Newark residents lined up 50 people deep in Lincoln Park to register to vote and get lead-free water as part of a national initiative to get people to the polls, especially in a time of crisis.
The line snaked through the park on Tuesday as people walked up to tables set up by Project Ready, a Newark-based education policy advocacy group, to register to vote.
The effort was part of National Voter Registration Day, during which thousands of organizations and volunteers organized to ensure as many people as possible are registered to vote in advance of the 2020 elections.
At the same time, people were provided with free bottled water, whether they registered or not, as city residents voted with their open arms to carry away water in the face of Newark's ongoing lead water crisis.
Shennell McCloud, executive director of Project Ready, noted why the voter registration initiative is especially imperative now.
"During any crisis, it's important that our elected officials know that they have an activated city, not a city of people who are not engaged about issues that matter to them, including the water," said McCloud, noting that there are approximately 25,000 eligible unregistered voters living in Newark.
"People are not necessarily educated about what it means to be registered, and may not understand what voting actually leads to," McCloud said. "We want to close the gap, especially as we get close to the 2020 election."
Curtis Cloud carried away a cart of water for himself and his neighbor as crossed the street to his apartment building.
"The water is in bad shape and the country is in bad shape. That makes voting even more important," said Cloud, 67, as he struggled to get his cases of water into the elevator. "That's why we need the right people to do the right job."
"I don't like standing in these long lines, but I need the water. A lot of people in my building aren't mobile, and we really need the city to bring the water to us," said Marjorie Burwell, a retired post office worker, who lives in the Essex Plaza building on Broad Street.
"All senior buildings like ours should be treated the same, or even maybe better," Burwell said. "This is why people need to vote, to get the services we need."
"Money's a little tight," said Wali Caesar, 36, from the South Ward. "It's really good that this is here."
Listening to Caesar nearby, fellow South Ward resident Kim Johnson called out a host of elected officials for their handling of the city's lead water crisis so far.
"How long has the water been twisted, and we're just going through the crisis now? How much did they know and didn't tell us? People are getting sick. What did people do in Flint to change their water? Think we can try that? Makes sense?" said Johnson, referring to the Michigan city that first gained national attention five years ago for a still ongoing lead water contamination problem.
"Change is needed," Johnson said. "We have to vote so we can put our bid on making the changes that are not being done. We vote to check them, and to check us now."
For McCloud, both the voter registration and water distribution drives are personal: a North Ward resident, she is the mother of a one-year old and a two-year old, ages that are especially vulnerable to the deleterious health effects of prolonged lead exposure.
"Newark has historically been at the epicenter of a lot of change in cities. We want to be part of that change locally and nationally," said McCloud. "But we're not doing our part if we don't elect people who are going to influence policy in a positive way."
Central Ward resident Paul Hernandez was happy that he was all set to vote and all set with a case of bottled water. But looking ahead to his next trip to the ballot box, he didn't think that anyone should settle for sitting on the sidelines.
"You should be a voter no matter what. Because if you're not a voter, you're not a voice. You're a person who won't be heard," Hernandez, 53, said. "Politicians aren't going to listen to you if you don't fully participate. Voting is a right. Use it."