Right-wing media are parroting local Republican officials and criticizing voter registration drives in Ferguson, Missouri, the site of intense protests after the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. Voting rights advocates argue that registering the electorate is crucial for the community to hold their government accountable, but right-wing media condemn these efforts as "liberal activism."
Right-Wing Media Dismayed That Ferguson Residents Are Encouraged To Participate In The Political Process
Breitbart: "Liberal Activists" Are Promoting Voter Registration Drives That Local GOP Calls "Disgusting." On August 18, Breitbart quoted the Missouri Republican National Committee executive director who attacked the registration effort as "completely inappropriate" and characterized voting rights advocates' calls for Ferguson residents to "get on the juries, choose your leaders" as "liberal activism":
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.
Reports of the voter registration tables have been reported via liberal activists on social media.
"In front of the makeshift memorial where Mike Brown was killed, they've set up a voter registration table," tweeted Jessica Lee, a Human rights attorney at the Center For Constitutional Rights wrote on Twitter.
In an interview with Breitbart News, Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills expressed outrage about the reports.
"If that's not fanning the political flames, I don't know what is," Wills said, "I think it's not only disgusting but completely inappropriate." [Breitbart.com, 8/18/14]
Fox News: Voter Registration Booths In Ferguson Show That "Protestors Aren't Out There For Free Speech." On the August 21 edition of Fox & Friends, host Anna Kooiman complained that Ferguson residents protesting the fatal shooting "aren't out there for freedom of speech. They're out there to push their side." Co-host Clayton Morris responded, "Setting up a voter registration booth? Yeah, you think?":
[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/21/14]
Rush Limbaugh: Registering Voters In The Wake Of Michael Brown's Death "Encompasses Everything That The Democratic Party Is." On his August 19 radio show, Limbaugh also criticized the Ferguson voter registration drive, and condemned Democrats for "try[ing] to ramp up black turnout" by exploiting Brown's death:
The Democrats are using Ferguson, Missouri, to try to ramp up black turnout for the midterms. They're trying to paint a picture that this is what America has always been, and that's the myth that I spoke of yesterday. The myth is that this happens all the time. The myth is that young, innocent blacks are gunned down by white police departments every day in this country. Of course, that isn't true. It's far from true. It's nowhere near true!
The Democrat Party, with their willing accomplices in the Drive-By Media, are doing their best to take this singular event and make it appear to be part of a normal, common series of occurrences that happen in this country. They have always, always intended to play the race card in one way, shape, manner, or form for turnout in the November midterm election. Here comes this event, and it is made to order.
[The Department of Justice] wanted 'em really mad out there, they wanted 'em to really think there was some conspiracy. They wanted them really thinking -- the protestors. They wanted 'em really thinking they weren't being told everything. And then when they were told everything, then the conspiracy doubled and tripled 'cause they thought they were being lied to. In case you have any doubts about any of this, there are now photos of a Democrat voter registration tent that has been set up in Ferguson.
The death of Michael Brown is being used to register Democrats in Ferguson, Missouri, practically right next to the memorial for the kid. So this thing, it encompasses everything that the Democrat Party is. Everything. A voter-registration booth next to his memorial! On top of that, we've got the Justice Brothers. That would be the Reverend Jackson and Al Sharpton. They are now conducting voter registration drives in churches and fast food joints in Ferguson. [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 8/19/14]
Daily Caller: Voter Registration Booths Are A "Coordinated Left-Wing Push." The Daily Caller linked the voter registration drives to George Soros, and called these efforts a "coordinated left-wing push" promoted by "liberal activists":
Jesse Jackson and other liberal activists are rolling out voter registration efforts as part of a coordinated left-wing push to sign up voters during the wave of violent protests engulfing Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting.
Racial activist and former Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson met with St. Louis clergy Monday to plan a formal Ferguson voter registration drive.
"Five thousand new voters will transform the city from top to bottom" Jackson explained during a stop at a Ferguson McDonald's, where he discussed voter registration with local denizens.
Liberal activists -- including from the George Soros-funded Center for Constitutional Rights -- have promoted voter registration booths at multiple locations in Ferguson, including at the roadside memorial marking the spot where Brown was shot. [DailyCaller.com, 8/19/14]
Voting Rights Advocates Are Encouraging Registration Because Ferguson Turnout Is Low, Alienating Residents Of Color
Ferguson Residents: "We're Tired Of Being Bullied ... The Only Way We're Going To Change It Is To Vote." As Bloomberg News reported, the death of Michael Brown has mobilized residents and voting rights advocates to become more involved in an effort to bring about substantive change in the community:
The motto of the effort by the St. Louis County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: "Mike Brown can't vote, but I can."
The Aug. 9 killing of 18-year-old Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson led to protests and civil unrest while becoming a symbol of racial inequality and heavy-handed police tactics. The city of 21,000 is almost 70 percent black, yet only one councilman and three of 53 police officers are black. In Ferguson, as in other U.S. communities where civic participation is low, the events surrounding Brown's shooting show that change starts with people understanding why they must be involved, said John Gaskin III of the St. Louis County NAACP.
"This has been a real wake-up call to many, because many didn't even know who the mayor was," Gaskin, a NAACP national board member, said in a telephone interview. "But I bet you they know who he is now."
While less than 1 percent of the city's population was black in 1970, that number increased to 25 percent in 1990 and more the doubled to 67 percent in 2010, Census data show.
