Change is not accidental

About eight years ago, I sat in the meeting room of Bordertown Coffee in Dinkytown with several people who would not only become my friends, but would be part of creating an event that proved that you can change the face of a web conference. We were all a part of the University of Minnesota and had met in a CSS-focused group on campus. Kris, Eric, Peter, Zach, Dan, Jesse, and I mostly blindly lucked into what has become an amazing annual event. Hard work and always adapting to the changing landscape of what it means to work with the web led us to where we are now.

I’m talking about the success of the conference–it sells out every year and brings in people from multiple industries. Despite our beginnings, only 1/3 of our attendees are from higher education; our speakers also increasingly come from outside education.  However, I’m also talking about our success with women in leadership, as speakers, and as attendees.

Jesse left for the great tech mecca of SF; Peter, Kris, and Zach left the U; all of us have changed jobs since then. We brought on Danny and Gabe the second year; Amanda the fourth year; and Mandi the fifth year, though we lost her to Chicago’s call.

These people have all been integral to what we have become, in both ideas and action.  This year, 60% of our presenters were women and 43% of our attendees were women.  A number of us have been asked how this happened. So here you go:

Eight years ago, I was the only woman on board the self-selected crew that was like “we want a conference that targets people like us–let’s make that!”

Of note: I am fierce. Also of note: all I really had to do was highlight the importance of making the conference about all members of the current and future web communities, note the homogenous nature of most web conferences of that era (and now, sadly), and say we should make it a priority to fix that.

Yes. Duh. Of course.


When I talk about diversity–making the conference for all members of the web community–I am not just talking about gender. Gender is where we have been successful and it is where we started because I brought it up and it coincided with a comment about our first keynote.

In the first year, an attendee commented on the word “craftsman” that Eric Meyer used in his talk as making her feel excluded. A couple people were inclined to dismiss the comment because she was the only one they’d heard it from. However, I was a real live person they could ask — “hey, did that bother you?”

It had, but I didn’t really know what to do about it. In contrast to some of the nonsense that I heard about at other conferences–the nearly pornographic crap people in attendance were subjected to, in one instance–it seemed like a really minor thing.  We’d pulled off a huge event with a big name our first time out. I was willing to chalk it up as something to reflect on for the future until I was asked how I felt about it.

Then I wrote a seven paragraph email.

That was the end of it. Seemingly little things were always addressed after that. If not in the midst of it, then after. Additionally, we were slowly getting more aggressive in promoting the conference to women as something they should submit to.  I went to She’s Geeky and ran an unconference session on getting your talk accepted by a web conference. In doing that, I learned how few women in the group had ever spoken publicly–and how others had negative experiences doing it and gave up.  Our conference doubled down and promoted how we wanted to consider and accept first time speakers.

Things have only ramped up since then. Amanda brought fresh eyes (and energy) to our group and is a sponge for ideas. We have increased our already existing support for local groups, including the Overnight Web Challenge, Social Media Breakfast, Ignite, Girls in Tech, and She’s Geeky. We added the workshops. We piloted a speaker mentor program this year that went really well, where speakers from previous years could coach new speakers who were accepted and provide them with advice and support.

We started paying attention to the demographics of our session presenters. After all was hashed out, what were our ratios? We had always paid close attention to keynotes in order to keep the gender balance 50/50 over time, but we hadn’t been tracking our session speakers.

The vibe feeds off itself. Women know this is somewhere they will see themselves, they have seen women present there, so they know they have a chance. What happens when we look at the session board now is that the results turn out to be about 50/50 over time. We don’t even have to consider gender when we’re debating the merits of sessions.

Increasing the diversity of your pool while increasing your pool of applicants means more representation and higher quality sessions across the board.


The solutions are so simple. They take time, but they are simple. The people who make the decisions change the face of your organizations, whether it’s a conference or a business, and if all the people who make decisions look the same–that email, that first opportunity to really discuss what it’s like to be omitted by language choice from a talk about the work you do (unintentionally, of course, and Eric was an amazing keynote and is an amazing person), it probably would not have played the role it did.

Or maybe it would have. The guys who work on MinneWebCon care about diversity. They are solid and staunch advocates for diversity in technology and how important it is that this become the norm. What we did is not something one woman could have pushed for on her own. It needed everyone to be on board.

I heard a couple people joking about the code of conduct this year. But these are the kinds of things you do to make people welcome. These are the things you do to create change. What do you value? What do you stand for? We learned a great deal early on with the disastrous Hoss Gifford session at Flashbelt in 2009. We did not want to wind up in reaction mode because a presenter took advantage of the freedom he had. Who wants to deal with that kind of mortification and community damage?

We create our values in actions and words.

