On a recent Sunday afternoon at the Hennepin Government Plaza, more than a dozen African-American churches and community groups from across Minneapolis kicked off the city’s first-ever Sunday voting.
The event ushered in what organizers hope will be an annual “Souls 2 the Polls” voting drive to encourage communities of color to stand up and be counted at the voting booth. The afternoon event, which included a rich program of singing, spoken word and powerful speeches by community faith leaders, focused on the need to mobilize voters to the ballot box to ensure the needs of underrepresented communities are addressed.
“America has a long tradition of excluding African-Americans from voting,” said the Rev. Paul Slack, pastor of New Creation Church in Minneapolis and president of ISAIAH, an interfaith community organization. “Even after civil rights victories that expanded our voting rights, there are still large gaps in voter participation. This gap is the reason why African-American communities lack control over the policies and resources that govern their lives. Souls 2 the Polls is about standing up and being counted. I’m tired of being discounted. Today, I’m counting myself in.”
According to organizers, communities of color are demanding an end to Minnesota’s racial equity gaps, the school-to-prison pipeline, inequities in justice and barriers to jobs, housing and voting access. With racial and economic gaps widening across the city, those who attended Sunday’s rally affirmed that closing these gaps is a moral and spiritual imperative.
The Rev. Brian Herron, pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Minneapolis and president of the Minnesota State Baptist Convention kicked off the rally.
“Today is a historic and unprecedented moment for Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis. As African-American faith communities, we gather in the light of those who came before us, those who fought for equal rights; we gather to vote on our sacred day of worship because it is our legacy and because we believe the future of the Black church relies on the people who vote with their faith.”
Mike Griffin, a field coordinator with one of the event organizers, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), addressed the crowd saying, “I’m the son of a pastor, and the values that my dad instilled in me are the same values people are showing up with this afternoon. We need to participate in our civic process. We stand on the history and legacy of our parents, to make sure everyone has the freedom to vote. It’s a long-term mission of NOC to make sure everyone has the right to vote, including our brothers and sisters who are on probation and parole from felony charges. Today what we’re doing is not only voting, but building a long-lasting movement to make sure everyone in the state of Minnesota has the freedom to vote.”
Others who spoke included Bishop Richard D. Howell of Shiloh Temple International Ministries and the Rev. Laurie Eaton of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Two spoken word performances featured Brittany Lynch and Nick “Mastermind” Muhammad.
Minneapolis City Councilman Jacob Frey, chair of the City Council’s Elections Committee, which passed the rule change to allow Sunday voting earlier this fall, greeted the crowd saying, “You don’t have an excuse not to vote. Now is the time to make the society you envision a reality. It all starts with a vote.”
The Souls 2 the Polls event was organized by churches and community groups across Minneapolis, led by ISAIAH and NOC. Congregations involved in Sunday’s rally, march and voting effort included Shiloh Temple International Ministries, New Creation Church, Zion Baptist, Macedonia Baptist, Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Mayflower UCC, St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, Pilgrim Rest Baptist, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Christ Temple Apostalic, St. Paul Grace University Lutheran Church, Redeemer Lutheran Church and Proverbs Fellowship Church.