld South Carolina’s restrictive new voter ID law, but ordered that the law go into effect after November’s election. South Carolina softened its interpretation of the law during litigation. Under that interpretation, voters without proper photo ID are required to cast provisional ballots, although the presumption is that the voters' ballots will be counted unless a clear case can be made that they lied about why they do not have proper ID.

South Carolina members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council reacted, expressing concern that that even the softened law could might keep African American South Carolinians from the polls in future elections.

“Today’s decision shows the continued necessity of the Voting Rights Act,” said Rev. Terry Alexander, pastor of Wayside Chapel Baptist Church in Florence and member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. “Because of the VRA’s preclearance provisions, South Carolina had to reinterpret a law that would otherwise have disenfranchised many African Americans. We now urge the state of South Carolina to enforce this law in a way that lives up to its promises in court, ensuring that every South Carolinian, with or without photo ID, can cast a vote that counts. If even one person is disenfranchised because of this law, that will be one person too many.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation founded in 1997, works nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls through the non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

Rev. Brendolyn Jenkins-Boseman, pastor of Abundant Life Fellowship in Camden, who was recently named the first-ever female co-chair of AAMLC, added, “We’re working every day to make sure every member of our congregations and communities can cast a vote that counts. While we work to educate voters on their rights under this law, we will also continue to work to make our elections fairer and more accessible.”

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Voter ID Blocked in Pennsylvania

While it is now guaranteed that voters without an ID cannot legally be turned away, the ruling only applies for the 2012 election. Concerns over voter disenfranchisement continue to exist.
PFAW Foundation

Pennsylvania Pastors: State Supreme Court Voter ID Decision ‘Encouraging’

Philadelphia, Penn. – Pennsylvania members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council cautiously praised a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision today that could prevent a suppressive voter ID law from taking effect before November. The state Supreme Court ordered a lower court that had previously refused to block the law to reconsider that ruling, encouraging it to issue an injunction if the state cannot show that the law will not disenfranchise any voters.

“Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was intended to suppress the vote, and will have the effect if it is allowed to go forward in November,” said Rev. Michael Couch of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia, a member of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Although I believe there was more than enough evidence for the Supreme Court to issue an injunction without this extra step, the decision to send the case back to the Commonwealth Court is tentatively encouraging. Our courts must consider the real impact this law will have on Pennsylvanians trying to vote in November.”

People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, founded in 1997, works nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls through the non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

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AAMLC Praises Expansion of Florida Voter Registration Rights

 A federal judge in Florida yesterday said that he will permanently block new restrictions on voter registration drives that have suppressed registration in the months leading up to the 2012 election. The new restrictions had all but shut down voter registration efforts by major civic engagement groups in Florida.

Elder Lee Harris of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, issued the following statement:

“My fellow church leaders and I have been working to get everybody in our community to participate in our democracy. Unfortunately, some of our elected officials want to discourage new voters and drive people away from the polls, rather than drawing new voters in. Discouraging civic participation is a cynical and short-sighted way to try to win an election. Yesterday’s ruling means that more people will have more opportunities to register to vote. This decision is good for Florida, and good for our democracy.”

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African American Pastors Praise Court’s Upholding of Voting Rights in Florida

Jacksonville, Fla. – The African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC), a national coalition of African American clergy, today praised a federal court’s decision to strike down Florida early voting restrictions in five counties that would disproportionately affect African American voters.

“Sadly, the voter suppression tactics that the Voting Rights Act was meant to combat are alive and well in Florida,” said Elder Lee Harris of Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville. “But thanks to the Voting Rights Act, those trying to suppress the African American vote in Florida aren’t going to get away with it. The court was right to apply the act to what was a blatant attempt to keep African Americans from the polls.”

A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Florida legislature’s decision to cut early voting from 12 days to eight, for as little as six hours a day (potentially all during the standard workday), violated section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal review of voting rights changes in states and counties with a history of voter discrimination. The court’s decision applies just to the five counties covered under section 5 --Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe. The panel said it would approve a plan where the five counties held early voting open for 12 hours a day for each of the 8 days.

“Thanks to this sound decision, which we urge Gov. Scott to accept, Black voters in five counties will reclaim access to the ballot box during these critical early voting days,” continued Elder Harris. “However, residents of counties not covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – including Duval County – continue to face these suppressive new rules. We urge officials in all of Florida’s counties to adopt the same early voting opportunities as approved by the court.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, founded in 1997, has been working nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls in every election, most recently through the newly-launched non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

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Ohio Ministers: New Early Voting Rule Hurts Everyone Equally

Cleveland, Ohio – Members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, reacted today to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s order to standardize early voting hours statewide. The order equalizes early voting hours throughout the state by eliminating all weekend early voting, a critical part of what made early voting in Ohio so successful four years ago.

