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B-PEP unveils several campaigns ahead of 'the most important midterm election of our lifetime'

This article was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Calling it “the most important midterm election of our lifetime,” the Black Political Empowerment Project announced multiple new campaigns aimed to encourage residents to vote in the upcoming election, Monday evening at its headquarters in the Hill District.

“All of us know we're in a crucial moment in America, a crucial moment in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County in Pennsylvania and many people feel this is indeed one of the most crucial elections in our history,” Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of B-PEP, said. “When we say this midterm election is the most important in the lives of any of us living in Pennsylvania, we don't mean that rhetorically.”

Because of this, Mr. Stevens said B-PEP is partnering with a number of local organizations to make an impact on the election and ensure Black and brown people, young people, people with disabilities and the LGBTQI community are in polling places come election day.

Part of these efforts includes signage on 20 Pittsburgh Regional Transit buses running out of the East Liberty station, which began Sunday and will run for two months. Unveiled at the Monday news conference, these signs provide the deadline for voter registration (Oct. 24) in addition to the midterm election date (Nov. 8). Other resources printed on the signs include the B-PEP website and phone number (412-212-8775), the Election Protection Hotline number (1-866-687-8683) and the link to vote.pa.gov.

Mr. Stevens emphasized the importance of voting in every election, not just presidential elections. He specifically mentioned the races for Senate, Congress and governor and said those running have stark differences.

“There are no off-year elections,” he said. “Every year should be an on-year even if it's not the president of the United States being elected because, often, those local positions may impact your life on a daily basis more than maybe the national president and the presidency.”

At the news conference, B-PEP community organizer Roy Blankenship introduced a new TikTok campaign that the organization hopes will engage younger voters in the region.

Contestants can submit short videos and skits about casting a vote that will be posted to the B-PEP’s TikTok account for voting. Cash prizes total up to $3,000 and the deadline for the “B-PEP Cast Your Ballot Challenge Contest” is Oct.1. More information can be found on the organization’s website.

“We want to get [younger voters] engaged with this process, as we all know this is a very important time for us all this the election cycle and now's a great time to get them engaged,” Mr. Blankenship said.

Mr. Stevens noted that over 53,000 people viewed B-PEP’s social media since Aug. 1.

Another campaign announced was one with the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh.

Two videos created by the LWV in partnership with B-PEP have been created for incarcerated individuals or those formerly incarcerated. The videos explain their voting rights. The videos will be available on the LWV’s website.

“They need to know that they can vote, they have a right to vote,” Terrie Griffin, director of diversity, equity and inclusion with the LWV, said. “They have served some time, some are out, some are still in, but they deserve to vote and we're going to be very strong against those who suggested they don't have the right. We're going to be very articulate, very outspoken. I like to say a little radical.”

Anyone who has been charged with a crime except for those who are currently incarcerated for a felony can register and can vote in the state of Pennsylvania, Judy Clack, vice president of voter services for LWV, said.

Mr. Blankenship shared that he had previously been incarcerated.

“[I] did the crime, served it, got out and decided to change my life and work for the better but I will tell you, I registered to vote,” he said. “I voted in each and every election and now I'm a committee man in my neighbor.”

Furthering B-PEP’s voting awareness efforts, Lorraine Cross, B-PEP’s civic engagement coordinator, announced that on Voter Registration Day (Sept. 20), B-PEP will be hosting an event full of live music, food, carnival activities, resources and different relevant agencies. The event will take place in a lot across the organization headquarters at 2201 Wylie Ave. in the Hill District.

“It's going to be a great time to learn how to get excited again about voting, get excited about saving our democracy,” Ms. Cross said.

Mr. Stevens concluded the news conference by highlighting some key issues that may be impacted by the midterm election. He specifically mentioned women’s decisions regarding their bodies and the potential elimination of the LGBTQI community’s right to marriage and interracial marriage.

“You can either agree with that or disagree,” Mr. Stevens said. “Whatever your decision is, you will help decide how this commonwealth operates on those key issues. … So those of us who are voters and we believe in human rights and voting rights for all people, we need to be in the polling place to make a statement.

“Imagine the difference we could make in this country if all Black folks voted in each and every election, all brown people voted in each and every election, those with disabilities, our young people voted in each and every election. The LGBTQI community voted in each and every election.”