Change is not accidental. It is also not immediate happy unicorn land. And it is slow. It is full of mistakes and frustration.  I have anxiety over our gaps, but what is constant among this group of people who put massive amounts of volunteered time into the event is reflection on where we are at and what still needs to change.

Anxiety and being afraid of criticism are paralytics. Be willing to charge into the danger of trying to change even though you might fail in small or spectacular ways the first, second, third, nth times. Be willing to be made fun of for being overly earnest. There will always be a way in which you are subject to criticism, there will always be criticism that is incorrect or based on lack of information, there will always be times you screw up out of ignorance or simply running out of time and being preoccupied.  It’s worth it, though, because you get to be part of charting new courses.

The future will not belong to those who sit on the sidelines. The future will not belong to the cynics. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

–Paul Wellstone

One last thing: if you did not see topics you wanted to see, if you did not see yourself represented, if you want sessions that operate in ways you think would be better, please submit a talk next year. Do not sit on the sidelines. Be a part of creating this community.

Creativity, rage, and freedom

Henry Rollins

By aterpeirun (Image from flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m sure I have written about this part of the story before, but it’s an appropriate lead in to what I wanted to talk about. A number of years ago, I ran into an old screenwriting professor at Lunds in Uptown. I told him I was applying to graduate school for a PhD and his response was some combination of disgust and concern. “It will kill your writing,” he said, meaning my creative chops.

I wouldn’t say that’s true, necessarily, though he might have been right had I gone into the humanities instead of social science. I consider my writing and musical chops “on hold” for now, but I know I can steel wool the rust off both because the joy in those avenues has never dissipated for me.

What is more important right now is the kind of frozen terror I have about writing the dissertation. I know what I want to say. I know what I’m going to do. But what graduate school does to you (or to me, at least) is provide a panic inducing fear of lacking precision and careful thought. It comes from doing the extensive literature reviews, carefully filling out the IRB forms, carrying out these exhaustive and exhausting practices to ensure amorphous concepts like “validity.”

It’s kind of terrible sometimes.

***

Megan was at the college/research library conference this week and one of their keynote speakers was Henry Rollins. If you know me well, you know that I loathed high school for a number of different reasons. Let’s say I wasn’t the happiest young person in the world, but one thing that brought me exceptional joy was music. The more political, the better. The louder, the better. Yes, yes, my music collection was eclectic, but I listened to certain albums on my discman (OLD!) so frequently that I know the order the songs are supposed to be in. Anything on AmRep was fair game, and anything riot grrrl. And, oh, how I adore Fugazi.

As with any kid, though, I dug into the past and gained some beloved bands who were tearing things up when I was in kindergarten. Black Flag was one of those bands. Henry Rollins had a pretty profound effect on my life in high school with a book of poems that gave me something to annotate and obsess over and I was reminded of this when Megan said he was keynoting the conference.

***

Megan brought back a book he released that’s full of pictures from his time traveling all over the world. In his introduction, he talks about the potential for his amateur photography to be seen as a vanity project. Instead of flipping through the photographs and reading the context in which they were taken (that’s in the back), he wrote in that very stream of consciousness way that he writes in–a practice I adopted in some of my journaling practices, though I have a very different end product than he does.

As I was flipping through the book, especially after reading the introduction, I felt inspired by his acceptance of his movement between knowledge and ignorance. In academia, especially in social justice circles, we are often so careful in reflection. The question is, of course, how do you even get past reflection and into something revelatory if you’re careful?

What I know is that I come to ideas through a kind of manic rage, a sometimes pretentious anger. My reflection is loud, careless, and the more intense I get about something, the more important I think it probably is to how I understand the world (or don’t).

I am very lucky to have guides in my academic life, and they know who they are, who don’t expect me to have any other process. Who don’t ask for the kind of cultural performance of calmness or thoughtfulness that would lead me to only say the things that others have said. Messy and broken and riding roughshod and general assholery are things that erupt from me on a (let’s admit it) daily basis.

Let’s be real about this, though. If I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about something, you’ll never see me mad about it. It’s generally a sign of disinterest, not reflection.

Revisiting Henry Rollins made me remember that in some of us there is a passion so large that it is filled with obscenity and anger. It isn’t hate, it isn’t toxic. It is a driving force without which there is no thirst for knowledge and no motivation.

What I’m feeling now with these sleepless nights is the bottling of the fury in favor of what intellect is supposed to look like. It’s bad for the work. I need some of that self-righteous pretension. I need to remember that what I’m writing is for everyone who’s been kept from adding their voices, for everyone who’s felt the stranglehold of impenetrable academic theory, for everyone whose childhood is filled by gaping voids of representations of themselves, and for everyone who is transformed by releasing their demons and being heard.

