Close to 50 people gathered for an event at the Spanish Community Center in Joliet that encouraged people to vote and then marched to vote at the polls at the Will County office building in the downtown area.
At Saturday's event, Betty Washington, a Joliet Junior College Board trustee, told the crowd at the Spanish Community Center about how many leaders and supporters of the NAACP were beaten and killed as they marched for voting rights on a day known as “Bloody Sunday” in 1965.
“This is why I vote in every election, no matter if it’s local, state or federal. People fought and died for the right to vote,” Washington said. “I vote because of the sacrifices made by those of whose shoulders we stand on today.”
Saturday’s event was hosted by Trista Graves Brown, who founded the organization SpeakUp, and the Spanish Community Center. Several other community organizations, faith leaders, educators, county and city officials were also involved in the event that was inspired by Brown’s mother, Margaret Graves, a civil rights advocate.
“She emphasized that everybody needed to vote,” Brown said.
Angel Olivo, a Spanish Community Center volunteer, said people were marching Saturday to get out to the polls before the Nov. 3 election and show “strength in numbers.”
“There is power when we come together and work together, not only in voting but collaborating with the community,” Olivo said.
He said he hopes the event will become an annual tradition.
In a speech, Brown said voting is “pride, power and presence.”
“What are we voting for? We are fighting for our lives – for truth, equality, integrity, for all God’s people,” she said. “Let’s stop all the injustice hurt and strife.”
Brown said people should “stand up, speak up” and that their vote matters.
“People fought for that right. That’s why we vote because we’re fighting for our lives,” Brown said.
Another speaker, Alamin Falaq of Joliet, asked the audience to think about the death of Eric Lurry and how it shows the importance of voting in local elections. He said police officers were “suspected of something wrong” in the Lurry case.
“They were not accountable to the chief of police. The chief of police is appointed by the mayor and the city council. The mayor and the city council are there by whose voice? Our vote,” Falaq said.
Alicia Morales, a Joliet Junior College Board trustee who was at the event, said people need to value voting because it can affect local issues like snow plowing, neighborhood lighting and services for low-income families.
She said people should also remember to vote in the local elections next April.
“Oftentimes people think it’s just one vote and it doesn’t matter but there’s so much power in our voice,” Morales said.
Joliet City Councilwoman Bettye Gavin spoke at the event and told the audience that they should be the change they want to see.
“The power of the people is greater than the people in power,” she said.
Washington warned that there still remain ongoing efforts to “suppress the vote in many communities” and that is is imperative that every eligible citizen exercises their right to vote.
“Do not ever say your vote doesn’t matter. If your vote doesn’t matter, people would not be trying to suppress it the way that they are today,” Washington said.