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Putting the 'act' in 'activism': results from voter registration during summer protests

Posted at 6:00 AM, Oct 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-09 07:48:48-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — May 30, 2020, is a date many in Buffalo will remember for a long time.

Protests broke out in the City that brought people from every corner of our region to call for change.

It wasn’t just Black people, it wasn’t just white people, it was Asians. It was Latinos. There were so many people coming together to fight for a cause that can save somebody’s life at the end of the day,” said Alicia Huff of Hamburg’s Alliance for Racial Justice.

It’s a volunteer group run by some of the younger members in our community.

“The youngest is a junior in high school and the oldest being me in college at 22,” said Huff. “I think that’s really where the activism starts — is with young children.”

This summer many volunteers took to the streets alongside protesters and demonstrators to put the “act” in “activism” by registering people to vote.

“People have a lot of energy and they just seem to be interested in government and interested in issues, and wanting change,” said injury attorney John Elmore. He and his partner Steve Boyd invested money in creating a series of registration drives over the summer.

To date, they have helped to register 1,400 voters all over the City.

“We went to every single section of the City from Riverside, to South Buffalo to the East Side, West Side…North Side.”

The Alliance for Racial Justice helped to register 270 of the 620,633 voters registered in Erie County as of October 7 — two days before the registration deadline.

“I definitely think that the young kids are getting it because at the end of the day it’s our world that we have to fight for,” said Huff. “We’re the future. So if we see something that we don’t like right now, particularly, we have to fight for that change. It’s not our parents, or our grandparents anymore — it’s our future that we have to fight for.

Experts believe the pandemic has a lot to do with people putting more action behind their words.

“COVID-19 had an impact in that people were more available to pay attention to the injustices and the protests,” said Tolu Odunsi, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the University at Buffalo.

“People were cooped up in their houses for so long and kinda had no other thing but time on their hands,” added Huff. “Then when George Floyd happened, people weren’t at work, they weren’t out with their friends so they had to witness it — where are you going to go?”

They believe that in the absence of distraction, people in our community started to dig deeper into issues.

“I do think people have also been paying more attention to the ways in which there is an active effort to disenfranchise us through voter suppression,” said Odunsi.

Plus the crisis facing the health of all Americans has brought the power of the vote to the forefront for people from all backgrounds.

“You have an understanding that it’s our legislatures who really do have an impact on our day to day lives that mentality will shift because we’re voting for people who can actually do something in our communities.”

Plus, peer pressure has pushed people to get on board with their so-called civic duty.

“If someone has a positive attitude about something, it seems to spread. If someone has a negative attitude about something it seems to spread,” said Elmore.

“The way to get change is to vote.”