By guest blogger the Rev. Lamont Wells, President of the African Descent Lutheran Association
The sidewalk alongside 116th Street was filled with hungry consumers lined up to purchase that very popular chicken sandwich from Popeyes as I left my local gym. (I had tried the tasty sandwich the weekend before and realized it might really help me with my fitness goals.) I paused and watched the line grow longer and overheard various conversations and pontifications about community changes that were occurring in Harlem, especially due to gentrification.
While I listened, a young male said aloud, “I haven’t registered to vote yet!” Many of the things that concerned those in line were happening as a result of political decisions from elected officials. Then I heard my inclination to get involved. I thought to myself, “We could do something about that – today.”
I ran upstairs to my condo and grabbed a handful of voter registration applications leftover from a previous drive. The young man was in about the same place in front of the crowded restaurant when I got back, and I introduced myself as a concerned neighbor who wondered about some of the same things I had heard earlier. We exchanged names, and I asked Chris if he knew the voter registration deadline was approaching very soon. Using the application I gave him, he completed it and was ready to mail it that day.
Chris and I approached others. Within a two-hour period, about 11 people waiting in line for a sandwich were registered to vote, and many more received information about their polling places and eligibility.
These are some of the things I learned:
- Observe and listen for opportunities to engage your local community. Seize those moments.
- Know the deadlines for voter registration.* Set benchmarks and registration goals.
- Obtain necessary supplies: pens, clipboard and applications.
- Introduce yourself and be ready to tell why voting matters.
- Review each application’s completion and mail in timely manner.
- Be ready to educate voters on important issues or refer them to a local register-to-vote hotline.
I took advantage of a captive audience that I overheard cared about many community matters but were not participating in the voting process that could impact elected officials who support their best interests. (I also didn’t judge the desire for this chicken sandwich that made people endure such long lines.)
Voters and potential voters need to know how the political process works, why their vote is important, and what is at stake if they don’t vote. I have often been tempted to disengage from the political process, but as a person of faith who is dedicated to creating a just world for all, I know I/we must be involved. Our Christian faith is infused with hope and our Lutheran witness is built on a foundation of action. That’s why I am so glad to help those in my community get prepared to change the world around them.
* Learn about local voter registration deadlines from www.vote.org/voter-registration-deadlines/.