“Secretary of State Husted could have lifted everyone in Ohio up together, but instead he brought us all down together,” said Rev. Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland. “Secretary Husted was right to standardize early voting hours in Ohio. But a deal that leaves everyone worse off isn’t a victory. In 2008, one quarter of Ohio voters took advantage of convenient hours to cast our ballots early, eliminating the long lines of 2004 and contributing to a strong turnout.”

“Secretary Husted’s cynical solution to the discriminatory mess of laws he helped create was to bring everyone down to the lowest common denominator ” added Rev. Dr. Minor. “Husted should be trying to make it easier for everyone in Ohio to vote, not to make it equally difficult.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, founded in 1997, has been working nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls in every election, most recently through the newly-launched non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

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Pennsylvania Pastors ‘Dismayed’ by Voter ID Decision

Philadelphia, PA – A coalition of African American pastors spoke out today against a state judge’s refusal to halt the implementation of Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, a move that could put low-income, elderly, minority and student voters at risk of disenfranchisement in November’s election.

Members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, said that the decision not to stay the voter ID law could suppress the votes of those who have traditionally struggled to exercise their right to vote.

“The purpose of this law has been clear from the beginning,” said Rev. Michael Couch of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia. “It was meant to keep African Americans, students, and other traditionally suppressed communities from  exercising our hard-won right to vote. Even the law’s supporters have admitted that there is absolutely no evidence of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania. Instead, this law is a purely political attempt to disenfranchise citizens who have every right to vote. I am dismayed at today’s decision and hope that as this case moves through the courts, our judges recognize the ugly intent and real consequences of voter ID.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, founded in 1997, has been working nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls in every election, most recently through the newly-launched non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.


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Early Voting Restrictions Could Hurt Over Half of Ohio’s African Americans, Says Ministers’ Group

Members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC), a program of People For the American Way Foundation, spoke out today against efforts to restrict early voting opportunities in four Ohio counties that are home to 56 percent of the state’s African American population.

"Jim Crow is alive in the 21st century and evident in the struggles we still face for equal access to the ballot box," said Rev. Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland, Ohio. "There are politicians doing the unthinkable: they are making it harder for their constituents to exercise our constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. And once again, these suppression efforts are aimed directly at African Americans in swing states.”

Officials in four Ohio counties -- Cuyahoga, Franklin, Summit and Lucas -- are set to deny night and weekend early voting to their citizens. Those four counties are home to some of Ohio’s largest cities and over half its African American population. The state has already ended early voting for most residents in the final three days before the election. Last year, nearly 20 percent of early voters in Cuyahoga and Franklin counties went to the polls during that final time period.

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, founded in 1997, has been working nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls in every election, most recently through the newly-launched non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program. The new early voting restrictions in Ohio are a setback to efforts to increase turnout and ensure that every vote counts.

"These efforts are intended to discourage and distract voters in the state of Ohio, but they will not succeed,” added Rev. Minor. “We have strengthened our efforts to educate our congregations and our communities about their rights and their civic responsibilities. Believe me, no matter how hard they try to stop us, we will fight back against these restrictions and we will show up at the polls and vote."

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NOM's Real Values

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Maine's investigation of the National Organization for Marriage's campaign finance practices has resulted in the release of several internal fundraising and planning documents. HRC has posted them online where NOM-watchers are poking through them. For sheer reprehensibility, it's hard to top hiring (or at least planning to hire) someone to find and exploit children who are willing to publicly betray their gay parents.

But that kind of "ends-justify-the-means" approach to politics has been the hallmark of NOM and its campaigns in California, Maine, and elsewhere. Those who have been on the receiving end of those dishonorable and untruthful campaigns won't be surprised by much of what's in the NOM documents. But the brazenness of the language around racial wedge politics long practiced by the religious right should make it easier to expose the group's Machiavellian heart. And it may be useful in blunting their efforts to make opposition to marriage equality a "marker of identity" for Latinos and African Americans.

The NOM documents from 2009 discuss a number of organizational projects and strategies, including a "Not a Civil Right" project:

The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks -- two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.

And just in case that isn't clear enough: "Fanning the hostility raised in the wake of Prop 8 is key to raising the costs of pushing gay marriage to its advocates and persuading the movement's allies that advocates are unacceptably overreaching on this issue."

NOM's stated plans to overturn marriage equality in Washington, D.C. include an effort to "find attractive young black Democrats to challenge white gay marriage advocates electorally."

