Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Voter Suppression Makes Me Very, Very Mad

My latest rant is not about old boats or the pandemic. If you only want to read about tragic sailing escapades and tropical lanes decked with bougainvillea, or even life in quarantine, please stop reading and come back another time. Today, my bugaboo is politics.

I rarely cared about politics until the last five or six years. That's one of the reasons my first husband gave up on me: I yawned through his tirades and was bored with All Things Considered, the NPR radio show he listened to every afternoon. He campaigned for Eugene McCarthy. My M.O. was to turn on some rock 'n' roll, go dancing, have fun. Politics? Nah. 

A few years ago, however, my current life partner, Pope, educated me about the Koch brothers and their systematic efforts--backed by millions of dollars--to suppress votes, legislate in favor of billionaires, pack the courts, and otherwise dismantle democracy. Then I read a New York Times Magazine profile of Kris Kobach, an extreme anti-voting-rights, anti-immigration politician. I felt chills. I was incensed!

Since then, one of the Koch brothers died. Otherwise, the roster of right-wing radicals working hard to take away our rights to equality and "liberty and justice for all" has only grown.

For several years I had been observing other things I don't like: 
-Vicious Facebook comments, especially from acquaintances in Michigan, about "liberal" policies I liked (now expanded to mask policies).
-Confirmation that the violence during "protests" is often fueled by white supremacists. This started long before BLM, with the first inauguration protests-- remember?
-Public officials advocating violence instead of negotiation, reaching across the aisle, and the Golden Rule. 

At the 2016 and 2018 elections, I overcame my shyness enough to do phone banking and door-to-door canvassing for Democratic candidates, hoping for a firm stomp on the growing lawlessness. I wrote postcards to voters.

Since #45 got elected, my fears increased to the point of overload. I worry about the entire future of democracy. I started going to weekly protests in downtown DC--then stopped because I was afraid of a mass shooting. (My fears have been realized with the "crackdowns" in Washington, DC, Portland and Seattle--not crazies with machine guns, but equivalent.)

One of the things that upset me the most was learning about the widespread efforts to deny people the vote. This feels to me like a vicious attack on American principles -- not to mention Christian values -- and a return to 19th-century-levels of discrimination. (Susan B. Anthony, we need you now.)

Long after the controversial 2018 election was over, with thousands of absentee ballots uncounted, the battle to restore ethics and democracy in elections continued, thanks partly to the efforts of defeated Secretary of State candidate Stacey Abrams of Georgia. In fact, this battle had already been raging for many years. It's just that many of us first became aware of it after 2018. Techniques to influence outcomes have become a fine art. First came gerrymandering, then voter IDs, requiring fixed addresses, and closing polling places.

Now, the situation is more dire than ever: we regularly see headlines about voter suppression. We know that safely voting in person is not feasible, and right-wing radicals may succeed in essentially shutting down mail service. Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, the Texas and Missouri governors, and, yes, Kris Kobach have publicly opposed mail-in voting for months, despite the pandemic. Their opposition is shrouded in the false guise of avoiding "voter fraud." The president is uncharacteristically forthright, acknowledging that the real reason is that it could hurt Republicans' chances to get elected. McConnell is playing his usual "Follow the Leader" game, mimicking the president.

If, like me, you are concerned about voter suppression, regardless of the specific measures that might be employed, I invite you to join me in supporting the various movements to make America democratic again. That's democratic with a small "d," not the name of the political party. Every citizen should care about democracy. At a minimum, they should stay informed, research the candidates, and be allowed to vote without undue obstacles or harassment.

Here are a few suggestions for getting up to speed quickly on the subject of voter suppression.

Start with these articles that came out of Georgia just after the 2018 midterm election: What We Must Do Now and Stacey Abrams Says She Was Almost Blocked From Voting.

If you can spare 5 more minutes, search Google for other articles by Greg Palast, an investigative journalist who has been documenting voter suppression for several years. No need to read all the articles--just browse the terrible headlines! 

Third, if you haven't lost your job and can spare a few bucks, donate to one of the groups fighting back against the continuing, aggressive anti-voter measures by prominent politicians. Those groups didn't give up when the midterm recounts ended despite thousands of uncounted mail-in votes. Their lawsuits against public officials and institutions will drag on for years. In the time of a pandemic, their battles are exponentially more difficult.

The ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center seem to be the most prominent advocates for voting rights. Common Cause continues to litigate the election process in Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida, as does the League of Women Voters.

I have donated to Four Directions in North Dakota, which battled to provide new voter IDs to Native Americans when the law was changed to require street addresses instead of post office boxes--just before the 2018 midterms. It's also possible to donate to Greg Palast's operating fund as he continues to investigate underhanded tactics by the likes of Brian Kemp, Kris Kobach, and the surviving Koch Brother

Keep an eye on Stacey Abrams, who may provide clues about the steps needed in the coming months to counteract voter oppression, despite where she ends up politically.

I would rather spend my time on music, yoga, fitness, genealogy, maybe watching travel documentaries--anything at all except politics. Ugh. Unfortunately, though, my blinders have been removed, and my motivations have changed: now I think engaging in the election process is the most important activity in which every US citizen can engage. I see clearly that voter suppression is just one prong of a pitchfork being leveled at democracy. Any of us could get stabbed.

So I reluctantly admit that my worldview has changed and my focus must change with it. Having fun and enjoying life, even surviving a deadly virus, needs to move out of the way and make room for educating myself and engaging in politics.

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