Thu 31 May 2012
The short version is simply that I changed my mind.
I spent the days between my last post and the subsequent meeting of the Board of Elections discussing this with friends and with election colleagues. Everyone’s reaction was the same: don’t quit. Don’t let O’Keefe and his band of idiots beat you, don’t let them control the fate of your precinct, don’t let them have veto power over us, don’t give in, don’t be so damned easy to beat. The last one was one of the main things that swayed me. Quitting immediately on finding out about the heavily manipulated video seemed like the responsible thing to do but it also felt like giving up without a fight and I hate that. I hate that feeling more than any other.
All these conversations also gave me some time to cool off and get some perspective. These jerks did this to me only incidentally. I am collateral damage to them. Their real goal is obviously to build a case in favor of voter ID laws which rig the system against populations comprising persons whose lives don’t allow a lot of time for doing paperwork. They wind up targeting minorities and the poor and especially those individuals who are both, meaning they target Democrats. Voter ID laws are bald attempts at voter disfranchisement. It occurred to me somewhere along the way that one of the better arguments against voter ID is the absence of voter fraud and that means making sure there are attentive, alert people working the polls on election day. I am by no means perfect in the execution of my duties as an election official but I am very attentive and alert when it comes to the goings-on in my precinct.
Those aren’t the only reasons I changed my mind but they were some of them and I had enough, altogether, to decide that I did not want to show up simply to resign. Instead, I went to the meeting, asked to explain my side of the story – as detailed in the previous post – and at the end I said, quite simply, that I understood my job as an election official is to assure the public that their votes are fairly counted and that is also the job of the Board of Elections. As such, if it would increase the public’s trust to have me resign I would be glad to do so but if the Board did not ask me to resign then I would continue in my post. I wanted to give them the option to overrule me or bring to bear some greater experience or expertise.
The Board asked me only one question: could I take the oath of office for my position and mean it? I said that I could, yes, and here’s why: because I don’t have to marry anyone on election day and, more importantly, I don’t have to tell anyone that they can’t get married. The Board was satisfied with that answer and said that they appreciated my offer and my willingness to cooperate but that they saw no reason for me to quit.
So, I’m still an election judge.
It was quite an interesting experience, all told, and I sort of mean “interesting” just as a simple adjective but also sort of in the sense of the old proverb. One member of the Board hadn’t watched the video yet, so we all got to sit there and watch it together. Less than fully fun. However, it provided an opportunity for members of the Board to note that which all my journalist, videographer and editor friends, as well as general tech-heads, noticed: that there are times when the video is not video and the audio doesn’t sync and all the other obvious symptoms of heavily manipulated footage.
The Durham County GOP’s new(?) chair was there to address the Board regarding the 20 or 30 seconds of video that contained me. After hearing me speak and confirm that I could take the oath he said he had no discussion to add or objection to make. It was nice having a Republican in an actively partisan role be pleasant to me for once.
At one point a member of the Board noted that I should take from this the lesson that we – people involved in elections administration – simply don’t get to speak the way others do sometimes. I agreed that it was woefully unwise of me to speak to someone claiming to be a reporter when I was so emotionally raw but I noted that the footage they cut and/or edited was me trying to talk them down from lines of questioning with which they tried to lead me to advocate violence or other forms of extremism. They came at me hoping to get me to say that now was the time to light the bonfires and instead I assured them that time was on our side and the path to progress was one of civility. The things I said to them were not extremist but they were made to appear that way by a couple of lying sacks of shit.
I perhaps unwisely hurried to remind the Board member in question that at 1:00 AM on Wednesday 9 May, when that video was taken, I was on my time. I sat there and did my job from 6:30 AM to 7:30 PM on election day and I never said a word no matter what I heard said about me by voters – and I did hear epithets, at least one of which might have been directed at me by a voter with functioning gaydar though I’ll never know and don’t really want to know – but when I clocked out that night I stepped back inside the protections of the First Amendment and regained the right to make any mistake I felt like making.
That’s how I know I do most definitely still want to be more of an activist.
The question I have been trying to answer since then is that one: what kind of activist do I want to be? The answer I’ve arrived at is this: the kind who gets things done. Standing outside and shouting about an issue can get things done and I love that kind of activism because it’s so kinetic. It involves lots of doing and saying and getting out in the world and it’s a great way to network and meet people and make friends and allies. It’s also a great way to make enemies and nothing makes one feel more alive than having a lively enemy.
The way real change happens in our society, though, is through the legal system. The history of social justice in America is one of people marching in the streets to stay visible while their attorneys work in quiet tones to dismantle the barriers to justice and progress. With that in mind, I’m now seriously considering going to law school. I’m 37, my undergraduate degree was in Performance Studies, my career is in information security and my graduate program is to get a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Information Assurance, Security and Privacy. Not exactly a pre-law degree and a lifespan capable of taking on the student loans, I know. I may have other options for paying for some of it as a job benefit and I may be able to go part-time and I may have other options available that are as yet totally unknown to me. It’s the idea I keep coming back to, though: becoming a lawyer, working in security-related law and doing voting rights advocacy work otherwise. The idea of the LSAT terrifies me and the idea of four to six more years of school after this one terrifies me. The idea of having zero downtime in my life and new debt and not having any clue what my career would look like at the other end all terrify me.
I keep coming back to that anyway, though, so that’s what I’m going to try to do.