In these dark times, when you hear so much about greed, corruption, and self-serving villains (and yes, I’ll be getting to all those topics in a minute) it’s almost shocking to discover someone cheerfully sacrificing her life goal for the common good. Kat Calvin was just launching a promising law career in LA when the 2016 election convinced her she needed to do something to help her country.
“I had other plans for my life,” Kat told me. “But this was an emergency.”
With so many huge and terrifying threats looming — global warming, the heightened likelihood of nuclear weapons being fired in a fit of infantile rage — she looked for a way one individual could make a real difference. And that’s when she began considering how to fight voter suppression. For years Republican legislators have used the myth of widespread voter fraud to whip up support for state laws that require voter ID. No big deal, right? Just about everybody has a driver’s license or something, don’t they?
It turns out that 21 million Americans don’t have valid photo IDs. And you probably won’t be surprised to learn that 92% of them are non-whites, mostly living in poor neighborhoods. So why don’t they just go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get a driver’s license or an identification card? For one thing, many of them don’t have a birth certificate due to circumstances such as being born in a rural area or in the old Jim Crow South, where African Americans weren’t allowed to give birth in hospitals. And even if they have a birth certificate, they may have to travel ten miles or more to the nearest DMV. “Most states,” Kat told me, “when they pass these voter ID laws, they pair it with the closure of DMVs in low income areas and communities of color.”
Kind of makes your blood boil, doesn’t it?
Kat took a hard look at the situation and formed an organization called Spread the Vote. She works with local service agencies, Indivisibles groups, churches — anyone who can help her connect with people who are disenfranchised by the voter ID laws. Then she finds out what’s needed to get them valid identification papers — usually a complex effort involving visits to county records offices, endless paperwork, and about $75 to $100 in fees. It’s labor-intensive, one-on-one work and she loves it.
Her team now includes dozens of volunteers, mostly in the battleground states of Virginia and Georgia, and she will keep ramping up as the 2018 midterms approach.
“I’m in this for the long haul,” she said. “Not just the current cycle. Whatever happens in 2018 and 2020, I’m looking ten-plus years ahead.”
Among the many things I love about Kat’s story is that she welcomes volunteers, both on-the-ground workers and remote activists providing online support. She’s just developed a Spread the Vote app to help people find their place in this particular piece of the Resistance effort, and her website includes a volunteer form you can fill out describing your availability, skills and interests.
I’m just wrapping up a summer in a blue state, and I keep hearing people say, “I’m totally outraged. But what can I do? What’s the point in calling legislators who are already voting the way I want them to?”
Luckily, the Resistance is much larger than that. People all over the country are working to advance progressive causes and fight back against the blitzkrieg of appalling legislation raining down on our citizens. For those who are seriously outraged and genuinely want to help, here are a few organizations that can offer you meaningful Resistance work right now, wherever you are.
Kat always suggests that would-be activists start by looking close to home. “I’ve never seen a community that has 100% voter registration,” she says. “Why not begin there?”
And if you happen to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ll mention just one outstanding local opportunity I’ve discovered.
Last night, Rich and I went to a meeting of At Home Humanitarian, the dynamic new group founded by Katherine Lowe. Like Kat, she’s a visionary who saw a crisis and felt compelled to take action — in this case, coping with the influx of refugees, whose support from local agencies is limited to 90 days and urgent needs. Katherine started At Home Humanitarian to supplement those services with a mentorship program, acculturation activities, and education. Her goal is to foster friendships, tolerance, and understanding while easing the transition for both newcomers and the community. She welcomes volunteers in California and Utah, and if you don’t happen to live in one of those states, she’ll talk with you about building a chapter in your area.
This is all very good news for you. Why? Because next time the president and his cronies do something that makes you crazy, you’ll know that you actually can do something to fight back. And won’t that feel more satisfying than just sitting around shouting at the TV?
This video is Episode 9 of my ongoing series Women of the American Resistance. You can view the complete series here on this website, on YouTube, and American Resistance Sevilla; many episodes appear on my other blog Enjoy Living Abroad, Americans Resisting Overseas and various social media sites. Please feel free to repost this video or link to this content. My goal is to tell the world about these remarkable American women and the work they're doing to help fix the mess we're in.
It's been long, hot summer in the USA, and I'm going to be heading back to Spain soon, where I'm hoping for some rest, some international perspective, and some time to work on my upcoming book, Women of the American Resistance. I'll post more videos in a few weeks. Until then, stay strong, my friends!
Karen McCann is a bestselling author whose travel tips and adventure stories have appeared in Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times, and Lonely Planet. She is a founding member of American Resistance Sevilla.