Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Response to Voter Suppression in Florida

By Carl-John X Veraja
Last year, Rick Scott signed  House Bill 1355 in Florida, creating conditions that discourage third party voter registration.    It requires third parties to register with the state and turn in signed forms within 2 days of registering people to vote under the threat of a $1000 fine.
Occupy Fort Myers has responded by directing people to register themselves, since the means to do so are online.
Gary Lang was among volunteers stationed at Centennial Park.  They were equipped with a laptop, printer, pens, envelopes, stamps, a clipboard, and donuts.
"It was necessary to raise awareness about the voter suppression laws that have been passed in the state of Florida," Lang said.  "They severely clamped down on third party voter registration in the state of Florida and we felt that was wrong.  Rather than deliberately breaking the law and paying the consequences, we would circumvent the law and illustrate how juvenile their law actually is if there's such an easy way around it."
Lang said penalties imposed on third party voter registration have caused groups like the The League of Women Voters to stop voter drives.
"They feel its too much to ask their people to bear," said Lang.
I asked him to take me through the process as if I had come to register.
"I’d ask if you were a U.S. citizen or a convicted felon who has had their rights taken away," said Lang.  "If you are, there’s no point.  If you are a US citizen and not a convicted felon, I would ask you if you wanted to vote.  If you answered in the affirmative, I would direct you to the printer.  I would print you out a voter application form which you’d take from the printer, take one of these little pens here, and a clipboard, and fill it out to the best of your ability.  Then you’d receive an addressed, stamped envelope which you’d be directed to the take to the post office."
Did any of this violate Bill 1355?
"We are remaining within the letter of the law, as we understand the law--as we’ve been advised," said Lang.  "Even though the intent is to circumvent the law."
Voter suppression has been demonstrated to increase the possibility of Republican wins in elections.
The rationale for voter suppression is the threat of voter fraud.
Between 2008 and 2011, there have been only 3 arrests related to voter fraud in Florida.  It seems more likely you will be  struck by a falling coconut that then causes you to fall into an alligator's mouth than that you will commit voter fraud.
The drive continues until 7 PM this evening.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mitt Romney Supporters Turn Hostile at Naples Rally

Mitt Romney at Sugden Plaza Rally
I was wearing a t-shirt with a red star on it and going to a Mitt Romney rally in possibly the most conservative county in the United States.
Having recently attended a Newt Gingrich rally at which scuffles broke out and an arrest was made, I was somewhat concerned about the possibilities of repeat performances at a Mitt Romney rally in Naples, Florida.  Added to this was the news of violence out of Oakland, California.
As I drove down 75 from Fort Myers, I listened to Joanna Newsom and tried to find a calm, spiritual center in my being.  That utterly failing, I reminded myself that I lived in the country with the best health care going and that I had no health insurance.
Since I had just missed Occupy Fort Myer's spokesman Matthew McDowell's arrest at the last rally, I decided I'd be following him around this time.  However, in the interest of being fair and balanced, when I first got on the scene, I interviewed a Republican and make a quick movie.  He said he was a former Cuban national who was concerned that business regulations instituted under Obama's presidency were equivalent to socialism or paving the way for it.
Ex-Cuban National Romney Supporter
The wait for Romney's speech did not take long after that.  Wowing a crowd of over 1000 in Sugden Plaza, Mitt Romney presented his plans for turning the government into a business where profit is the bottom line.  He touted his former experiences running a business and claimed this qualified him to be President.  He repeatedly reminded the crowd that you can't expect someone with too much experience as a politician to be able to fix political issues, this required someone with experience turning a profit.
Buckets of Money Await You
The more I heard it the more it made sense.  Yes, the primary function of government shouldn't be to protect rights, provide for education, defense or the common welfare, it should be for the government to make a profit.  Romney was saying the government should itself be a corporation, unless I missed something.  Also, since government would now be a corporation, the only right would be that the boss is always right.
Anyway, a business major I am not, but this is how my mind processed Romney's pitch while I paid attention.
A Republican Who Can't Swallow Romney?
However, I soon saw some of his supporters acting up and became distracted.  In fact, one Romney supporter, with what I supposed was his wife and a baby in carriage, said I was instigating by bringing a camera and that that made me somewhat responsible for the crumbling economy.
Not for the first time, I was somewhat surprised that someone got so aggressive with me while they had their offspring with them.  Back in 2004, I was chased by a hysterical Republican while I was jogging.  She was in her car with her toddler, and accused me of stealing her Bush sign.  I must look like a really nice guy.  If I had children  to worry about, I don't think I'd be grabbing strange men's cameras or chasing them down streets in the dark.
Romney Supporter Mocks Gagged Occupier (Click for Video)
Soon thereafter, I saw the emblematic black fist of Occupy Fort Myers at the far side of the crowd and made my way toward it.  Turns out, it was carried by none other than Matthew McDowell of Occupy Fort Myers, who was now gagged with a dollar bill.  In addition to the fist, McDowell carried this:
McDowell, when asked what the sign meant, used the black fist to point at its various elements and grunt. McDowell's signs inspired such fear, they were attacked by a seemingly overmedicated woman who implied he was also Satanic.
Many onlookers asked me what this sign could mean or why McDowell was gagged with a dollar.  As a member of the freer press, I welcomed the paradigm shift.
Although I made it clear I was not there as an Occupier, and that the red star on my t-shirt indicated my fondness for Macy's, I was asked if I'd rather have communism.
I said I didn't think it was either communism or the rule of the rich.
"Pah!" he retorted.
"That's what you call a false dichotomy," I explained.
He wasn't having it, but didn't assault me.  So, I was grateful.
The woman who had hit McDowell's sign declared I was "one of them" which apparently gave her the right to seize my press pass, which I had to wrest from her grip.
"Violence is the tool of the ignorant," I told her.
"Oh, ho ho," she exclaimed, lowering her glasses and raising her eyebrows devilishly.
She chased me around for some time, and I considered purchasing a Taser in the near future.  Finally, after I loudly questioned her sanity in front of others, she relented.
I suppose she had a point, I was "one of them" if you mean was I part of the 99 %.  And this meant that the rich might target me at any time.
After these shenanigans, the crowd had begun to disperse.  The police had not bothered to interfere in any scuffle of which I was a part and, as it turned out, it seemed I was the subject of more hostility than anyone else.  However, I considered that perhaps I was "playing the victim."  Maybe others had gotten as much grief as I had, but I'd been too distracted to notice.
As things wound down, several Occupiers provided entertainment on the sidewalk, singing political parodies.  The Occupiers seemed in high spirits, but I felt defeated.  Clearly, I was "one of them."  There was no getting around it.  And drunken and pharmaceutically-impaired rich individuals might violate my person at any time.
Someone asked me to get a job.  I asked him if he were a job creator and. if so, to please create one.  This only inspired enigmatic anger.
Occupiers at the Wind Down