I don’t care if it’s pretentious. I don’t care if I waver between knowledge and ignorance. I will add some Rollins back into my process and I will claim Whitman as a motto.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Beyond “Where were you before?”

In the wake of a tragedy, those who are closest to its source often look with disbelief at the masses of people who suddenly care and, in their own attempts to process grief or anger ask something akin to: Where were you before?

That sentiment showed up a couple times in my Twitter feed in the hours ensuing Aaron Swartz’s suicide and the subsequent media spotlight on both him and the trial whose pressures many believe contributed to his death. It’s a completely understandable sentiment, but I want to propose a different take.

For many (many, many) years, the prison-industrial complex has been ravaging American society. The prosecutorial overreach in Swartz’s case (more on that can be found on Unhandled Exception) was not an isolated incident in this context. You can find the same overreach that existed in Swartz’s trial in every zero tolerance policy in schools, you can find it in our skyrocketing prison population in general — and it should make you enraged because the punitive parts of our system do not punish equally.

If you are HSBC and you have been involved in money laundering, you pay a fine; if you are a six-year-old who brings a camping utensil to school, you get suspended; if you are a poor 13-year-old who is late to school, you have to go to court with your family and face a $350 fine.

We can all be asked “where were you?” when we discover or become involved in something we didn’t know before, but that isn’t the answer that will bridge movements and make the people who oppose an inequitable system stronger. The real answer is “Welcome.”

Welcome to this part of the fight against violations of individual liberty, welcome to this part of the fight against commercialization of knowledge. Welcome, welcome, welcome.

The real question is: “What do you know that we don’t know?” There is a great deal that people who have been involved with schools know that the Electronic Frontier Foundation doesn’t know, and vice versa. The same goes for people working on issues in the prison system.

Those of us who harassed our legislators over SOPA and talk the ears off our non-techie friends about speech, privacy, and consumer rights in a technologically-mediated world are situated in one corner of a much larger battle with a much larger system. We have natural allies in education activists who work to mobilize against the school to prison pipeline and the increasingly prison-like schools (replete with police, metal detectors, fines, etc.), among others. It seems that the tragedies the U.S. has seen in the last couple of months — the Newtown school shooting and the ensuing talk of armed teachers in schools or a national database of mentally ill people, and the increasingly visible and serious problems inherent in Swartz’s trial and others like it — are intertwined.

We should take a look at each other’s information, see what we share, and say “Welcome. What can I learn from you?”

The divide between the Catholic Church and its members

If there’s one thing that Minnesota’s marriage amendment results showed, it’s that the Catholic leadership severely underestimated individual Catholics’ abilities to think for themselves. What started firmly with JFK — the lines drawn between personal beliefs and governing practices — still holds true.  While there are no polls out yet that I’ve found about how Minnesota Catholics voted as a whole about the marriage amendment, I will point out results from two places that my family hails from: St. Paul and Chisholm, both very Catholic areas. St. Paul is about 51% Catholic and trounced the marriage amendment as a city: only 29.95% of all their citizens voted yes. Chisholm is about 49% Catholic and 48.57% of their city voted yes and, obviously, that does not consist solely of Catholics.  For all of the Church’s work — the bigoted DVDs, the amazing amount of money poured into the election, and the constant drumbeat of YES, YES, YES in the churches and schools — they still couldn’t turn the amendment out.

While, yes, it was close in Chisholm — consider the location.  It’s a small town in the more socially conservative Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. What a great job MN United did in having the conversations to get them on the right side of history.  I like to think I helped a bit there, though.  It’s really hard to vote against family.

With all the talk of mandates floating around, I would argue that if there is any mandate worth looking at it’s the mandate the Catholics are giving to their church.  In sanctioning nuns for caring more about the poor than the bigoted social issues of the day, in never reporting pedophiles who were priests to authorities, and in pouring resources into political campaigns that promote inequality, they have made egregious mistakes.  Like the Republican Party, rather than face reality they have doubled down on veering to the hard right.  They have also put a higher value on protecting individuals who do not deserve it, predators, and I’ve never understood why.  Is it personal affinity? A fear of a PR problem? A fear that if people see that predators exist in the priesthood that they won’t trust priests?  I mean, that kind of backfired and hurt a lot of kids in the process.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that the Church needs to get its priorities straight.  That’s not going to happen with an entrenched, right wing, male-only hierarchy and so I don’t believe that it will get its priorities straight. But all that means for the Church is dwindling U.S. membership, dwindling money, and dwindling influence.  Archbishop Neinstedt and the Catholic Church’s leadership in Minnesota and at the Vatican put their impotence on display yesterday.  I don’t believe they will learn from it, but they should.

