“Is the sad part over?”

Content warning: explicit descriptions of slavery.

As I lie next to Hazel while she falls asleep, I read. I’ve been reading “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” by Edward E. Baptist for several weeks, often as I’m lying next to her.

She does not want to sleep. Ever. She asks me to read it to her. Sometimes I do, when what I’m reading is simply dates and economics and the brutality of the history is hidden. Sometimes I say, “No, this is a sad part,” and she says, “Stop reading! Eek!” and jumps to the end of the bed.

“Is the sad part over?” she asks.

Hazel is three. I do not tell her about the toddlers the slaveholders drowned for not picking enough cotton. I do not tell her about the heads they put on stakes and let rot in the sun as warnings. I do not tell her about families that were intentionally and strategically torn from each other. I do not tell her about the torrents of blood: our origin story.

“No, honey, just wait.”

There is not room in me for anger. Each time the anger wells in me, it turns into mournful keening. It turns into silence because the lamentation is wordless. There is too much and I will myself to focus. I make plans. I read. I send money. I catch myself speaking only in my head, even when others are in the room with me.

And slowly, slowly, I realize that this is because of Hazel.

Alone, I cannot be hurt. I know the cruelty of our culture because it is in me and I have fought it for decades.

I can be hurt, though. Because of her. The banshees that shriek in my mind know that I cannot save her from what is to come. That the problems I thought we could work on to make our country and world better are now on the other side of the mirror. The Obama years, both the good and the bad, now seem like a hallucination.

When they go low, we go high. 


[T]he worst thing about slavery as an experience, one is told, was that it denied enslaved African Americans the liberal rights and liberal subjectivity of modern citizens. It did those things as a matter of course, and as injustice, that denial ranks with the greatest in modern history. But slavery also killed people, in large numbers. From those who survived, it stole everything. Yet the massive and cruel engineering required to rip a million people from their homes, brutally drive them to new, disease-ridden places, and make them live in terror and hunger as they continually built and rebuilt a commodity-generating empire—this vanished in the story of a slavery that was supposedly focused primarily not on producing profit but on maintaining its status as a quasi-feudal elite, or producing modern ideas about race in order to maintain white unity and elite power. And once the violence of slavery was minimized, another voice could whisper, saying that African Americans, both before and after emancipation, were denied the rights of citizens because they would not fight for them. –Baptist

I keep telling people (White people, mostly) to read this book. I read it and am horrified. I am reminded of things I know. I am reminded of things I forgot. I was never taught most of this.

It helps me make sense of things. The cruelty is in America’s bones. It is the secret cost of assimilation for those of us whose families came after the Civil War and came from Europe: to become White, it was necessary to adjust to the particular style of cruelty that we have never reckoned with. The cruelty just morphs into whatever will be culturally tolerated.

My great-grandparents did not have a real understanding of the history of the country they came to. They came to the myth of America. I am much more able to speak to the cultural context of the immigrant, someone fleeing poverty or famine or war, who does not speak English, who is looked upon with suspicion due to their religion–because these are the origin stories of how my family came to America.

But this is not the story of how we became White. It is not the story of how we became American.

I want to take this and make sense of it. Figure out how to cleave the stories (true stories!) of overcoming adversity from what was tacitly accepted in order for that to become a reality.  I want to show all these people in Minnesota who became White how many wheels were set in place to lift us up. I want them to see the manipulation, the way capitalism’s gears have us all in the teeth, that the toxic whiteness that The Bad Man (as we call him here) explicitly invoked in his rallies and tweets to much success is a terrible inheritance that we can–and must–reject. White supremacy will not get working class people better incomes. It only sinks us further into toxicity.

Of course, it is all more complicated than this. I am in pain because I saw actual progress for LGBTQ people over my lifetime. Most Black women I know were disappointed, but their eyes never stop seeing the cruelty of White America–and generation after generation, they see the cruelty of White America directed at their children.

So in the actual election, we were simultaneously let down by the people who were supposed to inform us of the issues, manipulated via algorithms built by technolibertarians in homogenous Silicon Valley, and manipulated through media savviness by (of all countries) Russia.

Still, many White people in our country clearly crave authoritarianism and believe it will only be applied to others. After all, that is what we used to do and he did vow to make us great “again.” How else could you set aside The Bad Man’s lifelong misogyny, sexual assault, and racism? How else could you set aside the actual words he said during the campaign?

There is the keening in my mind again. There is so much to our history. There is so much to our present. There is so much the GOP is willing to do to turn the clock back centuries. The lows are extraordinary, but they are not unimaginable. White America has done this before.