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I Win my Day in Court, Others not so Lucky

By Carl-John X Veraja

"The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure." --Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1823.
When I was issued a citation for covering what I thought would be the eviction of Occupy Fort Myers from Centennial Park, I basically decided I couldn't possibly win in court. At the time, I was rushed, needing to help my mother move from North Carolina to Florida and then go up to New York to explore employment opportunities. Nevertheless, I plead "not guilty," because I felt I was duty-bound to do so.
However, the plot thickened because as I thought about it, I decided maybe it wasn't that important to fight this small court over this small matter when I was merely a blogger. I also thought I might be in New York past my court date, and that I might even move there, so I began to think perhaps I should put this matter behind me. I also am stricken with a vast fear of authority and was afraid of being bureaucratically or otherwise entangled if I stood on principle. So, I attempted to change my plea and just pay it off.
Fortunately, they didn't let me. It turned out I would have my day in court whether I liked it or not. Unless, of course, I chose to flee the state which a confidante in the know told me was just flat out stupid.
Basically, I still expected to be found guilty no matter what. Even if I proved myself not subject to the city ordinance I was found in violation of (58-156: being in the park after hours), I expected to be found guilty because I was a "body in the park" (Judge Mann's words at the trial today).  Violation of park hours was one reason many protestors were ticketed.
So, after being advised that it was hopeless, and being repeatedly assured I'd lose by myself and others, I decided to launch a defense at the last second anyway.
I also have an anxiety disorder and a vast fear of public speaking and authority.
My dad is a retired cop and basically gave me the winning formula. Make it clear I was there as a member of the press, not as a protestor. I added that I had no other means to cover what I thought would be an eviction except to be in the park. I had seen other press agents in the park after hours and thought I had leeway.
The prosecutor argued that journalists do not have free reign to be just anywhere they choose, but to my surprise, the Judge argued against her, stating that it was important to allow the press to cover protests and "those sorts of things."
Judge Mann wanted some kind of credentials and clarified that I had announced myself as a member of the press. I gave him an old business card, regretting I hadn't brought the newer more professional ones with me. I figured he would deem the card a joke out of a novelty shop, but no, I was "not guilty."
However, I watched the judge find several members of Occupy Fort Myers "guilty" just because they were in the park after or before hours, and where he thought the First Amendment counted toward protecting my rights as a blogger, apparently it wasn't as important to defend the rights of peaceful assembly and speech.
Matthew McDowell
However, Matthew McDowell, an organizer of OFM, was found "not guilty" on one offense when he made a freedom of the press defense of his own (not to give anyone ideas).  However, the judge's decision to find him "not guilty" of one offense was due to McDowell being cited almost 2 hours after the park had been opened.