With the People’s Convention set for June 8 at the Paradise Entertainment Center in South Memphis, Monday’s planning session at the National Civil Rights Museum was an important next step. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

The survey results are in and nearly 2,000 Memphians have vocalized the issues that matter to them in the upcoming October 3 election.

It’s a part of an online survey distributed by organizers of the People’s Convention, a non-partisan grassroots initiative that is seeking to galvanize residents around a group of centralized issues. Then during the convention, slated to take place June 8, the “people” will decide which candidates to endorse for the mayoral and city council races.

Sijuwola Crawford injects a bit of humor into the planning session. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

“The convention is all based on the community’s agenda. We will pick candidates based on the alignment of this agenda,” said Sijuwola Crawford, an organizer for UpThe-Vote901, the local voter participation organization that spearheaded the convention. Crawford also serves as one of the lead organizers of the June event.

The surveys, which focus on issues such as education, healthcare, city budgeting, crime and safety will be used to develop a community-oriented plan that will serve as an accountability tool for candidates selected during the convening event.

According to the Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher, founder of UpTheVote901 and a lead organizer of the People’s Convention, the survey reflects the racial makeup of Memphis, with a 63 percent black majority.

The Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher (right) makes a planning-session point. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

“We are not surprised by the results that we have seen in the survey so far because it mirrors and echoes what we’ve heard from people when we are in neighborhoods canvassing,” Fisher said.

Organizers are hoping to mobilize 2,500 people to produce a slate of consensus candidates. The goal is to “minimize the potential of vote splitting along racial lines and otherwise.”

The event is inspired by the original People’s Convention that took place in 1991 and played a pivotal role in former Memphis mayor, Dr. Willie W. Herenton’s win over the incumbent, Dick Hackett. The victory resulted in Herenton becoming the first African-American elected to serve as mayor.

While the two conventions offer some similarities, organizers say there are a few differences this time around. For instance, although Herenton is a contender in the current mayoral race, no candidates have been endorsed just yet. Others in the race include: incumbent Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County Commissioner, Tami Sawyer, business owner, Lemichael Wilson, and activists Terrence Boyce and Pamela Moses.

“We’re not focused on bodies and candidates in general as much as we are focused on the people’s agenda,” Crawford said. “We have centered people’s issues more than that of the original convention. I think that is the biggest difference.”

During the convention, a set of definitive goals will be developed, allowing residents to become more civically engaged during the current election; but it’s not what’s set to happen at the convention that organizers are most excited about. It’s the work that continues after.

“This is something that UpTheVote 901 is doing as a long-term strategy that will continue and not just be relegated to the moments that are the elections,” Crawford mentioned.

Organizers are still in talks about the conversations that will happen with contenders once the people have picked their candidates of choice in June.

“It is not an easy task to get someone to withdraw their name from the race,” Fisher admitted. “Nevertheless, we will stand by our recommendation to prevent vote splitting.”

The surveys are still coming in with an expected closing date of Monday, May 6. The People’s Convention will take place June 8 at the Paradise Entertainment Center in South Memphis.