Denouncing voter ID laws they say prevent people from going to the polls, a group of African-American church leaders on Friday announced a new get-out-the-vote campaign.
They say the new laws are an attempt to turn back the clock on civil rights, and they vowed not to let it happen.
“We will not turn back, we will not sit down,” the Rev. Dr. Carieta Cain Grizzell, pastor of Grant Chapel AME Church in Wichita, said during a news conference at St. Paul AME Church in Wichita. “We are not going to stand for Jim Crow-ism, we are not going to stand for gerrymandering, we are not going to stand for anything that has discriminated against the people of God.”
The leaders are attending the annual Midwest Conference Fifth Episcopal District at the Marriott Hotel, 9100 Corporate Hills Drive. The conference represents about 120 churches in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.
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Grizzell said all the church leaders at the conference will tell their members to get out the vote when they return to their states. The churches will work with each other and with community organizations and colleges to provide training and education to help register new voters and get those who have already registered out to the polls. The goal is to mobilize at least 80 percent of the eligible voters in their churches and communities to vote in the Aug. 5 primary elections and the Nov. 4 general election.
“We believe the right to vote is precious. It’s a treasure that has been granted to our ancestors. They fought and sacrificed their lives for it,“ she said.
The Rev. Reuben Eckels, of New Day Christian Church in Wichita, said laws created by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach have made it harder for minorities and first-time voters to vote. The laws require a photo ID to vote and proof of citizenship for new voter registrations.
He called the laws an effort to “turn back the clock on our rights using an old strategy with a new name called ‘Voter ID.’”
“We will not take it,” Eckels said. “We will not go back.”
The right to vote has allowed African-Americans to attend schools, have jobs, and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, he said.
The voter ID laws go against the legacy of Kansas as the state of John Brown, the Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Dockum Drug Store sit-in in Wichita, and its history as a free state rather than a slave state, Eckels said.
The Rev. Wade Moore, of Christian Faith Centre in Wichita, who is president of the Greater Wichita Ministerial League, said the issue goes beyond African-Americans in Wichita. The voter drive will extend to the entire state.
“The right to vote is a powerful thing,” Moore said. “If we expect to have any hope, if we expect for our children to have any future, then we have to get out and vote and fight for our children.”
The Rev. Steven Shepard, of St. Paul A.M.E. Church, said the churches will join hands and go door to door to get out the vote.
“Let’s roll to the poll, and get souls to the polls,” he urged those attending the news conference.
Eckels said Kansas People’s Action, which represents about 1,300 people across the state, will host a voters education seminar in Wichita on June 21 and will start canvassing neighborhoods to get out the vote. It will help find documentation for first-time voters and take them to election offices to register, he said.
“If we can get them out in this midterm, we think we can turn back the attempt to take away the right to vote,” Eckels said.
Support for the effort is growing, Eckels said.
“I don’t think you’ve seen pastors like this in the last 20 years come together and say, ‘We’re going to stand for these rights,’” he said.