A get-out-the-vote gathering at Hickory Hill’s Limit Breaker Church featured an all-star line-up of political veterans, who reminded attendees of their right and duty to vote in the Nov. 3 general election.
Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley Jr. hosted the weekend event (Oct. 24) to “promote voter engagement” in the Hickory Hill community.
Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris kicked off the rally.
“Shelby County is a large and diverse community, and we are going to turn up and turn out the vote,” Harris said.
Harris said people have done a lot this year to get through the pandemic and all the other challenges that have come along with it.
“You have just about done all you could,” Harris said. “But there is one more thing you can do. You can get to the polls and vote in this election.”
November’s ballot is topped by Democrat Joe Biden trying to make Republican Donald Trump a one-term president. The presidential race has resulted in a record number of people voting early (some 70 million) nationwide and Shelby County is mirroring that trend.
Since early voting began in Tennessee Oct. 14, the Shelby County Election Commission reported that as of Oct. 24, 251,666 early votes already had been cast in Shelby County. That is a 56 percent increase in early voting since 2016, when the 10-day total was 161,230.
Harris told the audience that voting won’t cure COVID-19 at the ballot box, but “you can elect those individuals who can represent you and lead the way to navigate through.”
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland invoked words of wisdom from the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis and a hopeful reflection by former President Barack Obama.
“I want to quote somebody right here,” Strickland said. ‘“The vote is precious. It is the most powerful, non-violent tool we have in a democratic society. And we must use it.’ That was John Lewis…
‘“Our country did not start out perfect, and we are not perfect now, but ‘we are working to form a more perfect union,’ in the words of President Barack Obama.”
Tennessee State Rep. Jesse Chism said everyone should vote whether “you care about criminal justice, education, economics, healthcare, or you just want one of those ‘I Voted’ stickers.”
Shelby County Commissioner Eddie Jones and City Councilman Frank Colvett Jr. came out to support Smiley’s effort with words of endorsement for the voting message.
“We are not in the struggle for a week, a month or a year,” Jones said. “But the struggle is for a lifetime. … Never be afraid to make ‘good trouble,’ in the words of John Lewis … a vote not cast is a voice not heard. Go and make some good trouble. Go and vote.”
Colvett said, “We may or may not agree on some things, but we all love Memphis, and we solve our problems together. The thunder of your vote must be heard … your vote is thunder. Send a clear message to Nashville and Washington that ‘you will listen to us.’”
Former city councilwoman TaJuan Stout-Mitchell said, “Some brag that in Memphis, we have an affordable labor market. That just means we are cheating our workers. Labor is cheap…
“Do you care about human rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, human rights for everybody? If you care about having a civil rights division in the Justice Department… if you care about education, the environment, technology – these things are on the ballot. … If you care about these things, you’ll beat me to the polls, not meet me there, beat me there…”
Civil rights activist and pastor emeritus of New Sardis Missionary Baptist Church Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr. talked about miracles and what has been made possible because people got out and voted.
“Many miracles take place that we have witnessed,” said Gray. “But before they happen, lots of people think they are impossible, until they happen.
“I am wearing my Tuskegee Airman jacket for two reasons: One, we are at war, and two, many thought it was impossible for men to fly until they flew.”
Gray said many thought it was impossible for Barack Obama to be elected president, until he was elected.
“President Trump won a battleground state because there was a seven percent drop in voter turn-out from 2012 to 2016,” Gray said. “Enough people stayed at home, who could have gotten Hillary Clinton elected, if they had gone to vote.”
A post-rally march scheduled to take participants to the precinct at Anointed Temple of Praise Church gave way to a motorcade led by Memphis Police Department vehicles after a dramatic dip in temperature.