Officials from the Florida Democratic Party met with black South Floridians on Saturday to discuss the importance of voting and to train them how to mobilize other voters ahead of the midterm elections in November.
About 25 attendees learned how to canvass, phone bank and use social media to persuade people to vote. They also spoke with several state candidates and heard from former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who discussed his endorsement of Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.
The summit, at the Sherbondy Village Community Center in Opa-Locka, was the first of several that the party and the Democratic Black Caucus are holding across the state to ensure African Americans' participation on election day.
The president of the Democratic Black Caucus, Lydia Hudson, led the summit. She noted that voter turnout, including that of African Americans, was lower in 2016 than in previous years. The goal this year is to see a record black turnout.
"We have to make sure that people know that elections have consequences, and sometimes those consequences are not positive," she said, adding that election day is the one time when everybody is equal and can make a difference.
Attendees learned how to use social media and mass-texting apps like Hustle to organize voters. Democratic officials also discussed door-to-door vote canvassing and called on religious leaders to help persuade people to vote.
During other sessions, summit leaders discussed Florida politics and emphasized that a high black voter turnout could potentially result in a Democratic takeover of the state legislature and governor's mansion.
Attendees said the discussions resonated for several reasons. Keith Noble, a member of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party executive committee, noted that there are rifts between moderate and progressive factions within the party. But the summits could help bring Democrats together as they collaborate through their mobilization efforts, he said.
Freddie Young, a member of the Florida Democratic Black Caucus and also part of the executive board of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP, added that the summits are a necessary response to voter ID requirements and laws in several states that could suppress African American turnout.
"We're trying to think of things that would counteract that and give people more of an opportunity to vote such as giving them a ride" to polling centers or informing them about important issues that are at stake in elections, she said.
In addition to the discussions on voter mobilization, the summit also featured short introduction speeches from several candidates who are running in the Democratic primary on Tuesday.
State Rep. Kionne, Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw and Nikki Fried—who's running for Agriculture Commissioner—spoke about gun violence, public education, and immigration among other issues. They cited President Barack Obama's victories in Florida in the 2008 and 2012 elections, noting that Democrats have enough voters to take over the state's government this year.
Several attendees, including Tiffany Stennett, appreciated the speeches and the lessons about canvassing voters. Stennett, who said she was surprised to hear about the power of social media in elections, said too many people still do not value their votes.
"We gotta open up the ears a little more, open up our minds to understand that voting does matter," she said.
Hudson said the voter summits will continue across the state through October. The next one will be Sept. 1 in Fort Lauderdale.