Terri Rizzo

Terri Rizzo, third from left, with Hospitality Ministry from Second Baptist Church in Richmond Heights.

Representatives of the Florida’s Democratic Party were out in force in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, talking about shenanigans that curtail voting and reassuring Black people that the party is ready to engage.

An arm of the Democratic National Committee, Organizing Corps 2020, held a Black voting outreach event in Fort Lauderdale at the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. The next day, the group met up with Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo and had a day of outreach in Black communities in Miami-Dade. Organizing Corps 2020 is focused on assisting communities of color register to vote. Many of the organizers themselves are people of color.

On Saturday, July 20, in Fort Lauderdale Rep. Anika Omphroy, Damara Holness of the Broward County Democratic Black Caucus, and activists and students Talia Adderley and Shakoya Brown held a discussion on energizing Black voters and actions that demotivate, like the recent revisions to Amendment 4.

A statewide initiative to restore felons’ voting rights, it passed overwhelmingly in the November 2018 general election but the Republican Party at the state level amended the law to say that all restitution and fees need to be paid before felons can vote. Critics have liken the move to instituting a poll tax.

Omphroy said that she was in Tallahassee when the vote was cast to change Amendment 4, and said that it was strategic. The people in power at the state level were scared because the people at the local level had mobilized to change the law and the Republican-controlled legislature was fighting to keep the current system in place.

“The only thing we do have is people power,” said Omphroy. “People have filed lawsuits against this. The reason they are fighting against this is that you are making your voices heard. You put everyone on notice. The people in Florida are paying attention.”

Omphroy also said that it was a crime that people in elected power were trying to keep others from voting in order to continue to hold power over the voters.

“It’s a sad day when people have to go through this extent to hinder voting,” said Omphroy. “When that happens, you need to vote even harder. They are telling us in a clear and loud way they don’t want you to vote. They are trying to scheme up ways to get people not to vote.”

Holness said people are supporting the lawsuits filed and others must work with people who were felons who want to vote.

“We have 1.2 million returning citizens,” said Holness. “We have to make sure we are flipping it blue. We have to make sure that we are engaging with returning citizens.”

Omphroy said she was concerned about the interactions of the Democratic Party with Black and Brown people and that the party needed to have better conversations with the people it said it represented. Omphroy pointed out that she had been concerned about the races in Florida last November and had contacted people at the Democratic Party. She did not get much of a response.

“It’s past time that my Democratic party stand firm and do not ignore the Black and Brown population,” she said. “It is past time you stop this foolishness. I am sick of it. If you have the resources and funding, you need to put it here and stop grabbing people from outside the state.”

She gave credit to Rizzo for trying to change the disconnect and for reaching out and engaging Black Democrats in the state.

Holness wants the Democratic Party to rebuild the voters’ trust and work on the internal structure so it could get better turnout and have more wins in the future. She also said that the most realistic voting block was Black women, but that the party needed to reach out to Black men. Adderly said that a lot of people stopped voting because they didn’t think their vote mattered and that they felt the people in power didn’t care about them. She concurred that the party needed to look at why Black men and also young people weren’t voting and why white women voted in huge numbers for the incumbent in the White House.

Broward County Democratic State Committeeman Ken Evans said the party had gotten better at engaging minorities in the community. Evans was in attendance with State Committeewoman Grace Carrington.

“I know your community better than you think I know it,” said Evans.

On Sunday, Rizzo was out trying to drive up enthusiasm and register people of color to vote.

She started at Wilbur Bell’s Flava’s Restaurant in West Perrine, talking to a group of voters there, taking questions, and discussing the investments the Florida Democratic Party plans to make in their community in 2020.

Rizzo’s work is part of the Florida Democratic Party’s effort to register voters across the state. The party has invested over $2 million in the initiative and recruited over 90 paid organizers to assist in the effort.

From Flava’s, Rizzo made a stop at Miami Organizing Corps office, which is also located in West Perrine; then she went to Second Baptist Church in Richmond Heights, where the pastor is Reverend Alphonso Jackson.

Rizzo said it is about making sure the rights of Black voters are protected and making sure communities of color are heard and part of the electoral process. When asked about why the party is making this push Rizzo said, “we know how close elections are in Florida — they are razor-thin here. To ensure we are on the path to victory we all need to work to get our people registered, to the polls, and make sure their votes are counted.”

Rizzo explained that along with voter registration and outreach, another component of the Florida Democrats’ strategy is to have a year-round voter protection program: “We can’t assist communities with registering to vote and just leave them to fend for themselves. Voter suppression happens 365 days a year and we are going to work to protect voters all year long.”

Kevin D. Chambliss contributed to this report.

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