Beating the Bushes 

Their rallying cry could well be "Won't Get Fooled Again." In the last presidential election, get-out-the-vote campaigns by such groups as the NAACP and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) dramatically increased the number of African Americans at the polls. But predominantly black precincts in Florida had three times as many rejected ballots (and voters) as mostly white precincts -- rejections that may have given George W. Bush his dubious ticket to the White House.

"We can't allow that to happen again," says Joseph Mills, president of the black trade unionists' chapter in Central Florida. The sorry lesson of the 2000 election is that it takes more than a voter-registration campaign to get the job done, he says. "We not only need to get people to the polls, we need for them to understand their rights and responsibilities." That includes learning the few valid reasons for which they can be disqualified and the importance of taking proper identification with them to the polls. "If black voters are turned away in the next election, we want them to be able to defend themselves," Mills says, "to not leave without an affidavit as to why they were denied."

To that end as well as a few others, the CBTU and other unions with which it is affiliated will host a forum on voting issues at 10 am Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church, 535 W. Washington St. It is one of several such meetings scheduled -- or already held -- across the state.

Among the issues on the agenda: the need for election reform and a campaign to encourage young people to take interest in electoral politics. The meeting also will address cuts in the state budget for education and social services, plus the matter of a livable wage for Central Floridians. "That's one of our biggest problems locally, with an economy based on the attractions," said Mills. "We need to get it on the books that all workers need at least $10 to $12 `an hour` to live with any dignity."

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More by William A. Sievert


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