Elections

Why the 2016 election is important for a deep-red state’s black voters

The Coast Wide Martin Luther King Celebration Committee and state Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes hosted a nonpartisan debate watch at The Almanett Hotel and Bistro in downtown Gulfport on Wednesday, Oct. 19. 2016.
The Coast Wide Martin Luther King Celebration Committee and state Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes hosted a nonpartisan debate watch at The Almanett Hotel and Bistro in downtown Gulfport on Wednesday, Oct. 19. 2016. Special to the Sun Herald

Close to a hundred people opted out of watching Wednesday’s presidential debate in the privacy of their homes and chose instead to join a bustling and politically savvy crowd at a nonpartisan debate-watch party.

The Coast Wide Martin Luther King Celebration Committee and state Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes hosted the party at The Almanett Hotel and Bistro downtown. It gave patrons an opportunity to mix fellowship with keen discussion while watching the third and final presidential debate between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and business mogul Donald Trump.

“I felt that we needed to stimulate the voters in general. I think a lot of our voters, both Democrat and Republican, may feel like their vote doesn’t count,” Williams-Barnes said. “By coming together and collaborating with those we live with, here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, with our different views, I think it’s important for to be engaged so that we go out and vote Nov. 8.”

She emphasized to the audience that the event was nonpartisan, although she and most of the attendees had picked a favorite candidate.

“There are probably still a few people who are undecided,” she said. “This may help make their decision. But mainly, just by having this event this evening, we make sure that people don’t sit down on Nov. 8.”

Gathering input

Quincy Williams of Bay St. Louis was leaning heavily toward Clinton, but wanted to interact with other people to help finalize his decision.

“I wanted to be part of a group so that we could judge both candidates,” he said. “It’s the final debate and there are still a lot of people out there that’s unsure what they’re going to do. I wanted to hang out with some people who have an opinion on whoever is the better candidate.”

Kimberly Campbell, former state legislator and state director for AARP, which co-sponsored the party with Lockett Williams Mortuary, beamed when the candidates discussed Social Security for the first time in three debates. She’s listened intently to the candidates’ plans and how they intend to serve the 50-plus population.

“We’ve been concerned about engaging volunteers and the community and really start trying to figuring out which candidate is really going to make Social Security solvent,” Campbell said of the AARP. “With most Americans, especially here in the state of Mississippi, their retirement is it. Very few have 401(k)s or pensions; many of them are already trying to choose between their medication and groceries. When you start looking at those saying, ‘We’re probably going to phase Social Security out unless we have a consolidated strong plan to make it solvent,’ you’re looking at millions of Americans not having it.

“This is a way to engage voters and vote for the candidate that you think is going to best protect your benefits.”

‘50 is the new 30’

Campbell stressed her concerns about senior issues.

“Fifty is the new 30; people in their 70s are still working,” she said. “It’s not what it was 30 years ago. We’re living longer, and productive longer. It’s a concern that we have independent jobs and that they have financial security. This is a national initiative.”

Jamion Burney, an older millennial at 31, listened closely to how Clinton and Trump viewed his age group.

“It’s very important that the candidates address issues that are important to us,” he said. “We feel that the candidates running are not talking about things that are important to us. We feel like we’re being asked to choose for the lesser of two evils or option to not vote. But we know that not voting is actually making a decision in itself.”

Crucial decision

As a black American, he also encouraged other minorities make sure their voices is heard.

“It’s important for blacks and minorities to get out, come out and vote,” he said. “Whether it’s Trump or Clinton, come out and watch the debate so that they get a better understanding of and some clarity on who we have running to head the United States.”

Williams-Barnes agreed, saying this election is even more important than when President Barack Obama was elected.

The mostly black crowd was implored to recognize the urgency on this presidential election, even though Obama is not on the ticket.

“With me being first a woman, a black woman, a mother, a private business owner, a legislator and leader in this community, we want a president that represents the whole United States,” she said. “I know that we can never make everyone happy, but we want someone that is compassionate and also believes in the people here in our state.

“One of our precious rights as citizens is to vote and we need to take advantage of that opportunity. Too many people lost their lives to make sure they have that right for us.”

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