On a slightly different note:

Not so confidential to Republican party folks who don’t understand why you got trounced yesterday: Compromise does not mean that Democrats must meet your demands or face an intractable opposition who will not let any legislation pass.  Compromise means that you actually need to compromise and give up things that you want to come to an agreement about how to make things better for the country.  If you can’t understand that, expect to keep getting kicked out after the fad of an anti-incumbent wave.   I wish this election was about the resurgence of American progressivism, but it wasn’t, it was about the desire for government to just get things done without having giant hissy fits every other week.  So stop saying that Obama has to learn to compromise.  He does. Constantly.  He just isn’t going to turn into a GOP party member.

Not so confidential to the media: Quit pretending that the issue is both sides compromising. You know it isn’t. Just stop it. It’s a malicious narrative and keeps the GOP from being held accountable for their intractability.

Election Countdown: 1 Day

Tomorrow is November 6 and that means tomorrow you’re going to head on over to your polling place and VOTE NO on both amendments on Minnesota’s ballot. Right? Of course you are! Rather than do any counterpoints today, I’ll dwell in the realm of stories. Read day one and the intro here.

Make my mom happy and vote no on the marriage amendment.

This is my mom, who is Catholic. This picture is from my wedding — the one Megan and I had in Boston because we wanted it to be legal and that wasn’t going to happen here. That woman dragged herself across the country for the first time in 30 years and rode out to the arboretum in a wheelchair so she could be at the wedding. I really challenge anyone who is undecided or wavering as a yes vote to tell that woman, who is so visibly happy, that this isn’t personal. That this is just about a ‘definition.’

I have to tell you, even though I would be devastated if MN passes the amendment, Megan and I will still be married. She’s my wife and always will be and there is no amendment in the world that’s going to change that as a lived reality. The amendment endangers us, makes us less safe in the world, but we’re still married because that is the commitment we made to each other and that’s what’s real.

So you’ve got my arguments, you’ve got all the arguments of the great people working to defeat the amendment. Go out there and make my mom happy.

Keep MN’s election system strong! Vote no on voter ID.

I lived in NYC for about 5 years, and voted there in the 2000 election. What a nightmare that was. We had two clunky old machines for my entire precinct, which meant people were waiting for over 2 hours in line to vote. You had to register weeks ahead of time and even if you did, your name might not wind up on the voter rolls. That happened to my neighbor when we went to vote together. If that had happened here, I could have vouched for him and he could have cast a real vote. Instead, he was forced to cast a provisional ballot, so we’re still not sure if his vote was ever actually counted.

I promise you, if there was actual individual voter fraud in Minnesota elections on any sort of profound level — considering how close they’ve been — you would know the stories of each person accused. Remember “lizard people”? I can actually picture the guy’s face in my head and that’s just because he wrote in a joke candidate.

We’ve got a great thing going here, let’s not mess it up.

VOTE NO + NO!

Stopwatch designed by Steffen Nørgaard Andersen from The Noun Project

Election Countdown: 2 Days

Two days until November 6 and that means this is day five of reasons you should VOTE NO on both amendments on Minnesota’s ballot. I’ve pretty much used up my scenario creativity, so today I’m going to go with Minnesota elitism (We’re #1! We’re #1!). Read day one and the intro here.

Minnesota is the best, part one: Why voting no on the marriage amendment makes Minnesota awesomer.

I really love Minnesota, and that’s part of what would make it so heartbreaking to see this amendment pass. But I also have a lot of confidence in us: confidence that we may stumble in the dark at times, but we do strive to be better. Don’t get me wrong, I know we’re not unicorn land and that we have our problems, but in my experience there has been a long culture here of both independence and a recognition of interdependence. I think that if Minnesotans keep those things in mind–that we value the individual and we see that we’re stronger together than we are separate–that we can not only set the tone for how we treat LGBT people with a big old NO on this amendment, but we can use this time of reflection to think about how linked we all are and how the success and happiness of everyone else is linked with our own. Making the lives of LGBT Minnesotans harder means making the lives of their families (parents, siblings, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) harder and it makes life harder for every boy who’s a little too ‘artsy’ and every girl who’s a little too ‘tomboyish’ regardless of who they’ll wind up dating in their futures.

That adds up to a lot of people in this state. We can lead the way and be the first state to say NO to an amendment like this. We can do this. And it will lead to brighter days.

Minnesota is the best, part two: Do we really want to be like these other states?

Minnesota has one of the most awesome sets of voting laws and infrastructures in the country. I’m not kidding. One of the reasons we consistently get such high turnout in elections is that we make it easy for people to vote when they can — and to register at the last minute. Sometimes, this sucks for my personal candidates of choice (those last minute registerers probably gave Ventura the votes to become governor), but that’s okay. The infrastructure is the important part here, the access to voting is the important part here.

