POSTNOTE March 29: Heather Cox Richardson has an excellent commentary on voting rights in the U.S. It’s for March 28. You can read it here.
For your weekend. First, please note a couple of on-line programs in the next couple of weeks, here.
I note this is my 1,678th blog since I began blogging in April, 2009. Personally, I have rarely urged readers to read any post of mine. This is the first blog post I have not only urged folks like you to read, but to think actively about, share, and act.
After reading, if you wish to contact your U.S. Senator? Here. Contact your other reps, too.
Probably the most important Bill ever introduced in the U.S. Congress is now under assault. It’s called H.R. 1, the “For the People Act of 2021”, and you can read a summary of it here. Just Above Sunset summarizes action so far here. It’s titled “The Only Story Now”, and folds in the companion story of the now approximately 250 Republican attempts to assail citizen rights to vote in states of the United States. And before that over 50 failed lawsuits to overturn the election of President of the United States in Nov. 2020. One of these states may be (or have been) yours.
On and on it goes.
If you follow politics at all, the characters and the actions will be easily recalled as they are recent, including January 6, 2021, and as recently as March 25 in Georgia. And today is just beginning.
(Earlier I did a related post entitled “Offense”. I hope you take a look. Those who saw it earlier, I have added to it by amendment.)
A Personal Story:
If you think you have no voice, and you can’t do anything, I want to share a personal story that goes back 15 years. Mine didn’t end in success (at least I don’t think it did) but nonetheless it is a story of possibility, which may encourage somebody – you? – to do something they feel incapable of doing. Over and over, success is built on often repetitive failures. You can’t hide to achieve success, and it can take a long time.
“Politics” is 100% People like you and I. Period. Politicians are always talking about “the American People”. We are “The American People”, period. We are not violent insurrectionists like we saw on January 6 – just look at your surrounding neighbors and friends – rather politics comprises our daily small personal acts, one of the most important of which is voting. This blog is an example of personal activism, though there are infinite varieties.
Here’s the single story, simply an example of doing something:
“Back in the day”, 2006, I was President of a group called the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers (MAP). The group still exists, and while I’m still a member, I’m not directly active in it any more. This post is directed specifically to MAP’s current members.
Half a dozen years ago, a MAP colleague and myself were collecting and organizing MAP documents for submission to the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS). The material had been requested by MHS. There was a lot to organize. Our group had as many as 65 or more member organizations, and was founded in 1995.
My colleague and I completed our work and submitted several well organized boxes to the State Historical Society, where they are likely still waiting for processing. This is not unusual, since such gifts have to be assessed piece-by-piece by the Society, and there is far more history than just our own!
Among my personal papers was a thick folder with “Selective Service” written on the cover. This was one of the few MAP archives I had decided to keep. I thought of it when I was contemplating this blog, and I re-opened it for the first time in years. I remembered what was in there – the history – as I had put the folder together, and it directly related to Voting…even though its origin was against the war in Iraq and 15 years old.
In September 2006 – the envelope postmark says Sep 13, 2006 – someone from MAP group Veterans for Peace had sent me a packet, a key part of which was the “Application for a Minnesota Drivers License”, probably the document most coveted by a teenager of any recent generation! Below is a photo of that cover sheet (don’t worry if you can’t read the copy. It’s also in pdf form here: MN Driv Lic Appl001. It would be interesting to know how today’s form differs, if at all.)
You can note the high-lighted portion of the form. In relevant part, the form which had to be signed by the Parent/Legal Guardian, agreed that the aspiring driver, the son or daughter, was being, in effect, registered for the military Draft “if required by federal law” and most likely without their knowledge. With no elder signature, no permit to drive. (This requirement was passed by most states in the wake of 9-11-01.) Minnesota was just one of the many. And the Vets for Peace (of which I was and still am a member) was concerned.
I got on the court with this issue. Initially my communication with legislators was solely on the Selective Service part. The file includes letters from several legislators responding to my own expression of concern. They are interesting. They were about Selective Service, which is solely what I was complaining about.
In the process I noted something else on the same application form. In fact it is right below the Selective Service requirement. You can easily read the first three words: “Voter Registration Card”, which could be signed by the applicant as an early and totally legal registration to vote. This registration was permissive, not mandatory as was the Selective Service item.
I wondered: why shouldn’t registering to vote also apply to everyone, and be like the the mandatory Selective Service registration? It was a simple matter of logic. We are supposed to carry around our Drivers License everywhere we go. Why not deal with both issues at the same time?
