SOUTH ARKANSAS EVENTS ENGAGE AND INFORM VOTERS
Candidate forums across South Arkansas are giving community members a deeper understanding of the political process and how elected leaders affect everyday life.
“They’re making decisions for you and your kids,” said Concerned Citizens of Monticello Chairperson Joe Britton. “We need good schools. We need jobs in our community. We need our streets fixed. We’re taxpayers, and we want to know where our money goes.”
Community groups from Gould to Monticello to Magnolia are meeting with politicians running for local and statewide office, and hosting public forums to help the public make an informed vote. Concerned Citizens of Monticello recently hosted eight candidates for city council and the surrounding areas.
“Voters need to know who is who and what’s their background,” said Robert Marshall Sr. “We need to know exactly where they stand and what they plan to do to help this community.”
Marshall joined CCM last year, and is now serving as the chair of the Political Awareness Committee.
“When I started, I didn’t know much about local government period,” Marshall said. “I didn’t know who I was voting for. I’d just vote because someone said, ‘Hey man, this person is a good guy.’”
The forums are part of a strategy to win reforms. Each community develops a platform on issues they want to see addressed.
“Our platform brings people together to push for infrastructure and cleanup,” said Retha Spencer of the Gould Citizens Advisory Council. “We want to make a difference in the neighborhood, and we want people to take pride in Gould.”
The community groups build campaigns on the platforms, and use the forums to strengthen momentum to get the reforms their members have prioritized.
“I’ve seen elections where the candidates were very strongly in tune with platforms, and they sought to adhere to those ideas once elected,” said Norvell Dixon, of Gould. “Like anything else you have ups and downs.”
The meetings are also the first step to holding leaders accountable if they fail to meet those promises.
“You’re asking for our votes, and we want to know what can you do to help build our town, to bring us together and make it a better place to live,” Spencer said. “Then, if something is not being taken care of, we want to know why? It’s important that you get the job done. That’s what you were elected to do.”
Gould Mayor Essie Cableton said in the past Gould’s elected leaders ignored constituents and did as they pleased.
”Some of us would raise issues and ask that they be addressed, but we weren’t being heard,” Cableton said. “It was devastating, but not knowing what to do you kind of looked the other way.”
Cableton said local government has undergone a complete transformation since GCAC formed, and the public forums are a major part of the change.
“It’s a great feeling to know that people can no longer do whatever they want,” she said. “We know that now someone is watching.”
This year GCAC opened its candidate interview process to the public. The executive board develops a list of questions based on the platform elected by members, and candidates answer them at the front of the room.
“We have to do what we do and do it right, and not just GCAC but the citizens now know we are accountable,“ Cableton said. “They will let you know you are going to do it right or they will vote you out.”
Although Marshall’s interest in politics is relatively new, he says Concerned Citizens of Monticello’s format allows anyone to participate, no matter their level of experience.
“A lot of people don’t understand this process, but after they attend they are more comfortable and one thing brings another,” he says. “This is getting the knowledge out to the city of Monticello. That’s why we have this. This is for the knowledge of the people.”