Other states, states in which the groups promoting Voter ID have won victories, have terrible voting track records when it comes to managing crowds. Let’s go with just today, how about?

In Miami, the Miami-Dade election department opened from 1-5 p.m. to try to work around a new Florida law that clamped down on early voting. So many people showed up that they shut down.

Thanks to the rabble rousing voters being like “OMG WTF?” they reopened. However, yikes, you’d think a county and state that majorly messed up the 2000 election would have their act together 12 years later. But you’d think wrong.

And then there’s Ohio. This line? Not okay. One great way to suppress votes, especially for people who don’t have a lot of time to spare from work or child care, is to make it take an incredibly long time to vote. If today is an example of what Tuesday will be like in Ohio, they are well on their way.

As I mentioned the other day, the whole in-person voter fraud thing is a whole lot of hogwash, but there are many ways to intimidate people or structurally prevent them from voting. Here’s more info about those: voter caging, lying flyers, deceptive robocalls, felon disenfranchisement, voter ID laws, voter purges, menacing billboards, poll watchers, messing with early voting, and making voter registration more difficult.

Finally, let’s remember that it is not really that long ago that we got most of this voting equality sorted out (and we’re still better than others because a lot of others still suck). Back in 1947, a time when both of my parents were alive, the registrar in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, would only enroll black voters who could produce three registered white voters to vouch for them. And in 1962, when my mom was well into college, the RNC launched “Operation Eagle Eye,” and sent Houston residents false warnings that police would be at polling locations arresting people with outstanding traffic tickets; Latinos in the Rio Grande valley got letters saying “It probably would be wiser to simply stay at home and not go near the voting place on election day, rather than get arrested for interfering with the election judge.”

We’re better than this, right? I sure as hell think so.

I’m also going to plug Megan’s favorite movie here, which is about women winning the right to vote, called “Iron Jawed Angels.” She’s weird. But think about women being jailed, going on hunger strikes, and force fed in jail for trying to secure the right for women to vote just under 100 years ago…this right is too hard won to let people take it away.

VOTE NO + NO!

Stopwatch designed by Steffen Nørgaard Andersen from The Noun Project

Emergency: Aid for the Ali Forney Center for Homeless LGBT Youth

I know that most people who listen to me talk on the Internet are Minnesota-based, and that most of you don’t have strong NYC ties and may not know how truly devastating Hurricane Sandy was in the Tri-State area. After leaving the lovely and healing “Love Wins” cabaret show at the Bryant Lake Bowl (it was a rough day in MN LGBT-land, politically, and I needed that!), I saw a tweet from Joe My God that the Ali Forney Center in New York City was destroyed in the hurricane.

That center serves homeless LGBT youth from their location in the Chelsea (in Manhattan), and their space has been rendered uninhabitable because of the water level. It destroyed their phones, computers, and the space itself.

This is a tremendous loss for such a densely populated area that serves so many kids — both natives of NYC and transplants — and they need help. Almost 1.5 times the number of people who live in the entire state of Minnesota live in New York City alone. If you consider the tri-state area, that number jumps to almost four times the population of Minnesota. This is hard work that these people do and a huge population that they serve, and they need your help. Please donate to help the Ali Forney Center serve LGBT homeless youth.

Election Countdown: 3 Days

Three days until November 6 and that means this is day four of reasons you should VOTE NO on both amendments on Minnesota’s ballot. I have to be honest with you, the reasons the Voter ID people are giving for why voter ID is necessary are so few and far between that I’m having trouble coming up with scenarios to rebut. Yet I soldier on! Read day one and the intro here.

Scenario 1: I might vote yes on the marriage amendment because I’m not super sure about same sex marriage, but I’ve never visited the Minnesota for Marriage (pro-amendment) website.

Please visit it. Visit the Threat to Marriage page right now. But only if you’re straight. If you’re gay, don’t visit it. You will either burst into tears or hurl your computer across the room and you don’t need that emotional pain/financial cost on a pleasant November weekend.

I know I’ve been a little bit jaunty and a little bit informative on these thus far, but I just can’t today. If you have any question of which side you want to align with on this ballot, please read this and consider two things — how it doesn’t make much sense and how truly malicious this group is to people who are LGBT. It’s like even when they’re pretending they ‘hate the sin, love the sinner,’ they can’t shake the poisonous hatred that actually exists in them.

Also, just to be bitchy, they obviously can’t find anyone competent to do their design because that photoshop job on the banner is worse than a 10-year-old’s attempt at the software. Look at the woman’s arm — it’s all bumpy and weird. And her shoulder comes to a point. Anyway.

