Photo credit: Website of the North Dakota Secretary of State
According to state officials, voting in North Dakota is quite literally “Easy as Pie”. Yet, despite the culinary themed niceties, my state currently enforces the most restrictive voter ID laws of any in the nation. North Dakota is the only of the fifty states without a voter registration process.
Voters here had long been permitted to sign an affidavit at the polls to verify their identity on the honor system, or to provide a utility bill or other piece of mail, as the state only required voters reside in their voting district at least thirty days prior to Election Day. Then, early in the new millennium, Voter ID laws were expanded, requiring proof state issued ID for each person wishing to cast a ballot. At the time of this piece’s publication, this requirement could be satisfied by a driver’s license, nursing home certificate, tribal identification card, or student voting certificate provided by the state’s university system.
In the 2014 election season, I chose to vote through early voting at a local hotel here in Fargo, ND. I arrived at the poll with my state issued student voting certificate, upon which I had changed my address at least thirty days prior to Election Day, a critical detail the state university system had failed to inform its students of. At the time, I was a student at North Dakota State University, and working with support from the Feminist Majority Foundation in order to increase the student vote. I was armed with all of the facts on North Dakota’s current laws and knew that I had the right to vote. Presented with my student voting certificate, four poll workers turned me away with confusion, explaining that they had no idea how to process my student voting certificate. Finally, a fifth poll worker knew what this mysterious document was, and began processing my certificate. He asked to see a photo ID, not a current requirement of the state at that time. When asking me to verify my address, he rattled off an address dissimilar to any I’ve ever had. I was accosted by a woman in line who saw my Minnesota driver’s license and claimed that I couldn’t vote if I wasn’t a “native citizen” while I was standing in the city I was born in.
Bottom line, I finally voted. But how many with student voting certificates or various forms of tribal identification would be so thoroughly educated on current voter ID laws that they would stand up to a number of adamantly confused poll workers? That night, I contacted the Cass county auditor and the North Dakota Secretary of State, who both assured me that they would be sure their poll workers were informed of student voting certificates by Election Day.
Unfortunately, the opposite appeared to be true on Election Day, as I saw and heard of hundreds of college student s in the state turned away from the polls after attempting to use their student voting certificates. At the Fargodome, the closest polling place to North Dakota State University, a large sign advertised a $5 parking fee, as high school football games were also occupying the venue. North Dakota was effectively instituting poll taxes in 2015. A portion of the voting population had been silenced.
In March of 2015, voter disenfranchisement increased even more with the passage of HB1333, which drastically limited the voting rights of thousands across the state, specifically college students and tribal members, two populations which historically vote against the current Republican supermajority in this state. The state still claims that voting in North Dakota is “Easy as Pie”, while requiring state issued photo ID or driver’s license at the voter’s current address, and blatantly denying tens of thousands in the state the right to vote. Over 60% of college students in the state are not North Dakota residents, specifically in the traditional college towns of Grand Forks and Fargo, and are now unable to vote in the state in which they attend school. I am one of them.
The state legislature is in session just once every two years, and so these strict voter ID laws cannot be challenged prior the presidential election in 2016. Faced with this dismal situation, I and others in the state, as well as national progressive groups, have started to organize legal action against the state of North Dakota, in order to challenge the current unconstitutional voter ID laws. We have no hope of propagating progressive and effective legislation in this state if only a small percentage of the population is able to vote. In meeting with various groups and people in the state in recent months, I have to come to realize the critical implications that local government has over my everyday life, and the need to change the reality of the “Old Boy’s Club” in power in North Dakota and many other states. A change in voter ID laws is necessary, but so are the education of poll workers, the instillation of a transparent voter registration process, and the work of the state government to actively encourage the public vote. When elected officials are attempting to diminish the voter population, the basis of their title as a representative of their constituents is blatantly fraudulent.
The hearts of many activists around the nation have been heavy and hurting after hearing the news of Grace Lee Bogg’s passing. A true revolutionary, she’s a fearless Asian American woman who has organized on monumental labor and civil rights actions. Her complexity in character, brilliant mind, and the love she radiated was truly a gift to this world.
Grace Lee Boggs was a Chinese American born only a few decades after the Chinese Exclusion Act and her legacy is a powerful narrative of people who should not have made it in this country. She touched on various issues throughout her lifetime. Her experiences with discrimination started early on when she could not find work after getting her education. Lee Boggs recounted signs in stores stating, “we don’t hire orientals.” Forced to live in poor living conditions, she became connected with predominantly Black community members and eventually organizing for the Black Power Movement with her husband, James Boggs.
