"We are not only registering voters, but we are helping people obtain the photo IDs they need to vote. We will go to the polls. We will vote, and we will send our President back to the White House..."
– State Rep. Johnnie Turner, Memphis (D- 85)
Something happened around the nation on Tuesday that touched millions of Americans in neighborhoods and across college campuses. An estimated 1,100 civil rights organizations, churches, African-American fraternities and sororities, civic clubs, elected officials, and private citizens pushed back against what many see as a tide of "voter suppression."
"Tuesday (Sept. 25) was National Voter Registration Day in America," said Dr. L. LaSimba Gray, pastor of New Sardis Baptist Church. "But we didn't just start Tuesday. Pastors all across this country held 'Voter Registration Sunday' last week. We're coming out in record numbers to the polls. We are not going to take this new poll tax lying down. We're pushing back."
Gray has been a prominent figure in the local Pastors United for Obama initiative, in conjunction with Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Memphis). A recent press conference signaled the group's resolve to counter the effects of a national wave of stricter voter ID laws. It also came as a Memphis-based group of African-American ministers and pastors continued to urge their congregations to be prepared to sit-out the election because of President Obama's support of same-sex marriages.
On Tuesday, Memphians participating in the National Voter Registration Day move, did more than go door-to-door to register voters. They were organizing car pools and signing up volunteers who will transport people to the polls as well as help eligible voters obtain the required identification.
"I retired from full-time pasturing, but I've had to come out of retirement," said Dr. James L. Netters, pastor emeritus of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood and head of the Pastors United for Obama effort.
"It's as if some people are trying to reverse the tide of progress we made during the '60s. But we're going to fight back, and we won't be stopped. Voting is our constitutional right, and we will be out at the polls in early voting and on Election Day in November."
Since the 2010 mid-term elections, 31 states have passed new, restrictive voting laws sponsored by Republicans. Eight of 11 states in the former Confederacy have been a part of what many are calling voter suppression. Such laws were passed in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. A federal court struck down the Texas statutes, and rulings are pending in other states.
"We've seen this before," said Turner, former president of the Memphis-branch NAACP. "We know how to organize, and we know how to fight voter suppression. We won't be deterred by the new poll tax. A vote-less people are a hopeless people. We will converge on the polls in early voting and on Election Day like never before. We have an answer for these right-wing conservatives. I promise you they will hear us."
Gray called the move in Memphis and Shelby County a "Voter Mobilization."
"Voter suppression and voter fraud are two heads of the same monster," said Gray. "We are organizing and preparing to not just register to vote, but this is 'Voter Mobilization.' These efforts to repeal the Voter Rights Act of 1965 will not stand. Whether the federal courts strike these new laws down in Tennessee does not matter. We are not waiting for the courts."
Every vote and voice counts, said Gray.
"They will not steal this election from us. We will get out the vote....We will exceed the 2008 turnout."
NOTE: Those who need to register, secure a photo ID, check their voting status, and/or are in need of transportation to the polls, should call New Sardis Baptist Church at 901-754-3979, or Mt. Vernon Baptist Church at 901-785-1612.
Volunteers who want to help with voter registration and transportation may call the Memphis-branch NAACP at 901-521-1343.