Lakresha Moore, a 34-year-old mother and student who lives in Ferguson, said she hopes the killing of Brown will provoke the city's black population to vote and run for public office.
"We're tired of being bullied," Moore said in an interview in Ferguson. "This whole system is ridiculous, and the only way we're going to change it is to vote."
The system can change, said Wanda Fairley, one of four blacks on the six-member board of aldermen in the St. Louis County suburb of Vinita Park, a community of 1,900 that's about 65 percent black.
Fairley, 60, won her first try at elective office in 2009, defeating a white incumbent, she said. The town's first black mayor won office in 2010.
"You've got to vote," Fairley said. "You've got to go to the meetings. You've got to be heard." [Bloomberg News, 8/20/14]
New York Times: Turnout Was Just 12 Percent In The Last Mayoral Election. According to the New York Times, the low turnout has resulted in an imbalance in the power structure in Ferguson -- although the city is majority African-American, most elected officials and police officers are white:
These days, Ferguson is like many of the suburbs around St. Louis, inner-ring towns that accommodated white flight decades ago but that are now largely black. And yet they retain a white power structure.
Although about two-thirds of Ferguson residents are black, its mayor and five of its six City Council members are white. Only three of the town's 53 police officers are black.
Turnout for local elections in Ferguson has been poor. The mayor, James W. Knowles III, noted his disappointment with the turnout -- about 12 percent -- in the most recent mayoral election during a City Council meeting in April. Patricia Bynes, a black woman who is the Democratic committeewoman for the Ferguson area, said the lack of black involvement in local government was partly the result of the black population's being more transient in small municipalities and less attached to them.
There is also some frustration among blacks who say town government is not attuned to their concerns.
Aliyah Woods, 45, once petitioned Ferguson officials for a sign that would warn drivers that a deaf family lived on that block. But the sign never came. "You get tired," she said. "You keep asking, you keep asking. Nothing gets done."
This year, community members voiced anger after the all-white, seven-member school board for the Ferguson-Florissant district pushed aside its black superintendent for unrevealed reasons. That spurred several blacks to run for three board positions up for election, but only one won a seat. [The New York Times, 8/16/14]
Voter Rights Advocates Are Encouraging Ferguson Residents To Vote, Not Vote Democratic
NYT's Taking Note: The Voting Rights Address Right-Wing Media Attacked "Did Not Say That The Residents Of Ferguson Should Vote For Democrats." Juliet Lapidos, editor of The New York Times' editorial blog, noted that the Rev. Al Sharpton comments on low voter turnout that right-wing media attacked were not partisan, but instead urged citizens to "vote, full stop":
In case you're wondering, Mr. Sharpton did not say that the residents of Ferguson should vote for Democrats; he said they should vote, full stop. He didn't even mention the ideological composition of the area's governing bodies; though he did mention their racial composition (lopsidedly white in a majority black community). And of course the residents of Ferguson, once registered, will have the ability to vote for anyone they please -- not just Democrats.
Isn't it telling that both Mr. Wills and Mr. McLaughlin make no distinction between voter registration and Democratic registration? Mr. Sharpton, a Democrat, may well assume the same, and that's telling, too.
Both sides here seem to think that enlarging the franchise is good for Democrats and that, conversely, keeping it small is good for Republicans -- a dynamic that also exists at the national level. Republicans try to make voting more difficult to vote, by passing voter ID laws, and Democrats resist these changes, confident that high turnout is better for liberals. [The New York Times, 8/19/14]
New Republic: "Residents Can't Change" Systemic Underrepresentation In Ferguson Government Unless There "Is A High Level Of Participation In The Democratic Process." Brian Beutler of the New Republic explained that an effort to discredit voter registration drives in Ferguson "reveal[s] a preference for the existing power imbalance" in the city:
In reality, the city of Ferguson is overwhelmingly black, while its police and politicians are overwhelmingly white. The friction between the black community and the white leadership predates Michael Brown's shooting. But even if it didn't, it's hard to look back at what's happened over the past week and a half and conclude that the majority of the city has been well served by its elected officials and public servants. Residents can't change that dynamic without at least making the latter fear for their jobs, though, and a predicate to that is a high level of participation in the democratic process. Until now, black residents of Ferguson weren't deeply engaged in that process. Thus: voter registration.
So the argument against voter registration in Ferguson fails the most immediate, relevant, local test. But notice that in the previous three paragraphs I didn't write any of the following words: Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, Barack, Obama, Hillary, Clinton, McCaskill, Blunt, Nixon, Obamacare, taxes, welfare. It's very hard to draw a line connecting voter registration in Ferguson to unrelated statewide and national campaigns and policy debates. Ferguson is a small city in a conservative state. The idea that the Missouri GOP has a great deal to lose if Ferguson residents become more engaged is a big stretch.
Which is to say that even cynical, deracialized arguments against the registration drive don't withstand scrutiny. It only poses a risk to the Missouri GOP, and perhaps the national party, if it snowballs. Preventing that is the only way to make sense of the conservative pearl clutching without reference to race.
But whether you believe the registration drive is a direct response to events in Ferguson or rank liberal opportunism, the idea that registering black voters there is illegitimate or "disgusting," particularly under these circumstances, does reveal a preference for the existing power imbalance -- either on the merits, or because it's a price worth imposing on others to stifle minority participation in the political process. And on that abstract level it's an idea that shares a lot in common with actions that have intensified civil unrest in Ferguson for nearly a week. [The New Republic, 8/20/14]