By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
There is little to no doubt in anyone’s mind that this past election was a historical one. In addition to it being held during a pandemic, this election saw high voter turnout across several demographics.
One of the highest turnout rates was among Black voters. NAACP President Derrick Johnson held a press conference regarding the organization’s role in encouraging Black citizens to vote. The organization’s efforts were a part of its national campaign, “Black Voices Change Lives.”
The campaign focused on key states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia.
Johnson, who has been president for the past three years, said it was important to him that the organization be ready for the 2020 election. The NAACP partnered with the GSSA, an organization based in Colorado and headed by Dr. Al Yates.
He explained that it was important to target the right demographic within the Black community.
“We found ourselves in the midst of ensuring that infrequent Black voters in some of the key battleground areas were the very voters that made the difference in this election,” Johnson said.
The campaign spent a lot of time in places such as Milwaukee, Flint and Atlanta to encourage and ensure that the Black population was exercising their right to vote.
The NAACP is over a 111-years-old, Johnson said, and it has members in 47 states. There were volunteers and members in areas where the Black vote made a difference, he said, because they were able to connect with local community partners.
As part of the campaign, people signed up to check in with their neighbors and encourage them to vote. Through the campaign’s amassed effort, about 675,000 phone calls were made, 16.5 million texts were sent, 400,000 pieces of voter education literature were distributed and more.
He explained that through research, the NAACP found that to get infrequent voters to the polls it was important to utilize their neighbors, who could talk to them directly.
“All of this added up to be the most strategic and largest African American voter contact program for this election cycle,” Johnson said. “It is something the NAACP was built for.
It is our job to make democracy work for America. It is our job to ensure that all votes count.”
In states like Georgia, the focus was on infrequent voters – people who are registered to vote and have vote in the past but whose voting habits are lax. While the data is still being finalized, Johnson believes that the campaign’s efforts coupled with its partners made a substantial affect.
Because of its community partnerships, the NAACP knew that Georgia would play a key role in election results and that it shouldn’t be overlooked. Johnson said the NAACP will continue to have feet on the ground during the state’s runoff election.
Regarding the NAACP’s partnership with GSSA, Johnson said having data on voters helped drive the campaign’s strategy and measure the campaign’s success. Data from the 2016 election showed that Black voter turnout had decreased, and the organization’s goal was to raise Black voter participation.
“We wanted to do more than just a traditional scatter shot [that is] to just say ‘go out there and go vote,’” Johnson said. “But to really target individuals who we know are legitimate citizen voters in the African American community but who needed some extra nudge some extra push from their neighbor to talk to them and get them to the polls.”
Data tells people if progress is being made and can inform the process when progress is stifled.
Johnson said that if individuals want true democracy, they should partner with local African American organizations to encourage people to vote.
“It’s important to listen to people so we can understand what the things are they are concerned about,” he said, and meet people where they are.
If people want a progressive agenda that is looking toward 2030, then the African American vote needs to be included in the conversation, Johnson said.
For more information on the campaign, go to blackvoiceschangelives.org.