Tucked between a grassy hillside on the University of Texas at Austin campus and Lyndon Johnson’s presidential library, a group gathered to welcome Attorney General Eric Holder Tuesday afternoon, and to ask for his resignation. Or for his impeachment, over his role in the Fast and Furious gun-running imbroglio.
Holder was in town to announce the Justice Department’s get-tough approach to new requirements for voters to show photo identification at the polling place, and other new state laws that might run afoul of the 1965 Voting Rights Act—in short, a “war on the war on voting”. The demonstrators with True The Vote, an election integrity project tied to the Houston tea party group King Street Patriots, huddled up to preemptively declare war on that.
Bunched around a podium and an organizational chart of the Justice Department, around 130 of the True The Vote faithful heard from a lineup of tea party regulars about how the folks trying to beat back voter photo ID laws are the real racists, and socialists as well.
The message mixed assurances that election integrity is a universal cause that knows no partisan lines, and predictions that President Obama’s reelection would doom Americans to communism, slavery or both. Speakers asked the crowd to keep their cameras rolling, to catch every moment that the lamestream media surely would neglect. (Even if the Austin American-Statesman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The New York Times did end up covering it.)
Ahead of the 2012 elections, True The Vote has mounted a nationwide effort to recruit one million volunteer poll watchers, building on their work in Harris County in 2010, when hundreds of their volunteers signed on as poll watchers and election judges to root out trouble in mostly black and Latino neighborhoods. They filed 800 complaints with county officials—none of which the county pursued in court—and drew complaints of their own, of trying to intimidate voters and election workers.
Some True the Vote veterans in the crowd Tuesday said they were genuinely concerned about election fairness, and were glad to have a way to help. Shirley Andries said she’s volunteered as a poll watcher, then an alternate election judge, at Harris County polls. “Last year, there was animosity to us, like, ‘What is whitey doing here?’” she said, but the community was more welcoming last month when she volunteered in Houston’s Clinton Park neighborhood.
Andries said it’s just important to have conservative eyes on the polls in a Democratic stronghold where nobody’s been watching before. “Not to say there was anything going on—but the system is set up to make sure both sides are present.”
In the shade under a huge tree branch, set off a respectful distance like unwelcome funeral guests, representatives from a handful of progressive groups looked on, waiting to share another message with the press: that Holder, and his concerns about Texas’ new voter ID law, were welcome in Austin. “We’ve been ignored in Texas for so long,” said Laurie Vanhoose from Common Cause Texas, so it’s time the Justice Department protected voter rights here. Carlos Duarte from Mi Familia Vota urged that Texas focus on increasing voter turnout, not stripping people off the rolls. Both were promptly swarmed and interrupted by True The Vote faithful.
Though True The Vote’s poll watchers all registered as Republicans in 2010, Catherine Engelbrecht, who founded the group last year, told her audience that election integrity shouldn’t be the subject of partisan bickering. “We can talk until we’re blue in the face,” she said, but nothing will change “until the citizens are willing to stand up.”
She said she doubted the media would be reporting on True The Vote’s rally outside Holder’s talk, but she asked any reporters who were there to put this down in all caps: “WE, TRUE THE VOTE, SERVE REGARDLESS OF PARTY, REGARDLESS OF SKIN COLOR.”
To illustrate her point, she introduced a series of five speakers, diverse in a way the crowd was not, who had plenty to say about partisan causes, and even more to say about race.
Anita Moncrief, introduced as an ACORN whistleblower, said she has 55,000 documents to prove the group broke the law to get Obama elected in 2008. It was appropriate that Holder wanted his speech to invoke the legacy of LBJ, “the father of the dissolution of the black community, and the black family.”
After decades of liberal welfare programs and social services, she said, “they’ve taken race, and they’ve turned it into something unrecognizable,” said Moncrief, who is black. She said complaints that voter ID laws would hurt minority turnout were just more posturing.
She said she grew up poor in Birmingham, Alabama, where the only place people cashed their paychecks was the liquor store—and where, of course, they’d need to show an ID. “You can’t do anything in the black community without a photo ID.”
When Adryana Boyne, a Hispanic conservative leader who heads the group VOCES Action, asked anyone in the audience without a photo ID to raise their hands, nobody did—no card-less socialists in this crowd. She followed by delivering a message in Spanish, to voters who wouldn’t be hearing it from the mainstream Spanish-language media.
George Rodriguez, president of the San Antonio Tea Party, played up the scary political divisions even more: “What they want is an egalitarian society where we’re all gonna share our money with each other,” he said. “It’s not racism to protect our borders. It’s not racism to ask for a photo ID. It’s not racism to ask somebody who looks like a terrorist when they’re getting on a plane.”
But the most pointed race talk came from C.L. Bryant, a popular speaker at tea party rallies nationally, who, as Engelbrecht said by way of introduction, “wants us to free this enslavement and run to toward the blessings of liberty.”
“The past is the past, and now we must press forward to a bright American future,” Bryant told the crowd. “I remember a time when, in Louisiana, even if you had an ID, you couldn’t vote—because of the color of your skin.”
Byrant is a former president of a local NAACP chapter in Garland, but said today, the “once-venerable organization” has been “hijacked.” Exhibit A: the NAACP’s petition to the United Nations human rights council complaining of voter suppression efforts in the U.S. (In fliers for the rally, the group asked, “Are you ready to have UN blue helmets outside your polling place?” Many of the protesters turned up in ironic blue helmets.)
“It’s a lie that the NAACP speaks on behalf of black people,” Bryant shouted. The group, he said, is only being used by liberals to drum up fear. “If the NAACP wants to speak on behalf of black people, then they need to challenge why millions of black and Hispanic babies are murdered at the altars of abortion every year.”
“Socialists are plotting now to destroy the fundamentals of this country,” he said, and it’s all up for grabs in the 2012 elections. “We must not fail,” he said. “If we fail, it will enslave all Americans.”