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Photo: Athiyah Azeem via Street Sense Media
Volunteers with Pathways to Housing D.C. helped homeless individuals register to vote outside the D.C. Downtown Day Services Center on September 11, 2020.

What a time we are living through! When Covid-19 shuts down businesses, workers often can’t pay rent and become homeless. Even if they believe that a change of government would help their situation, homelessness can make registering to vote impossible. You can’t win.

Except that there are always people willing to help.

For example, as Justin Wm. Moyer wrote recently at the Washington Post, volunteers in DC are standing by to ensure that the disenfranchised get the rights to which they’re entitled.

He wrote, “Tracy Lincoln doesn’t know exactly when she left her native Houston — it’s been months, she says — but she knows she wanted to ‘come and see the world.’ …

“Amid her travels, she needs to vote. She already was registered elsewhere but came to D.C.’s Downtown Day Services Center for the homeless to switch her registration to the nation’s capital. Though she doesn’t have a preferred candidate — ‘you don’t know what they’re like until they get there,’ she says — not voting is not an option. ‘That’s how you make changes,’ she said. ‘You have to hold people accountable.’

“While advocates are registering people to vote in a polarizing election held during a pandemic, they are also registering a population traumatized by, in some cases, years on the streets. It’s these barriers to voting that Pathways to Housing DC, which has registered more than 60 voters since launching the voter drive last month, is trying to overcome. …

“ ‘Our entire mission and model is based on listening to the people we serve. Listening is not always there at the larger societal level,’ said Christy Respress, the Pathways executive director. …

“Some questions on the form could be intimidating to someone without a place to stay. Lincoln doesn’t have a permanent address, but the form asks for the ‘address where you live’ and the ‘address where you get your mail.’ It also asks would-be voters about their citizenship.

“Megan Hustings, managing director of the nonprofit National Coalition for the Homeless, said … the obstacles are immense not just for [her] clients, but for anyone living in poverty. …

“Some states might require identification like Social Security cards or driver’s licenses — documentation homeless people may not have, or that may be too expensive for those living on the street to acquire.

“If cost or access to identification isn’t a problem, lifestyle can be. People living outdoors ‘lose stuff all the time,’ Hustings said. When a homeless encampment is cleared, she said, officials might dispose of belongings without preserving important paperwork.

“Other barriers are psychological. Homeless people may be embarrassed about their ignorance of the process and might not know their polling place or be familiar with candidates and political parties.

“Organizations like Pathways can provide an address for people to receive mail — crucial this fall, when the D.C. Board of Elections will mail every registered voter a ballot — but advocates worry the pandemic has compounded voting problems.

‘I’m concerned with people losing housing because of the pandemic,’ Hustings said. …

“It’s not clear how many homeless people vote, but census data shows most people with lower incomes don’t. In the 2018 midterm election, 31 percent of people nationwide living in a family with income of less than $10,000 a year cast a ballot, compared with 68 percent of those with a family income above $150,000. Eleven percent of those in the lower-income group said they didn’t vote because they had transportation problems, compared with 0.3 percent of those in the higher-income group. …

“Homeless voters are like other voters: unpredictable.

“Sam Gilliard, a 50-year-old veteran and D.C. native who registered at the Day Center on Friday, said he has been homeless for two years. He lost his job in March when the lumber yard where he was working in Northwest Washington went out of business. He sleeps in a garage and plans to get his ballot delivered to a friend’s house.

“Gilliard likes Trump, especially everything the president did ‘before corona,’ he said. He likes that Trump is unfiltered. … Other registrants, like Allen Williams — a chef who lost his job amid the pandemic and was homeless from 2005 until July — favors Biden.

“ ‘I’m so fearful of what happens if we don’t have a new candidate in office,’ he said. …

“And there were those who walked away without registering at all. One woman wearing a headscarf read over the registration form for a few minutes, then shook her head and walked away.

“Maria Gusman, a benefits specialist at Pathways who was registering voters on a recent day, said it’s easy for some to become discouraged when a voter registration form is in their hand.

“ ‘It can be difficult,’ she said. ‘People in politics don’t believe people experiencing homelessness vote. They don’t believe it matters anyway.’ “

But there are more of them every year, alas. We need to pay attention. More here.

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It’s weird to think that for the first seven years of my mother’s life, women were not allowed to vote in this country. Even now, we don’t utilize our full power, repeatedly voting to elect men who belittle us.

