‘Shape the way we live’: Philly’s 2024 ‘Black Men Vote’ campaign focuses on voter education, increased registration

The campaign will dispatch door-to-door canvassers, schedule educational seminars and set up in schools to help people register to vote.

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Isaiah Thomas speaking at a podium

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas addresses the press. 'Let's make sure every Black male in Philadelphia understands the power of their voice, of their vote,' Thomas said. (Vicky Diaz-Camacho/WHYY)

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A recurring effort to increase voter turnout among Black men in Philadelphia seeks to register 2,024 new voters by November.

Standing in front of the Octavius Catto statue outside City Hall, elected officials announced the most recent launch of the “Black Men Vote” campaign Tuesday. Catto, a 19th-century civil rights activist and abolitionist, was assassinated on election day in 1871, the first election that allowed Black men to vote.

Nic O'Rourke
Councilmember Nic O’Rourke shared an impassioned speech about low voter turnout the past few years. ‘We need to turn that around,’ he said. (Vicky Diaz-Camacho/WHYY News)

“It means something to have these brothers here. Black men, elected officials, leaders in our community, standing before a sculpture that speaks to a Black man to look at and to honor,” said City Councilmember Nic O’Rourke. “[Voting is] some of that power that we have at our disposal to shape the way that we live and engage with each other.”

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The campaign was motivated by decreased voter engagement, particularly among Black men, but a spokesman said it did not research voter participation among Black women voters.

The group stressed the importance of voting engagement among Black men and its direct impact on support for issues like addressing mass incarceration and student loan debt. Several council members underscored how engaging with local elections directly affects how funding is disbursed to different districts in the city.

Group photo in front of the Octavius Catto statue
Elected officials and supporters of the “Black Men Vote” campaign from left to right, Councilmember Jeffery Young, Jr., Isa Shahid (Laborers), Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, Councilmember Anthony Phillips, City Commissioner Omar Sabir, Councilmember Nic O’Rourke, George Lane (Philadelphia Youth Commission), Marvin Dutton (MES Educational Services). (Vicky Diaz-Camacho/WHYY)

“This is a Black city. This is a Black town, and so we certainly want to make sure that our voting reflects our prominence in the city,” said O’Rourke. “Last fall, voter turnout in Black precincts was actually 11% lower than four years ago. We got to turn that around.”

The initiative will focus on education in districts with low voter turnouts. It will dispatch door-to-door canvassers, schedule educational seminars and set up in schools to help people register to vote.

“We want more resources. We want more policies … dedicated to Black men and the way they do that is to use the ballot box,” said City Commissioner Omar Sabir.

The campaign also targets young voters, even those not old enough to vote, like 11th-grader George Lane.

George Lane posing for a photo in front of the Octavius Catto statue
High school student George Lane, 17, wants to follow in the footsteps of the elected officials he stood beside and said he wants more of his younger peers to know the value of voting rights. (Vicky Diaz-Camacho/WHYY)

“I don’t want my friends to fall victim to the problems that we face every day, like the violence,” Lane said. “I want to be that difference.”

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Lane is one year away from being able to vote, but he’s determined to speak with his peers about voting. The 17-year-old looked to his left and right, standing shoulder to shoulder with Black politicians.

He said seeing this representation matters to him, and he hopes to walk in their footsteps one day.

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