With springtime arrive the starter tomato plants at Home Depot, the County worker with frisky young mosquito fish for the bathtub pond, the cheerful UPS man with delivering new books, and the democratic parade that is the renewed political season, with signature gathering and voter registration and the chance for the Bibliofella to sit at a card table encouraging, reminding, teaching and cheerleading for participation in civic life.
And the chance to review, as it were, the official State of California voter registration form, 500 copies of which I picked up this week at the understated but elegant office of the County Registrar on Grand Avenue in Santa Ana, a fun place to visit! Since I began registering voters many years, many wars, mostly lousy presidents and dozens of state propositions ago, I've met plenty of My Fellow Americans and enjoyed the tragic-comic opera of voter education, which is often mostly remedial education. You'd be surprised (or not) at what people don't know, like that you have to re-register when you move, or otherwise change your mailing address.
The government, in the form of Neal Kelley, OC Registrar of Voters, will not forward your ballot through the services of the US Postal Service. This must be a big relief to the anti-Big Government types, the intimation of two horrible agencies trying to force you to go to the polls. Tyranny!
Registering Americans to vote is personal commitment by Mr. Bib, which makes me, ostensibly, a better person. Like giving blood at the American Red Cross and sending checks to the graduating children of old friends, kids who I have never met but, well, you know. I absolutely insist that in order to be a real, participating, empathetic citizen everybody should visit their elected officials, spend some time in jail, work a day with a day laborer, march in a demonstration and, yes, register voters. (That's just for starters, but I will stop there.)
Obligatory icon. Thanks, Sister Rosa!
Performing at least one or two of these exercised in civic engagement would change a lot of easy misperceptions. You'd learn a lot about yourself, and about others, and maybe even meet some cool people. Even celebrities. Me, I have met, among others, folk legend Rosalie Sorrels, handsome actor Timothy Hutton, Le Show and The Simpsons and Spinal Tap genius performer Harry Shearer and radical fugitive professor Angela Davis. Wow, don't say political work never gave you anything!
I also met a nutty lady who, when I asked her on a Thursday afternoon in the early 1980s if she would sign my "Jobs With Peace" initiative petition to shift military spending to domestic priorities responded, "Oh, my husband takes care of that." Pushed after a long day of struggle with humanity, and because I am an asshole, I apologized to her and said, as absolutely facetiously as I could (not hard for Mr. Bib) that, no, I hadn't recognized her, "Mrs. Reagan," which was more fun for me than one confused woman but still, yes, fun.
But now, to the form, the text as it were, the focus of this week's review. Somewhere between Georges Perec's experimentalism and the structure of Goldilocks and the Three Bears ("just right"), the form suggests a story as simple or complex as you like. It's all about you, after all, the complex, whimsical, engaging main character. You are, presumably, 18 years old at the time of the next election. Don't drive? You can provide your state ID card number of the last four digits of your you-know-what. Do you, Mr. or Ms. Democratic Protagonist, have a "political party preference"? Check a box "No" or pick from the predictable choices or, god help you, the unlikely, including the odious American Independent Party ("Segregation now, segregation forever!" or something new called the Americans Elect Party which seems to be some kind of techno-effort that I am too bored with and lazy to investigate, kind of like half the options on my cell phone.
Email, Dear Reader, is optional. Plot development: Check item # 15 to indicate that you are unlikely to drive, walk or bike to your nearest (or nonexistent) polling place. Your ballot will always be mailed to you, from now on. Citizenship? Not an option. "CANNOT" in caps, means not registering, no voting, no kidding. All kinds of language options: English, Espanol, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagolog, Japanese, no Pig Latin (my son's preference).
My favorite part: "Did someone help you fill out or deliver this form"? Most frightening part: "If registering to vote may put you in life-threatening danger, the Secretary of State can keep your information private. Contact the Safe at Home Program." Debra Bowen, Secretary of State, explains: Thankfully, it's not voting itself, as in some countries, that might put you at risk. It is, of course, the violation of your well-protected privacy if you are a battered spouse, for instance, or vulnerable ethnic or political minority. And, no, that does not mean Greens and Democrats in Orange County haha.
Registering voters might seem an unlikely passion for an anarchist with democratic socialist tendencies (or a socialist with anarcho tendencies). Sometimes, what is hardest to reconcile turns out to be easiest to live! Registering voters is the absolutely easiest yet also often a challenging thing to do. Which is why, I observe politely, the main parties discourage it. No voter reg drives at ball games, rock concerts, PTA meetings, all the places they should post volunteers--volunteers exactly like me, and you.
We've got an open primary in California in June. You knew that. So, after you've completed it, and that of about 100 of your neighbors, family, friends, co-workers, put the card or cards in the mail at least 15 days before the election. There's a sequel, of course. It's called Get Out the Vote. More on that in June.
California Voter Registation Form, OC Registrar of Voters, P.O. Box 15467, Santa Ana, California 92735-9902. Free!
Andrew Tonkovich hosts the Wednesday night literary arts program Bibliocracy Radio, on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.