College Student GOTV Could be Key in Fight against Suppression

New Orleans      The persistent political canard has been that, sure, you can register young people, but most of them are not going to vote.  The Trump turmoil and the urgency of climate change is overturning whatever conventional wisdom that might have been attached to that notion in the past.  Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education found that the turnout of college students in the 2018 midterms hit 40.3% of ten million students, double the rate from 2014.  In these times of course, expect reaction to such action, and that usually means voter suppression, especially with every poll of young people seeming to indicate that they are becoming ever more Democratic, and, oh mercy, feeling ever friendlier to socialism.

New Hampshire has tried to pushback on student voting by requiring a student show both a New Hampshire driver’s license and auto registration, while absorbing the costs of both, according to reporting in the New York Times.  Florida’s Secretary of State, Republican of course, tried outlawing early-voting in 2014, but after federal courts slapped him down, 60,000 voters cast on-campus ballots in 2018.  The sneaky Republican-majority Florida legislature slipped a requirement that ballot locations had to have non-permitted parking access in order to try and prevent on-campus voting in 2020.  North Carolina pulled a wink-and-nod, saying that student IDs would be valid for voting identification, but then made the requirements to get them so extreme that universities in the main were unable to comply and less than half of the more than 180 accredited schools in the state have now even tried to certify their IDs.  In Wisconsin, Republicans require poll workers to check signatures only on student IDs though some schools have removed signatures so that the IDs can be modernized as debit cards and dorm room keys.  Tennessee and Texas are among the worst at allowing students to vote.  Of course, just not allowing sites on-campus, while putting them in nursing homes and senior centers makes the point pretty powerfully as well and that happens just about everywhere.

The Voter Purge Project, a joint effort of the American Voter Project, ACORN International, and Labor Neighbor Research & Training Center has found in its review of voter files and the efforts to purge records a similar bias in the states reviewed, which include Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina among others.   The standard rationale for purges is people dying and moving.  The data shows that the fewest purges are among the elderly cohort, 65 and older, where, frankly, people are dying the most.  According to the Ohio demographer, one million die annually.  The highest level of purges though are the youngest cohorts 18 and above.  Further analysis by the project may find this to be common in all of these states.  Further research will have to determine whether there is a major differential between Republican and Democratic leaning states in handling purges.

The student vote is going to matter in 2020.  The fight for access and against suppression is one that we need to engage immediately.


“The Organizer” Comes to Ole Miss

Oxford   Having breakfast at the University of Memphis before leaving for Oxford, Mississippi, home of the University of Mississippi, we were in a good mood after the Hooks Institute event the previous evening.  We laughed at the number of people in the audience that evening who had raised their eyebrows when we had told them we were headed there after they had inquired on whether or not we might be available in Memphis the following day.  Reputations obviously die hard.

Walking around the well-known town square in Oxford later that afternoon, we could understand the point some of our new friends had made somewhat better.  A statue of a Confederate infantry soldier towered over the square in front of the courthouse dwarfing the signature store of the famous Square Books, whose locations dot many points of the compass there.  William Faulkner dominates a floor of that bookstore.  Continue walking and a bronzed statute of him sitting on a bench with a pipe looks at the courthouse as well.  The famous saying that the past is never past is not his, but it seemed appropriate in a town dominated by a publicly funded state university still proud to call themselves the rebels.


We were there at the invitation of former ACORN organizer from the 1970’s and now Professor of Social Work there, Steve Soifer.  Steve had been corresponding with me about showing the documentary, “The Organizer,” and talking about organizing whenever I might be close by, and I had mentioned we were going to be in Memphis not far away.  He had arranged for several of his undergraduate classes to screen the documentary in two-parts, one in the morning session and another in the early afternoon, and we made it there in time for the Q&A.  The students were surprised somewhat that I had been as young as they were now when I started ACORN.  Others hailing from the Gulf Coast area were curious about the Katrina recovery area. They were most animated when Steve asked them to describe their class projects to me.  The most intense conversation erupted when the question arose about diversity of the Ole Miss campus itself.  The student body is now 13.5% African-American, while the state is closer to 38% African-American.  It was hard to escape the point one student was making:  it was better, but nowhere near good enough.

In the evening the screening attracted people from the community as well as a bunch of graduate students and some undergrads from other disciplines.  This group was hungrier in its efforts to sort out ways to make a difference in these difficult times.  They didn’t want answers as much as they wanted me to suggest directions they might go.  I spent a long time talking to one activist student on the verge of graduating who seemed to have caught a bit of the organizing bug, and might hideaway in graduate school, but I could tell might as easily jump into organizing, making the journey to Oxford just about worth my while, if there had been no other benefit to be gained from the visit.

As the questions ended, I asked one older gentleman I had met before the screening if he didn’t have any final question.  He commented that he knew as you got older you were supposed to become more conservative, but in these times, he didn’t find that, he said was getting more radical.  I said, “Amen to that!”, and added, “…and more impatient, too!”