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Congressional Black Caucus spearheads voter canvassing, political training in Ferguson

Ferguson activist Clifton Kinnie raises a point during a discussion on strategic messaging at the campaign training seminar Saturday, April 4, 2015.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Ferguson activist Clifton Kinnie raises a point during a discussion on strategic messaging at the campaign training seminar Saturday, April 4, 2015.

Representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus say a good voter turnout for Tuesday’s municipal election in Ferguson could be the start of renewed political activism in the region.

U.S. Reps. Lacy Clay, D-University City, Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City and Keith Ellison D-Minnesota were in Ferguson Saturday to get out the vote and spearhead a campaign training seminar.

Cleaver said one of the biggest challenges in getting out the vote is convincing people that the political process can effect change.

“If you live in a community (like Ferguson) where you’ve had taxation by citation or strobe-light lynching, then you’re going to be less likely to want to vote,” Cleaver said. “I mean, you’ve been beaten down.”

U. S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Kansas City) was at Wellspring Church in Ferguson Saturday, April 4, 2015 for voter canvassing.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
U. S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Kansas City) was at Wellspring Church in Ferguson Saturday, April 4, 2015 for voter canvassing.

Cleaver sees Tuesday’s municipal election as the first step in showing residents the impact they can have on a local level.

“If we are successful on Tuesday, then what it will do is create in many of the people the we-can-do attitude … As I tell people, you can change who the mayor is, you can decide who the police chief is or who the city manager is, and you can decide on the culture you want in the police department,” Cleaver said. “And when people see that, they’ll never go back to the old days (of political inaction). So that’s why Tuesday’s important, because the future depends on the strength the African American community demonstrates at the polls on Tuesday.”

After the Congressional Black Caucus convened in January for the new legislative session in Washington, D.C., caucus members made it clear that criminal justice reform and other issues raised beginning last August in Ferguson would be their main priority.

According to Cleaver, the Congressional Black Caucus met with candidates running for city council in Ferguson early in their campaign with the intention of pledging financial support. But after realizing that some wards had multiple African American candidates, the caucus decided to step back and help with getting out the vote and political education instead.

Eight candidates are running for three city council positions in Ferguson; four of the eight are African American.

Cleaver said he thinks at least one or two of the black candidates will be elected.

In addition to voter canvassing, the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute held a campaign training seminar Saturday at Wellspring Church.

Political consultants and politicians led discussions and gave presentations on organizing and getting out the vote.

Kansas City-based political consultant Michele L. Watley shared her expertise on campaign messaging and strategic communication.

Political consultant Michele Watley shares her expertise in strategic messaging on Saturday, April 4, 2015.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Political consultant Michele Watley shares her expertise in strategic messaging on Saturday, April 4, 2015.

She says now that world’s attention is focused on the issues raised by protests in Ferguson, it’s time to create a plan of action.

“Part of the next steps is to create systemic change and that is embedded in our ability to move policy, to have messaging, to organize, to mobilize,” she explained.

Watley said politicians and activists both have a role to play in focusing attention on an issue, such as police reform, and then turning that focus into changing laws and policy.

Ferguson activist Clifton Kinnie, 18, was one of about 30 people participating in the campaign training seminar Saturday morning. He said that it is a misperception that protesters aren’t involved in the political process.

“I’m hearing rhetoric that the youth-led movement is solely focused on protesting. That’s not true. We have been organizing and getting legislation through, otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten municipal court reform through the (state) senate, which is in the house now up for debate,” Kinnie said.

The Missouri Senate passed the municipal court reform bill in February. The bill is scheduled for a hearing before the House Civil and Criminal Proceedings Committee on Tuesday. Speaker of the House John Diehl has also proposed further municipal court reforms to be grafted into the existing bill.

It’s one of a plethora of Ferguson-related bills filed this year, and the only bill of its type so far to be passed by one of the chambers.

Kinnie said he registered to vote two days after he turned 18. He says he hopes to vote on Tuesday, but he can’t vote for a Ferguson city council member because he lives about 3 minutes outside of Ferguson in the Bellefountaine / Spanish Lake area.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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