A packed Apollo Theater in Harlem was the scene of a vibrant discussion about a host of issues, from voter suppression in the 2012 election and the need for a Black political agenda to the teachers strike in Chicago.
The “Vote Like Your Life Depends on It” town hall meeting sponsored by BET Networks and the Apollo Theater featured a number of well known figures, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and noted educator and commentator Michael Eric Dyson. T.J. Holmes, the former CNN anchor who will host a new show on BET, Don't Sleep!, moderated the discussion.
A large part of the evening was devoted to the topic of the wave of restrictive voter identification laws that have been enacted by states around the country with Republican controlled legislatures and governors.
“Let’s be clear, we know what this is really all about,” said panelist Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization that has been at the forefront of challenging voter ID laws around the country.
She explained that the changes in voter laws were designed by Republican leaders in a number of states to restrict the number of Blacks, Latinos and students, who would be able to cast votes in the November election.
But the crowd became most engaged and animated during the comments by Sharpton and Dyson.
At one point, when discussing the need for African-Americans to go to the polls this year amid some Black criticism of President Obama, Sharpton related the presidential election of 2012 to New York City’s mayoral election in 1993. That year, the city’s first Black mayor, David N. Dinkins, narrowly lost a re-election bid.
“We know how this can turn out if we don’t vote,” Sharpton said. “I’ve seen this movie before. People criticized [Dinkins] and said he didn’t have enough of a Black agenda.... People got discouraged and they didn’t vote. He lost by 53,000 votes and we got eight years of Rudolph Giuliani,” he said of the Republican mayor, who had a stormy relationship with Black New Yorkers.
The town hall discussion was the launch of a new series that is part of BET Network’s multi-platform BET Vote 2012 initiative. The discussions are designed to promote civic engagement voter registration and to highlight issues of greatest concern to the African-American community.
Other participants in the program were Keli Goff, a political writer with TheRoot.com; Elinor Tatum, the editor of the New York Amsterdam News, and James Braxton Peterson, the director of Africana studies and associate professor of English at Lehigh University.
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(Photo: Shahar Azran/WireImage)