In advance of the People's Convention , organizers and supporters emphasized the purpose during a press conference at the Paradise Entertainment Center, where the convention will be held on Saturday (June 8). (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

Putting the power back into the hands of the people. That’s always been the primary goal of the People’s Convention, according to the organizers who spent Thursday finalizing the details of one of the city’s most anticipated political gatherings.

More than 1,000 people are expected to assemble at the Paradise Entertainment Center, Saturday to discuss the “people’s agenda” and vote on the candidates they deem the most suitable to carry out the plan.

“This is fundamentally re-shifting the political paradigm in terms of political engagement,” said organizer, the Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher, the founder of Up The Vote 901, the grassroots voting collaborative responsible for the convention. “We are making sure that we dot our i’s and cross our t’s for this convention.”

In January, Fisher and a small team of local advocates and organizers came together to begin planning the convention. Although it pays homage to the original People’s Convention of 1991, throughout the planning process differences have been noted. For instance, organizers said the purpose of the original convention was to elect the first black mayor, and it did. Former Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton beat out incumbent Dick Hackett by a marginal 142 votes. Many have credited the convention for his victory; but organizers said the modern-day conference isn’t focused on candidates, but instead centered around issues.

Those issues were addressed in a survey sent out by organizers in April. It garnered more than 2200 responses from residents, covering topics such as education, economy, crime and safety. Those results will lead the People’s Convention.

What attendees can expect during the convention

The convention is slated to start at 11 AM and is open to the public. Attendees are required to register online or onsite in order to participate in the voting process. Organizers said even youth and convicted felons are able to participate, as long as they register.

During the event, results from the survey will be released, allowing organizers and residents to then develop the ‘people’s agenda.’ Candidates at the convention will have the opportunity to offer a presentation for their campaign based on that agenda.

So far more than 18 contenders who have pulled petitions for the October 3 election have confirmed attendance. Surprising to some, Former Mayor Herenton announced that he won’t be attending, despite his ties to the original convention. Current city Mayor Jim Strickland has declined attendance as well.

After the presentations are delivered, registered attendees will vote for their candidates of choice. Those who win by the majority will be considered the “people’s candidates.”

“We definitely want to do what we can to plug volunteers in with the winners’ campaigns,” Fisher said. “These are benefits that we are offering the ‘people’s candidates’ to get people to rally around them.”

Fisher said he hopes this process can increase the chances of the contenders winning in the October 3 election; but selecting a slate of candidates is only a part of the convention’s mission.

“I hope people get a better sense of what it means to be adequately engaged and to have an agenda that reflects the values of the majority of the citizens,” he stated. “I hope people leave the convention with marching orders and committed to doing even more in the months and years to come.”

What happens after the convention

Siju Crawford (left) and the Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

Convention leaders said the work doesn’t stop after the event. In fact, it’s only the beginning.

“This is something that we hope to do as a long-term strategy that will continue and not just be relegated to the moments that are the elections,” Siju Crawford, a lead organizer for the convention told The New Tri-State Defender last month.

Fisher elaborated on his counterpart’s sentiments.

“The issues that our communities face have been longstanding and it’s going to take a longstanding and comprehensive approach to progress for us to see better conditions in our communities.”

Confirmed speakers for the convention include Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. State Rep. Barbara Cooper and community leader Shep Wilburn, two leaders form the original People’s Convention, will also be honored during the event.

“The benefits of coming to this convention are priceless when you think about what it means to be engaged and involved in the political process” Fisher said. “It’s free to register so there is no risk associated with coming; but there is a risk in missing out on a moment in history that has not taken place in 30 years.”

Residents can still register for the convention, up until its 11 a.m. kick-off.