Friday, October 28, 2011

The Most Important Issue Not Being Talked About

So many issues unfolding in front of us each day that they may overwhelm our ability to deeply consider them, much less to take action. And all are important, particularly as they intersect in the public world. But one I see so little about amongst all the "Your Voice, Your Vote" commentaries on political candidates, is all of those people who are daily losing their vote.

The Voting Rights bill of the 1960's finally permitted people of color who had been denied the vote since the inception of this nation, to vote. People worked so hard, organized, were beaten, went to jail and died so that all could vote. It never occurred to many of us that those rights might be legally taken back just a few decades later. This very year in dozens of states laws are being passed to insist on voter I.D. That all sounds innocent enough, perhaps even noble. I mean, who wouldn't want to prevent voter fraud? But the truth is that "voter fraud" is a bogeyman. One is more likely to be hit by lightning than to commit voter fraud. The Bush administration spent 5 years investigating voter fraud and convicted only 86 people among 196 million votes cast.

So why are all these states passing laws that will disenfranchise millions? Some estimate 5 million people who voted in 2008 will not be able to vote in 2012 and the number is climbing of those being disenfranchised. They are people who don't have a driver's license. That already targets the young, the old, the poor (who don't have a car), and those people living with disabilities.

Hear the story of the 90-some-year-old woman who has voted in every election except one when she was ill, since women were able to vote. More elections than almost any of the rest of us. She has been a faithful citizen, exercising her voice and vote in the public world. But in 2012 she will not be able to vote. She took all of her documentation including birth certificate, records of utility bills paid at her current address, etc. to the center where she was to go to obtain a new special I.D. card. But she didn't have her marriage license from decades ago which showed her change of name. No matter she has been a widow for years. She had a stellar voting record but now she was denied the right to vote next year.

Why would anyone want to deny this woman the vote? Why are people of color being denied I.D. cards for such technicalities at such great rate?(I'm not even commenting on the issue of the political party in power in various state legislatures.) It's my guess that it might be connected to what has been on the news since the 2010 census, that the "majority" whites population may someday become the minority. People fear the "other" and demographics are changing. The country feared what would happen if half the population, namely women, were "allowed" to vote. People feared "Negroes" being "given" the vote a hundred years after emancipation. In 2008 eligible Latino voters were 9.5% of the population (up from 8.2%); eligible African-American voters were ll.8% (up from ll.6%); eligible Asian-American voters were 3.4% (up from 3.3%); eligible White (non-Latino)voters were 73.4% (down from 75.2%) Looking at those figures, one should still ask, "What do white folks have to fear?" But fear has its own power.

There is nothing so fundamental to democracy than the right to vote. For citizens of voting age, voting is a right,not a privilege, not something a voter should need to prove again and again. If someone votes unlawfully, that is a crime which can be prosecuted. As a nation the price of freedom is leaving open the possibility some will break the law (but we have seen how small that number is) in order that we not deny millions their right to vote.

So, what can we, who have a driver's license and find voting easy, do? One, honor that right and use it. And, I might say, reflect on just how hard it might be for us to find all those "correct" documents, marriage license, etc, particularly when the list for some targeting people keeps changing and growing of what is needed.

Second, it means that as part of our vocation in the public world we need to aggressively scrutinize new laws or laws being proposed in our state legislatures that have the potential to disenfranchise people. If the laws are there, we can reach out to people within our faith communities and beyond..often the invisible ones...who may be disenfranchised without their even knowing it, or who have never had the means or transportation to register to vote. We can help them find documents, take them to register, advocate on their behalf.

Third, we can contact U.S. Attorney General Holder and say we want the Justice Department to be active on this issue. And we can...this may be most in our own states to overturn such laws or stop them from being enacted.

Fourth, we can put pressure on the media to make this a story, NOW. It will be too late when come next November, the day after the election, the news media finally, "surpringly" say, "There were millions who tried to vote and couldn't"

And, yes there are other very important issues in the news, and in our lives. Perhaps some who are reading this are participating in the "Occupy Wall Street" and "The 99%" protests. How do we grow protests into a movement?

And, there is the PBS series "Women, War and Peace" with two more episodes. Extraordinary and terribly important. Why do we need women's voices? Here's why.

And, and, and.....