The Elderly Jews of South Florida ... and 62 Years Ago Tonight
There was something about yesterday's demonstration in front of the courthouse in Palm Beach County that profoundly moved me: hundreds of elderly Jewish citizens, many in tears, demanding, begging for someone to listen to them. They tried to explain that the ballot they voted on was so confusing they feared that they had actually voted for Pat Buchanan (a man who once said "Hitler was an individual of great courage") instead of the man they wanted for president, Al Gore.
Rather than being heard, they have been ridiculed across the country as being "stupid," "ignorant" or "sore losers." They are portrayed as a bunch of whiners, old people who maybe shouldn't be behind the wheel of a car, let alone in the voting booth. Get off the road, you're messing up the election for the rest of us!
This is the tone of much of what I have heard in the media and on the street: You had your chance, you idiot, you screwed up your own ballot, now shut up.
I find it more than ironic -- actually, downright abhorrent -- that, in addition to the thousands of ballots that have been thrown out, at least a few hundred of these senior citizens' votes, through what appears to be an illegally constructed ballot, will end up being counted for a right-wing anti-Semite like Mr. Buchanan. South Florida has perhaps the largest population of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel and New York. Is it just me, or do these good people, all of whom have suffered enough in their lives, deserve not only our respect, but our commitment to see that their vote is counted?
To many of you, World War II and the Holocaust probably seems like ancient history. The truth is, there are tens of thousands of people who lived through that horror, escaped the ovens, and are now living out their final years in South Florida. None of us can imagine what they went through; first to survive, and then to somehow make it to a country where they believed they would be free and their voice would be heard. These immigrants worked hard to raise families in America, contribute to our society, and make this country a better place for all of us. They took their citizenship duties very seriously, to the point where many of us have probably rolled our eyes a time or two over their extreme patriotism and love of America. Silly old people!
Now they are being told to take a hike. I could understand the derision if it were 50 spoiled ballots, or 500 spoiled ballots. But 19,000???
Are we going to just discard these senior citizens with a big shrug and a laugh? They were already discarded once in their lives. Being stripped of their vote is not the same as being stripped of their life, but then why are we remembering our veterans on this Veteran's Day if not for the fact that they risked THEIR lives so that people like these survivors could have the right to vote? Are we really going to do this to them?
When Al Gore named Joe Lieberman as his running mate -- the first Jew to run on a national ticket for a major party -- it created a wonderful rush of pride within the Jewish community. If there had been any doubt that they, as Jewish Americans, were not fully welcomed at the table, this one act on Gore's part made that doubt virtually disappear. I remember watching on the news that day a story about Lieberman's wife, Hadassah. She is the child of two Holocaust survivors -- her father, an inmate in a Nazi slave labor camp, and her mother, who miraculously survived Auschwitz.
As I watched Hadassah's story, I paused to think of those in her family who did not survive the camps to live to see this momentous day. I thought, if only it had been possible, in the final moments before their deaths, for someone to whisper to them that this madness will indeed end, that the Jewish people will not only survive but see the day when a child of theirs is married to the man running for vice president of the United States! Whatever small comfort that could have given them to alleviate their pain and suffering before their lives were exterminated, I wish... I wish... they just could have known that their death was not in vain.
These elderly survivors and relatives of survivors in Palm Beach County deserve our fight for their voice to be heard. This is a national shame and dishonor. Everyone knows the truth here: 19,000 people could not read the ballot. I don't care that the local Democrats had approved the ballot. Like most Democratic party hacks, they blew it. So what. Does that mean these elderly have to pay the price? The Republicans have now resorted to spewing incredible lies, such as the "same number of ballots were spoiled in 1996." That is a bald-faced lie. The number of spoiled ballots was HALF what it was this year, and I have been told that voters in the '96 election DID complain but no one listened because the spoiled ballots did not affect the outcome.
Look, I personally did not vote for either Gore or Bush. I think Lieberman's politics and campaign contributions are appalling. But I and others have made these points throughout the election -- and the majority of Americans have chosen to dismiss them for now. That is their right. But if the campaign for Ralph Nader was nothing, it was, at its very core, about trying to stop the disenfranchisement of the American people. For us not to speak up now -- even though OUR will did not prevail -- would make everything we stand for lack credibility.
I am asking all who read this -- Nader supporters, Gore voters, Republicans with a conscience -- to stand up and resist this theft of our election. Someone has set up a website calling for spontaneous demonstrations in numerous cities at 1pm tomorrow, Saturday, November 11 (click here for the list). Take one hour, just one hour, of your time tomorrow and go down to where the rally is happening in your town. Do not listen to those who are saying we have to put this behind us and get on with it. Get on with what? A democracy that does not respect its most basic and cherished right, the right to have your vote counted?
If the person who got fewer votes is installed as president, it will inspire so much cynicism amongst the citizenry that I fear even MORE people than the 100 million who chose not to vote will sit out the next election. They will just say, "What's the use? It's all rigged!" Progressives and Greens and everyone must understand this danger -- and how much more difficult it will be to organize if more of our fellow Americans just give up.
Please, do this for the sake of our country. Do it because it is right. Do it because those senior citizens in Florida deserve our respect and our help in their time of need.
Sixty-two years ago tonight, the Holocaust began in full force on what was called Kristallnacht. The German government sent goon squads throughout the country to trash and burn the homes, stores and temples of its Jewish citizens. Seven years and 6 million slaughtered lives later, the Jewish people of Europe were virtually extinct. A few survived. I will not allow those who survived to come here to this "land of the free" be abused again. They are our fellow citizens in our great democracy, and their voice, if I have anything to say about it, will never be snuffed out.