It is not often I attend a meeting headlined by Union Representatives that I find myself repeatedly choked up by a Union Leader in the way that Hector Almendarez (standing above) inspired in Dodge City, Kansas on May 25, 2016. But as he spoke eloquently in his native Spanish — translated by his young companions, everyone in the room felt moved by the story. “I come here tonight to help my people. To do what I can again because I feel we are all called upon at times to do important things, and this is one of those times.” A weekly series, Connect! Unite! Act! seeks to create face-to-face networks in each congressional district. Groups regularly socialize but also get out the vote, support candidates and engage in other local political actions that help our progressive movement grow and exert influence on the powers-that-be. Visit us every Sunday morning at 8:00 A.M. Pacific to see how you can get involved.
Two years ago, in the photo above, I and party representatives met with UFCW Leadership in Dodge City, Kansas. We had just been involved in voter registration efforts, engaging more of the growing community within Dodge City. You can read the whole diary here, but there is one segment which means a lot to me today:
Turning to the young man with him, Gabriel, Hector motioned, “You must promise me, promise me tonight, that you will vote; it is all I ask of you. I know many of our young have not voted before, but we cannot let that happen again. We cannot let this be our nation’s story.”
As we broke for the meeting, Hector came over to me, grabbed hold of me in a typical bear hug and told me in English far better than you would assume: “Believe in us. Help us.”
As he hugged me and others and told us he needed our help, we made a promise: when they called, we would go. I’ve been back to Dodge City several times since, and throughout Southwest Kansas. But I still remember that moment: Believe in us, Help us.
On that night in 2016, we made a commitment to help. This week, my friends in Dodge City called — they called on me, personally, on our state organization, and the nation to believe in them, to help them.
And I can’t say no.
Four years ago, in the summer of 2014, my wife & I, along with Ford County Democratic party helped organize a voter registration drive in Dodge City.
We stood out in the heat, we manned clipboards, and we helped voters register to vote. Now, all of that work — years of work but so many people — is at risk. The Wichita Eagle is one of many papers following the story: Iconic Dodge City moves its only polling place outside town. Their only polling place in town is being moved outside of town, more than a mile from the nearest bus stop!
But the city located 160 miles (257 kilometers) west of Wichita has only one polling site for its 27,000 residents. Since 2002, the lone site was at the civic center just blocks from the local country club — in the wealthy, white part of town. For this November’s election, local officials have moved it outside the city limits to a facility more than a mile from the nearest bus stop, citing road construction that blocked the previous site.
“It is shocking that we only have one polling place, but that is only kind of scratching the surface of the problem,” said Johnny Dunlap, chairman of the Ford County Democratic Party. “On top of that, not only is it irrational and ridiculous that we have only one polling place, but Dodge City is one of the few minority majority [!] cities in the state.”
This is not OK. This is not moral. This election plan, which went through the Dodge City county clerk had one stop for approval — Secretary of State Kris Kobach, now running for Governor, and for him, it was OK.
But this is not OK — it cannot be OK.
Hector, a leader for UFCW in Ford County, told us this in 2016:
In a room filled with the Kansas Democratic Party Executive Director Kerry Gooch, House Representative Jim Ward of Wichita, Congressional District Chair Johnny Dunlap, myself and community representatives, Hector had one request: “I’m asking you, today, I have brought with me to this meeting young members of my community. At the next meeting, I promise to bring twice as many. I ask of you, bring more of you as well. Let’s work together. I am offering you my hand. Take it. Let us do this together. I cannot bring lots of money, but I can bring to the table more than 1,000 US Citizens who will be eager to vote for the first time, to help save our nation and our state.”
He offered me, personally, his hand in friendship, a hug to seal the deal, and only the fruit of his labor and commitment to the right thing to help the residents of Dodge City.
“I cannot bring lots of money, but I can bring to the table more than a 1,000 citizens.” And he worked to keep his word.
It’s on people like me — and all of us who believe in voting rights — to honor him by meeting him halfway, and doing everything in our power to help these residents, who yearn for freedom and good government, to vote.
The polling center may be “getting out of Dodge” but me, personally? I’m doing everything I can to help people get their VOTES out of Dodge City.
I truly love my work at Daily Kos — and I am grateful every week for the reads and comments. But, for a week or two, I’m going to be “on vacation.” I am attending a meeting in NYC this week, and will meet up with NYC Kos there, and then taking time — through election day — to work with disenfranchised voters in Kansas.
No party can tolerate suppression.
No party can support oppression.
And knowing it is ongoing without reaction? Then it is on us.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
The time is now, and sometimes, it’s on you to do it. 2 years ago I promised I would go if I was called to help the people in Dodge City. Today, our State party worked to begin that effort. Please stay tuned as we report on what we are doing to help the folks in Dodge City vote.
Neeta Lind here: A North Dakota update. As you know, the Daily Kos Community raised, at the time of this writing, over $475K to help the reservations in North Dakota vote: Contribute to North Dakota Native Vote to disrupt Republican voter suppression
Monique Teal, Jen Hayden and I are flying to Bismarck, North Dakota next week to help with this effort of issuing all reservation residents proper ID in order to vote. We are driving to two reservations, Fort Berthold and Standing Rock. We hope to capture some video and photos to document the work being done there by North Dakota Native Vote. We should have a report ready before Nov. 6th.
I’d like to thank this community for their donations and sharing with their networks to support this effort. It’s a compelling ask to a blatant attempt to keep Natives from voting in North Dakota. I look forward to sharing our on-the-ground report with you soon.