Wednesday, September 14, 2011

...This is Required Reading...

A few years ago I was reviewing The Roots “Rising Down” CD for the first time when I heard the song, Criminal, and felt inspired. I stopped everything to devote the time to writing a short play about voting.

Incredible illustration by Victor Juhasz
The main character has to travel a long way by foot, bus, and subway to reach her voting site. On the way she encounters and assists other voters meeting their own challenges including a disabled person arriving onsite to discover there is no wheelchair access, a student being asked for several pieces of ID including a drop of blood, a young mother being asked to sign over her infant, and an older gentleman with one hand in the process of having the other sawed off in order to cast his ballot. It becomes clear to her that casting her own vote is going to be no easy task so she takes a very specific action to ensure her voice is heard.

My mother was nearly impressed. Yes, I know, Mom doesn’t like anything I write so I’m as surprised as you are. She liked the idea in general but thought it was a bit melodramatic for the time. “This reads like you were around in the 60s.”

No, Mom, as it turns out, it reads like some time next year.

The September 15, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone features an Ari Berman article detailing activities of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), founded by Paul Weyrich and  funded in part by the Koch brothers (multibillionaires who financially support the Tea Party) that could make it incredibly difficult for you to vote if you are a student, a senior, a minority, an immigrant, or an ex-convict.

These laws could SEVERELY RESTRICT your “right” to vote.

Unfortunately the article doesn’t much detail what can be done to stop what’s happening, but knowledge is power and awareness is a beginning. And as of right now, you do still retain some of your rights.

When election time rolls around, make sure you make your way to the polls. Show up for the primaries. Show up for those little “insignificant” ballot items that you think have nothing to do with anything you’re interested in. It is all significant.

Make sure you are registered well before the deadline. Know exactly where your polling location is and have a couple different ways and means to get there. Have more ID than you think you need and arrive early. Eat breakfast before you go. Have a snack (I take a baggie of pretzels or vanilla wafers in my purse) and a bottle of water with you when you get there. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes and dress in layers. Don’t be discouraged by long lines or rude poll workers.

And stay informed. Keep up with what’s going on in your area. Sign up at sites like (only an email and zip code are required) to get notices on how your area representatives are voting.

I have some highlights from the Rolling Stone article below, but the full story is on newsstands now (George Harrison/Aziz Ansari cover) and also available for free at the Rolling Stone website here: . You can use the magnifying glass in the lower left corner to zoom in to read.

Article highlights
  • Paul Weyrich told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980: I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage goes up as the voting populace goes down. 
  • Thirty eight states have introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process; A dozen of those states have approved and implemented these new obstacles (Kansas, Alabama, Florida, Texas, Maine, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, Iowa, South Carolina, and Wisconsin).
  • Bill Clinton compares these measures to the voting tax and Jim Crow laws
  • These new laws are being passed on the guise of preventing voter fraud. (Be leery of any legislation that addresses this. And keep an eye on activity involving Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach or anyone applauding his efforts to stop “voter fraud”)
  • Six states have introduced legislation imposing restrictions on voter registration drives run by groups like Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters including unreasonable deadlines and extensive paperwork. Failure to meet these demands can result in fines exceeding $1,000 and felony prosecution.
  • The passing of this law in Florida lead the League of Women Voters to announce it was discontinuing voter registration efforts after 70 years of doing so. The law took effect one day after it passed under an “emergency statute designed for ‘an immediate danger to the public health, safety, or welfare.’” (So in a way, they acknowledge that your vote is dangerous.)
  • Florida and Ohio have dramatically curtailed early voting. No surprise since 30% of those who voted early in 2008 voted Democrat
  • Florida and Ohio have also done way with voting the Sunday before an election, the time traditionally used by black churches to mobilize their members for voting.
  • A number of states have changed requirements regarding photo ID. Texas will accept a concealed gun permit but not a student ID. And in Wisconsin the law is so restrictive a potential 242,000 students will not have access to the “proper” photo ID. Some states have even gone so far as to close Department of Motor Vehicle locations in urban areas and open them miles away in more conservative districts. In South Carolina the law could require the purchase of a birth certificate or passport eliminating many older black residents born at home (and without the issuance of a birth certificate.) Votes eliminated by this initiative: 178,000.
  • Gov Rick Scott of Florida overturned his predecessor’s decision resulting in the denial of voter rights to individuals previously convicted of nonviolent offenses. Number of voters affected: 97,491 ex-felons and another 1.1 million nearing their sentence end/release dates; mostly black and Hispanic. Iowa has a similar law that will eliminate 100,000 voters (not a surprise in a state that has denied nearly a third of its black residents the right to vote with arbitrary rules

Here are a few sites I’ve visited before to keep up with what’s going on during elections.
God speed. These people mean business. But voting is the equalizer. Do your part.

The Roots f/ Truck North and Saigon “Criminal”

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