In 2020 we are recognizing our first measly hundred years with the vote, in honor of which, the League of Women Voters is sponsoring a traveling exhibit about a mostly unknown woman who probably had more influence on the trajectory of our country in the 20th century than any other individual, male or female. Fierce determination got results under the radar.

Meghan Sorensen of the Boston Globe wrote a tidy summary of Frances Perkins’s life and accomplishments to let readers know that the Perkins exhibit is at the State House, but only until February 7.

“Frances Perkins was the first woman to serve in the US Cabinet, a signature achievement in a groundbreaking life.” she writes. “The Massachusetts State House is hosting a traveling exhibit through Friday on the ‘Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins’ to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the National League of Women Voters.

“Here is a brief overview of Perkins’ life and accomplishments. (Historical information from the Frances Perkins Center in Maine.)

“Perkins was born Fannie Coralie Perkins in Boston in 1880. Although her parents were from Maine, she was raised in Worcester and attended Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, earning a degree in physics while turning to economics and activism after learning about the lack of protections against women and children in factories.

“While her parents expected her to move home after college, Perkins moved to Chicago, [where] she worked with the poor and unemployed at the Chicago Commons and Hull House.

“In 1907, Perkins began working as the general secretary of the Philadelphia Research and Protective Association, which fought to stop newly arrived immigrant women and black women from the South from being forced into prostitution.

“Two years later, she began a fellowship with the New York School of Philanthropy, where she investigated childhood malnutrition among children living in Hell’s Kitchen. Alongside the fellowship, she earned her Master’s degree in sociology and economics at Columbia University. …

“In 1910, Perkins became the executive secretary of the New York City Consumers League, where she sought sanitary regulations for bakeries, fire protection for factories, and limiting work hours to 54 hours per week. After the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 workers, she followed Theodore Roosevelt’s suggestion and became the Committee on Safety’s executive secretary.

The group’s work led to what was referred to as ‘the most comprehensive set of laws governing workplace health and safety in the nation.’

“When Franklin D. Roosevelt became governor of New York in 1929, he hired Perkins to be the state’s Industrial Commissioner and oversee the labor department, [and] when Roosevelt became president in 1933, he asked Perkins to serve as labor secretary. She said yes, but with a condition — that he endorse her policy priorities, which included a 40-hour work week, minimum wage, unemployment compensation, the abolition of child labor, Social Security, and universal health insurance. …

“Under Roosevelt, Perkins achieved most her goals. The Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 established a minimum wage and maximum work hours while banning child labor. As the head of the Committee on Economic Security, Perkins helped draft the 1935 Social Security Act, which offered unemployment, disability, and workers’ compensation. …

“ ‘A government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life,’ Perkins said in a lecture titled ‘Labor Under the New Deal and the New Frontier.’ ”

More here. And do read Kristen Downey’s biography. It’s great. For my GoodReads review of that book, email me at suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com.

 

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Movement Voter Project believes that no one knows your community like you do and no one knows the voters in swing states like the organizations deeply connected to communities there.

I’m really loving a concept introduced to me by Lisa McE. Instead of being a carpetbagger and ringing doorbells for your candidate in swing states other than your state, instead of (or in addition to) investing your money in a campaign and maybe having nothing to show for it in the end, why not invest in groups on the ground that work with communities on a variety of needs (while registering their participants to vote) and that keep working with those communities long after all the doorbells have been rung and all the out-of-staters have gone home?

Although Movement Voter Project is focused on progressive issues, getting people registered to vote benefits democracy as a whole. No one is telling new voters how to vote after all.

Here’s how Movement Voter Project explains its work: “Movement Voter Project (MVP) works to strengthen progressive power at all levels of government by helping donors – big and small – support the best and most promising LOCAL community-based organizations in key states with a focus on youth and communities of color …

“There are thousands of grassroots organizations and networks working towards building a true democracy – and to move the U.S. forward on issues of economic fairness, racial justice, immigrants rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, access to healthcare, and environmental sustainability. But not nearly enough direct funding or individual donations go to these groups. In the meantime, over a billion dollars is spent each election cycle on TV ads and consultants. … Our job is to:

“EMPOWER donors – from grassroots donors to major donors to foundations – to embrace the impacts of their resources beyond elections. …

“MOVE resources to directly impacted communities.

