Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
Women in Battle Creek will take to the city’s streets on Saturday to let their voices be heard about the importance of voting in the Nov. 8 midterm election.
Billed as a march and rally, this local Get Out the Vote effort, which begins at noon at the Southwestern Michigan Urban League
and ends at the Kool Family Center. It's part of a series of events that began on Oct. 31 with a gathering for children and culminates on Election Day with a For Voters Only Block Party and Soul Grits Bar Competition from 6-8 p.m. at the SMUL, says L.E. Johnson, Chief Diversity Officer and Director of Community Engagement for Southwestern Michigan Urban League.
The weeklong series of activities are part of the inaugural Decision Week 2022, a partnership between the Southwestern Michigan Urban League and the African American Collaborative
. Following the kickoff event, there was a town hall with Battle Creek Public Schools Superintendent Kim Carter and a candidate forum with candidates for City and County Commission. On Monday (Nov. 7) there will be a Live Civil Rights Exhibit from 6-7:30 p.m. at Willard Library’s downtown branch and at 3 p.m. on Election Day there will be a Flash Mob march that will go from Second Baptist Church to Washington Heights United Methodist Church.
“In general, people have not participated in the midterms as much as the general elections,” Johnson says. “It has been a trend. As we have worked over the last several years to increase our engagement in the community, this is our way to get people engaged with the process of voting.”
Carey Whitfield, President of the Battle Creek Branch of the NAACP, at left; Loraine Hunter, First Vice President, center; and Sam Gray, Second Vice President, stand at a table where they passed out Halloween treats during the KIDZ Day event.
Recognizing that voter turnout has been historically low for midterm elections, Johnson says, they had been discussing ways to increase voter participation and create a sense of importance around casting a ballot. “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we get to where people are or how can we bring events and opportunities to where people will come?’ We created a series of events and hope that people will come. It’s about creating circumstances that increase the probability of engaging people.”
People who feel like they have a stake and a sense of ownership in the United States tend to vote more than those who don’t feel like this country is theirs, Johnson says.
“When people, in general, do not see what’s in it for them, they don’t vote,” he says. “We’re trying to work with our leaders and elected officials on this. They have a platform and if an individual doesn’t feel like that platform represents what they’d like to see, why would they vote? If you talk to community members who have the eligibility to vote about their experiences over the last 25 years, they’ll ask, ‘What has changed?’”
Johnson says a focus of the Decision Week 2022 initiative is on building a bridge between high-level political language and jargon and the media coverage of candidates and elections and connecting it to the desires of voters. He says those political leaders who talk about the distinguishing factors between the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations don’t realize that their enthusiasm doesn’t translate to the person living paycheck to paycheck who’s trying to take care of their family.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get leaders to see that their message doesn’t translate,” Johnson says.
Organizers of the weeklong GOTV effort are hoping that during the final stretch they can translate what candidates are saying in their platforms and what that means to people living paycheck to paycheck, he says.
Community members attend a Town Hall with Battle Creek Public Schools Superintendent Kim Carter on Tuesday that was held in the McQuiston Learning Center. The Town Hall was part of Decision Week 2022 events sponsored by the Southwestern Michigan Urba
These opportunities could make a real difference in the level of frustration being felt in the community by both candidates and political leaders who don’t understand why community members aren’t more responsive to them and their platforms and community members who are struggling to make sure there’s food on the table and a roof over their heads, Johnson says.
“It doesn’t always translate when community leaders speak from a systems level. Laws and policy don’t always translate equally,” he says. “Some community residents are sort of tired of the struggle and their frustration is with leaders because leaders don’t know how to translate their platform to everyday people. My focus is really on how do I uplift the voice and leadership of people. Sometimes with leaders and politicians, we have to divorce ourselves from our vision of the world and the people we serve and we have to hear what people are saying and see how we can transliterate that into policies and laws.”
Johnson says Decision Week 2022 is an opportunity for elected officials and candidates to engage in a meaningful way with community residents.
“I want community members to come out and have a good time,” he says. “This is a great time for our elected officials to come out and hang with their constituents.”
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