August 12, 2020

Joint Effort Weighs In On 2020 Election: “A Moral Moment and Movement”

By Donald Gilpin

A virtual forum of more than 20 area elected officials and candidates highlighted Joint Effort (JE) Princeton Safe Streets’  Saturday, August 8 gathering, with speakers sharing their vision of the future as they called for dramatic change with less than three months to go before the critical November elections.

“Our existence, our future, our dreams, and our hopes for generations to come are on the line,” said Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, as she rallied some hundred participants to support Joe Biden and Democrats at all levels on November 3.

Hosted by JE and the Capital City Area Black Caucus (CCABC), the forum, titled “Why the 2020 Election is so Important,” was the penultimate event of more than a week of Joint Effort Safe Streets 2020 events celebrating Black history and culture and the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. 

JE 2020 concluded on  Sunday evening, August 9 with a Cynthia “Chip” Fisher and Romus Broadway Memorial Virtual Art Exhibit-Collage Slideshow and community reception, a  tribute to Romus Broadway, the presentation of awards, the Jim Floyd Memorial Lecture, and a gospel music hour.

In her speech, Watson Coleman emphasized how much — including access to health care, education, housing, jobs, economic equality, and racial justice — is at stake in the upcoming election. 

“This is a time when we’re going to encounter such impediments to getting the vote out that we have to be smart and strategic. We have to be working with one another and we have to be communicating and connecting,” she said.

She noted that she’s “ridin with Biden,” but she’s also holding him accountable.  She also stressed the importance of winning Senate and House elections and ensuring a thorough census count. 

“This is a moral moment and movement,” she said. “We need to go bold and go bad or go home.  It won’t be easy, but it’s important to save our country, to return to a decent, dignified, and compassionate country — to have somebody in there who knows how to get us through a pandemic without hundreds of thousands dying unnecessarily. That’s what’s on the line in this election.”

Other speakers shared Watson Coleman’s concerns and echoed many of her comments. “We’ve got to get this done,” said Princeton Democratic Party Chair Thomas Parker.  “It’s about unity. We cannot rest on our laurels. We have young folks out in the streets fighting for their future, protesting what is happening, and they are not going to put up with anything but the truth.”

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert called for this election to become a chance “to reset the course.” She continued, “We have the opportunity to rethink so many structures in this country. How do we rebuild in a way where we’re all healthier, where our environment is more sustainable, where our economy is stronger and fairer, and where we have a society that’s more equitable?”

Leticia Fraga, on the ballot for re-election to Princeton Council, urged “supporting candidates who represent our values and will fight for us.”  Calling on listeners to educate themselves and vote, she added “it matters who represents us, who’s going to fight for us and make sure that available resources don’t just trickle down but waterfall down to those in our communities who need them most.”

Princeton Council President David Cohen, also on the ballot for re-election, accentuated the importance of smart growth and affordable housing in Princeton “because they will preserve what is most important about our town, which is its diversity.” He noted,” Smart growth is really linked closely to racial justice, diversity, and equity in our town.”

Mercer County Freeholder Sam Frisby, who received special recognition from JE and the CCABC, called on forum participants to take action. “We need positive change on November 3 when we empower those who are disenfranchised,” he said. “Black people have been battling with a pandemic for 400 years, and we need positive change so we can begin to heal our community.”

He went on to emphasize the power of “each taking ourselves and 100 people with us to the polls. We need everyone to engage and engage fully for the next 87 days.” 

Other speakers echoing the call to unify and vote and take advantage of a critical moment in history included  Jeanine LaRue, founding member of the CCABC; John Harmon, also a founding CCABC member and president of the African American Chamber of New Jersey; Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello; Freeholders Angela Garretson, John Cimino, Andrew Koontz, Lucy Walter, and Nina Melker; Assemblymen Andrew Zwicker and Dan Benson; Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds Jackson; East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov; Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora; Princeton mayoral candidate Mark Freda; Ewing Councilman David Schroth, Princeton Councilman Dwaine Williamson; and Princeton Board of Education candidates Michele Tuck-Ponder, Kim Lemon, and Adam Bierman.

JE chief organizer John Bailey, described by LaRue as “the visionary of this caucus” who “makes all of this magic happen,” moderated the proceedings. “We need to be aware,” he said, urging the participants to get involved. “This discussion has been enlightening, but only if we take the words we’ve heard and put them into action and do something about it.” He encouraged the gathering to do everything they can “to make sure that this president is a one-term president.”

In a phone conversation on Monday, August 10, Bailey pointed to the Mildred Trotman Community Service Awards and Challenge presented to “the entire Princeton community” during the Sunday closing ceremonies.  “I’m challenging Princeton,” Bailey said.  “This is a community challenge award to recognize, challenge, and encourage all Princeton citizens to do more and be more in the name of race relations in our town.”

He added, “It’s a challenge to me to do more and be more, and I’m passing that challenge on. It’s a question of how much do you care. The problems that Princeton faces are the problems of the nation. It’s a microcosm of America. Make this a better place to work, live, play, and raise a family.”