MONROE — The Monroe Democracy Center is a new service for low-income and underserved populations in Union County — specifically in Monroe, Wingate and Marshville.

Democracy Centers promote civic engagement and assist in voter registration. They ensure underserved communities are informed about issues taking place within local, state and federal levels of government so they can make educated decisions when voting and how to go about initiating change in their area.

Their aim is to empower these communities by showing them how they can participate in the political process by voting and raising awareness about concerns specific to their population.

Democracy Centers were created by the Center for Common Ground — a national, nonpartisan nonprofit created in 2018 that partners with local organizations to implement the Democracy Centers. Common Ground has a presence in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolin and Texas.

On their website, they state Democracy Centers provide “leverage the on-the-ground expertise, presence and trusted relationships of community-based organizations with a successful track record of civil rights protection and advocacy, civic engagement, community building and development, election protection, voter registration, and other activities that support the basic tenets of our democracy in underserved communities.”

Democracy Centers work year round — not solely during an election season.

An Empowerment Rally was hosted on Saturday, July 17 to kick off the establishment of a Democracy Center in Monroe. The rally focused on voting rights, racism in education and affordable housing. Too, a Good Trouble Vigil for Democracy was held during the rally as a way to remember Representative John Lewis who died last year.

The rally was held at Rehobeth Church at 600 E. Franklin Street in Monroe.

John J Kirkpatrick IV is a co-leader of the Democracy Center in addition to being a member of the Board of Education. City of Monroe councilwoman Surluta Anthony was a noted attendee.

“We’ve launched the Monroe Democracy Center because urgent community issues demand civic engagement but people don’t know how to take action. In Monroe, Wingate and Marshville, we teach them and, then, we mobilize them,” Kirkpatrick said in a press release.

“Civic engagement is essential for making the kind of change these communities need. Consider just one example — well known incidents of racial discrimination and harrassment in the Union County school system. Both educators and students engage in racist behaviors. Communities want to know how to stop this through meaningful changes,” Evelyn Maben-Hall, Monroe Democracy Center Co-Leader, said in the press release.

She continued to say, “in Monroe, precinct non-voting rates are as high as 40%, according to the Union County Board of Elections. Non-voting rates in underserved Wingate and Marshville precincts are as high as 27%. Working with partner organizations, including You Can Vote and Indivisible 9, we are going to change that.”

A total of eight organizations and four churches collaborated with the Democracy Center to host the Empowerment Rally.