“Today across the country a citizen uprising begins,” says Kip Humphrey, giving the first speech of his life, under a pure blue sky in Texas. It is the day before the Electoral College meets, and Humphrey is here to demonstrate his anger and disappointment with the way that election 2004 has gone down.
Just two weeks ago Humphrey and his son set up a website called 51 Capital March dot com and, using internet chain-mails, began asking folks to make signs and show up at their state capitols. When I show up to the rally in Austin around Sunday noon (with a notebook instead of a sign) a young woman hands me a white button with slim black letters that say, “I Showed Up.”
“Thank you for showing up,” she smiles. “You’re welcome,” I smile back. In the background I can hear, “the times they are a’changin'”, playing live from the steps of the Capitol.
Humphrey reports from the podium at the Texas Capitol that 29 rallies were being held this weekend, not bad for a two-week old idea. Looking over the Austin crowd of about 200 people, Humphrey declares that each person here represented thousands of others.
“March like a Ukrainian,” says one sign in the hands of a teenage girl. “Live Free or Die Bold,” says more than one other sign. “The Vote was Rigg’d,” shouts one sign in plain language. “We need paper trails,” insists another. And finally, in a turn of phrase that mocks a local computer company, “Dude, where’s my vote?”
It is not difficult to imagine that the sentiments expressed on these signs are more widely shared than the size of the rally would indicate. Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee sends a written statement with Humphrey, assuring the rally that her colleague John Conyers would take his time investigating the vote in Ohio, “until we find the truth”–a pledge that draws applause.
Next up to speak is Austin-based infowars guru, access cable host, and emerging radio personality Alex Jones, who turns up the heat with his raspy allegations that e-voting machine systems are “a complete and total fraud.”
“What a beautiful day to be standing up for our Constitutional Republic against enemies foreign and domestic,” exclaims Jones in a pure patriot opening. Jones carries a loaded automatic in his throat, and he sprays his audiences with rapid fire allegations of conspiracy, corruption, and confoundedness in high places. For Jones it’s the ballot box or the cartridge box, and right now the ballot box is looking like a stolen weapon.
Then he starts talking about my own congressman elect, Michael McCaul, telling me that I am now represented by the son-in-law of Lowry Mays (oh great, just what I needed to hear). Lowry Mays, in case you don’t know, is the affirmative-action-killing chairman of the board at my alma mater, Texas A&M University, and founder of Clear Channel Communication, the powerful right-wing radio company.
As if all this isn’t enough to make my pen a little nervous, Jones tells me that McCaul’s in-laws also have major shares in the company that makes the same e-voting machines used at the polling place where I voted against McCaul.
(Not that McCaul was in any danger at the ballot box this year. His district was tailor made for him by Majority Leader Tom DeLay. And he was a big spender, even by Republican standards, defeating a fellow millionaire who actually outspent him in the primary. In the general election, the only thing to do was write in the name of an opponent, since there was not a Democrat in sight. And yes, I “wrote in” my choice, a process that required a lot of dialing and button pressing.)
On top of it all, what Jones doesn’t mention today is that McCaul is a former counterterrorism specialist from the Justice Department. Now personally, I am feeling just a little less free when I drive home today, pulling out of parking place number 38 at the Employees Retirement System of Texas, right across the street from the Eastern Orthodox Chruch. But enough about my problems. I still have the Holidays in front of me, and about two more weeks to live under the jurisdiction of Congressman Lloyd Doggett.
Alex Jones asks: Did we want Congress to pass a bill mandating national ID cards? No we did not. Did Congress do it anyway, just three days ago? Yes, they did. A chilling report at Infowars.Com spells out the scenario. When our children are born, they will be assigned federal ID numbers attached to genetic, biometric markers. Pretty soon, everything we do will be ID’d and cross-referenced, beginning sooner rather than later with an airline passport that we’ll all need to fly.
Jones is a horror show. I keep waiting for the sky to turn black. But this is how crazy the truth sounds when someone dares to speak it plain. Opium in Afghanistan, oil in Iraq, with guns and Halliburton contracts for everyone. Jones has it all at the tip of his tongue. And at his website, he reminds us, there are always tons of clips.
