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St. Louis Community Organizers Begin Push To Encourage Black Voter Turnout In 2020

Cornell Young, 18, of Kirkwood, votes at the St. Louis County Board Of Elections on Oct. 25, 2018.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
We Are The Change hopes to increase voter turonout through community events leading up to the November 2020 elections

Community activists in St. Louis are trying to persuade black people to register to vote by reminding them of voter suppression efforts across the country.

Organizers held the first meeting for the initiative We Are The Change this week to kick off voter engagement efforts across the city and St. Louis County. 

The initiative aims to convince those who have long thought that the system does not work for them that their votes can make a difference, said Justin Idleburg, who founded We Are The Change.

“No one has been intentional in reaching out to our lower social-economic residents,” said Justin Idleburg, who served on the board of Forward Through Ferguson. “If we’re going to help create the type of change that we want to see, we’re going to have to get on a more communal level.”

Idleburg said reaching out to communities is the first step in encouraging greater voter turnout throughout the region. St. Louis Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard and other political leaders met with people from the community Monday at Union Avenue Christian Church.

But organizing in Missouri is an uphill battle, Idleburg said. The initiative comes about three years after Missourians voted to allow state lawmakers to pass voter ID requirements.

The Republican-controlled Legislature approved a measure requiring voters to show a photo ID or provide another identifying document at the polls. The law required those who show an alternate form of identification to sign an affidavit or fill out a provisional ballot. But last year, Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan ruled that the language in the affidavit was misleading and confusing. The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments last month on whether that portion of the state’s voter identification law is unconstitutional.

“People may get confused on what documents you can bring and what documents are accepted,” Idleburg said. 

Activists aim to inform Missouri residents of their rights and of how voter ID laws are implemented around the country, Idleburg said.

Monday’s kickoff featured a showing of the film “Suppressed: The Fight to Vote.” The documentary covers the 2018 Georgia election and allegations that the state limited access to the polls in largely black areas to make it difficult for Democrat Stacey Abrams, a black woman, to win the governor's race. She lost a close election to Republican Brian Kemp.

“The film, which is free to everybody, anyplace and everyplace, is a tool to help people understand how voter suppression works, and how it can come to a community, city, state like yours, unless you're aware and take action,” director Robert Greenwald said.

Greenwald said that while the film primarily focuses on accusations of voter suppression in Georgia, similar instances are happening across the country. Community organizing efforts across the country are also raising awareness of these issues, he said.

“There are legislative victories being won in some states; there are ballot initiatives; there are new laws that are being passed,” Greenwald said. “There are solutions to this problem, but it takes intensity, it takes will, it takes organizing.”

Clarification: A previous version of this story did not contain the latest information on a provision of Missouri's voter ID law that requires voters who present an alternate form of identification to fill out an affidavit. The Missouri Supreme Court is weighing arguments on whether the provision is unconstitutional.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

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Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.