For the More Free 2020 collective, voting is a cause for celebration. So much so that they’re hosting a nonpartisan, socially distanced parade where people can walk their ballots to the Board of Elections in Norwood together.
This event — which takes place 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18 — comes after a month of pushing for voter registration and voter education with art, music and a safe, zero-judgement space at their headquarters at 1313 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine.
Destinee Thomas is a founder of More Free 2020, and part of the Cincy Nice crew, where the idea for More Free 2020 was born.
“We wanted to create more of a presence within the community, showing that people that look like me and my other co-founders — who are younger Black people — care about voting very much,” Thomas says. “But we also care and understand that there’s a lot of distrust within the system, and we wanted to create kind of a community space to have those conversations.”
In 2019, Thomas was one of several people behind a pop-up during BLINK called the Cincy Nice Social House. They hosted artists and creatives in a space that focused on genuineness and connection.
“It felt like there wasn’t quite space for more diverse artists and people in the community to come together,” Thomas says.
After a successful turnout of over 2,000 people, the group decided to make Cincy Nice Social House a permanent collective.
This year, on Juneteenth, Cincy Nice hosted an event called Our Tables, which very literally tore down walls and turned them into a space for open conversation. Cincy Nice took the plywood from buildings that had been boarded up during the protests, turned them into tables on Main Street, and invited the community to gather and discuss the next steps toward progress. Thomas says that around 400 people came together for the Our Tables event, a remarkable number especially considering the pandemic.
“It really showed us that it felt like we needed to do something more,” Thomas says.
And so, More Free 2020 was born as a platform to keep the conversation alive. As with Cincy Nice and Our Tables, More Free 2020 is Black-led and artist-driven. By keeping creative expression at the forefront, community action has a more comfortable, less daunting approach.
“A lot of what we’ve been doing is looking at this as joy as a form of resistance,” Thomas says. “Our tagline for Cincy Nice for all this pandemic stuff has been ‘Still Smiling,’ and I think it’s kind of been inspiring our More Free work, too.”
More Free 2020 continues to put time and energy toward voter registration and education. They maintain an office space at 1313 Vine St. where they ran a voter registration drive, complete with a parade lead by Black Brass, an all Black modern brass band. The space continues to act as a voter information hub, and a location for community pop-ups. It has also served as a launching space for adjacent community projects, like Cincinnati’s first free fridge, created in partnership with Triiibe Foundation.
Although there’s a core group of people behind creating the More Free 2020 space, Thomas emphasizes that there’s no ownership, and that it truly is a community effort. Others have flocked to the space to join the conversation, including organizations like Greater Cincinnati Voter Collaborative and businesses like BlaCk Coffee Lounge. Creating a more free Cincinnati depends on collective action.
“(It’s) a space for people that are trying to figure out how to become more active,” Thomas says. “By no means do we have all the answer for how Cincinnati becomes...the most equitable city in the Midwest, but I think that by working together and just continuing to have that as a goal, we’ll keep getting closer to it."
During their two-week voter registration drive, Thomas says they helped close to 100 new voters register. One of the new voters hadn’t yet registered because he had a felony on his record, and had been told incorrectly that he wasn’t allowed. Another had never voted and was embarrassed to ask for help, but did it anyway. No matter the context or the political beliefs, More Free 2020 was there to help people raise their voice.
“There's no judgement, it’s just an open conversation,” Thomas says.
A big part of their goal is to empower people to keep taking action after the election. Thomas, who has had lots of experience in political activism, including working on a previous presidential campaign, wants to emphasize that voting is not the end. No matter what happens with this election, or any other election, change largely depends on a community’s willingness to stay active.
“You raise your voice for the election, but you can also raise your voice on a local level,” she says. “You can also keep pushing for change. It doesn’t end in November.”
More Free 2020 is raising awareness and getting people hyped to stay active through and beyond the election. Join them with your completed ballot on Sunday, Oct. 18 for their Walk the Vote event, which starts at 12:30 p.m. at the Norwood Plaza. They ask that you RSVP to the event here. You can also bring your voter questions, community ideas, and Free Fridge donations to their office at 1313 Vine St., or sign up to volunteer with them on their website at morefree2020.org.
“We want people to feel the power of raising their voice, no matter what the outcome is,” Thomas says. “That power doesn’t go away."