As we close out the historic Presidency of America's first Black President, Barack Obama, it is important to review the trailblazers who made his election possible.
I got to sit down with Dr. Fergie Reid Sr. at his home in Maryland this past summer.
A little history of Dr. Reid, he organized and helped register African Americans in Virginia in the 1950's and 1960's. He was one of the first African Americans elected in the Virginia Legislature since Reconstruction.
More importantly, he helped organize for Doug Wilder, who also became an African American State Senator, and ultimately, the Nation's first Black Governor in Virginia in 1992.
Dr. Reid also served in the State department from 1980-1990 and then retired.
But as you'll see in his interview, while some of us might be resting mostly, if we are lucky to make it to 90, Dr. Reid has been busy helping get people involved in our Democracy.
Dr. Fergie on starting '90 for 90'
(I told my friends) Well, it's my 90th birthday, there are 2500 precincts in Virginia, If we could get 90 new voters in each precinct, we could 250,000 new voters - so (my friends) started 90 for 90 (www.90for90.org) They were also able to invite Progressive candidates to sign off on the website, and because of their exposure on 90 for 90, many are getting contributions outside of their jurisdiction.
On the importance of organizing from the bottom up, not the top down (hint to the DNC here)
Any time we find someone running for public office, we know unfortunately, throughout the United States, that the Democratic party is not interested in helping people that they don't think can win. We call them 'orphan' candidates because the party neglects them. We feel they are the ones that require our help, because many are 1st time candidates.
On the Supreme Court dismantling the Voting Rights act:
Question: A couple of years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary because racial bias had been overcome. What do you have to say to those Justices?
Answer: Once they made that decision, immediately we have reverted back to the Jim Crow days.
(In a lot of the Southern States?)
Not only the Southern States, the Northern ones too. They have all set up obstacles to voting.
Photo I.D. laws, making it more difficult for College Students to register, a lot of obstacles are now there. They opened the floodgates to the Jim Crow Days
What's interesting is hearing Dr. Reid talk about how quickly states moved to change laws to restrict voting after the Supreme Court ended the Voting Rights act.
And it's not just laws that restrict voting, it is actual harassment as documented below by the Young Turks:
According to the New York Times in Sparta Georgia, things are even worse:
"The majority white Hancock board of Elections and Registration was systematically questioning the registrations of more than 180 black Sparta citizens, a fifth of the City's registered voters, by dispatching deputies with summonses commanding them to appear in person to prove their residence or losing their voting rights"
Yes, some might read Dr. Reid's statement about a return to Jim Crow days and might think it is an exaggeration. But how would you feel if a deputy showed up at your door and said you had to appear before a judge to prove you could vote?
Last question for Dr. Reid:
On getting and staying involved:
Question: What would you say to a young African American person or person of Color anywhere in the country, maybe looking at what's happening with Black Lives Matter, what would you say to someone who might say, 'the system doesn't work, why get involved?'
Answer: There's a saying - it doesn't work if you don't work it.
I don't where you are, you can make a difference. You can be effective wherever you are. If you get involved then you are 'the people' that are the 'for' , 'by' and 'of' the people.
If Democracy is devised to survive, its going to take each one of us doing our part within the precinct we live in. A lot of elections are won by 10 votes... More and more elections are being decided by smaller and smaller numbers, so YOUR VOTE DOES COUNT!
You can sit on the sidelines and complain, but you can't bring about change unless you bring it about yourself.
It is inspiring to see all the candidates who have signed on to the 90 for 90 website (myself included) who believe the message that we must guard against barriers to civic participation and voting, and we are the one responsible for this Democracy's survival.
Thank you Dr. Reid Sr. for continuing this most important fight, even at the young age of 90!