Their overarching complaints is that suddenly “Marriage will be redefined for everyone.” Which, I guess means that … um … I really am not sure. Will straight people now have to consider marrying people of the same sex? I already pointed out yesterday that no church even has to marry any straight couple that walks through the door, so it’s not that they’d be forced to marry the gays (though they sure imply it). I guess it’s that on a governmental level, if Minnesota’s laws that make same sex marriage illegal get overturned or if they try to write new laws, then same sex people could get married and — I’m just not sure. Something terrible would happen? Because of the word?

Dude, did you know that if you’re not Catholic, you’re not supposed to take communion in a Catholic church? Even if you’re Lutheran? All this “YOUR RELIGION IS IN JEOPARDY” stuff is so not a thing.

However, while technically accurate (the Catholic Charities in Boston did have to choose between discriminating against LGBT people in adoptions or to stop taking government money), they didn’t have to close their doors. We live in a society with all kinds of religions and views and if you’re going to take money from the government, you should be serving all of society. A rape crisis center doesn’t check to make sure you’re liberal and voting for funding for them before they provide you service. The government doesn’t ask you if you’re a libertarian who wanted to cut FEMA before they help fix your hurricane-ravaged neighborhood. I’m not sure why we want to give churches special rights to discriminate.

Okay, I can’t take anymore. I’m sorry. I just went to their Myths & Facts page and read the “Myth: Redefining marriage won’t have an impact on anyone else’s marriage” and now I need to go throw up/cry/try not to hurt my computer. Why are these people so obsessed with the idea of ‘genderless’? You can just hear them gag as they type it. It’s so freakin weird I just can’t handle it.

I love you all, but I think I’ve suffered enough for this countdown on the marriage amendment today. Do you really want to be on that side of history? Please say no.

Scenario 2: The Voter ID site tells me this will actually help disadvantaged populations.

This is a point on their site that I came across this morning and it’s so cynical I just started laughing. The text is below:

Makes Life A Little Easier for Disadvantaged Voters

The voter ID bill will help people who may be having a hard time getting along in society because of a lack of identification by providing ID at no charge. This has the added benefit of enabling people to get work, open bank accounts and participate in other normal functions of society that are impossible without photo ID.

I try to be patient, but this makes me livid. First, it operates on the assumption that people without ID don’t work and it is no small jump to the tired anti-social safety net tropes of leeches on the system. Second, if you want everyone to have an ID and think that this would be good for society, there is no reason to tie that to voting rights. (It’s worth noting that there is a strong strain in libertarianism that would reject a governmental requirement for ID, so I don’t really get this argument in general if you fall on that side of the spectrum. I mean, you want to fight airport scanners, but want the government to track everyone? Weird.)

But let’s talk about banking for a moment. Of those who are “unbanked” or “under-banked,” the most common reason is not because they don’t have an ID, but because they don’t think they have enough money to need a bank account. Want more recent data? View the FDIC’s full report.

That’s kind of a sidetrack, but I want to emphasize that the pro-voter ID group is not actually interested in helping disadvantaged people. More to the point, let’s talk about how many people would be impacted by ID laws. (Source 1, Source 2 )

  • 11% of U.S. citizens (~21 million eligible voters) don’t have government-issued photo ID.
  • They tend to be young people, those without college educations, Latinos, and the poor.
  • 7% of U.S. citizens (~13 million people) do not have ready access to passports/naturalization papers/birth certificates. This means these people cannot easily produce documents proving their citizenship (Side note: I’m not actually sure where my birth certificate is…crap…)
  • Of course this impacts poorer people more. Duh.
  • This also impacts women: only 66% of voting age women have ready access to any proof of citizenship with their current legal name. This has really affected older women who never had a need to prove their names before (contrary to popular belief, not everyone travels on planes, and those non-working, current ID-less people are often senior citizens).
  • In fact, 18% of U.S. citizens over age 65 do not have current government-issued photo-ID

This list really keeps going.

The glib tone of the pro-voter ID organizations really gets to me. In our country, not everyone has the exact same experience, and I understand that if you don’t know people who aren’t just like you that it can blind you to all the complications they have that you don’t have (just like they don’t really know your complications). The fact of the matter is that this issue is not a simple one and the reductive tone of the pro-voter ID campaign should insult the intelligence of all of us. Repeated studies have shown that amendments like these have strong potential to suppress turnout by up to about 2.4% (more in certain populations, and with a general swing towards GOP candidates). Considering voter fraud is at 0.00000001% (see yesterday’s post), I think it’s pretty clear what messes up the electoral system more.

