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From those days of innocence:
Poll Site GOP Shenanigans
Man are the Republicans bad at agitprop. I’ve known that since the RNC, when Stephen Elliott and I happened across the Communists for Kerry, some of whose members the producers at Fox News were either stupid or despicable enough to include in their post-debate focus group coverage after the Showdown in the Show Me State. But dressing up like Castro for a few right-wing yuks is one thing, and trying to mislead voters is another.
Here’s what happened. We followed the congregants of the Mt. Hermon AME to vote after their Sunday service. The Pastor gave a rousing speech that shook the walls about exercising one’s “God given right to vote.” Outside, there were vans waiting to take people over to an early voting station in Ft. Lauderdale at the African American Research Library, where many thousands of people have already voted in the past two weeks. This day was no different; the line stretched across the parking lot and off the grounds on the sidewalk on Sistrunk. It was 1pm, and as hot as the day was gonna get, which was burning. 85 degrees, a slight breeze but not enough to overcome the moisture — typical fall in Florida. People carried umbrellas, and fanned themselves with Kerry/Edwards paddles.
At first glance, it looked like the scene outside a stadium before an AC/DC show: too many cars trying to park; confusion in the line; people handing out water; everyone clutching their ID’s.
But the place was stamped with politics. Distributing the cold bottles of Zephyrhills were about dozen NAACP Voter Fund volunteers in yellow shirts. Others distributed folding chairs for people who wanted to sit in the line. An Election Protection corps in black uniforms passed out flyers printed with voting rights. A couple of Kerry/Edwards people handed out candy from plastic pumpkins. And then there was this other curious contingent, an obvious bunch of Republicans pretending to be from ACT UP.
“We’re from San Francisco,” one of them said. He was wearing Kerry/Edwards pins, and holding a big Kerry/Edwards campaign sign alongside a homemade one that said: SUPPORT GAY ADOPTION. “We just want everyone to know what we support.”
There were four of them, two men and two women, all carrying signs with similar social wedge issues. One of them, wearing ratty boots and a denim shorts and vest matching suit with a leopard skin collar, walked up and down the line, yelling “Vote for Kerry — support gay marriage!”
“What are a bunch of Republican staffers doing here on Sistrunk pretending to be gay?” I asked the one who seemed to be the ringleader.
“I know all about Polk street and the Castro,” he said. “Stanford University. I’m from San Francisco, and I’m for gay marriage.” He was wearing a yellow golf shirt, tucked into khaki chino shorts with a call phone clipped to his belt — the Republican uniform. “Our candidate, John Kerry, supports gay marriage, gay adoption, everything gay.”
The ruse, apparently, was supposed to target this church-going Democratic crowd by misrepresenting Kerry’s politics. It was a little surprising at first; but then again, that’s the only way Republicans can win: by misleading people.
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As distasteful as it was, the stunt had the smell of desperation. (“Where evil meets stupid,” Stephen Elliott called it.) If Republicans are spending Sunday afternoon trying to fool voters with the some Gay Adoption signs then they must be in trouble. And the people in line weren’t buying. “Nobody in this line is going to listen to them,” one woman said. A chorus of voters on either side chimed in: “That’s right”; “We’re know what we’re doing”; “We’re voting for Kerry no matter what that guy in the sign thinks he’s saying.”
Among the few people who didn’t realize what was happening at first, they were extremely annoyed when they figured it out. “Is that Republicans over there? Yeah, it is!” said a man toward the back of the line. “They’re gonna come down here and, try to try to fool us? That’s not happening.” Behind him, a woman added: “Un-huh, that’s not right.”
And it’s not. Despite that this little act was a bust, it showed, under the Florida sun, the scorn the Republicans show towards voters. These were African-Americans, many of whom were old enough to remember the civil rights struggle evoked by Mt. Hermon AME’s pastor that morning — and this is how they’re treated?
The people in that line understand the sanctity of the vote more than Mr. Frisco or the rest of the right-wing false patriots ever will, especially when their political strategy relies on voter suppression. Because masquerades, of course, are just a sad line of secondary defense; the real attack comes on November 2nd,when the African American Research Library will be one of the may precincts across Florida and Ohio where the GOP will post lawyers inside the poll to challenge registrations, creating havoc, and slow down the line to limit the number of ballots cast.
In comparison, here’s how many white, rock-ribbed Republican precincts will have Democratic challengers trying to impede their democratic process: zero — because, in the words of Kerry/Edwards legal advisor Larry Davis, “we refuse to stoop to their level.” And here’s how many white Republican precincts will have Democrats marching around outside with signs saying Bush/Cheney: We Spend Your Money On War!: zero. Thankfully, Democrats (mostly) manage to be clever and entertaining with their agitprop. Billionaires For Bush, for example, throw a kick-ass party while making fun of their favorite villain, with ice sculptures and a band and a dance floor. They don’t hide behind Bush/Cheney signs; they print their own, with their own slogans, making their protest clearly satire. Nor do they set up outside polling stations, which isn’t illegal, but isn’t ethical either.
Which is why we drove them away. The trick with Republican staffers running dirty tricks, we discovered, is to turn cameras on them. They wilt like shrinking violets. Stephen Elliott and I are out here with a documentary crew, and when the film started rolling, the GOP’s bogus Gay Pride parade came to a quick end.
“Don’t film me,” the ringleader said when we stuck to them. “I’m expressing my freedom of speech.”
“And we’re going to film that expression,” Steve said. “What’s wrong with that? Gay pride, right? Unless your boss down at GOP headquarters doesn’t want you to turn up on TV.”
“I'm asking you nicely not to take pictures of me,” the ringleader said. Steve was emboldened, and pressed further. "You can ask me not nicely," I said. "You're creating news by posing as a Democrat and we're capturing that. We're not going anywhere."
It’s not in Steve’s nature to throw down the gauntlet, but he smelled weakness, and called their bluff. By that time, the other guy in their operation had retreated to the far side of the parking lot, where his John-Kerry-and-his-gay-friends-want-to-adopt-your-children-bullshit sign wasn’t just a yellow speck in the distance. It looked like he’d lost his nerve.
“That was easier than I thought,” Steve said once they were gone. “Like I said, 'I'm calling Florida for Kerry.'"