“Excuse me, are you a registered voter in St. Louis County?” That’s what the African-American man in his … forties? fifties?… asked me as I walked out of the library. When I said I was, he offered me a petition to sign on the eminent domain issue. Two of them, actually. And I was delighted to have a chance to do that.
While I filled in my address, I asked him if he was a volunteer or if he was being paid to collect signatures. “Oh, I’m paid. I don’t do much for free,” he said with a smile. I returned it.
Then he offered me another petition that would, he said, “ban discrimination based on race or gender.” Little alarm bells rang in my head. This isn’t that petition to get rid of affirmative action, is it?” I asked. He allowed as how it was.
“I’m not signing that one. That’s a terrible idea. That’s the one being pushed by …”
“Some guy from California,” he said.
“Right. Ward Connerly.”
“Yeah. Well, I’ll vote against it,” he said.
“If it makes it onto the ballot, you mean.”
“Oh, it’s already on the ballot in Colorado. That’s where I’m from.”
I told the man I was a blogger and handed him my card. “That’s really strange,’ I said, “that you’d be gathering signatures for petitions from opposite sides of the political spectrum. Who do you work for?”
“National Ballot Access,” he told me.
“Well, that particular initiative is extremely deceptive.”
“I just read what the ballot language says. Some of these people will tell voters that this petition is for affirmative action; they’ll deny it’s anti-affirmative action to a person’s face. Not me. I just read what the language says.”
His unspoken message was, I got a living to make. And I had to leave home to do it.
I understood that, so I agreed that he had only read what the language said, but I reiterated that it was deceptive language. We chit chatted for a couple of minutes about what we knew: I said five states had been targeted and he reminded me that, besides Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado were on the list and that Connerly had already pulled out of Oklahoma. I said the other state was in the Southwest. “New Mexico?” I asked. He couldn’t remember. Turns out it was Arizona.
He told me that when the first affirmative action bill was passed in 1964, “we weren’t looking for a hand out or even a hand up, we were looking for a hand in. And it’ll hurt women, not just blacks.”
“From what I understand, in California it hurt women even more than it hurt blacks.” He nodded.
As I prepared to leave, he wished me a good day and put a hand on my shoulder. I did the same, and he gave me a solid hug.
As I drove away, I realized that I was supposed to call a toll free number so that WE CAN could send someone to that location to pass out flyers. Oh man, this was a dilemma. I oppose that amendment, but sicking people on that man? Ouch. I compromised with my conscience and waited until late afternoon to call.
Sorry, mister. Sorry, WE CAN. I was in as much of a no win situation as that vote collector.
But if this petition barely makes it onto the ballot, I’m going to feel rotten.