Grace has been a powerful symbol and role model, especially for the Asian American community. The Asian American term and identity is entirely political. It’s used in political contexts, because the Asian American/Pacific Islander umbrella is incredibly diverse spanning a myriad of ethnicities, languages, histories, and cultures. As a rapidly growing immigrant population, iconic leaders are rare, but engrained deep in our history in this country. Heros like Dalip Singh Sound, Vincent Chin, and Grace Lee Boggs are champions in progressing not only the Asian American movement, but also in the overall social justice movement in this country.
One big takeaway from Grace for activists is to reach the point of thinking beyond just your own identity, and beginning to think about how these identities interact with the other intersecting and complex identities of others. When reflecting on her own Chinese American identity in the context of her work, she shares “my radicalization was not through growing up Chinese, but through the role that the black people were playing at the beginning of World War II…” History, and the context of laws, policies, and politics impacts those most marginalized. Grace showed us that our work should be focused on those most on the margins and move them to the center of our activism, ensuring their safety, protection, and survival.
Grace Lee Boggs believed in community building and recognizing how much economic wages influence our humanity. The community is so drawn to her presence and brilliance and she admits herself “people are really looking for some way whereby we can grow our souls rather than our economy.” Grace gave us that and will continue to give us that growth in our soul–warm, loving, and fearless.
Thank you Grace Lee Boggs.
Rest in power.
Just ten days ago, I received a call from Molly McLain, the PPFA affiliate staff member in my state, inviting me to Washington,D.C. to participate in Planned Parenthood’s first ever national Pink Out Day. Today, I’m on my third of five flights in forty hours, reflecting on a truly inspiring whirlwind of an experience.
As most of the United States,and even the world, knows by now, Planned Parenthood has faced an unprecedented attack in the most recent months. Outright lies have been spread by anti-choice organizations and propagated by the swift current of social media into nearly every household. These lies have somehow forced the United States federal government into facing yet another shutdown over the inclusion of Planned Parenthood funding in the federal budget. (To reiterate, $0 of federal money is spent on abortion funding with the exclusion of the most dire circumstances. Research the Hyde Amendment). What federal funding does do for Planned Parenthood patients is provide accessible healthcare which they may not otherwise be privy to. Ties to the Medicaid program and Planned Parenthood now also are at risk in the looming House decision.
I came to the national Pink Out Day as a volunteer and supporter from one of five states( North Dakota) whom PPFA sent to the event. We joined hundreds of other supporters in rallying at PPFA’s office, ready for a full day of action. As part of a group canvassing near the Supreme Court building and then outside of the Russel, Dirksen, and Hart congressional office buildings, my objective was to draw attention to the need for vocal support of Planned Parenthood , while collecting signatures and encouraging a positive dialogue. Our pleas were met with much more positive responses than we as North Dakotans have become accustomed to. As supporters of Planned Parenthood in a largely hostile, anti-choice local environment, we and others in similar situations are often met with hate speech and vitriol. We cannot publicly state our opinion on an issue as controversial in 2015 as accessible Pap smears, for fear of disdain by teachers, employers, colleagues and neighbors, and even family members.
As fearless leader PPFA President Cecile Richards responded to five hours of baseless attacks with composure, grace and factual information in a hearing before the House oversight committee, supporters gathered outside of the United States Capitol for a press conference. Inspiring congressional leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz stood alongside Planned Parenthood patients and activist leaders to express the importance of the organization’s services in this nation. Later in the day, visits to Senators in thanks or in pleading were made, followed by a session of supporter reflection and a national call in of supporters nationwide(with Cecile!)This time provided me with wonderful insight into challenges others have faced in activist work, as well as a sense of community support. As I listened to the experiences and reflections of my fellow supporters, I was overwhelmed by the passion and hope in the room. I leave Washington,D.C. with a renewed sense of hope and confide in the work of those across the U.S. The community I joined on Pink Out Day is inclusive, beautiful, energized and full of love.
Also present on this national Pink Out day was a call for responsible governance by our elected officials. Even those opposed to some of the organization’s services are surely also opposed to a government willing to shut itself down.
Democracy in the United States has been exhibited and practiced by countless actions throughout history. The organization of the people most passionate about pending legislation, labor rights and other issues has driven this country forward. I certainly come from a place of relative privilege as a white, U.S. born, cis gendered and heterosexual person, but I do strongly believe in the accessibility and transparency of government at all levels. It is your right to contact county auditors, Secretaries of State, state legislators, city council members, school board members and members of Congress. Hold legal protests and marches,start or join an organization on campus. Research public voting records and make educated votes. A lack of civic engagement and an apathetic generation are simply unacceptable. By engaging every person living in this country, we may even one day live in a country which scoffs at the thought of a government shutdown over the funding of Planned Parenthood. I certainly hope to.