Town hall promotes awareness, voting

Town Hall Flyer photo courtesy: Marie Rattigan Instagram (@lyricalmarie)

Black Voters Matter Tallahassee hosted a “It’s About Us” town hall Saturday at the Bethel Family Life Center to address the impacts of the recently concluded legislative session and the collective power that the Black community has.

According to their website, Black Voters Matter is an organization whose mission is to “… increase power in marginalized, predominantly Black communities … effective voting allows a community to determine its own destiny.”

Marie Rattigan, a FAMU alumna and the Big Bend regional organizer for BVM, said on her Instagram that, “This town hall marks merely the beginning of multiple initiatives aimed at engaging the community in the political process and reimagining a world that works best for them.”

About 100 people registered and showed up for the town hall. There were four people on the panel: Al Lawson, the former congressman; Mark Earley, the Leon County Supervisor of Elections; Jonathan Webber, the policy director for the Southern Poverty Law Center; and Barry Munroe, the outreach chairman for the local League of Women Voters. 

Throughout the Florida 2024 legislative session there were numerous bills that targeted education and voting rights.

Senate Bill 190/House Bill 671 and Senate Bill 1752/House Bill 359 are two bills that require law enforcement officers to transport ballot boxes, ballots and all forms of papers from the precinct to the supervisor of elections office back and forth. It also mandates law enforcement’s presence to monitor the precinct throughout the duration.

“A big thing that we do in Leon is our ‘Souls to the Polls’ Earley said. “Our commitment with that is very strong despite the bills and language to get rid of it.”

“Souls to the Polls” is a traditional voting initiative hosted by Black churches. It’s a way to make it easier for members of the congregation to vote.

“There are a lot of bills that impact African-American voters every year. Voting rights are human rights so I prioritize that over everything I do,” Webber said. 

The young voters can and have made a huge turnout in the past elections. The panelists encouraged the students to make sure that they are registered to vote and to educate themselves on their options. 

“It is very important that you know what’s going on. With you all being here you can change the course of this city,” Munroe said.

“Young people have always been at the backbone of a movement and at the front of a movement when we talk about making changes in the community,” Rattigan said. “Students have always been the change agent. It’s time for us to step into our power.”

Students from FSU, FAMU and TCC who attended the town hall said that they finally see the importance of voting and being registered.

“It made me realize that we spend nine months in Tallahassee and I have been registered to vote since high school but my permanent address is back at home,” said Roniyah Johnson, a criminal justice student from FAMU. “We care about our community in Leon and it’s important to have an impact here because we live here. Changing your address matters.”

Kendall Clements, a pharmaceutical science student  FAMU, concurred.

“I knew getting involved in our community meant voting. People fighting for Black issues are white and that’s why I came to be more educated on that.”  Clements said.