The first-ever National Black Voter Day of Action takes place Friday, and Iowa is emerging as a national leader in the movement, which is focused on empowering Blacks to overcome voting barriers they are documented to have experienced throughout history.
At least nine Black Voter Day events are happening Friday throughout Iowa. That’s as much or more than larger states such as California, New York, Pennsylvania and Georgia, based on a thorough search of events listed online and in public media.
Black Voter Day events are happening in Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Iowa City, Muscatine, Sioux City and Waterloo (details below). The event is a collaboration of Black Entertainment Television (BET), The National Urban League and a dozen other civil rights groups.
Nationwide, television PSAs featuring Georgia’s Stacey Abrams and former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien are hitting the airwaves today to recognize the effort, which has been week-long in some areas, including Sioux City in western Iowa.
All of the events are focused on taking the fear and confusion out of voting for Blacks, whom research shows are disproportionately disenfranchised at the ballot box by measures like excessive voter identification requirements, voting locations that are closed or moved, misleading information about registration, or more obvious intimidation like discriminatory comments.
The events also aim to increase voter turnout among Blacks, because it dropped in 2016 for the first time in 20 years, reports the Pew Center for Research. In 2016, Black voter turnout was just over 59 percent, compared to its all-time high of 66.6 percent in 2012. The number of Black voters also dropped in 2016, by 275,000, Pew reports.
Studies also show Blacks and Latino/Hispanic people are affected by almost all voter suppression efforts more than twice as much as white people, reports The Atlantic. National Black Voter Day events will provide useful information for how to register as a voter, how to sort through changing ballot locations, how to ensure your vote is counted, how to stay informed, and how to find transportation to vote or how to use mail-in balloting.
“We are just weeks from the most important election of many of our lifetimes, and Iowa Democrats are defending voting rights tooth and nail,” says June Owens, vice chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, involved in organizing many of the events. “We are connecting with voters around National Black Voter Day to bring voices into our party and remind everyone that your vote is your voice, and every vote matters.”
The events of Black Voter Day started in Iowa Monday, with a kick-off in Sioux City that included actor Palmer Williams, Jr. (Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne”) and Rob Johnson, a Des Moines civil rights leader who also founded the new No Justice No Peace political action committee to help elect candidates who are committed to racial justice.
“A lot of people elect not to vote because they think it doesn’t make a difference,” Williams said, explaining why he is participating in Black Voter Day.
Read on for Black Voter Day events throughout Iowa. If you know of another Black Voter Day event happening, especially in Illinois, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org:
Cedar Rapids: Gather at the African American Museum of Iowa at 55 12th Ave. SE from 1 to 4 p.m. with guidance on registering, filling out absentee ballot requests, and becoming more involved.
Council Bluffs: Gather from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Mount Zion Refuge Center, 3031 7th Ave., for voter registration and yard signs.
Davenport: Swing Left is hosting a gathering they are openly calling “nonpartisan” from 6 to 8 p.m. in Centennial Park, 315 S. Marquette St. You’ll find absentee voter registration information, volunteer information, and candidate information and signs.
Des Moines: Join a live online discussion for this Black Voter Day event, taking place 6 to 8 p.m. at Evelyn K. Davis Park , 1490 Forest Ave. ““Ballots 101: Understanding Your Vote” will provide information on all aspects of voting.
Fort Dodge: Gather at H.C. Meriwether Park at 10th Ave SW from 5 to 7 p.m. for voter registration. Among the services provided: drive-through voter registration.
Iowa City: Two events are planned on Friday starting with the No justice No Peace drive-through voter registration from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Check the group’s Facebook event page for information on where. From 5 to 8 p.m., three Iowa City community groups will lead a gathering at Dream City, 611 Southgate Ave., where you’ll “learn more about the facts around how, when and why to vote.”
Muscatine: Gather for voter registration and education with members of Muscatine County’s Black Caucus at The Salvation Army of Muscatine County, 1000 Oregon St., from 4 to 7 p.m.
Sioux City: Gather at the New Life Church, 2929 W. Fourth St. at 5 p.m., with actor Palmer Williams of Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne” fame. Voter registration and yard signs will be available.
Waterloo: The African American Cultural Center at 1320 E. 4th St. will host a Black Voter Day event from 6 to 7:30 p.m. You’ll be able to register, fill out an absentee ballot request, and learn how to be more involved.
The focus on the Black vote has become even more high-profile this year, because of the many releases this summer of videotapes of police brutality against Black people. In addition, President Donald Trump’s ongoing attack on mail-in/absentee balloting is seen by many experts as using a strategy proven to suppress the Black vote, because Blacks are proven to already be wary of mail-in voting, experts say.
Tactics known to interfere with Blacks and Hispanics more than whites include moving voting locations to facilities like police departments, where Blacks may feel less welcome because of historic police brutality; requiring highly specific forms of identification; reducing the number of voting locations; “purging” voter rolls of people who may lack full documentation without first seeking the documentation; and moving voting locations far from public transportation.
“Often, these efforts tend to impact and burden certain people more than others – Black voters, Latino voters, Native Americans, students and others,” says Kristen Clark, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
New tactics now targeting Blacks and People of Color include Russian-driven social media influence campaigns, reports the Washington Post.
In addition, 10 percent of Blacks and 11 percent of Hispanics reported they were told incorrectly that they were not listed on the voter rolls, while only 5 percent of whites reported receiving that message. “In all, across just about every issue identified as a common barrier to voting, black and Hispanic respondents were twice as likely, or more, to have experienced those barriers as white respondents,” reports The Atlantic.
The special day is part of BET’s #ReclaimYourVote campaign launched earlier this year. The network is partnering with a long list of civil rights groups, including the NAACP, Color of Change, When We All Vote, Black Voters Matter, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, The Collective PAC, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Election Protection, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and The National Action Network (NAN).
If you can’t participate in the drive-by or in-person education events, many historic efforts to empower Black voters this year include strong online outreaches. They include:
• Black to the Ballot This organization is devoted to three causes: engaging black voters year-round, keep corporate influence out of politics; and improving outreach to Black voters nationwide by combining traditional and new technology strategies.
• Hip-Hop Political Education Summit This daylong streaming event Sept. 22 brings together rap stars and leading Black pundits and activists to talk about being heard. Speakers will include Harvard professor Cornel West; performers Cordae, Chuck D, and DJ Envy; Dr. Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University, Latosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter; Soledad O’Brien, former CNN anchor; Newark Mayor Ras Baraka; Melanie Campbell of the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation; U.S. Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana; and U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.
• The Collective: this online effort aims to register 250,000 new Black voters and is led by several social media influencers.