In Nov. 2006, Minnesota elected a new Secretary of State, who I had only recently met. An organization he founded had early on been part of MAP, and we asked him if he’d be willing to speak at our annual meeting shortly after the election. In the end he couldn’t attend in person, but he did do a brief message for us. (Another side note: current Minnesota Attorney General was a second speaker that year, having just been elected to Congress. He couldn’t attend either, but did send a letter.)
An early action I took after the Secretary of State took office was to call his attention to the drivers license form, expressing my opinion, this time about Voter Registration. It was a simple and easy fix, I argued, and I think he agreed. If you can be required to sign up for the military draft before getting even a learner’s permit, why can’t you automatically be registered to vote effective at age 18?
Of course, nothing is ever as easy as it appears when the meat enters the grinder in the sausage factory of legislation. I think there may actually have been enabling legislation proposed or even passed on this issue, but it died un-enacted by the magic of how final agreement is reached on bills. If memory serves, it disappeared…but not from my file.
As I write, I don’t know if my current legislators know about this long ago action. I’ll let them know. I know the Secretary of State served eight very effective years, but finished his run in 2015. I’ll remind him….
Now our right to vote is being discussed, in Washington and in our statehouses. In essence, who should have the right to vote. Are we going back to the very dark ages of Jim Crow?
There is good news, and bad, in all of this: the good news is that democracy won in 2020, by over 7,000,000 votes in the cleanest and most fraud-free election ever. The bad news is that in that same election, about one-third of all eligible voters did not vote at all. Misinformation continues to be rampant. Where do you stand?
My point is simple: our democracy depends on citizens taking seriously their obligation as citizens.
HR 1 and its companion in the Senate is probably the most important single legislative action to ‘cross my desk’ as a citizen in my life.
I am only one person, but I am one…. Now is no time to be a bystander
Related Post here.
POSTNOTE Friday morning March 26: Holding Steady
POSTNOTE FRIDAY afternoon March 26: During this day I’ve been thinking back to getting acquainted with Haiti back in 2002. Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, had managed to shed its dictators, father and son Duvalier, and had been governed by a President they actually elected, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, an activist Priest. The story is a long one, but what I thought about was this:
The peasant class in Haiti, which was and remains most of the population of Haiti, did not have the privilege of education, and the language of the country was Kreyol, similar to but not identical to the official language of the country, which was French. Few were well enough educated to write or read French. Kreyol was not recognized as much other than a spoken dialect.
So, when it came time to vote for the first time, most of the voters could not read and had no tradition of electing their leaders. It was an immense task for those seeking democracy – much more than simply voting for a President.
Those who chose to vote – most of the population, probably a greater percentage of the population than vote in our own elections – endured extreme hardships just to cast their ballot. But endure they did, and for a few precious years they reaped the benefits of democracy, nothing fancy, but the basics. It was a joy, truly, to see kids and adults receiving the basics of reading and writing during my 2002 visit. And on and on.
In our country, we take these privileges for granted. Nearly one-third of those eligible didn’t even bother to vote in 2020. And this election had the heaviest participation in history.
We have a lot to learn.
COMMENTS (also look at the very end of the post):
from Stephen: Thanks Dick…right on. As an aside, in 1967 after 21 mo and 1 day in the Army and a year in Vietnam, and just separated from active duty, I was not old enough to vote in Mn. Yet I had been conscripted. Ironically the last month in Vietnam was to guard for their election. I was at a firebase near an operating French Tea Plantation called Cateka near the site of the first major battle in South Vietnam.
from Joyce: Heather Cox Richardson “Letters from an American March 26”
from Fred: Very interesting reading as always, Richard. Thanks for pdf of the handy Driver’s License w/selective service sign up and voter registration info. It killed several birds with one stone. Couldn’t find a place where one could apply to own and carry gun, but it was MN application after all.
from Steve: Just read your most recent blogs, both interesting and personal. The note from Stephen was particularly poignant. The news on both radio and in the paper this morning referred to the political fight over voter registration and repression, a familiar story for anyone reading American history. In 1995, while I was director of a museum of government and politics at the University of Minnesota, we did an exhibit on the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The research and resulting exhibit were more than just “revealing”. They both represented the significant objection to the precepts of democracy that would assume a vote for every citizen of voting age. The stories I heard from those in Mississippi and Alabama were not just inspiring, they were documents of our democracy. The book Local People by John Dittmer should be on every high school history reading list.