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Published: Sunday, 9/23/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

NONPARTISAN EVENT

Civic coalition urges citizens to register to vote

Speakers at rally in Toledo park call for good turnout at early balloting

BY MIKE SIGOV
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Pastor T.J. Thomas cheers at Savage Park, where Ray Wood of the United Auto Workers addresses the rally. Pastor T.J. Thomas cheers at Savage Park, where Ray Wood of the United Auto Workers addresses the rally.
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Lashonda Gaston of Toledo, a busy mother of six, took time from her daily routine on Saturday to drive to the central city for a voter rally and to fill out a voter registration form.

"I am going to vote," Ms. Gaston, 38, said matter-of-factly, adding that she'll be taking along to a polling station her three older children, who are eligible to vote.

Ms. Gaston was one of about 30 people who gathered at the start of the two-hour event held by the ToledoVotes! coalition at Savage Park, the former City Park, at Vance and Elizabeth streets.

There, they listened to community leaders who called on them to vote early in the general election, during the so-called “Golden Week," Oct. 2-9, when Ohioans may register and then immediately cast a ballot to be counted once the registration is validated. The event also featured volunteers who handed out voter registration forms and provided free food and musical entertainment.

Ms. Gaston, who said she will be voting for President Obama, said she is adamant about herself and her children getting out to vote "to make life better," adding that "we need more jobs in this city."

She went on to say that she was re-registering to vote because she moved from West Toledo to South Toledo about four months ago.

Speakers covered such topics as early and absentee voting, ways of registering to vote, and "the historic attack on voting rights in Ohio and other swing states."

"I will meet you at the polls, October 2nd through the 9th!" the Rev. T.J. Thomas, pastor of City of Zion, Mount Zion Church, called to the audience, noting that he was using his "his pastor voice."

He was representing the Toledo NAACP at the rally, he said.

The Toledo NAACP is a member of ToledoVotes!, the event organizer, which describes itself as "a coalition of organizations committed to voter empowerment."

Toledo resident Lashonda Gaston re-registers, to reflect her address change, during the ToledoVotes! rally at Savage Park. Toledo resident Lashonda Gaston re-registers, to reflect her address change, during the ToledoVotes! rally at Savage Park.
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Besides Toledo NAACP, the coalition includes the ACLU of Ohio, the League of Women Voters of Toledo-Lucas County, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Adelante, Toledo Area Jobs with Justice, the Thurgood Marshall Law Association, the Interfaith Ministerial Alliance of Toledo, the Baptist Ministers Conference, and the UAW Toledo Area Communicty Action Program Council.

In this election, "Toledo is important because the machinist and the automotive industry is heavily centered here in Toledo and we must make sure that jobs that they are talking about not only come but stay," Pastor Thomas said as he stepped off the podium.

"I want to make sure that [people in Toledo] vote for someone who has people in mind, who's going to represent all of the people, to make sure that people just have a chance. People don't want a handout, they want a shot," he said.

Speakers said they were not telling people how to vote; their goal, rather, is to increase the number of voters.

Nonetheless, next to the podium, a man wearing a Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney mask and a costume with fake large-denomination bills sticking out of his breast pocket, held a sign noting that he will become the next president if people don't get out and vote.

Jon Stainbrook, Lucas County Republican Party chairman and a board member on the Lucas County Board of Elections, said later during a phone interview: "Anytime citizens in the community bond together to make sure that the American right to vote is exercised or taken advantage of is always a good thing."

Contact Mike Sigov at: sigov@theblade.com or 419-724-6089.



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