After reading Twilight of the Elites by Christopher Hayes, a book that outlines the dynamics of a merit based ideology in the U.S., I’ve found myself haunted by one particular passage. Hayes writes the following as an example to illustrate the disconnect between those governing and the reality of people’s situation during Hurricane Katrina:
“According to the 2000 census, 8 percent of Americans resided in a household without access to a car, but that number varies widely depending on class and location. Among the poor nationwide, 20 percent live in households that don’t have access to a car, and among the poor in the city of New Orleans that number was 47 percent. What’s more, the city was home to hundreds of thousands with disabilities, according to the 2000 U.S. census: fully 50 percent of residents over sixty-five had some kind of disability. Further compounding the problem was that the storm hit at the very end o f the month, a time when those on fixed income, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, were at their most cash strapped.”
This clearly highlights several factors that contributed to many people not being able to simply pick up and go despite increased warnings of danger. By becoming aware of socio-economic conditions impacting people’s lives, we can engender an appreciation of the hardships overlooked by the average-to-well off American.
I would like to use Hayes’s insight to consider a current debate in the U.S. regarding voter identification laws, or as some have argued, an effort to suppress voting rights. In a similar vein, although not life-threating as the case with Hurricane Katrina, there is a lack of understanding for the means of several Americans to obtain government identification. It has been argued that getting an i.d. is not problematic. That claim, I believe, also demonstrates a disconnect between the have and have nots.
Obtaining an i.d. requires transportation, money, physical mobility to get to a bus, train, or to stand in-line, and at times going out of state to get a birth certificate. This is not an easy feat for the elderly or poor. In fact, it may be an impossibility.
And, because I often concern myself with college-life, I cannot help but point out that university students are also pushed aside as citizens in this discussion. Post Wednesday’s presidential debate, I’ve overheard students on campus engaged in lively political discussions. Many of our youth are excited to cast their first vote! The fact that some states want to declare a student i.d. insufficient for voting, but will accept a gun registration is astounding and a disgrace. Students contribute to their community and often temporarily reside in their college town for 4-5 years. Even if they are not a permanent resident of their college town, they should be able to vote in their temporary residence, because they are impacting, and are impacted by, that district for half a decade. Here are some ways students are involved in their college community:
1. They buy food, gas, clothes, and entertainment in the area; thus they are paying sales tax. This also boosts local business.
2. Students do community service via outlets like campus clubs or the campus Career Center.
3. Students hold part-time work in their community.
4. Student athletes bring revenue to their school.
5. When students are successful post-graduation they also increase the visibility of their alma mater. As a result, the university’s enrollment and reputation flourish thereby bringing in more students for the future.
I write this to encourage people to consider possible factors that go into obtaining a government i.d. so that it is not brushed off as a simple endeavor, and to increase the visibility of the college student voter. Obliging citizens to strict regulation does indeed hinder several people from voting. It is unfair and it is not living up to the standards of a free society. Let’s not disenfranchise people. Remember the point of the American Revolution was to enable representation, not to keep power in the hands of the upper echelon.