Miami Takes Back the Vote

By Guest Columnist Jan 24, 2008

Joseph Phelan, Miami Workers Center, discusses their work with grassroots organizers to register voters in Black and Latino communities in Miami. Last Saturday, I hit the streets with members of Low-Income Families Fighting Together and Miami en Acción, two grassroots projects of the Miami Workers Center. We were headed out to encourage occasional voters to participate in the primary elections through the Take Back the Vote campaign (TBV). Clad in bright orange and yellow shirts, we fanned out from the Miami Workers Center store front office on NW 7th Ave. We carried photocopied voter lists with highlighter-marked names and addresses. "Our ancestors had to fight for the right to vote," said Ms. Rosalie "Cookie" Whiley, LIFFT Leader and participant in the Take Back the Vote program. "We have to get out there and make sure people vote." In one week of voter outreach, Take Back the Vote discussed the history of voting rights and voting challenges with over 200 African-American and Latino residents of Liberty City and Wynwood. "A lot of people are saying that they have to vote, they have a responsibility to vote, their people died for the right to vote," said Aiyeshia Hudson, organizer with the Miami Workers Center, "But a lot of people are still not clear who they should vote for, what are the differences between the candidates. There still is a need for voter education." The Miami Workers Center projects, LIFFT and Miami en Acción, are known for community organizing campaigns fighting for racial and economic justice such as: Justice for Scotts Carver residents (over 1,100 low-income residents were displaced from their homes through a federal program), saving Roberto Clemente Park, and anti-slumlord organizing. So why would we mobilize to the polls when we fight around building public housing and getting rid of slumlords? "Politician and ballot referendums are decided by a minority of our city’s population because voter turnout is so low. In order to have a real democracy we need to build majority participation in the elections." said Sushma Sheth, Campaign Director for the Miami Workers Center, "Voting is one of many tools we have in the fight for progressive change. We are activists, community leaders, freedom fighters and voters." Along with encouraging people to the polls, LIFFT and MIA asked people about the issues they face in the community and what they think are some solutions. "This is a chance to meet people and build power in the community by getting them to not only vote but also join the fight," said Sarai Portillo, and organizer with Miami en Acción. The Take Back the Vote effort is an extension of the voter defense work that we started in 2004. In the month leading up to the 2004 election we won access for independent international elections observers, mobilized residents to patrol voting stations and enforce peoples’ right to vote and mobilized the African American community to impact the elections. Joseph Phelan lives in Miami Florida where he works with the Miami Workers Center. He is also an artist and published writer with pieces appearing in ZNet, Color Lines, Left Turn, and People’s Tribune.