Souls to the Polls

BY Raven Joy Shonel, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Local organizations joined together last Sunday at Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg to encourage the community to head down to the polls early and cast their vote in this year’s mid-term election.

With a jam packed ballot that promises to confuse and hold up the lines for those who arrive unprepared on Election Day, the process could be quite time consuming.

But the Pinellas County Urban League (PCUL) and other organizations came together to sponsor Souls to the Polls, which is a community effort to get members of local congregations mobilized and voting early.

“It’s a collective effort of churches and organizations,” said Pastor Louis Murphy Sr. of Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church.  With their marching band leading the way from Williams Park to the polls on Fifth Street North, St. Pete was literally dancing in the streets.

Watson Haynes, president and CEO of the PCUL and staff members were out in great numbers making sure the rally went off without a hitch. He explained that the National Urban League affiliates throughout the United States have been charged with the role of advocacy, getting people to the polls to vote.

“The Young Professionals of the PCUL came together to organize the event. We did Souls to the Polls for President Obama and got folks to vote, so we figure we’d do Souls to the Polls again and get folks down to vote,” said Haynes.

Haynes doesn’t care how you vote; he just wants you to vote. African Americans are the only race in America that had to die fighting for the right to vote. No other race has been terrorized by the authorities, drugged through the streets, had dogs attack them, had their churches bombed and their leaders killed so that they could freely cast their ballots.

“Sometimes you wish you could just turn on the TV to folks and say look at this. This is what generations past went through just so that you can vote. Because in many instances they still couldn’t vote. They fought for the right to vote and the right was given to us and we shouldn’t take it for granted,” he said.

And with all the gridlock in Washington, Haynes encourages people to vote in smaller elections because local politics affects us first.

“Elections like these are local and they affect us faster than things that happen in Washington. If we see the gridlock that is going on in Washington, that gives us more of a reason to understand that we need to vote the right people in office so that we can stop this game,” finished Haynes.

Florida State Representative Darryl Rouson discussed the importance of the religious community helping people to the polls.

“In these days when voter convenience is under attack, we need everyone, particularly faith communities, urging people to exercise their constitutional right,” Rouson said. “Souls to the Polls does just that. It captures the faithful and moves them from the private pew of prayer to the public arena of the ballot box. Voting is the essence of participation in government. Voting is prayer exercised.”

Lieutenant Governor hopeful Annette Taddeo got the crowd roaring when she took the microphone. And although the event was meant to be nonpartisan and encourage everyone no matter their party affiliation to vote early, Taddeo couldn’t help but talk about Governor Rick Scott’s record.

“A million people who don’t have health insurance because he won’t expand Medicaid…1.3 billion dollars is what he cut from our education system. We need a governor that believes in the future of our kids,” she stated.

Taddeo went on to stress the importance of voting to combat any tricky business Gov. Scott may have up he sleeves.

“Think of five friends you have and encourage them to vote because Rick Scott is trying to buy the election again. He just wrote himself a 20 million check. The last time he spent over 70 million buying the election, but we are not going to let him this time. Our state is not for sale,” she said firmly as the crowd went wild.

After a brisk march to the polls where some people stayed and voted, the crowd marched to Williams Park for a lunch prepared by the Nite Riders Van Club. Hundreds of people stood in line for hot dogs and hamburgers.

The Nite Riders volunteered their time and resources to many events around town throughout the year.

Early election will continue until Sun., Nov. 2 from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.  Tues., Nov. 4 is Election Day and the last day to let your voice be heard.

Check out the Supervisor of Elections website to find an early voting location near you at www.votepinellas.com.

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