Fighting Back the Fear of Voter Registration

Santa Fe     After watching the “The Organizer” and hearing questions at the Santa Fe Film Festival, several of us were having lunch, and invariably as these things go, we were following up on the follow up questions, most interestingly about the need for a return to robust voter registration efforts along the line hallmarked by ACORN.  One of our friends underlined the point most dramatically when looking at the prospects of coming elections in New Mexico as one example, and New Mexico has sometimes been a battleground state.

The question after the documentary from one of the audience had focused on the relative vacuum that had emerged in the wake of the concerted attacks on ACORN, especially around voter registration.  Many community-based organizations, caught in the quandary, had found the ACORN experience chilling, and were afraid to run voter registration campaigns fearing they would be caught in the same crossfire.  It is simply impossible to run a perfect or error-free voter registration campaign, because those involved in registration are legally required to turn in signed forms, even when they know them to be false, but open records laws mean that any fake forms are open to attack in our polarized climate, regardless of the fact that forms do not equal votes, and, as I have often said, everyone knows Mickey Mouse can only vote in Orlando.

Our friend mentioned the recent registration efforts in New Mexico, where no organization was willing to have the work done under its own banner, so a separate organization was created to do voter registration, so that if attacked, it could simply be disclaimed and killed.  This was not a strategy unique to New Mexico, but how tragic for our democracy.  Voter registration efforts should be a proud banner hanging in any organizing office, not something to be feared.  Building cycle to cycle experience and trust in organizational registration efforts builds power and legitimacy in the campaign, as it did for ACORN.  One off efforts, opened and closed after elections, are inevitably ad hoc and don’t build capacity.

Our friend confirmed that fact, noting that the effort hardly yielded 10% of the results that had been common with ACORN’s more widely touted and aggressive registration campaigns.  He spoke wistfully on the need and potential to rebuild such efforts so that 150,000 people might be registered in New Mexico in the coming cycle, sufficient to turn the tables with the swarm of new, but fully qualified voters.

As organizers and stewards of organizational and social change, we have to fight the fear and embrace voter registration and GOTV efforts.  If we can’t defend democratic practice and voting, how can we pretend to build power?  If we can’t finally mobilize defense and advocacy for voting and voter registration, as one of the most fundamental of citizen rights, how can we hope to ever win on any progressive plank?

The old Roosevelt line that we only have to fear, fear itself is still true, and the more we confront it, the sooner we can eradicate it from registration, and, eventually, from voting itself.

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Fracking Threatening Chaco Canyon

Chaco_Canyon_Chetro_Ketl_great_kiva_plaza_NPSLake Buckhorn    If you don’t know about Chaco Canyon and the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, I hate to be the one to tell you, since it is an incredibly significant archaeological wonder here on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, and so fragile and, frankly, spiritual that as a visitor you almost feel both honored to be there on one hand and reticent almost to speak above a whisper until you depart. Camping there you feel the stars are at your fingertips and the quiet is literally unearthly as if the Anasazi or ancient ones are still right at your shoulder. Chaco Canyon is more than 30 miles off of a dirt road off the highway to visit, so few do, relatively speaking. You have to mean to go there. If you do, the rewards are amazing. My partner and I were so moved that a year later after our last visit, we named our son, Chaco when he was born.

For those unfamiliar with the history, there was a time when Chaco Canyon was the largest city within the footprint of the continental United States. Between 850 C.E. or Current Era and 1250 C.E., this canyon in the San Juan Basis was the hub of a 10000 square kilometer Pueblo culture with roads leading in every direction as trade routes within an amazing network. After 400 years, this sophisticated civilization disappeared in an unresolved mystery with speculation ranging from the loss of arable land for crops for the population to discussions about cannibalism.

Now, the continued surge of oil and gas exploration and development, especially through fracking, is muscling in on Chaco Canyon and archaeologists, environmentalists, and Native American activists have been battling against the odds to try and protect this incredible treasure. They need all the help that we can give them.

A map in Science magazine dramatically illustrates the scope of the problem as oil and gas leases discolor much of northwestern New Mexico. In a temporary victory, the Bureau of Land Management created a 16-kilometer buffer around the park itself. Campaigners are trying to push the federal government into making the buffer permanent. Archaeologists are arguing for an even wider protected region. They have identified 200 great houses as far away as Colorado and as far south as Mexico along Chacoan roads five to ten meters in width and theorize that there may be almost as many unidentified and undiscovered.

Many in the tribal communities are divided. Even though wanting to protect the area, the dire poverty of many families makes them easy prey for oil and gas land men and the couple of thousand dollars they are offering to obtain access to their land in order to move drilling programs forward. As Ora Marek-Martinez, director of the Navajo Nation’s Historic Preservation Department says, “The socioeconomic situation is that many of our people had pretty much nothing, no electricity or running water. Everything here is sacred; our spirituality is tied to the landscape. More and more of our communities are saying they are against the drilling.”

The least any of us can do is lend support by signing one of the many petitions to stop the fracking and development in the Chaco Canyon area. One of them is available on the website of the Native Voice Network. 

For those who can do more, please step up so Chaco Canyon can survive for all of those who love it and for those of you who will one day want to visit and share the experience.

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