Today is National Voter Registration Day, and to understand why registering folks to vote matters, we have to take a look at where we’ve been.
A little over 100 years ago, right after Reconstruction, segregationists began to fight back. During Massive Resistance the Ex-Rebel States began to enact a wide range of voter laws which were aimed to disenfranchise African Americans and suppress their voting. To many of those who had been part of the Confederacy — and their direct descendants — this was a way to strike back at all of the new rights and power being garnered by former slaves and their children.
If this causes you to ask about what is going on today with Voter ID laws, voter purges, racial gerrymandering, and all of the other tactics we’re seeing from the Republicans, you’re correct in doing so. What’s happening now isn’t new. They’re simply using new methods that were previously used by Southern Democrats.
Enter Dr. William Ferguson “Fergie” Reid.
Fergie helped revolutionized the way folks got organized and mobilized, recording not only where people lived and what voting districts they were part of, but what they’re interests were, what skill sets they had, and what groups they were part of. “Big Data” didn’t exist in he 1940s, and yet Fergie collected as much demographic information from voters as possible. Being able to know voters and would-be voters, their issues and their connections to others was a sure-fire way to appeal to them. Being able to draw upon people’s networks, passions and skills allowed them to not only get folks out to vote, but also to get more folks registered and involved. Expanding the voter rolls was just as important as mobilizing the existing base, and that largely holds true today.
Because of his work, Fergie was able to go from activist to legislator, becoming the first African American elected to the General Assembly after Reconstruction. Many argue — as do I — that he helped pave the way for Doug Wilder’s election as Virginia’s first African American Governor, along with Barack Obama’s historic election as the U.S.’s first African American President.
So today — National Voter Registration Day — I ask that folks honor the work Dr. Fergie Reid Sr. in shaping our democracy. By the time this is published, I’ll be out registering college students to vote (pictures to follow!) We have an election on November 7th this year, and the last day to register folks is October 16th. We can’t wait.
He was a Man Ahead of His Time.
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
- Robert F. Kennedy
(P.S. — check out 90for90.org!)