I spend nights worrying. I wonder if something happens to Megan, will our adoption papers mean anything in four years? The night of the election, as she cried and I quietly and obsessively scrolled through Twitter, I said “They can take our marriage, but they can’t take us from each other. We’re ride or die.” It made her laugh for just a moment.

But Hazel. Underneath the keening in my mind I am begging for her to not be taken. Begging for her future. Begging for her to not go through the same trials that I have.

I do not feel comfortable leaving urban areas right now. My eyes are training on White women in the suburbs and my mind growls: which ones of you were okay with this future? With this pain? Have you not learned?

I return to the book, though. I realize that it is I who has not learned. I have not learned in my heart — despite knowing in my head and living through my body — that whiteness is typically prioritized above all other identities. The Bad Man ran an explicitly racist campaign. That did not repulse White women, it drew them (us) in.


Trying not to die on Code of Conduct hill

Close to 10 years ago, a number of colleagues and I started a web conference. I’ve written about it before because  we’ve made decisions over time that have resulted in a track record of relatively equal representation of both men and women at the conference.

I dig doing it. I like the people (all of whom are doing this for free) not just because they’re interesting and smart and get excited about the new and old of the web, but because they’re on board with creating a community where more people feel comfortable.

When we heard of “codes of conduct,” we were like — cool, let’s do it. We’d been working hard to make people feel included and welcome for years, so it was honestly kind of a no brainer.  This wasn’t a copy and paste job, because we saw it as a way to verbalize the culture we had already been trying to develop.

Let’s call it a statement of values with teeth.

I like to assume that our attendees can act like the respectful people that they generally are. I also think that because we aren’t a “destination conference,” people aren’t looking to get blotto drunk and behave badly. However, I’ve had my fair share of bad conference experiences and know that it doesn’t hurt to remind people that we have certain expectations of speakers and attendees.

An abbreviated list of completely unprofessional things that have happened to me/in my presence at ostensibly professional conferences in the last four years:

  • Being expected to laugh at the stories of senior men in the field when these stories are demeaning to women. For example: hahaha we told our cab driver to find us prostitutes when we were drunk and he did! or hahaha we took the younger guys (who we’re obviously mentoring instead of younger women) out to a strip club last night!
    Extend these to an irritatingly large number of similar conversations.
  • Being asked if my wife was going to get pregnant “the natural way” (hahaha you’re so funny with talking about some dude having sex with my lesbian wife)
  • Being in a group of men complaining about their wives in all manner of sexist nonsense in a way that is pure macho performance (not enough sex, she spends all my money, blah blah blah) and being expected to not yell at them or even comment on how misogynistic they are
  • Sitting in a keynote where the speaker talks about an amazing program that somehow only had boys in it. When asked why that was, the keynote responded to the effect of “Oh I don’t know. Maybe we need to let girls know they don’t have to be supercoders. They could be writers. Or into art.”
    (I actually don’t even want to add other speakers who have done similar things because it makes me too sad)

Note that these don’t include things I know of that happened to or in the vicinity of other women.

So here’s the thing. I really hate the focus on the argument that code of conduct stuff is about safety — there is certainly an element of that, because people need to know that harassment and/or violence will be taken seriously. However, note that none of my stories are about my physical safety.

My stories, my oh so common stories, are about whether or not I want to be around these people and this environment. In environments that don’t specifically work on inclusion, there is an expectation that I and other women will suffer this nonsense in silence, deferring to the need for men to blow off steam. You can extend this to other populations as well, as demonstrated by the “natural way” comment that was inherently homophobic and misogynistic.

All of this is why a code of conduct (and all the actions you take to make that meaningful) are important: let’s name the playing field. Who is this conference for? Who is this space for? If we say it’s for everyone, then don’t create an exhausting environment. It’s really that simple.

It shouldn’t be hard to put your values down in words.

I didn’t write a bad book

There is a way that people talk about their dissertations that really bugs me. “Oh this old thing? Ain’t nothing. I just wrote a bad book.”

Are you KIDDING me? Years of your life invested, the privilege of having those years to invest, and we’re going to do this dance?

Well. I’m done and I have those three letters now too. And you know what? I didn’t write a bad book, I wrote a badass book. I worked my ass off on it, tried to balance being true to how I write while still adhering to what I needed to do to make it “academic.”

With that said, of the questions asked during my defense, one lingers because I don’t really know what my response is. I had a response, a stupid response, but I kind of wish I had just said what I feel. I am exhausted, so when I was asked what I plan to do with the work I did (publish, etc.), I rambled on for a moment because I don’t really know. Because I am exhausted. Because I have a child and a job and cancer surgery stole a month away from my writing time but I still finished in time for the defense.