VOTE NO + NO!

Stopwatch designed by Steffen Nørgaard Andersen from The Noun Project

Election Countdown: 4 Days

Alrighty people. Four days until November 6 and that means this is day three of reasons you should VOTE NO on both amendments on Minnesota’s ballot. Read day one and the intro here.

Scenario 1: This is not so much a scenario, but an amalgam of arguments you can file under: “But, religion!”

Look, if you or your brethren are super committed to the whole marriage=man/woman/procreation thing, I don’t know that anyone can do anything in four days to really help you. Both of my grandmothers lost their spouses about 40 and 15 years before they died, respectively, and if either of them had decided to marry someone new in their 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s, it would have been weird (because thinking about your elders all smitten is kind of weird), but no one would have been screaming about procreation. But that’s logic and logic has no place in this.

Instead, I’m going to tell you a story.

I was raised Catholic like everyone else in my family and I have something of a secret those of you who were not raised Catholic do not know. We aren’t really raised to know the difference between any of the other Christian denominations. Seriously — you’re all just ‘Protestant.’ In fact (and I’m a little skittish about actually writing this down), priests aren’t super strong advocates of marriage of Catholics to non-Catholics — and I’m not talking interfaith here, I’m talking Episcopalian or Lutheran or whatever.

Why point this out? Well, first off, clergy of any religion have the ability to nix marrying any couple in a given religion. I’ve known Jewish rabbis who won’t perform interfaith marriages either, mostly because they believe those marriages don’t work out in the long run or that the children won’t be raised Jewish. It’s the same deal for Catholics. If they’re not required to marry any opposite sex couple that walks through the door, rest assured there will not be a legal requirement to marry any same sex couple that walks through the door either.

In a very strong respect, this amendment is also an assault on religious liberty. There are a number of denominations/religions that do perform same sex marriages (some church-wide and some at the discretion of individual members of leadership, like bishops), these include: Episcopalians, Lutherans (ELCA), United Church of Christ, Unitarians, Reform Judaism, and Conservative Judaism. I want anyone using a religious argument to think very hard about whether they want the government or more dominant religions getting mixed up in their own sacraments (or whatever).

Of course, and this needs to be mentioned even though it doesn’t sway anyone, but there are lots of agnostics, atheists, and unaffiliated people out there and I think it’s ridiculous to tell any of us we can’t be married legally because of religion even though none of our opposite sex marriages have anything to do with churches. (That number is currently around 16% of the U.S. population, so it isn’t small potatoes.)

Finally, and I’m particularly angry with the Catholic hierarchy about this, but the religion of my childhood seems to have forgotten how forcefully Catholic candidates for office had to advocate for the separation of church and state just to fend off fears that the Pope would control U.S. policy. There was actual discrimination against Catholics in this way — but the current leadership of the Church is making that ridiculous idea an actual reality, which is weird and uncomfortable. Take a moment to listen to or read through JFK’s famous 1960 speech in Texas. Oh, hell, I’ll just post in part of it below:

These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues–for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.

But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured–perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again–not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me–but what kind of America I believe in.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source–where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

Scenario 2: I want to stop all voting fraud, even if it’s an infinitesimal chance, it’s worth it for our democracy.

I’m not sure if you know this about me, but I’m a pretty big tech geek. It’s what I get paid for, it’s how I roll, and as far as democracy goes, I’ve been pretty concerned about voting problems for a long time. Thankfully, here in Minnesota we still have paper ballots, but in other states the machines are such that there is only an electronic copy of votes — no back up, no proof that what you punched in on the screen is what got registered.

So let me ask you this first, let’s say that ID is an issue at the polls (it’s not, individual voting fraud is not, see yesterday’s post for details) — but let’s say that the lack of transparency in our election system is a big, mysterious, vague blob. Which is more troubling?

To put that in terms of my house: I have a crack in my stairway wall that drives me nuts. There’s some water damage, it looks kind of ugly, but it’s not actually causing any problems — I can just clearly see it and I don’t like it. I’ve also had the following: basement stairs that were about to give out and crumble under someone’s feet, rotten basement windows and a messed up chimney that were letting quite a bit of water in when it rained, a broken water heater, an improperly flashed porch roof, and — the bane of my existence — a tree with such powerful roots that it literally backs up sewage into our laundry tub sink exactly once every 11 months if we don’t get the roots chopped up by the sewer guy in time.

I hate those roots.

The mechanics of our voting system — literally, the structures of our voting machines — are like those tree roots. They’re not visible unless you know where to look and most people won’t notice anything’s wrong until something terrible happens. Computers are still not very understood by most people, and computer security is even less understood. It’s way easier to think about one or two bad people gaming the system, but it’s really pointless on a grand scale. Want to protect our democracy? Learn about and care about how we’re actually voting. This book is a start. I’d also recommend learning about the Electronic Frontier Foundation

VOTE NO + NO!

