Obama supporter starts voter registration effort

Remember Lydia Thomas? KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde introduced us to her this summer, right before she left for Denver. Thomas and her two sisters-in-law weren't delegates, they didn't even have tickets to Barack Obama's speech in Invesco Field. But they wanted to participate in an election year when an African American was a major party nominee for President. Kitty caught up with Thomas to talk about her latest political passion: registering new voters.

Kitty Felde: If anything, Lydia Thomas's enthusiasm for the political process has only grown since the Democratic National Convention.

Lydia Thomas: I made it my duty, and I've just made this commitment, to just engage people in talking about elections. And so I wear my Barack Obama shirt, or a hat, or something, and that'll usually start a conversation. So I ask people if they're registered to vote. And it doesn't matter what race they are, or how old they are, I just ask them.

And I went to the post office. I have a stack of voter registration forms in my car, so I keep them with me. And so I'll give them to the people, tell them how easy it is to register, and how important it is to participate in the process.

And especially for black people, it's critical, because 8 million black folks are not registered to vote, and we're only about 23 million of the population, so that's about a third. And then for people that have had felony records and what not, some of them think that they cannot vote at all, and that is not true, because they can have their voting rights reinstated, and it's important for people to have that information as well.

Felde: Well, tell me about a typical conversation you've had with somebody.

Thomas: Well, generally I'll just, like, a positive one is just asking somebody, are you registered to vote, and they'll say yes, and how excited they are, and then they'll just kind of nod and walk away. Now, I've only had, fortunately, two negative conversations, and both of them were with young women under 30.

And this one woman, I was asking her, this was at a checkout counter, asking her if she was registered to vote, and she said no, I've never voted, and I never will, never intend to. And I said well, why? And she said because nothing's ever going to change. And I said, do you understand that there are people who are really counting on that particular point of view, and as long as you hold that, things won't change. But this is an era of change, and you can be part of the process.

So she totally blew me off. I was so disturbed by that conversation, that's when I went the first time to the post office to get voter registration forms. Went back, waited 'til she had no customers, and then I, she said " Oh, are you back again?" I said "yeah, I certainly am." And I said, "You know what, I was just really disturbed by what you told me. And I just wanted to give you a form, just to tell you how easy it is." She said, "I told you, I'm not going to vote. I'm not doing it."

So I just said, well, let me leave this situation because there are plenty of other people who are willing to participate. But it was sad, and it just stayed with me for a good part of the day. You know, very sad. And I think too many young people do not know our history. Absolutely do not know our history, do not know what people did to get the right to vote.

I remember being a young child in elementary school, and my parents would call us into the den, and we would watch television to watch the civil rights movement and to see people getting hosed, and bitten by dogs, and they would explain to us what was going on. I never forgot that. And I think, you know, as old as I am now, I think I've only missed only one election, and I forgot what the reason was for that, but I just make it a point to vote in every single election. I think it's critical.

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