Getting out the vote, 50 years and counting
Fannie Conner will travel anywhere in the Big Apple to get people to register and vote. During her 50 years as a member of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York, and armed only with a shopping bag full of voting materials, she’s gone to prison halfway houses, city high schools, neighborhood public libraries and Manhattan skyscrapers in her quest to get every last eligible New Yorker to exercise this most fundamental rite of American citizenship. To her, there are no ifs, ands or buts about the importance of everyone voting, regardless of where they live, who they are, or which candidate they support. Her message, even for those who have already grown weary of the 2012 campaign, is simple.
“Every vote counts!”
Born, bred and still living in the borough of Brooklyn, Conner worked for the New York City Department of Social Services for 30 years. Divorced, she has numerous nieces and nephews. “We discuss African-American history a lot in our family,” she adds with a smile.
One of her most vivid memories is her neighbors’ reaction when the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team beat their arch rivals, the New York Yankees, in the 1955 World Series. She wishes she could see the same energy in today’s voters.
“Everyone was so excited when they won. Wouldn’t it be terrific if people could get that enthusiastic about voting and participating in government, to be actively engaged,” she continues with passion, ”contacting their representative, contributing to people they think should be elected.”
The current chair of the New York City League’s Voter Services Committee, she notes that as women entered the workforce in large numbers, membership in the League declined, but adds that there is a new contingent of young women joining the League. She has also noticed a distinct change in people’s attitudes not only about voting but also about civic responsibility.
“I would say that there’s more apathy,” she says one recent afternoon in the League’s headquarters. “People don’t really feel they can make a difference. They think that only a few people are listening. The country seems to go from when people seemed concerned about the welfare of others, about caring about everybody, to now when except for Occupy Wall Street people seem interested in their own agenda.”
The committee, now that the deadline to register to vote has passed in New York State, is currently working to encourage all eligible New Yorkers, regardless of political affiliation, to vote in the November election. They are also working to provide accurate, non-partisan voting information to everyone. At one recent meeting, they discussed what steps they would take to counter-act an anonymous flyer with misleading voting information which was found in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, a heavily minority district. It was decided that Conner would try to get the correct voting information into a local newspaper. Although admitting that the flyer made her “suspicious,” she also said the incorrect information, such as the phone number for New York City’s Board of Elections, could have been a mistake
Conner’s leadership is crucial to the group’s success, says Mary Jenkins, Vice President of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York.
“Fannie Conner's voter registration training sessions and get out the vote (GOTV) strategy meetings have been lively and well attended. She has had a consistent presence in the New York City League and has worked tirelessly encouraging members to get involved with our mission.”
“Fannie Conner epitomizes what it means to be a New York City League member,” adds Ashton Stewart, the group’s executive director.
"Her passion and dedication to the League is galvanizing," he continues. “She has been relentless in her efforts to teach organization leaders and members of our community how to register voters. She has traveled to dozens of locations throughout the five Boroughs this year alone in order to make sure New Yorkers are informed and registered before the November 6th election.”
One recent night Conner and the League’s Administrative Assistant Crystal Vendrell supervised a voter information table at a United Nations’ women’s group meeting in a Soho office building. A recent college graduate, Vendrell joined the League’s staff over the summer. Conner has just come from trying to register young adults at the Aspirations Diploma Plus High School, located on the border of the East New York section of Brooklyn, another heavily minority district.
In between answering questions and explaining the literature to the table’s visitors, Conner talked about the high school students she met that day.
“There was just one young lady who was very vocal and she said, she didn’t know ‘anything about these people, so ‘one vote doesn’t matter,’” Conner recounted.
“It does matter. Elected officials like to see large numbers—each vote is important but she was not to be convinced.”
Conner packs up the literature in her tote bag and heads out into an early fall New York City evening. She walks toward the subway and despite her conversations with the high school students, her enthusiasm and belief in the League’s mission of getting everyone to vote remains undiminished. “She is,’ Stewart says, “a great mentor and an inspiration to us all.”
Asked what message she would like to give to readers, her answer is simple and direct.
“I’d like all of those persons who are registered to be sure to get out and vote on Election Day, Tuesday, November 6th.”
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