Letter from a Philadelphia Jail…

My friend Vince, working to get out the vote…

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t lead off my column with a picture of one of my friends.

But in this case, leading off with a picture of my friend Vincent Thompson makes sense because in the 20-plus years that I’ve known him, I’ve never heard of any issue that he’s felt passionately enough about to commit an act of civil disobedience.

Now what issue has made my friend, a Democratic committee person in South Philadelphia, willing to go all the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on us?

The right to vote in Pennsylvania.

I’ll explain.

As I often say here at The Mad (political) Scientist, I love Philadephia, but Pennsylvania makes me scratch my head so hard sometimes that I’m surprised I haven’t scraped up some of my brain.

A big part of that is because I’ve never seen a state so willing to take on everyone else’s really, really bad ideas. If there’s an idea that shouldn’t be tried anywhere ranging from hyper-restrictive abortion laws to lawsuits filed to fight for your right to not have health insurance (this chestnut filed by our former Attorney General, now Governor Tom Corbett), we’re not only going to try it here, but we’re going to follow the True Definition Of Insanity when we apply it.

(For those of you who don’t know what the True Definition of Insanity is, it’s doing the same thing, the exact same way, and yet expecting a different result.)

This week’s Really Bad Idea That Will Soon Become Law In Pennsylvania is the Commonwealth’s new Voter ID law. Under this law, which is modeled after Voter ID laws in places even more backward than Pennsylvania like Texas, Indiana and Alabama, people who come out to the polls will not be able to vote…and have their votes counted that day…unless they produce a state-sanctioned photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a state ID card. Now you can vote if you don’t have a state-sponsored ID, but that vote won’t count unless you come to your county’s Board of Elections with a state-sponsored picture ID within six days.

The reason why this law is on its way to being put on the books is because Gov. Corbett, like most good Republicans these days, believes that there’s serious voter fraud going on. Otherwise, how else would a Black Man From Chicago With A Funny Name have ever become President Of The United States?

The only way that Barack Obama could have succeeded in becoming the first Kenyan-born, Secret Muslim, Manchurian Candidate Sent To Ruin America to become President is by people going to the polls and impersonating other people, voting, and influencing the outcome. Or at least, that’s the logic at work here.

The Commonwealth has pledged $4 million to implement this law, including $1 million that’s supposed to go toward getting people these state-sponsored IDs.

(Now, we could talk about how Philadelphia alone will burn through this $1 million in a week, and also about how I really wish that people cared enough about voting to want to go around committing identity fraud in order to do it, but I would be bringing logic into a situation that has, thus far, steadfastly resisted it….and Lord knows that we can’t have that!)

Needless to say, folks are losing their minds over this.

The American Association of Retired Persons, otherwise know as AARP, is saying that it’s going to make it harder for senior citizens, some of whom may have been born in a house and don’t have the birth certificate needed to get the ID. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, otherwise known as the NAACP, is saying that this is designed to keep people of color out of the voting booth, just in time for the November elections. And the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, says it’s just plain unconstitutional.

Even the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, a group that’s notorious for not even  being able to agree on what to have for lunch during a meeting, have agreed that the law is a very bad idea.

Add to this that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to get anything like a birth certificate or state ID request processed quickly in Pennsylvania and that this Really Bad Idea That’s About To Become Law In Pennsylvania won’t officially take effect until November (just in time for the 2012 Presidential Elections if you’re keeping score at home), and you might understand why these groups are sounding the alarm.

From the moment that these laws started dotting the national landscape, or put more succinctly, dotting the landscape in places where Republicans control all phases of government, it’s been kind of hard not to notice at where they’re aimed.

Statistically, cities, college towns, and other places similar to this are places where state-sponsored ID isn’t necessarily the Coin of the Realm. In fact, when I cast my first vote in my South Philadelphia polling place, the only ID I needed was a copy of my electric bill to prove that I lived where I said I lived.

But since cities, college towns, and other places similar to these came out in droves for President Obama during the 2008 elections and turned states like Pennsylvania so blue that they could be mistaken for the Atlantic Ocean, folks have decided to put the clamps down.

Now let’s be honest here. These laws aren’t as much about voter fraud as they are about voter suppression. If you keep city dwellers, people who are older, younger, and poorer from accessing the polls however possible, you keep them from voting against the interests of the True Elites, which have been trying to get their country back since the G.I. Bill was passed after World War II, giving everyone a shot at a good education.

And don’t even get me started on how dangerous it is to allow other disenfranchised groups like people of color to vote. Hell, they may vote to allow such things as letting gays and lesbians get married if they’re allowed to stay in the voting pool…and Lord knows we can’t have that!

To it’s credit, the Department of Justice has noticed, and has struck a few of these laws down. In fact, Texas’s went down via the DOJ on Monday. Also, a local coalition here in Philadelphia that includes the National Action Network, NAACP,  Radio One, a voting rights group called the Committee of Seventy, labor unions and politicians has formed to make sure that this law doesn’t pack the punch that it could.
Among the people who are a part of this coalition is my friend Vincent.  

Upon hearing about this law, and how folks could end up not being allowed to exercise the franchise, Vince, who is still the best political reporter I know despite not having done it full-time for a while, got the kind of pissed off that I’ve only seen him get when you mess with his family.  We must have talked about the Voter ID for at least two hours over dinner at the Broad Street Diner one night.  He had been watching the debate over the bill throughout the day on the Pennsylvania Cable Network, the Commonwealth’s version of C-Span.

The more he watched, the madder he got.

So he made a decision. If someone came to his polling place without a photo ID, he’d not only make sure that they got to polls, but he’d also make sure that their vote counted that day.

“I come from a people whose ancestors got water hoses turned on them, dogs sicced on them, and in some cases got murdered to give me the right to vote,” he said. “Black people have only had the right to vote for real for 40 years. I’m not going to let anyone get disenfranchised by a law that’s a solution in search of a problem.”

Then he said, “I’m willing to go to jail over this. This is about the right to vote. That’s too important to me.”

Hopefully, it won’t come down to that.

But just in case it does, I’m officially announcing the Vincent E. Thompson Bail Fund right now…

……because friends don’t let friends stay in jail overnight for fighting as the ancestors taught us…

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s