“There’s blood in the streets, it’s up to my ankles
Blood in the streets, it’s up to my knee
Blood in the streets in the town of Chicago
Blood on the rise, it’s following me” — Jim Morrison
For well over a year now, Americans have taken to the public squares in a thundering renaissance of popular democracy. Whether it’s farmers and public service union workers standing side by side in the Wisconsin snow, or social justice clergy and anarchists arrested face down on the streets of New York with a police knee on their necks; whether it’s soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan tossing their war on terror medals back at the NATO conference in Chicago, or economic justice activists swarming Bank of America’s headquarter in North Carolina–the old tried cliche of America as a nation of universally detached, self-centered, consumption-fixated beings has at long last been proven to be at least partially untrue.
With the vast astro-turf campaigns of the Tea Party fizzling out as soon as the mid-term elections were over (and their corporate sponsors moving on to further colonize some other part of our government), there has been nothing on the Right even remotely close to the quantity or diversity of numbers at Occupy Wall Street. Lacking a counterpoint, the corporate sponsored political hacks move on to the next best alternative. They vilify and attack, lie and purposely mislead about whatever movement they have no actual answer for. Instead of Occupy being wrong, for example, the Right Wing puppetheads will instead say they’re violent (or that old appeal to national megalomania: they’re anti-American). It’s an old right wing tactic that we should have long ago learned to recognize. When they can’t beat us in a democracy, they change the rules of that democracy.
In Chicago, an army of bike and billyclub-swinging police officers brought home the message Rahm Emanuel had been harping on all week (after he had not so secretly set up the tension by mailing thousands of memos to local companies about possible danger to their employees during the anti-NATO marches). In New York, the New York Post (a perpetual loss leader for Rupert Murdoch, who maintains the paper as a political mouthpiece) salivates over every possible opportunity to paint mom-n-pop activists as deranged militants hell-bent on burning the country and all modern civilization to the ground. Paid corporate shills at Breitbart.com, DailyCaller and NewsMax populate the echo-chamber with images construed to mislead as to the nature and content of Occupy.
And in all these efforts, the central theme is not a direct contradiction to the economic, political and social complaints of Occupy Wall Street. Instead, the whole vortex of right-wing criticism of Occupy Wall Street has actually focused on vilifying the participants, besmirching the movement and assaulting the morality of those who are simply using their legally guaranteed democratic mechanisms to demand a fairer society. In short, they cannot attack Occupy on the substance of its multi-tiered argument for change. So instead, it attacks the image, nature and character of Occupy’s participatory democratic actions.
This tactic of attempting to delegitimize democratic mechanisms (just as we’re finally starting to use them to express our community’s will) is not limited to Occupy. We should remember this same formula when we approach the voter suppression question. They all fit in a larger right-wing strategy of delegitimizing democratic structures whenever the 99% actually wants to use them. Parenthetically, this is why you’ll sometimes witness the occasional far-right winger getting very aggravated, defensive and insulting if you dare argue that we should live in a democracy, not just a republic (envisioned as a “vote and shut up” method of plebiscite plutocracy by the Right).
The tactic of voter suppression, much like the tactic of vilifying public assembly protest, echoes this formula of delegitimization. It’s one with roots in the very beginning of our country as the landed gentry often kept those without land from voting. Through generation after grueling generation of struggle, workers, women and minorities won the de jure right to vote. De facto, though, a system of disenfranchising black, female and various other power-minority voters soon began to take grip, as local politicos learned to manipulate the voter registration or identification system to take away the vote in a newer evolution of legal manipulation. Instead of using the law to directly keep power-minorities out of the ballot box, the hand puppets of the 1% changed the law (and the application of that law) to indirectly keep power-minorities out of the ballot box.
The imagined “voter fraud” that right-wingers are using as an excuse to eliminate millions of voting voices is a non-statistical creation of their corporate-sponsored think tanks and their well-funded online echo-chambers. A brief review of the numbers immediately shows the Voter Fraud myth to be a total sham,
A New York Times analysis of federal voting fraud cases found that roughly a third of the 86 convictions from 2002 through 2006 involved small vote-buying schemes in local elections. Nearly all the others were the result of honest mistakes by those who didn’t know they were ineligible to vote or instances of individuals acting alone. Ultimately, as the Times reported, prosecutors and election experts agreed that evidence of large-scale or coordinated fraud just wasn’t there.
