My parents live in the swing state of Pennsylvania, and have a bumper sticker on their car that says “Let People Vote.” It seems like a ridiculously simple thing to have to advocate for, in this country of all places. Yet, in 2012 we find ourselves in a nightmarish time machine where voting rights in America are under attack in a way they haven’t been for decades.
This morning I went to a panel on Protecting Voting Rights 2012, put on by the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. To say that it was an all-star panel would be selling it short. Congressmen Steny Hoyer and John Lewis, Donna Brazile, America Ferrera representing Voto Latino, Arlene Holt Baker from the AFL-CIO, Ben Jealous of the NAACP, Heather Smith from Rock The Vote, my friend Judith Browne-Dianis from The Advancement Project (Judith is fantastic, and is on the Board of Directors of an organization I used to be the Executive Director of – FairTest), and Bob Bauer and Courtney Wheeler from the voter protection operation at OFA.
It was energizing, scary, sobering, and clarifying. The scope of the voter suppression schemes that are being conceived of and in some cases implemented across this country is unfathomable. It became evident quite quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to do this topic or this group of people justice if I tried to summarize what they were talking about, so I started to scribble notes on my program in the hope that I could just quote them instead.
This is my best shot:
- We have a “civic crisis in our country.”
- “84% of students in Pennsylvania don’t have the ID required for them to vote.”
- “Every single person who is going to be at a polling place needs to take responsibility for the rights of our community.”
- “They don’t care. They are brazen …. Our voting rights are the true issue for our democracy, and what we’re about as a country.”
- “These laws will be around for a while. They change the rules.”
- “The margin of victory in 2008 in Pennsylvania was less than the number of people who don’t have IDs in that state.”
- “I have never seen anything like this in my life … thought these days were done.”
- “2012 is the nightmare we never expected to see.”
- “We have a President who was asked to show his papers. We now have an entire electorate being asked to show their papers.”
- “I lay awake thinking about this going to the John Roberts Supreme Court.”
I’m leaving a ton of things out – because there was so much to absorb, because I couldn’t write fast enough, and because I can’t read a lot of my own writing – but trust me when I tell you it was powerful. Congressman Steny Hoyer opened the session by pointing out that 25% of Americans – that’s 80 million people – don’t have a government issued ID. That pretty much says it all in terms of how huge of an issue this is.
A bunch of the speakers hammered home that the Obama campaign has put together the most sophisticated and far reaching voter protection operation American politics has ever seen. There is a website to sign up if you want to get involved, or to help answer any questions: www.gottavote.org