After five months of planning, organizers of Up the Vote 901 are gearing up for what they’re expecting to be an eventful display of democracy at the upcoming People’s Convention.
So far, 18 candidates in the upcoming October 3 election, including two mayoral contenders, have confirmed attendance, according to the Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher, founder of Up the Vote 901. Monday, he and his team laid out the details of the convention while also addressing some of the misconceptions surrounding it.
“We have worked diligently to ensure the integrity of our process and we stand by the legitimacy of the People’s Convention 2019,” said Fisher during a media conference outside of the Paradise Entertainment center, where the convention will be held June 8. “Every candidate was invited, and no candidate has or will receive preferential treatment.”
Fisher’s comments came after Mayor Jim Strickland and mayoral contender Dr. Willie W. Herenton, announced that they won’t be attending the convention. Herenton’s lack of participation comes as a surprise to some because of his ties to the original People’s Convention of 1991. The initial convening has been credited for helping to elect the former Memphis mayor, making him the first African American elected to hold the position in the city.
Strickland said he won’t be participating, citing bias as the reason. He has publicly said that the organizers are favoring one of his opponents, Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer. Organizers reject that assertion.
“Everybody who lives in the city likely has some relationship with some elected official or someone who is running for office,” said Sijuwola Crawford, Up the Vote’s lead organizer. “We are not here to defend our personal relationships; but what we stand behind is our process.”
That process included a survey that was released in April, garnering the responses of more than 2,000 participants on the issues of education, crime, health and economic equity. Organizers said the responses reflect the demographics of the city that boasts a majority African-American population. During the convention, the survey results will be revealed to form the ‘people’s agenda.’ Candidates will be allowed the opportunity to respond to the results and set up booths to engage with participants.
“People will learn what is at stake. They will learn how to engage the political system. They’ll be able to make informed decisions,” said State Rep., G.A Hardaway, in support of the event. “That is what the People’s Convention brings to Memphis, Shelby County, and the great state of Tennessee.”
Besides the cooperation of several elected officials, the convention has also acquired support from a mix of local organizations, including the United Campus Workers, Stand for Children Tennessee, Sister Reach, Official Black Lives Chapter of Memphis, and AFSCME Local 1733. Additionally, several faith-based leaders have encouraged their congregations to participate.
“When you look at the challenges plaguing our city, prayer and faith are no longer enough. We must engage in the political process,” said the Rev. Christopher Davis, senior pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church and associate dean at Memphis Theological Seminary. “For many people the church is the only place that they have a voice. We want to encourage our colleagues who have not signed on or signed the letter to be responsible enough to encourage your people to participate in the process so that their voices will be heard.”
Fisher said they’re pleased with the number of contenders who have committed to participate in the convention.
“We are not disappointed to have 18 candidates. The original convention did not have 18 people. I think it is representative of what the majority of the people want,” he noted.
Initially participants were asked to sign a pledge stating that they would honor the ‘people’s agenda’ and withdraw from the race based on the consensus at the convention. Fisher said they have since decided against implementing the pledge, something they conveyed to each contender. Now they’re moving forward, in hopes of drawing a large group of citizens at the convening.
“The people who signed on said that they want to represent the will of the majority of the people. And we stand confident in saying that this convention will be representative of that,” Fisher said.
The People’s Convention is slated to take place June 8 at 11 a.m. at the Paradise Entertainment Center. Although the deadline for contenders to confirm participation has passed, the public can register up until the day of the event.