Pastor Frederick Douglass Haynes marches across the stage of Friendship Baptist Church, a mega-congregation of 12,000 people here. It’s Oct. 26, the penultimate Sunday before the 2014 midterm elections. “This is Freedom Sunday!” Haynes shouts into a microphone, drawing out each word. The sound system plays “Jesus Walks,” an upbeat anthem by rapper Kanye West that samples “Walk With Me,” a gospel classic. The choir, about 50 teenagers clad in black t-shirts, sways. Haynes has promised a briefing on the church’s new political program, but he doesn’t say much about the candidates. His largest applause lines are about the right to vote itself. “There’s a shameful, sinful attempt to suppress the vote,” he says, criticizing Texas for “one of the most suppressive Voter ID laws in the nation.”
At one point in the service, the lights dim and Haynes appears on two giant screens at the front of the church, speaking into a camera as he drives to the polls. “I’m voting because Jimmie Lee Jackson never got to vote,” Haynes says, “He tried, and he got killed!” Heads are nodding in the pews. Haynes names others who sacrificed in the civil rights struggle – black and white, Southern and Northern – and reaches his crescendo.
“The least I can do is get in my car and drive to vote,” he intones, adding, “I got my ID ready – because you know they don’t want us to vote.”
With early voting now underway and with one of the most pivotal legal challenges to voter ID in the nation, Texas is ground zero in the voting wars.