“If we don’t have our vote,” concludes Jones, “then America is dead.” Did you catch that note of hope there? What if we do get our votes back?
In my notes, the next key word at the rally is “Stalinism” spoken by David Van Os, who ran as a Democrat for the Texas Supreme Court. He is referring to the airline passport that we’ll soon be carrying, and he compares it to the “internal passports” of Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany. Disenfranchisement and vote rigging, these are the tools of totalitarianism rising, even if they are not the watchwords that win you elections in Red States this year.
“We’re at war, folks,” says Van Os. There is nothing normal about our times. What we’re losing are the very rights that “farmers with squirrel rifles charged into British cannon fire to win.” Yet we let the Bush machine steal two elections in a row? As for the media, they are nothing but house organs for the ruling Republican Party.
Pacifica broadcaster Pokey Anderson of Houston’s KPFT is next up in this fight club. She quotes Texas journalist Bill Moyers to the effect that the delusional is no longer marginal. We live in a world centered upon delusion. For her, WMD’s are Weapons of Mass Disenfranchisement.
“But we are awake,” declares Anderson under the glorious sky, “and the trumpet is sounding!” By this time, the crowd has mostly parted into the shaded, grassy areas on either side of the broad walkway that leads uphill to the Capitol steps. The Texas sun, even in December, can get pretty close to your head.
“Real patriotism is not running half way around the world to shoot children,” says Anderson. “Real patriotism is what you are doing here.” Anderson takes us back to Volusia County, Florida, 2000, where a strange computer error has given Al Gore about 16,000 negative votes. Soon after the election, the story is normalized by the Washington Post, reported as a quickly fixed glitch. But a follow up investigation by Black Box Voting’s Bev Harris says the problem remains real and strange.
The normalizing report from the Washington Post had failed to ask why two different chips with two wildly different vote numbers could each be placed into the machine without one of them setting of a security warning. How could a chip containing something so sinister as a 16,000 negative vote count been accepted by the machine as “clean”, containing not only a bad vote count but a clean security checkdigit, too?
Delusionland, that’s where we all live now, says Anderson. Which if you believe this world is back to normal, then you’re the one living at the fringe of truth and reality.
“Ohio state authorities were not allowing international observers free access to polling stations?” asks CodePink organizer Debbie Russell incredulously. She’s the next one up to speak. “It’s time to get rid of these battleground states,” says Russell, get rid of the electoral system that creates them, and start electing national offices on the basis of direct, national elections. And all voting places should have voter verified ballots with paper trails. Also, argues Russell, we need to take the administration of elections out of the hands of partisan elected officials.
“But let’s not ask anymore for these things,” says Russell. “Let’s demand them!”
Fellow CodePinker Deborah Vanko steps up next to support Russell’s call for verifiable ballots. Paper receipts that can be counted by hand, that’s what we need in order to know for sure who’s won.
The rally is winding down now, only two more speakers to go before the crowd heads South for a march to the local newspaper, where they will protest the media blackout that attends all these issues. I have decided not to follow the march today, although I think the target selection is genius. How will the media behave when we stop allowing them to bounce us back and forth all the time?
Co-chair of the local county Green Party, Bill Holloway, speaks next to last. For him both parties of the government are unreliable because they both follow orders given by their corporate handlers. Same with the media, says Holloway. From NPR to Rush Limbaugh, all were singing the choir song of “free and fair elections” in the good ole’ USA, when we had more business behaving like Ukrainians.
“If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, then stopping this madness is up to us,” says Holloway.
And last, but not least, is Vicky Karp, National Chairperson of the Coalition for Visible Ballots.
“I want a recount, how about you!” she cheers. “I’m here to talk about the F-Word–Fraud!” We never asked for electronic voting, we don’t trust electronic voting, and we need verifiable ballots that we can count. There is not much new left to say. But some things are worth repeating:
“Media consolidation is bringing an end to the day when we could count on an informed public.” With that, the band strikes up a Woody Guthrie tune, and the folks raise their signs to march South, across the Colorado River, down from the no-good Capitol across to that no-good newspaper, saying someday this little gang’s going to be remembered for something!
As I watch their backs, I realize I’m standing under a monument that reads in all caps: “Thermopylae had her messengers of defeat. The Alamo had none.”
GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org