76 years old… Never voted….He’s voting this year.

Lew Frederick

76 years old… Never voted….He’s voting this year.

Perhaps the only unusual thing about this approach to the door was the fact that there was someone else already knocking on the door ahead of me. A well dressed woman, I’ll guess middle aged, got out of a mid-sized sedan just as we were leaving a note on the door of the house next door. She was clearly ready to go somewhere and had initially honked the horn to get the attention of someone inside the house. So as we walked towards the house she carefully walked up the stairs and knocked on the door. I followed her.
She was let in immediately by a somewhat gruff voice.
I quickly introduced myself and asked the man standing there if he was registered to vote at this address. He seemed stunned for a minute. Then he said, “No.”
I asked if he wanted to register to vote.
He hesitated a minute and then said, “Yes.”

I started to pull out my cards but Sue was well ahead of me with pen ready and registration card open.
I stepped back and listened to him give name, address, and phone number while I peered briefly through the door.
He had lived there a while. This was not a new address for him.
He wasn’t wealthy.
He seemed in good physical shape.
He didn’t appear to be abjectly poor.
The truck out in front was filled with what looked to be metal pieces ready for the recycling foundry.
The house was in good shape. Few things on the walls. Functional furniture.
He was dressing at the time and he had paid relatively close attention to that.
He initially asked if he should register at the woman’s address. Then decided that he would register there on 13th Avenue.
Sue asked for his age.
She asked if he had ever registered at another address.
Sue finished.
We thanked him.
I walked away stunned. It was his birth year that got me. 1928
Here was a man, a Black man in Portland Oregon, who had never registered to vote. I guess I expected that without the overt attacks on voting someone his age would have already registered at least once in his life.

But there was more. Here was a man, 76 years old, who might not have been registered had a number of things not occurred:
• Across the street were 4 women who greeted us warmly pointing out that they were working for ACT, a concerted and successful effort to register voters across the country. Clearly crews of people had walked down the street before.
• 130 canvassers, most of them 30 years younger than me, turned out today as part of a HipHop voter registration drive to get people in a Northeast section of Portland to register.
• The original list we had was just for the even side of the street but we took over from another canvasser mid way and went to doors on the other side.
• For me, a few quick decisions placed me on 13th Avenue despite earlier plans. I had originally planned to work at home on a number of projects that had been put on hold for weeks, not canvass.
• And we met him while he was dressing to go out. Another minute or two and he would have been too busy to talk with us or gone.

And I kept going back in time to the little old ladies in Lilburn, Missouri who my grandmother used to have me read to when I was 5-6 years old. One of them was always saying that I should, “Keep that up because one of these days you’ll be able to know who to vote for if you can read like that.” She and the others made it clear that they couldn’t read yet. Though my grandmother was teaching them.
Or the sandwich board if used to wear during marches in Atlanta that said, “One Man-One Vote” in an effort to pass the Voting Rights Act.
Or the parade of faces of people signing up to vote for the first time in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina after groups of students helped them get to the county elections office.
Or the deaths of college students and others who dared to bring the idea of voting to all people in the South and elsewhere.
Or the image brought to me by Bob Williams of the lines of people, walking for miles to sites outside their hometowns and waiting for days in line to get a chance to vote in the South African election after Nelson Mandela was released.

We heard from a lot of people today saying that this year voting was important to them. The concern and the determination were evident. It made you wonder how they would have responded 4 years ago. The younger people, the politically active, the three trustees coming out of Maranatha Church see November 2, 2004 as a pivotal time for a statement to be made. They thanked us for coming around in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. They stopped. Shook hands. They pointed out Portland connections and joked about needing help washing cars and working in the yard. But the attention did not wander… they will make a statement in November. The statements given to us, though we didn’t stress any partisan line, was that they are unhappy with the crowd in the White House and that they should be replaced. They plan to do that one vote at a time.

And there he was, a man just a few years younger than my parents, exercising his right to vote for the first time in his long life.

