People for the American Way Foundation set a goal to register 3,000 students to vote in Florida by Oct. 10. However, with time winding down, the organization worries about students’ lack of initiative to utilize their right to vote.
PFAWF is a non-partisan organization that is interested in the civic engagement of all U.S. citizens. The organization has had an office located on Melvin Street at Florida A&M University since 2002.Only 15 percent of the students at FAMU voted in the Sept. 5 primary election.
Reginald Mitchell, Florida legal counsel and director of the Tallahassee office of PFAWF, worries about students’ lack of concern about voting.
“I think about all that people have done for us, and it hurts,” Mitchell said. “The loudness of our silence is overwhelming.” Mitchell, who was Student Government Association president at FAMU in 1985 and has been with PFAWF since 2004, cannot understand why students are not voting.
PFAWF has targeted all four historically black colleges and universities in Florida: Bethune-Cookman College, Edward Waters College, Florida Memorial College and FAMU. Among all four HBCUs, PFAWF has only registered 456 students, far short of their goal of 3,000.
PWAWF planned to primarily reach their numbers at FAMU but have been met with apathy.
“Students are not as concerned as they were in 2004,” said Linda Morris, office administrator for PFAWF. “It’s been difficult to register students on campus.”
Morris also said they have registered high school students and it’s much easier than registering college students. Another goal of PFAWF is to register 100 percent of the student population at FAMU. So far they have only registered between 150 and 200 students.
PFAWF teamed with Greek and other organizations to create a voter’s coalition to get students registered to vote.
“We solicited to the Greeks and other different student organizations to help us get students registered,” Morris said.The organizations have signed up for days to register students up until the registration deadline.
Rhea Baisden, program coordinator for PFAWF and FAMU alumni, thinks that students should exercise the right their ancestors fought so hard for. “Look at your government; you have the opportunity to change it. Your vote is your voice. Your voice is your vote,” Baisden said.
Students utilized that voice to vote in 2003 when they elected Andrew Gillum to the Tallahassee city commission. Gillum, another former FAMU SGA president, received the majority of his votes from students.
Voting affords students the opportunity to impact government policy on education, the economy, employment, the environment, war, immigration, reproductive freedom, free speech and civil liberties.
PFAWF is also an advocate for felons’ rights restoration. Florida is among the few states left where convicted felons lose their right to vote. The majority of convicted felons in Florida are black people.
In 1870, blacks were given the right to vote, but Mitchell stressed the need to fight to keep that right.
“The government is constantly creating obstacles to prevent us from voting,” Mitchell said.
Morris and Mitchell explained the fact that their organization does not advise students about whom to vote for. “We just want them to vote,” they both said.
Among all of PFAWF’s initiatives to get students registered, the organization will have a drawing for students who have registered to vote to win tickets to the homecoming concert. General elections are on Nov. 7.
“Stand up now while you have a chance,” Morris said.