Patsy Brown sat in the audience on the third and final day of the Memphis People’s Convention as an engaged attendee whose point of reference was the original People’s Convention 30-plus years ago. She had been there too.
“I’ve been to all three (sessions); Thursday, Friday and today,” said Brown from her aisle seat at the Memphis Sports and Event Center at Liberty Park. “I heard a lot, I’ve learned a lot…. We got the facts that we needed.
“This convention is comparable to the one in ’91, where the people are speaking. The question is will we listen.”
The original People’s Convention yielded a consensus mayoral candidate, Dr. Willie W. Herenton, who later became – by a slim margin – the first African-American elected to serve as mayor of Memphis.
Powered by UPTheVote901 and its associated sponsors, the 2023 Memphis People’s Convention was crafted to arm eligible voters with facts needed to make candidate choices, notably selecting a favorite from among 17 people seeking to succeed Mayor Jim Strickland, who is term-limited. Attendees chose Paul Young, president of the Downtown Memphis Convention and former head of the city’s Housing and Community Development.
Brown, who joked about being “so old,” was struck by the youth who attended.
“I’m glad to see that this is a new generation, a new age, a new mindset. They are not afraid to speak up and fight for what they want.”
She was irritated by the candidates who did not “have the decency to just show up,” adding that, “I think they are going to learn a lesson.”
The Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher, founder of UPTHEVOTE901, said about 750 people attended the convention over the three days.
“Our work is not done here, said Fisher. “All of us need to be committed to a precinct voter turnout in October.”
Saluting the mayoral campaigns of Young and Van Turner Jr., the only two candidates who attended the mayoral session, Fisher said, “Shame on us if we allow people who were not willing to show up and participate to walk away with the vote (in October).”
Most of the mayoral candidates had attended a least one of the meet-and-greet sessions leading up to the convention. Noticeably absent were former Mayor Herenton and Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr.
Referencing the ongoing conversations about the numbers of candidates in the mayoral race, Fisher said, “some candidates are simply more viable than others. It would be a shame for us to witness a low-turnout election and one candidate gets 14,000 votes, another gets 13,000, another gets 8,000, another gets 5,000 and eight candidates get 500 votes apiece. And the person who wins (does so) by 15 or 20 votes.”
At some point in the next few weeks, he said, “We have to have a collective and critical conversation about who should continue their campaigns and who should consider the interests of the majority of the citizens above and beyond their blind ambitions.”
In the days, weeks and years to come, the “work” must continue to “help produce more power, information and representation” along the way to increasing voter turnout,” said Fisher.
After hearing from local officials and community influencers, attendees heard the pitches of Young and Turner before scanning a QR code to register their choices. Young won 225 votes to 110.
Turner, a former County Commissioner, former president of the Memphis Branch NAACP, and organizer of the local group given much of the credited for removing three Confederate-era monuments from then city-owned parks, also touted his work for the local Democratic Party and said, “You want a mayor with a proven track record of getting the tough job done.
“You want a mayor who is not afraid to go to Nashville or to Washington, DC to stand for Memphis. … You want someone who is going to stand for you.”
Young emphasized that he supported the Memphis People’s Convention platform.
“That is what my campaign has been about,” he said. “When we got in this race we knew we were going to have to generate momentum. We knew we were going to have to introduce ourselves to the people of Memphis.”
That, said Young, has involved letting people know of the critical role he played in bringing about projects such as the Memphis Sports and Event Center and the renovation of the old Melrose High School.
“Things don’t happen by chance,” said Young. “They happen because you have an innovative leader who is willing to get out there and do the work.”
Memphis People’s Convention mock-election winners:
Memphis City Mayor:
City Council Districts:
*District 2: Jerri Green
*District 3: Pearl Walker
*District 5: Meggan Kiel
*District 7: Michalyn Easter-Thomas
*Super District 8 Position 1: JB Smiley Jr.
*Super District 8 Position 2: Janika White
*Super District 8 Position 3: Jerred Price
*Super District 9 Position 1: Benji Smith