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Grace Ross: Protecting Democracy at the Polls

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Grace Ross, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTERâ„¢

Protecting democracy is about making sure that people are safe to vote and to vote their conscience.

On September 6, 1774, the people of Worcester in the Colony of Massachusetts joined in and stood on the shoulders of communities across the Colony that had taken to kicking out the Tory judges and refusing to go along with the King’s rule of the Colony. Initial resistance was because of having their traditional voting rights taken away by fiat by the King.

Traditionally, the Colony had allowed its residents to vote through town meeting and elect their representative to the lower house of the legislature which held the purse strings, that is controlled the spending of the government.

In organizing nonviolently to resist the fiat of the King, the regular people of the Colony – folks who farmed and did what we would call the small business work of the Colony – were furious about having their voting rights taken away. They organized to nonviolently kick out the representatives of the Tory Government and literally pushed the British soldiers into only holding the City of Boston. They recognized, for instance, that they needed to end slavery and to have all of the residents of the Colony join them in the right to participate in the government. While that’s not completely how it came down when they finally got around to writing the constitution, the regular people of the Colony understood that.

Even the throwing of the tea into the harbor to protest “No Taxation with Representation,” it was the “Representation” that that boycott was trying to reinstate.

How do we know? Because during the in-between time after they kicked out the British tax collectors and before the re-establishment of a regular government post the Revolution, the people of each town collected taxes and put them aside in their own town hall (or comparable place). They understood that once they had reasserted their right to control their government, that they wanted the money to fund it.

In this context it is truly concerning that in Worcester – where some would argue the first version of what became the Declaration of Independence was written – that anybody would try to subvert people’s right to vote. If you don’t think intimidation is enough to stop people from voting, then you have missed the entire history of the struggle to remove Poll Taxes, the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Suffrage Movement and several other large historical pieces of the history of the United States and many other countries.

It is not okay for those of us who understand that democracy, like all other institutions, is strengthened by the full participation of those in exercising their rights to look the other way. I am referring to when voters of any stripe are intimidated from voting.

This issue did not appear with the recent primary in Worcester and certain polling areas. Intimidation tactics have been undermining our democracy in some small sections of the country for many decades and became a nationwide phenomenon in 2000 and 2004. Just because Massachusetts has led a relatively sheltered life does not mean we should not be alarmed as these tactics from other parts of the country start being used against our own voters.

There are those who argue that by forcing folks who might be immigrants to show ID is somehow protecting voting rights. That argument is problematic in a bunch of ways. Given that immigrants overwhelmingly seek citizenship so they can vote, that makes this whole fear a little odd... And overlooking the fact that you do not in general need ID to vote except in special circumstances.

First, (while it escapes me) some folks seem to assume that if you are worried about immigrants voting who don’t have the right to vote that it’s okay to ask, for instance, “Latino-looking” voters for ID.

Of course, anybody who knows the reality in Massachusetts knows that those without status to vote are predominantly Irish immigrants these days. So the stories of filming and harassing focused on folks who are assumed to be Latino is once again one of those startling and disturbing images; they make you really wonder whether it has anything to do with immigrants voting at all.

It is either ignorance or willful distortion of the facts not to target white folks primarily for asking for ID if that’s the real goal.  

But to me the deeper disturbing assumption underlying this targeted campaign is a complete misunderstanding: when we as a country-to-be first fought to regain our right to vote, there were no laws outlawing anyone who was a resident from voting. There was no such thing as citizenship and citizenship requirements. Paul Revere, Samuel Adams – none of them, nor anyone else was going to be denied the hard-won right to a government by and for the people.

This attack on voters who look a certain way is an anomaly in our long march toward a thriving, real democracy. It doesn’t stand in any tradition of democracy to try to hinder or to refuse to let people vote.

What we should be doing, if we really care about democracy, is making sure that every voter is as informed as possible, carries a deep understanding and commitment to the integrity of our democracy, and knows that each voice is supported and valued in reaching what our Fore Fathers strove to conceive as a real government by and for the people.


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