Stopwatch designed by Steffen Nørgaard Andersen from The Noun Project

Election Countdown: 5 Days

Tick, tick, tick. Five days until November 6 (that’s when you vote, unless you already voted, in which case — why are you reading this?) and that means this is day two of reasons you should VOTE NO on both amendments on Minnesota’s ballot. Read day one and the intro here.

Scenario 1: None of the LGBT people in my life have told me voting no is important.

Oof. It’s five days away and someone has been putting off the tough conversations. That’s okay. Maybe your niece assumes you’re voting yes and can’t be swayed and she doesn’t want to deal with the pain of actually knowing that’s what you’re doing. Maybe you have one gay colleague at work who thinks (possibly correctly) that they’d be fired if they broached the subject to colleagues.

I know it’s weird or awkward, but if you’re undecided, waffling, or know undecided people, now is the time to ask — or encourage others to ask some LGBT people — “How will this amendment affect your life? How do you feel about it?” Yeah, it’ll be awkward, but it’s just as likely that person would welcome the chance to tell you their story.

For me, I can’t describe the personal sadness I would feel knowing that my state — my people — thought so little of me that not only could they not bring themselves to reject something that made something that was illegal already extra illegal, but they wanted to change our constitution to actually promote discrimination.

For me, marriage was something I didn’t think was important until I actually met a woman who I realized would be the most amazing partner, teammate, cheerleader, and love for the rest of my life. I desperately wanted to protect her and care for her and I realized that there are definitely ways in which I can’t do that because federally and in our state, our Massachusetts marriage isn’t recognized. In some legal ways, not being able to get married makes you a permanent child — it’s your parents who will deal with your remains when you die; your parents who will be allowed in the hospital.

It’s not as dire, but what I found out after getting married was that there is something quite special about saying “I’m in it. Good or bad.” in public. There’s a reason that, at weddings, the officiant sometimes has more than just the couple say “I do.” They also ask the people in attendance — assumed to be the core communities and families of the couple — to be their support system when life gets hard and to help them stay strong as a couple. As much as I hate to admit it because of my rather strong independent streak, ritual means something. It changes how people see you, and sometimes it changes how you think about things.

Scenario 2: I keep hearing about voter fraud. It seems reasonable to try to prevent it.

Okay, first, let’s talk about what “voter fraud” means. What is the definition?

Here is the thing, it’s not a great term. Secondly, the amendment we’ve got on the ballot isn’t just about the vague notion of fraud.

This is how the amendment will be presented to you on the ballot:

Photo Identification Required for Voting.

“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?”

Here is the actual wording of the amendment. There’s stuff in there about length of residence in a district, ‘mental competence,’ etc. that’s not included in what you’re voting on. That…well, that’s not good. If you’re a student, you should probably worry about that length of residence thing because you guys are always picking up and moving around.

So fine, that’s what’s on the ballot. But what’s the reason? Ah yes, the amorphous “voter fraud” thing.

The way in which the concept of voter fraud is being invoked in this kind of legislation is simple — it’s focused on individuals trying to vote in precincts they don’t live in or when they’re ineligible to vote. If that was actually a problem, that might suck a lot.

But it’s not. Go read about the Carnegie and Knight Foundations-funded report on election/voting fraud.

Here are what you need to pay attention to (from the site):

Since 2000, while fraud has occurred, the number of cases is infinitesimal.

In-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent. Only 10 such cases over more than a decade were reported.

There is more fraud in absentee ballots and voter registration than any other category. The analysis shows 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases of registration fraud. A required photo ID at the polls would not have prevented these cases. (NOTE: these are still tiny, tiny numbers across the nation.)

Okay, so 10 cases of in-person voting fraud (the kind that the ID amendment would prevent) happened since 2000. During that time, 146 million Americans cast votes. That makes the incidence of voting fraud 0.00000001. If you think those odds are a problem, you should definitely play the lottery because you are sure to be a winner!

But seriously, this is a thing that hardly happens. Implementing the amendment will cost money (a lot of money) and will make it harder for people we like quite a bit (Grandma, for instance) to vote. And nuns, 23 nuns to be exact, which is double all the in-person voting fraud over 10+ years that ID would have prevented all in one state in one year!

It’s really simple. This is an amendment to address a non-existent problem. So what’s the purpose? What problem is it trying to solve? I’ll talk about that another day…

VOTE NO + NO!

Stopwatch designed by Steffen Nørgaard Andersen from The Noun Project