Editorial: Stand Up and Sing Along

Friday July 02, 2004

There have been a number of sideways glances in the liberal press (yes, there is a bit of a liberal press, still) at the rowdy proletarian gusto with which Michael Moore goes after his targets in Fahrenheit 9/11. I often count myself as one of the genteel middle-aged ladies in matters like this. Still, I can’t go along with Ellen Goodman’s call for more sweet reasonableness in the effort to change hearts and minds. Or rather, I’m afraid that only sweet reasonableness won’t do it. 

Now, you understand, I haven’t yet made it over to see F9/11. Among other things, I’m too old to stand in line for very long. So I’m relying on the opinion of My Daughter the Professor, who herself is now 40ish, but not yet too old to stand in line for a movie. She says that the most impressive thing about it was not the film itself, which is predictable, but the audience, composed, when she saw it, of 20-somethings, all excited and ready to do something.  

The “preaching to the choir” metaphor has been much employed by the movie’s critics on the left, but it misses the mark. This is America, after all, the last stand for religion, but for pluralistic religion, not state religion. We have the highest percentage of churchgoers in the modern world, but also the most different flavors of church. It’s the same way with politics, which is why we appear to have two parties, though many leftists will say we have only one. What we really have is at least 20 parties loosely grouped together most of the time into two, with the occasional third group. The Democratic Party has traditionally been the most heterogeneous, but there’s also a world of difference in the Republican Party between the Wall Street bankers and the Texas evangelicals, for example. In the next election, the principal challenge for Democrats will be to get everyone in all the congregations up out of their chairs and singing along. 

In the Bay Area we’ve probably got more political harmony than anywhere else in the country, and we’re itching to take our tunes elsewhere. So okay, you, a typical Bay Area person, have been to seen F9/11 by now. Maybe you stood in line to see or even touch Chairman Bill. So you’re energized, loaded for bear, ready to roll, jazzed up in fact. (Sorry, I don’t know the more youthful equivalents of those somewhat hairy expressions.) 

What can you do? There are many fine organizations ready to use your money and, even more important, your labor, for the noble endeavor of registering voters. MoveOn.org is organizing phone banks for July 11, to call people in swing states. DrivingVotes.org claims on their web site that registering voters in swing states is the single most effective way to defeat Bush. They give you everything needed to join voter registration drives in swing states, including connections for putting together road trip with your friends. They’ll even help you make new friends: Their web site boasts a terrific ride board where “tours” are orchestrated. If I got my act together, I could get on a trip out of San Francisco on July 7 to go to St. Louis, my birthplace, and have a nice family reunion with my cousins at the registration drive. There are also local voter registration drives sponsored by groups like the Wellstone Democratic Club and the NAACP, though we hope California is not a swing state.  

But after registration is over, then what? A friend who lives in a swing state called me up in the middle of the night last week because she’d had a flash of inspiration about what they really needed there. Registration is fine, she agreed, but what about election monitoring? So the Planet did a little checking. As usual, most of the early action is on the Internet, but there’s not much of it that we can detect. The non-partisan New York based Center for Democracy has monitored elections around the world, and seems ready to tackle the U.S. now. They started by tracking the Dade County Florida primaries in 2002, following up on the scandals of 2000. But is that enough? Are there other organizations working on this? Some, of course, are going after voting machine problems, which is certainly needed, but who’s checking up on the old-fashioned low-tech ways of cheating, like scaring off minority voters? 

The Democratic Party ought to be leading this effort, but if they are we haven’t heard about it. One F9/11 segment showed the Congressional Black Caucus trying to alert Congress and the country that Bush was stealing the 2000 election in Florida, while the other Democrats looked on as if they were stuffed. How can we be sure this won’t happen again? One project is described on page four of this issue. Tell us if you hear anything else useful.  

—Becky O’Malley›