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My union buddy W.C. Young would be proud to see the budding voter registration drive in Ferguson, Missouri.

voter registration drive

I treasure one of his “Vote Baby Vote!” buttons. He had them made as a takeoff on “Burn Baby Burn!” from the Watts riot of 1965.

An African American from Paducah, Kentucky, Young was a national AFL-CIO and civil rights leader.

Voter participation in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, was just 12 percent in the most recent election, MSNBC’s Steve Benen recently wrote. “We’re trying to make young people understand that [voting]…is how to change things,’” he quoted a voter drive volunteer.

Ferguson is 67 percent African American. The mayor and five of the community’s half dozen city council members are white. The police department is 94 percent white.

Benen also quoted the Rev. Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC’s “Politics Nation With Al Sharpton,” who urged the crowd at a Sunday church service, “You all have got to start voting and showing up. 12% turnout is an insult to your children.”

Meanwhile, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial has challenged, “Ferguson is our nation’s wakeup call that Judge Roberts and his head-in-the-sand Supreme Court majority not only got the law wrong last year in the Shelby County v. Holder case about the Voting Rights Act, but that they are dangerously out of touch about the challenges that continue to face African-Americans in a political structure still stacked against them.”

Some GOP conservatives don’t like the idea of unstacking by encouraging people to vote. “Republicans are criticizing efforts by liberal organizers to set up voter registration booths at the site where Missouri teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a local police officer,” Benen quoted the right-wing website Breitbart.com.

Missouri GOP executive director Matt Wills was particularly vexed, according to Benen. Wills said registering people to vote was “fanning the political flames” and was “not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.”

The Post-Dispatch editorial also mentioned Wills and asked readers to pause and ponder the meaning of his words: “The director of the state political party that controls the Missouri Legislature by veto-proof margins doesn’t believe that the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer, and the following 11 days of nonstop protest, have anything to do with race.”

At least Wills is consistent. He and Republicans also insist their voter ID laws aren’t race-based.

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The editorial writer is on to that GOP obfuscation, too. “Here in Missouri, Republicans have been trying for several years to diminish that right [to vote] by passing unnecessary voter ID laws. Thankfully, the courts have stood in the way. But it doesn’t take much parsing of words to understand the dynamic that is at play.”

Indeed. The Republicans’ bogus claim that their voter laws are aimed at stopping “voter fraud” reminds me of the old white supremacist Southern Democrats who vowed that their blatantly racist Jim Crow voter suppression and segregation laws were based on “states’ rights.”

In any event, the editorial found Wills’ opinion “a strange characterization of a peaceful attempt to help people exercise their constitutional rights.”

The Post-Dispatch editorial added: “It’s become clear…that many in Ferguson feel powerless and alienated in their own community. It’s led to a disengagement in public affairs, as evidenced by 12% voter turnout, and a powder-keg of frustration.

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“But some in the community have decided that this crisis can also be a wake-up call – those who want to make a meaningful difference have to overcome cynicism and complacency when it comes to civic affairs. Indeed, for all the anger that’s evident in this St. Louis suburb, some have decided to tell their friends and neighbors that it’s time to direct their frustrations into positive, constructive action.

“And that starts with getting registered to vote.”

W.C. Young, who died in 1996 at age 77, doubtless would have offered up a Baptist “amen” to the editorial and to Benen’s commentary. I’ll summon a Presbyterian one.

W.C. was a union-card carrying Democrat who didn’t duck the liberal label. So am I.

But I’m glad, and W.C. would have been equally pleased, that Wills has at least one detractor in the Missouri GOP.

Berry Craig

"I have no problem (with) protesters, or anyone, getting registered to vote," state Sen. Ryan Silvey of Kansas City tweeted. “How do we keep our (government) accountable if not by ballot?"

Berry Craig