In a speech — both fiery and sobering — the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, sought to remind county residents of the importance of voting while in Laurinburg this week.
Preaching from the pulpit and occasionally from the isle at Franklin Chapel AME Zion Church, the charismatic leader told the 75 or so in attendance that their participation at the polls was vital.
“This election is about the heart of this nation,” Barber said. “If the heart is in trouble, the whole nation is in trouble.”
Barber was in Scotland County as part of statewide tour to energize black voters with Election Day less than a week away and early voting already underway.
Barber used part of Monday’s speech to talk about the “curious, contorted and contentious” history of voting in the United States.
“In the founding documents poor white men couldn’t vote. Less than 16 percent of those of age could vote … It was an oligarchy,” said Barber.“And African Americans in the founding documents were considered a fraction. Three fifths.”
Barber said that is why he does not like compromise on matters of principal.
The Goldsboro minister also drew a parallel between the regressive period that followed Reconstruction and the actions of the modern Tea Party.
“The regressive forces (that sought to eliminate African American political participation around 1900) were the tea party of that day,” Barber said. “They said that it was too much of blacks and whites working together.
“They said back in 1872 that ‘We need to take back America’ and that ‘We need to redeem America. Then they began a coordinated plan to abridge the right to vote.”
By 1908, all of the work done to secure democratic participation for blacks was undone, Barber said.
“In 1920 almost zero blacks were voting.”
Barber said that the long and difficult civil rights movement and the decades of progression that followed led to the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 and to where we are today.
“Hands that once picked cotton can now pick presidents,” Barber said to cheers and applause.
In drawing similarities between Jim Crow and the modern voter ID law movement, Barber framed the right to vote as a hard-bought privilege that must be vigilantly protected.
“We want a broad and diverse electorate, but some people don’t want that because their narrow agenda can’t win with it.”
Barber, who once served as director of the state Human Relations Commission, said North Carolina same-day voting registration is among the most progressive in the United States.
Barber also urged those at the rally to consider where candidates stand regarding the poor, health care and educational opportunities. He also encouraged people to ask where candidates stand on issues related to voting rights.
Get out vote
Joshua Vincent, NAACP Get Out the Vote director for the state of North Carolina, followed Barber and invited attendees to participate in the NAACP’s election activities.
“Voter suppression happens, and if it does you should call,” Vincent said.
Vincent told attendees that if they see any questionable activity at the polls to report it by calling 1-866-OUR-VOTE or by visiting www.866ourvote.org, the site of a poll monitoring organization.
According to Vincent, the NAACP’s advanced get out the vote technology has targeted Precinct 1 in Scotland County for its most aggressive get-out-the-vote efforts.
“If we turn out that precinct, we can move the entire county,” Vincent said.
Following the evening’s festivities, Vincent signed up volunteers to work in a local phone bank tasked with turning out voters in the county.
Based on figures provided by the NAACP’s “Voter Activation Network,” approximately 2000 people in their system have not early voted yet in Precinct 1.
“This means that election day is probably going to be very big,” Vincent said.
Overt politicization is forbidden by the NAACP and Vincent said he was not campaigning for any one candidate.
“You ought to have enough sense to know who to vote for,” he said.