We recommend both 501(c)(3) non-partisan groups and explicitly progressive [groups] that work in communities representing the true diversity of the American people. …

“There are four main concepts that MVP uses as a lens in our work: targeting overlays … where we can impact several key races with the same money (ie. investments in groups working in a swing US House district in Florida will also impact turnout for the Senate AND the Governor AND redistricting AND structural reforms on the ballot AND lay a foundation for 2020 – whereas investing in a House race in California is unlikely to impact any other nationally significant races); places that are especially underinvested in where money makes a more impactful difference; catalytic opportunities; … ecosystem portfolios … [where] moving multiple parallel investments into a community allows an entire ecosystem to thrive and to build mutual trust.

“We talent scout and vet groups in each state where an extra $10 or $100,000 will make the greatest difference for moving progressive change [now] and long-term. We recommend [groups] that are year-round … collaborative … locally-driven. … AND we recommend 501(c)3 non-partisan groups that organize communities of color.” More at Movement Voter Project, here.

I like the long-term, dig-deep aspect of this sort of activism, but if you think that the Movement Voter Project does not reflect your particular concerns, you might prefer a general voter organization that Suzanne told me about called Vote.org.

Citizens of every stripe agree that it benefits America when we all vote.

 

 

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California graphic designer @lenawolffstudio printed lots of these Vote posters, with help from a Kickstarter campaign, and sent them around the country. If you want a few for 2020, contact her or email suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com.

Why is it that some Americans don’t take advantage of the greatest right and duty of living in a democracy — the vote?

Some people say one vote doesn’t count, but that makes no sense. Millions of votes are made only from many, many one-votes. And many races are extremely close.

Others don’t see anything on the ballot — candidate or ballot question — that they care about. But just showing up is important. It increases overall turnout, which shows we care, and you can always write in a name. I’ve done that in races where only one candidate was on the ballot.

Some people fear election results will get hacked, but at least one expert, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, says so much work has been done since 2016 that the polls are now the most secure they have ever been. Read his op-ed.

Then there is the question of getting registered (having automatic registration for those getting a driver’s license would really help) and then getting to the polls. Volunteers from your party will give anyone a ride who needs one, you know. And many states let you choose your day by having absentee voting (generally by mail) and early voting (staff waiting for you at your town hall). In addition, you could support those who are trying to make Election Day a national holiday so fewer people are tied up at work.

The biggest concern to my mind is vote suppression. There have always been groups trying to keep some people from voting. This year we are seeing restrictive laws in North Dakota preventing tribes from voting by requiring all individuals to have street addresses, which Indian reservations don’t usually have. And in Georgia, where the man in charge of voting wants everyone to vote for him to be governor, we see massive vote suppression for inconsistent punctuation and challenges to recent naturalization. These kinds of tricks are similar to those that were still keeping African Americans from voting in the South in the 1960s.

People died for your right to vote.

Since voter suppression will probably always be attempted by unscrupulous people, the best thing someone who believes in democracy can do is to keep donating to organizations that take such people to court, like the American Civil Liberties Union. There will always be people who don’t want every eligible citizen to vote — the bedrock of democracy — but you can fight back. Even small efforts count. In Kansas, for example, the Dodge City polling place was moved a great distance from where voters lived, but many ordinary folk stepped up, and now there are enough volunteers to drive everyone to the distant polling place.

One and one and 50 make a million.

New York City subway mosaic: She voted.

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The Poem-a-Day for today, from poets.org.
Election Day, November, 1884

If I should need to name, O Western World, your

powerfulest scene and show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara–nor you, ye limitless

prairies–nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite–nor Yellowstone, with all its

spasmic geyser-loops ascending to the skies,

appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones–nor Huron’s belt of mighty

lakes–nor Mississippi’s stream:
–This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now,

I’d name–the still small voice vibrating–America’s

choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen–the act itself the

main, the quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d–sea-board

and inland–Texas to Maine–the Prairie States–

Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West–the

paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling–(a swordless

conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern

Napoleon’s:) the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity–welcoming the darker

odds, the dross:
–Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to

purify–while the heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.

 

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Vote

I went to vote before work. I’d heard on the radio it would be a low turnout because it was a primary and on a Thursday, which is unusual. But one hotly contested election brought out the troops.

As I left the polls, I was thinking how some folks complain their vote won’t matter or nothing will change. But I think voting is important even if it isn’t perfect.

At this very moment, people around the world are literally dying for the right to vote. And if they do get the franchise, they line up for hours time and time again even if they know it’s not perfect — too many candidates, fraud attempts, threats of violence, the wrong person winning.

A few years ago I was reading stats about Dubai, just a list of facts like population, natural resources, weather, religion. I came to the column “franchise,” and it said “none.”

None? I never really thought about it although I knew the country was a monarchy.

Franchise: none. Wow.

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