MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Grassroots activists in Memphis are talking about a plan to convene a “People’s Convention” to make a mark on the October 2019 municipal election. It’s the same type of group – and convention – that led Dr. Willie Herenton to defeat incumbent Dick Hackett for mayor in a historic election back in 1991.
Organizers said the effort is about issues, not candidates. And while the 1991 convention was largely about race, leaders said this one focuses on progressive politics.
“There is already a fire that is burning in the hearts of more people now than it was this time several years ago,” said Pastor Earle Fisher, with Up the Vote 901.
Fisher said that fire is what's fueling the future 2019 People's Convention. It is a plan for gathering roughly 2,500 Memphians who will rally around a People's Agenda, with focuses on wages, employment, healthcare, education and equity.
“We are committed to represent the broadest swath of Memphis that we can,” he said.
Fisher told WMC Action News 5 that the convention won’t endorse candidates but will come up with a slate of candidates that fit their views on the issues. It will include those running for mayor and city council seats.
“We will ultimately have the type of scorecards that will align the people’s issues with the candidates that seem to carry those issues and those convictions,” said Fisher, “We are asking people to be a part of a voting bloc. This is an unapologetic pitch for more political power through information and representation.”
Incumbent mayor Jim Strickland is up for re-election. Strickland is being challenged by 6-month Shelby County Commissioner and activist Tami Sawyer, small business owner Lemichael Wilson, and former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
Herenton used a People’s Convention in 1991 to defeat incumbent Mayor Dick Hackett by 142 votes becoming the city’s first elected African-American mayor. He held the post for 17 years.
WMC Action News 5 political analyst Michael Nelson said it remains to be seen the impact the 2019 Peoples Convention could have.
“In 1991, we had never had an African American mayor. The city council was still majority white,” said Nelson, “Twenty-eight years later, we’ve come a long way, and the idea that a people’s convention is as necessary as it was then – not to say it’s a bad idea – but back then it really performed a historic role in launching African- Americans into leadership in Memphis city government.”
Fisher told WMC Action News 5 that he anticipates in the coming days a link to be available for people to fill out to take their positions on issues if they want to be part of the convention. By late spring or early summer the convention should be held.
The municipal elections are on October 3.