By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
When it comes to elections, the campaign doesn’t end until the final vote is counted. With the November election just days away, campaigns are going harder than ever to only secure votes but to encourage everyone to vote.
Historically, Milwaukee’s voter turnout hasn’t always been stellar and while part of that can be blamed on Wisconsin’s voting requirements the other part of it is apathy. People think their vote doesn’t matter so they don’t bother casting a ballot.
In the weeks leading up to the election, the Biden-Harris has been holding virtual “Get Out the Vote” events. To encourage Milwaukeeans – especially Black men – to vote, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley held a panel discussion featuring will.i.am, the rapper and founder of the Black Eyed Peas, Terrence Moore, a first time voter, Gaulien “Gee” Smith, owner of Gee’s Clippers and Deshea Agee, executive director of Milwaukee’s Historic King Drive Business Improvement District.
“As we near November’s election, the stakes could not be higher for communities of color,” said Crowley. “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris know that we’re in a battle for the soul of our nation.”
Crowley handed the virtual mic off to will.i.am who began his opening remarks by thanking those who have early voted.
“Your jobs not done yet,” he said. “We still need you to get out there and inspire the undecided. We still you need you to get out there to your family members that don’t want to vote let alone undecided folks who don’t want to vote. Every vote counts.”
People need to be reminded that the current leader is the reason why America is experiencing this turmoil and division, will.i.am said.
“It’s time to back up but before we back up, we need to get the current driver out the seat – it’s time to go,” he said.
Crowley pointed out that issues such as health care and incarceration are on the ballot. He asked panelists what issues matter to them.
Agee noted one of the reasons he chose to vote was because of the coronavirus. Milwaukee and Wisconsin have some of the highest cases and yet the current administration doesn’t have a plan, he said.
“I heard a plan from Biden as well as Kamala Harris and I believe they have a vision that could help address the coronavirus and the economy,” Agee said. “It’s important that we have a president that has a plan to get small businesses the recovery that they need.”
Smith added that he wants a true leader who inspires togetherness.
Crowley noted that country needs someone who takes the pandemic seriously.
“We can’t politicize masks,” he said. “We can’t continue to feed into the hate and division of this country because we all know we do our best when we come together.”
When asked if Biden and Harris have the ability to meet the needs of Black people, particularly Black men, will.i.am responded with a resounding yes.
The country that Barack Obama and Biden were handed over, was broken, will.i.am said, and in four years they put America back in shape. They handed a healthy America over to Donald Trump, he said.
Right now, it’s a divided country. Someone stirred up a lot of hate, will.i.am said. Trump’s tactic is to divide but Harris and Biden will unite America.
While the panelists touched on other topics, Crowley asked what efforts each panelist is putting forth to encourage others to vote.
Although he’s currently abroad, will.i.am is doing his part by going on radio shows, talking with friends and preparing for the next election and the advancement of technology.
Tech plays a huge role in today’s current circumstances, he said.
“I’m doing my best to raise awareness on the nuggets of information I have and share it with folks,” he said. “We need to demonstrate the vote. We need to all gather and vote. We can’t afford oops.”
Smith is doing his part through his barbershop, which has window signs on display and yard signs available for pick up. This Tuesday, Smith plans to ask anyone who walks through the door if they voted.
“We’re making sure we’re using our platform here in Milwaukee,” Smith said. “We’re making sure people know that it’s their duty, it’s their right and the importance to vote.”
Moore said he’s speaking with his friends about the importance of voting on a daily basis.
“The biggest thing that I think is important is that I open the space for conversation,” Moore said. “People don’t always want to be told to do something.”
He explained that giving people a chance to express themselves and their concerns is necessary when having a dialogue. Moore is making sure people understand that their voices do matter.
“We are the future of this country,” he said.
Agee explained that he too is having conversations with family and friends, even people who are voting for Trump. He’s also using social media.
Will.i.am closed the panel with a final push to go out and vote.
“We don’t have a choice. We cannot be passive and decline going out there and voting,” he said. “We should want to have the best representation of us…From the bottom of my heart get out there and vote.”