The People's Choice
High school principal Van Phillips won't let his students graduate until they master the four R's: reading, writing, 'rithmetic—and registering. "I got firmer over the years, until I made the statement publicly: 'If you are not a registered voter, you will very likely not receive a diploma,' " says Phillips, 44, of Minor High School in Birmingham, Ala. A father of two who became active in getting out the vote while in college at Kentucky State University, Phillips realized when he began doing voter registration work in the mid-'80s that people between the ages of 18 and 30 form a large potential voting bloc in America, yet fewer than half of those people generally vote. Since 1984 hundreds of Phillips's students have signed up at their principal's urging. "I told them a lot of people died for you to have the right to vote," he says. "By getting us to vote, he is making us better citizens," says Whitney McNeil, 18, president of the class of 2004, "and that means he is doing his job."
Teresa Van Deusen
When it comes to voting, Teresa Van Deusen advocates promiscuity. "A Voter Virgin is one who is qualified to vote but has not yet exercised the right to do so," says Van Deusen, a 39-year-old single mom who took some money from an insurance payout, backed it with about $90,000 in donations from friends and started up a hip, nonpartisan Web site. "I've always had a hard time understanding why people don't vote," she says.VoterVirgin.com, the organization she founded, hopes to change that situation. Already the group has contributed to efforts to register more than 100,000 people. Van Deusen grew up having her say on a commune outside Cincinnati. "We'd have house meetings and decide things together. It was really cool. They gave the kids a voice in everything." She later worked as a waitress and now lives in Austin, Texas, with daughters Abby, 16, and Nika, 11. "Voter registration is a dry process. It's the chips on the table," says Van Deusen, who works 40 to 50 hours a week on her cause. "VoterVirgin is the salsa on the chips."
It was the music that made her do it. After graduating from Georgia's Wesleyan College last year, Rachel Garcia confronted the usual "What next?" dilemma. "I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do," she says. But after hearing a band's appeals to vote in her hometown of Atlanta, she got a clue. A year later Garcia, 23, has crisscrossed New Mexico, Arizona and five other western states, putting 38,000 miles on her SUV working for ActiVote, a nonpartisan, privately funded organization. Sustained by road food on her way to campuses, gun shows and rodeos, she has racked up 5,000 potential new voters. "A lot of people say they want to do nonpartisan work," says Garcia, who plans to be in grad school this time next year, "but unless you're willing to register someone who's totally different from you and say thank you, you're not."
Rick Scarborough and David Nelson
When Rick Scarborough was a traveling evangelist in the 1980s, he gave sermons that chastised citizens who leave all the work to others. "Christians must be involved in changing the culture," says Scarborough, 54, the former pastor of the 2,500-member First Baptist Church, in Pearland, Texas, outside Houston. In 1998, Scarborough began networking with other members of the clergy to set up Vision America, a conservative group that registers voters in churches (which is legal, although clergy members of most denominations don't endorse candidates). Scarborough has signed up 3,000 participating "patriot pastors" nationwide, including lifelong Democrat David Nelson of Smith Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Tatum, Texas, who expected Scarborough's rallies to consist of "a bunch of Republicans sitting around, talking about their money." Instead, says Nelson, he began asking himself, "Why aren't you doing something?" Now a Vision America supporter who has registered dozens of voters, says Nelson, "I was inspired. It was like being on a football field, dressed out, and at kickoff time, I wanted in the game."
Written by Kyle Smith. Reported by Darla Atlas in Dallas, Inez Russell in Albuquerque and Nancy Wilstach in Birmingham
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