|Color of Change PAC|
A couple of Sundays ago, an energetic DJ spun classic soul, R&B and hip-hop from the 70s, 80s and 90s to a crowd of about 30-50 folks at Atlanta’s the Gathering Spot. Most of the folks were seated at round tables tapping away on laptops either brought from home or provided by one of the various cheery, enthusiastic hosts. A few stole away to the banquet table in the back of the room, bopping to the music as they fixed themselves plates of deli sandwiches, fruit, brownies and cookies.
Back at the round tables, people chatted amongst themselves as they followed directions posted on a presentation screen telling them how to log in to an online application which would allow them to send text messages to African American constituents in Georgia’s 6th district. The event was referred to as a “textathon” and it had been organized by the newly formed Color of Change PAC, the political action arm of the nation’s largest racial justice organization launched in 2005 to improve conditions for Blacks in America.
“Creating a PAC was a priority for us in 2016 because far too often politicians spend millions of dollars catering to Black voters and getting Black people to vote. Then once we vote, they are no longer held accountable to us,” explained Jennifer Edwards, Color of Change PAC’s Electoral Communications Program Director. “We really felt the need to create something that was led by a Black staff—a leadership team who built this structure and program from the ground up to empower Black people to do more. Not just for election day and not just for presidential candidates.”
According to Edwards, the PAC was developed following Color of Change’s campaign to influence corporations to withdraw funding and support for the 2016 Republican National Convention. The organization noticed an enhanced level of energy in their work along with a need to move their activist efforts to the next level.
The PAC then began its work with a focus on increasing Black voter turnout in five district attorney races in Florida, Ohio and Missouri, and a judicial race in North Carolina. By concentrating efforts on down-ballot races, the PAC’s intent was to raise awareness about just how vital it is to pay attention to these types of races. It is district attorneys who manage the prosecutor’s office, work with law enforcement to investigate alleged crimes, file criminal charges and bring evidence before the Grand Jury. Therefore, it is important to understand the political leanings and stances of these individuals and what they are likely to do when applying the law to people of color or instances in which police officers shoot unarmed individuals.
“Far too often, Black people and other people of color aren’t aware that these races even exist,” Edwards said. “These corrupt incumbents that run unopposed almost always think that there is no one there to challenge them.”
Following involvement in those local elections, the PAC had the opportunity to test its activist platform in texting voters regarding the presidential race and a few congressional races in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina.
“We launched the textathon program in September 2016 and coordinated events in 11 different cities from September through Election Day. We did events regularly in New York, DC, Oakland, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and a few in Chicago.”
Dubbing the efforts the “#VotingWhileBlack Campaign,” the PAC held 86 textathons across these various cities with a force of more than 2000 volunteers. They were able to reach approximately 1.5 million voters with more than 3 million texts regarding 14 local, state and national races.
“We won five district attorney races last year because of this texting program. We’ve been testing the effectiveness of texting voters and it has proven to be a really great vehicle in reaching out to people because people of color tend to get all their information on their cell phones,” Edwards shared.
Edward further expanded, “What we’ve effectively done is create modern-day canvassing. At these events, there’s food. There’s music. The people are really vibrant. It’s the kind of environment we really want to create that sense of community. What we’ve effectively done is created modern-day canvassing. Instead of going door to door, we’re going from cell phone number to cell phone number and having the same types of conversations. But we’re also having the kind of conversations that people want to have via text.”
Additionally, as the texting program is available on any laptop with an internet connection, volunteers can continue their efforts at home or remain engaged in the races anywhere.
The Atlanta textathon volunteers’ mission that Sunday was to carry out SMS conversations with voters about the House race between democratic candidate John Ossof and republican candidate Karen Handel for the Georgia’s 6th congressional district seat. The race has garnered a great deal of national attention for the amount of money being spent on campaign messaging and because many are regarding its potential outcome as a bellweather for what many left-leaning voters hope will be the future of Congress.
“For any district that has a high concentration of Black constituents, we definitely want to give Black people the chance to engage with their neighbors and friends to get them out to vote. Also, there is so much at stake in this Congressional district. This race is one of the first Congressional races under the Trump administration. Next year’s midterms, 2018, is a few months away at this point. And we have the opportunity to really shift the way these races are turning.”
As Color of Change PAC looks forward to the 2018 midterms, their hope is to continue to scale up their operation and make a larger impact on the political landscape and its relationship to Black voters.
“We definitely want folks to be aware of the consequences of not voting. The last presidential election has been the biggest display of what can happen when you choose not to vote. It is important that people understand what’s at stake in 2018 and in other races up and down the ballot. We can take back the House and we can take back the Senate but it is going to take dedicated volunteers who are going to be texting voters and knocking doors to really boost participation in 2018. We can make the midterm just as popular as the presidential. We just need the people. And the people have the power to do so.”