And I wondered whether the message of the importance of this election is what motivated him? He said that “jobs” was his main issue. He didn’t say much more. Most folks would be looking at retirement by age 76.

I’m not that persuasive. I didn’t say that much.

But something struck him as this being the day for him to step forward. I was glad to be there to witness it.

I just want to make sure he gets the ballot in when it arrives in October.

  • pdxkona (unverified)

    Something I think about, which you brought up, is many folks, especially of that generation, never learned to read. And are embarrassed or just over the idea of learning; so they don't interact with things that require such and many times won't ask for help either.

  • William Gillis (unverified)

    As an ACT canvasser I've gotten many of these in the last few months.

    Entire families that just never thought about voting.

    George Bush has changed that.

  • bill deiz (unverified)

    My oldest son made a decision this summer. Even though he will be too young to vote in this election--by exactly one month--he has been dedicating his weekends to the Bus Project, canvassing, registering voters in Eugene and Portland and points in between. And I'm proud of him and of all of those who realize that it means something to vote in this nation, and that the right to vote should never be taken for granted, even though many do. My son would gladly vote were he old enough...but instead of moping about it, he's out there trying to make a difference.

  • Sam Eureka! (unverified)

    I'm hoping that all these sleeper voters add up to more than just defeat for George Bush... I'm hoping for total humiliation. (defeat by a slim margin would be fine though) :-)


  • Greg Lund-Chaix (unverified)

    My god. That is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it and thank you for being out there doing what's right.

  • Karla (unverified)

    I too remember the faces of the ebony hued men and women of the mid-sixties as their smiles and weathered hands welcomed the 'hope' standing at the door, as they reached out on a spring afternoon for the colored egg printed with "Vote Bond", and as they considered our question as to whether they were registered to vote. Some answered immediatley, "Yes" or "No", and there were those who hesitated. Those answering yes we thanked and encouraged to vote for Julian Bond in his bid for the Georgia House of Representatives. They were informed that were they to need transportation to the polls, that would gladly be arranged.Those who were not registered were encouraged to. Many of the young ones had not taken the time to register, others had simply never thought about registering, or had not seen the importance of it. It was the men and women of some years who were of lasting memory for me. They shared their stories as to why they were not then registered and/or why they had never considered registering. For many of them those weathered hands and smooth, shiny ebony faces told the story without words. They had been through times which clearly could not afford them the luxury of voting, and/or times which WOULD not give them the priviledge of voting, regardless of what the law allowed. It was the eyes of the men, women, and even some of the young people who hesitated to answer our question regarding their registration status that is foremost in my memory. You see they had to consider before they could answer. They had to consider the time and the times before. They had to consider those who might be listening and watching from afar and those who might take action. And they had to consider those who might be affected if the step was taken to exercise this measure of freedom for an American citizen. Alot was at stake were they to walk out their door and journey step by step to the polling center, much as Miss Jane Pittman did to fulfill her 'thirst'. With each step there were painful memories, and yet resolve that the promise and hope that comes with freedom would be satisfied with their clearly defined choice. Forty years ago the importance of voting was impressed upon me by my parent's example, and closely following this was the idea that I must vote because so many before me had sacrificed to provide the opportunity. They were a part of the "village" I had never seen, and I am one who wants to be seen as "faithful" to those who will come after(Steve Green's song, Find Us Faithful). It was my pleasure to read of the gentleman in your story, and I hope his story is multiplied many times in the next few weeks. I pray his and many other's resolve is to take a look at the times before them and make a statement regarding where they think this country has been, is now, and the options for the direction as to where it could be going. Personally, I find little real hope in either party, and would not even consider any of the third party candidates. I will not take pleasure in voting this year, but will exercise my "right" only because of those who have gone before us and those who will come after. In these months leading up to the election I have and will continue to pray about my own vote and where we are headed as a country. I have much a stake- an example and future for our ten children. Thanks again, Lew.

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