NOM's strategists said they needed "to accomplish a sophisticated cultural objective: interrupt the attempt to equate gay with black, and sexual orientation with race. We need to make traditional sexual morality intellectually respectable again in elite culture. And we need to give liberals an alternative way of thinking about gay rights issues, one that does not lead to the misuse of the power of government to crush dissent in the name of fighting discrimination."

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of People for the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council, released a statement on behalf of the Council's Equal Justice Task Force calling NOM's wedge strategies "deeply cynical" and "deeply offensive."

NOM also planned to target Latinos through a "community of artists, athletes, writers, beauty queens and other glamorous noncognitive elites across national boundaries" who can help "interrupt the process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity." NOM hopes that "[a]s 'ethnic rebels' such spokespeople will also have an appeal across racial lines, especially to young urbans in America." NOM said, "Our ultimate goal is to make opposition to gay marriage an identity marker, a badge of youth rebellion to conformist assimilation to the bad side of 'Anglo' culture."

NOM has had more success in some areas than others: most recently it failed in a stated priority of overturning marriage in New Hampshire, despite having made gains in the state legislature; and it failed to prevent marriage from advancing in New York. Its efforts in other states, like Iowa, are still underway. And it is pushing constitutional amendments in North Carolina and Minnesota. It also hopes to keep opposition alive "behind enemy lines" in states that have made marriage equality a reality.

But even in 2009, the top priority for 2012 was clear: defeating Barack Obama. In order for the group to achieve victory on marriage, "the next president must be a man or woman who expressly articulates a pro-marriage culture, and appoints sympathetic Supreme Court justices." In order to help achieve that objective, the group discussed plans to "sideswipe Obama" by portraying him as a "social radical" and by taking steps to "[r]aise such issues as pornography, protection of children, and the need to oppose all efforts to weaken religious liberty and the federal level." No wonder Maggie Gallagher is such a fan of Rick Santorum -- his campaign plan mirrors NOM's.

In addition, it is utterly clear that the bishops and NOM were ready to make "religious liberty" a campaign issue well before the recent controversy over insurance coverage for contraception: "Gay marriage is the tip of the spear, the weapon that will be and is being used to marginalize and repress Christianity and the Church." NOM's documents also affirm the group's "close relationships" with Catholic bishops, with whom it would work to engage Catholic priests nationally as well as locally.

You can fault NOM for many things, but not for thinking small. NOM's planning documents discuss strategies for exporting its model and playing a major role internationally. It calls for a global "counterrevolution" against marriage equality, something that is, unfortunately, well underway, with disastrous consequences.

AAMLC: Anti-Equality Documents Expose NOM’s Cynical Wedge Strategy

Newly exposed documents from the National Organization for Marriage shed light on the organization’s plans to “drive a wedge” between the LGBT movement and African American and Latino communities.

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council issued the following statement on behalf of the Council’s Equal Justice Task Force:

 “If the success of the National Organization of Marriage’s movement depends on stirring up resentment between communities, it might want to rethink its strategies.

“African American men and women of faith are not a political football to be tossed around in a cynical game of resentment and division. We, like all Americans, struggle thoughtfully with issues of faith, family and politics. Anti-equality activists such as NOM consistently attempt to use a deeply cynical ‘wedge’ strategy to divide African Americans and the gay community, playing up what are now old and tired cliches. In the long run, this strategy will falter as African American and LGBT communities continue to work together for equal justice.

 “I celebrate as more and more African American clergy engage in AAMLC’s Healing Grace dialogues and work to confront and overcome stigma, prejudice and homophobia in the Black Church. We continually seek to help and not harm, love and not hate, reconcile and not separate, unite and not divide -- and it's working.

“NOM’s explicit attempt to drive a wedge between the LGBT community and African Americans is deeply offensive, and it exposes the depravity of their politics.”


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African American Ministers Leadership Council Applauds DOJ Investigation of Trayvon Martin Shooting

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, issued the following statement in response to the Justice Department’s announcement that it would open a civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin:

“It is shocking that nearly 60 years after the murder of Emmett Till, a black teenager can be killed simply for walking down the street, and his killer not even tried. Trayvon Martin’s life was not expendable. Unfortunately, for many weeks local law enforcement acted as if it were.

“The Justice Department was right to open an investigation into Trayvon’s murder. All his family is asking for is their constitutional right to equal justice under the law, for our justice system to recognize the value of their son’s life. In 2012, that shouldn’t be too much to ask.”

African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is an alliance of over 700 progressive African American clergy supporting social justice, civil rights, and reproductive health and justice.


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