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Black Voters Matter bus rallies for nonpartisan election participation in Columbus

bus with signage reading We won't Black Down cuz freedom is our birthright!
Renee Fox
The Black Voters Matter campaign bus is wrapped with messaging for its “Blackest Bus in America” tour.

A nationwide bus tour encouraging black people of all political parties to vote, rallied Thursday in central and northwest Columbus with free food, music and election resources.

It was the latest stop of the Black Voters Matter campaign and its “Blackest Bus in America” tour.

The effort is about connecting people to the resources to actively participate in all democratic processes, including voting, petitioning elected leaders effectively and learning about running for office themselves, said Deidra Reese, a local coordinator for civic engagement in the Black community for Ohio Unity Coalition.

“Every single vote actually matters, whether it's locally, or it's on the statewide level or the national level,” she said.

She welcomed the Black Voters Matter bus tour from its hometown of Selma, Alabama to St. Mark’s Lodge on Long Street. The bus is decorated with scenes from the struggle of Black America to secure their right to vote and played positive music by Black artists. The crew traveled through town, waving signs and answering questions from the community.

Reese said the organizers are non-partisan because the black community is not monolithic in their beliefs, and all deserve to see their impact on the communities they live in.

“That's why it's so important that people engage, and any elected official should be responsive, it shouldn't matter what the party is of the person coming and talking to them,” Reese said.

Voters can make an impact, Reese said. Columbus showed that when they voted in police oversight measures following several police-involved shooting, she said.

“It's all about power. We all have power. It's not them. It's us,” Reese said. “We are our government, we get to shape the policies that come forward because again, we're going to be impacted. The question is, what impact do we want to have? And I personally want to make certain everybody understands they have the power to determine what that impact is.

Cliff Albright, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said the focus is on the Black community, but the organization is looking to help engage all marginalized communities with government, at all levels. As long as some basic rights are agreed to, first.

"To be down with us, you got to at least believe that Black voters matter. You got to believe that we matter. And it sounds very basic. But guess what, there's a lot of people in this state in this country that they won't respect that they don't believe that we matter,” he said.

Albright said engagement at every level is essential, because all level of government impact an individual’s community and life, from the mayor and city council, to state representatives and federal senators.

“That pothole, right, that's a local issue,” Albright said, pointing to a pothole on East Long Street. “But whether or not there's federal money available for improving our streets, and our roads and our water systems, and whether we have clean water, that's a federal issue. All of these issues have a local aspect, a state aspect and the Federal aspect.”

Early voting in Ohio's November election has started. Visit the board of elections website in your county for information about obtaining a ballot or voting hours.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.