In 2010, Tova Andrea Wang, a senior fellow at the think tank Demos, wrote, “Law enforcement statistics, reports from elections officials and widespread research have proved that voter fraud at the polling place is virtually non-existent.” Lorraine Minnite, an elections expert at Barnard College, argues that there is “no threat” of voter fraud, with official statistics showing that from “2002 to 2005 only one person was found guilty of registration fraud. Twenty people were found guilty of voting while ineligible and five people were found guilty of voting more than once.” honest mistakes by those who didn’t know they were ineligible to vote or instances of individuals acting alone. Ultimately, as the Times reported, prosecutors and election experts agreed that evidence of large-scale or coordinated fraud just wasn’t there.
Despite the virtually non-existent threat of voter fraud, this quarter-millenium long struggle for voting equality in America has once more come to the forefront. With thousands of Americans protesting in the streets every week, there’s a very obvious reason the voter suppression efforts of the 1% have been so vast and dedicated this year: they’re scared.
The game has changed. The commons are being gutted for sale to billionaires, as social security, the post office and our very schools are being targeted for wholesale merger and acquisition by corporate America. One in two of us is poor in America and we have among the highest rates of child poverty in the modernized world. For once, Glee, Twilight and Dancing With the Stars won’t cover up the hunger pains.
We’ve woken up. What a terrifying electoral prospect for the 1%.
In fact, in an explosive memo, the leaders of Citigroup essentially said as much a few years back, explaining that the voting system is all that kept them from accomplishing a full on plutonomy and “The New Managerial Aristocracy.”
No wonder then that the effort have been so vast, so aggressive, so deceitful, so overblown, so well-funded and dedicated. Much like Occupy, there’s now little arguing against our angry politics–there’s only eliminating their impact.
Up to 5 million voters will be turned away at the polls this years thanks to rightwing manipulation of state-level electoral laws. Much of their attention has been on forcing working class people to pay for new forms of identification (that they either can’t afford or maybe even haven’t heard about) and demanding an understanding of complex and sometimes contradictory new rules. The 1% and their lackeys in the right-wing know very well who they’re targeting, and they know quite well the political voice of those people could possibly pose a threat to them, even going so far as challenging the Voting Rights Act. As the Brennan Center explains on stringent and convoluted new Voter ID Laws:
Studies show that as many as 11 percent of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo ID. That percentage is even higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students. Many citizens find it hard to get government photo IDs, because the underlying documentation like birth certificates (the ID one needs to get ID) is often difficult or expensive to come by. At the same time, voter ID policies are far more costly to implement than many assume.
Our votes are a target of the 1% because our votes have once more become a problem for the 1%. This well-funded effort of disenfranchising the disempowered (like poor folks, students, minorities and the elderly) plans on amassing over 1 million people this election day to steal, warp or distort the elections of 2012. We need to prepare.
Much like Occupy, Election Day is a democratic mechanism enshrined and protected within the seminal documents of our nation. Public assembly, free speech, your vote–these are elemental mechanisms to make sure our pool of employees (the government) use our national community’s pooled wealth (our taxes) towards ends envisioned, directed and achieved according to our community’s democratic will. Much of the American population has caught on to the multi-generational swindle that has become our modern economy. As we engage the full bloom of democratic action to challenge the status quo, from streets to community boards, from pickets to ballot boxes, we should appreciate the historic power of our self-liberating evolution as democratic actors. Through that grueling struggle of daily democracy we are educating ourselves as citizens and are even starting to re-shape the country. But as we do all that, we should remember that we’re not the only ones who have recognized the power of democratic action. If you’re fighting for a fairer, greener, juster America, the 1% and their lackeys will spend a great deal of money and effort in 2012 to delegitimize your actions, your voice and your vote. Perhaps in some ways, this too should encourage us. After generations of cultural struggle, we have at long last reached that point in America where even our votes are a threat to the power of the oligarchy.