I know what I found should be heard because the academic narrative around the It Gets Better Project is so critical and my research took a different path. I know that. But I don’t really know what I want to do about it. Academic publishing isn’t necessary to my career and it’s not the kind of writing that makes me happy, but if I just write essays about the work and it hasn’t been published…that has other drawbacks.

Anyway. I’m glad to be done and everyone tells me to give it a month or two and breathe.

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.

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.


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.


Stopwatch designed by Steffen Nørgaard Andersen from The Noun Project

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.


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


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…


Stopwatch designed by Steffen Nørgaard Andersen from The Noun Project

Election Countdown: 6 Days

Oh no, you say! Where is your election voting guide?

My dear people, do you not know what my life has been? Dissertation, dissertation, dissertation.

If you need election advice in the Twin Cities, go to this blog because it’s more or less what I would say. So there you go.

What I’m particularly concerned about in these final days leading up to the elections is that you and everyone you know vote NO (that’s a big, fat, loud NO) on both constitutional amendments on Minnesota’s ballot.

What this means is that each day for the next six days I’m going to give you one thing to tell your friends, family, dogs, cats, guys on the street, baristas, cashiers, goldfish — everyone — about each amendment.

  1. VOTING IS IMPORTANT. If you would vote no on these amendments, but are like “Meh, I was all hope and change in 2008 but then Obama wasn’t a magical pixie benevolent dictator and didn’t do everything he said he would so what’s the point?” Buck up, my cynical friend! That’s life. Life is compromise. Life is disappointment. Life is soldiering on to fight another day. The election isn’t all about Obama or any individual, it’s about everything combined.  You think you’re sick of the MN United for all Families emails now?? Just wait until we have to spend the next 15 years trying to undo the constitutional nightmare.  You’ll wish you’d just voted.
  2. VOTING NO IS IMPORTANT. That’s what I’m here for. Does it make you uncomfortable to discuss marriage with your religious parents? Do you not know or care much about Voter ID since you have a driver’s license? Now is time to have those conversations and really think about other people.  Because really, what’s harder — uncomfortable conversations or your same-sex coupled friends living in a state that says “we kind of hate you”?  (It’s the latter. Promise. Also, you think it’s hard to have one conversation? Try coming out. Welcome to a lifetime of conversations with either well-intentioned ignorance or just plain cruelty. It’s exhausting.)

Scenario 1: A person doesn’t really like the idea of same-sex marriage, but isn’t a giant anti-gay crusader or anything.

This is fine. Everyone has their process — and I’m more than happy to start with uncomfortable. I’m sure there are a lot of people like this in the state.

Remind them of a couple things: first, if they VOTE NO on the amendment, they aren’t voting to legalize same-sex marriage here. It’s already illegal. This amendment tries to make it double plus illegal and makes it hard for us to grow and change as a state.  It’s basically like “OMG Kids these days don’t mind gay people we’d better entrench anti-gay stuff in the constitution because people might make different decisions than we have!”

With that in mind, ask them if it doesn’t seem — oh, I don’t know — kind of mean to rub it in the faces of people in same-sex relationships that not only is marriage already illegal for you, we just want you to really know we’d rather you not be here in the state?  But anyway, reinforce that no one is voting for same-sex marriage, it will not be legal no matter whether the amendment wins or loses.

Scenario 2: Doesn’t everyone have ID? Why is this such a big deal?

I’ll give you some statistics later, but for now I give you this.  Do we want to make Minnesota the new California?  What do I mean?

From 1879 to the mid-nineties, California ranked first in the nation in proposed amendments (812) and second in adopted ones (485), averaging 4.29 per year (Cain, Ferejohn, Najar and Walther, 1995). (Source (PDF))

What I’m saying is that we elect representatives for a reason — to make decisions.* Don’t like their decisions? Vote in a new person. Don’t like any of them? Run for office! Legislating through ballot initiatives is a bad idea because most things that go on in government are pretty complex and a one or two sentence constitutional amendment is a pretty scary thing to vote up or down on. What does it mean? What are the implications? Really, you don’t know.

I, for one, really don’t want to vote on four constitutional amendments and revisions every year. I also don’t want anyone else in the state doing that — we simply don’t have the time to understand why it’s there, what it will mean in practice, etc.

(And, no, not everyone has an ID. We’ll get to that another time.  But they don’t.  If you have an older grandparent or great-grandparent, they probably don’t have an up-to-date, valid one.)

Stopwatch designed by Steffen Nørgaard Andersen from The Noun Project

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