I am Pastor Bartholomew Banks, senior minister at St. John Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa. I also am president of the Progressive Missionary & Educational Baptist State Convention of Florida Inc., the umbrella organization of more than 400 churches throughout Florida, from Panama City to Miami. Our churches have a collective membership of more than 200,000 .
We are very serious about voting in this year’s election, especially during the early voting period. We’re asking our members to join us in going to the polls during the Souls to the Polls weekend, Oct. 27 and 28. This involves voters across the state who will vote either on Saturday and particularly on Sunday after church services.
Below is an op-ed that explains why this is important, given the shortened early-voting period and challenges our some of members had registering to vote in Florida. I ask that you publish this on your opinion pages.
Thank you for your consideration. If you have questions, please call me, PHONE NUMBER HERE.
Pastor Bartholomew Banks,
Progressive M&E Baptist State
Convention of Florida Inc.
Some 40 years ago, Fannie Lou Hamer declared she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” A Black woman, Hamer wanted to be able to vote in peace, just like white citizens in Mississippi. She wanted this for Black Mississippians who endured the threat of lynching, humiliation of poll taxes and literacy tests just to prevent them from voting.
The lynchings and literacy tests no longer exist. But Black people in Florida today face other insidious forms of suppression that have a similar effect. In 2008, we did not have these challenges.
This year, ministers again will lead congregations to voting precincts for the start of early voting in Florida, Oct. 27 and 28. We’re calling this “Souls to the Polls” Weekend. In Sister Hamer’s memory we will bless the polls and ask God to touch the poll workers, inspectors, observers and other people so that our votes are cast and counted. After we pray and bless the polls, we will vote.
Why do this?
Since the 2008 general election, Florida and 33 other states approved or attempted to approve laws that require some form of ID in order to vote; Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature cut the number of early voting days from 14 to 8, including the Sunday before Election Day. We once had two Sundays to encourage our members to vote after services. Now we have just one. Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown has noted that in 2008 blacks accounted for 33 percent of those who voted early on the last Sunday before Election Day, and 23.6 percent were Hispanic; Earlier this year, Scott attempted to remove legitimate voters from precinct rolls using faulty lists of supposed non-citizens. These residents had to prove that they were citizens to save their voting right; The Legislature also made it tough for third-party groups to register new voters. Many of these groups focused their work in Black neighborhoods. As a result, new Black registrations took a huge hit this year.
Yes, roadblocks exist. Citizens still are being denied the right to vote, or face such hurdles that they are discouraged from doing so. But like our ancestors during slavery, we won’t let anybody turn us around from the polls this year. Voting is a right guaranteed all legal citizens. We do our forefathers and foremothers like Hamer a grave injustice when we neglect our civic duty.
So, on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, expect an onslaught of independent thinking, right-minded church folks step up and show up at the early voting sites. We have an obligation to our ancestors, and a responsibility to teach the generations that are to come.