Presidential Election Notebook

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There was more activity and excitement surrounding the recent presidential election than most Americans living today have experienced in a lifetime. Throughout the nineties, the media presented convincing evidence showing continued apathy among registered American voters. Today, due to the excitement already mentioned, I suspect most of the apathy has dissipated, and that everyone has an opinion. More people were more passionate about the election than ever before.

Most us are accustomed to seeing a conservative, older crowd of people, traipsing through the neighborhood making the effort to encourage people to vote. However, at the Taste of Chicago this year, many visitors and participants alike might have been surprised by the bombardment of young Hip-Hop enthusiasts who were aggressively encouraging people, young and old to register and vote. Their main focus, however, was the youth. More importantly, they spoke of holding classes in various communities in order to teach people how to be an informed voter, and how to make their vote matter. According to Tasha Williams, a hip-hop voter activist, they have had quite a successful summer appearing at all the festivals and many of the free concerts.

Nowadays, the matter should seem crystal clear to everyone: Vote the issues, not the candidate!

United Power and Action! is the name of another group addressing problems of massive voter apathy, especially among minority and immigrant groups.

United Power is an ecumenical umbrella group comprised of many religious and secular groups. They are dedicated to making our politicians realize that with a community’s vote must come respect and accountability.

Greg Pierce, a businessman and publisher, was one of the early founders of United Power. He said, “Mutual respect and responsibility is what it boils down to” when it comes to a community’s support. Pierce said that United Power was inaugurated in the fall of 1997 at the University of Illinois Pavilion. There, thousands of people convened, including representatives from a number of churches, synagogues, temples and mosques.

On Sunday July 11 of this year, United Power convened a meeting at Navy Pier in order to explain three important points to their membership. The first point which they sought to drive home was that an organized voter would not be ignored the day after the election. Next, they wanted to explain to their respective communities what for them amounted to a very important voting strategy: “Vote with your family. Vote with your congregation or organization. Vote strength to make your voice heard on Election Day!” This message was printed everywhere and commented on throughout the afternoon.

At the July 11 meeting, various presenters set out to explain some of the issues that many Americans and immigrants are grappling with: the war in Iraq, health care, affordable housing, the economy, jobs. These are a few of things that were brought to everyone’s attention to consider.

We were told that the strategy of United Power is to approach the candidates of both parties, interview them to determine where each candidate stands on the issues, and bring this information back to their members. What United Power intends to do is marshal the strength of their leadership, representing different community groups, at the ballot box. Their intention is to register five to ten thousand new voters. The next step would be to push for 20,000 or more to actually go to the polls and vote.

Daryl Campbell was one of several well dressed, dapper young men working efficiently at crowd control, making it seem all too easy. Fortunately for me, he was able to parcel off a few minutes of time for a short interview. He agreed to discuss with me his reasons and in effect passion for wanting to work with this and other activist or advocacy groups.

Campbell is a young man who has a lot of ambition. He told me that he has experienced multiple, even drastic and unfortunate changes in his life. Becoming homeless was one such change.

“There has been so much happening in my life. However, it was just a few years back when something occurred you could almost that it was cataclysmic. The fact is, as fate would have it, I became homeless. I had nowhere else to turn but to different organizations similar to the ones represented here at this conference,” Campbell said.

If for some reason or other Campbell found himself unable to give back in some way, he said it would bother him quite a lot.

One of the questions I was asked recently was what effect, if any, the relocation efforts related to the CHA Plan for Transformation would have on the vote of those moving into new neighborhoods. In fact, there were two basic questions. What happens to those voters who may have moved into a new neighborhood and where would they be allowed to vote? And, again, in terms of voting, would the Plan for Transformation seriously affect the neighborhoods CHA residents left behind?

The first question was answered by Tom Leach, the Public Information Officer for the Cook County Board of Elections. According to Leach, citizens who change permanent addresses by moving into new residences prior to October 5 had to register at the new location. Leach explained that voting applications are available from public libraries, postal facilities and from City Hall downtown. For those who similarly find themselves changing permanent residences after that date (October 5, 2004) they need only to return to the polling place for the old address from which they moved, provided they are already registered.

As to the second question, later on I caught up with Alderman Walter Burnett. What he explained instantly made sense. Burnett’s answer was that people come and go all the time. Everything always seems to balance out, as over time neighborhoods change. That’s inevitable.

Wherever the people voted on November 2, they did it in large numbers. In Chicago and many parts of the country, voters waited in long lines to cast their ballot. Unlike the last presidential election, the outcome was clear by the next day. George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, won reelection for president. In the Illinois Senate race, voters made history by electing Barack Obama the first Black man to be elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction.

I caught up with voters in my neighborhood to talk with them on Election Day. Here’s what they had to say.

Henry Flynn said he felt mixed emotions during the campaign.

“I mostly remember being engulfed by the single feeling of hope or hopefulness,” he said. “I lost much of it the closer the time came to cast my vote.”

Dan Morrill is a poet, author and philosopher. For president, he said he voted for the Democratic challenger John Kerry.

“I was in the military around the same time Kerry was. I was there from 1961 to 1964,” Morrill said. “Kerry is exciting to me because when he does something that looks like a flip-flop, it only means that he is able to see many different things from many different angles – or points of view..This is something we need.”

Morrill also said “[The vote] feels good, but if I might borrow in a literary way from Cyrano de Bergerac: ‘You really cannot change what cannot be changed, you can only make the right gesture.’”

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