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Just wondering….

Does anyone else marvel at the things many of us, as citizens of the United States and members of the work force, take for granted?
Nearly every day, I catch myself in a mindset of entitlement, expecting that my tap water should run clear, my toilets should flush away things to a place where I never have to see them again, my roads should be travelable and I should be able to publicly express personal beliefs without being caned.
I also believe that if I get pulled over for speeding, charge something on my credit card or cash a check, my state-issued driver’s license will be accepted as proof that I am who I say.
I don’t like behaving as an entitled individual and I chastise myself whenever grumbling clouds my head, or when things don’t work in my favor. We are incredibly lucky to have been born in a country where these presupposed truths are indeed largely self-evident– at least, to the fortunate among us– and I try to remind myself of that daily.
I am also reminded that I share this time and space, this very community, with others who can’t ever take for granted that they will enjoy the same freedoms and dignities I do.
Another reminder came again last month, when a group of concerned citizens enjoined the North Liberty City Council to take active steps to ensure that at least one of the conveniences I enjoy– access to a valid proof of identity– is made more available to others.
For well over a year now, a coalition of human rights advocates, elected officials, community leaders and impacted individuals in Johnson County have been exploring a Community ID program that would allow people who do not have government-issued documents or driver’s licenses to obtain a personal identification card; including homeless citizens, victims of domestic violence, elderly residents who do not drive, those displaced by natural disasters and even undocumented immigrants. The idea is to get all Johnson County communities to accept a Community ID as a valid form of identification; a necessary item when conducting simple business like getting a library card, opening a bank account, buying medication or using credit cards. The benefits are that people become empowered to conduct such business. Side benefits realized by communities who have initiated a Community ID program are that crimes decrease when people can deposit their cash in banks instead of stuffing it in mattresses, and witnesses are more likely to report crimes when they don’t fear undue scrutiny from police since they can produce an accepted form of identification.
Go figure.
To be clear, it won’t mean people can get an ID without some kind of verification. Documentation and proof of address will be required, a photograph will be taken and security measures will be in place to reduce the potential for fraud. Businesses will retain individual discretion whether to accept it, and the ID will not be enough to actually get a driver’s license, obtain a birth certificate or even vote.
Since it seems like a no-brainer, win-win to me, I have been repeatedly taken aback by skeptics of the program who ask why it’s needed when people can just waltz down to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get a state-issued, non-operator’s license for eight bucks.
More than just a couple of North Liberty city councilors posed this seemingly reasonable question, so I was happy to hear Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert address it in words I can repeat when facing skeptics in the future and in polite company.
Some people, for whatever reasons, have a fear of entering government buildings or interacting with the police. North Liberty Mayor Amy Nielsen took it a step further: if one comes from a country where government is oppressive, that fear is often justified.
While caning isn’t an official practice here, certainly there is no shortage of institutionalized discrimination, implicit and explicit racism and classism, and the imposition of undue hardship for those already clinging to mere fringes of their human dignity. (Can you imagine how ludicrous to hear “Look, just show me your birth certificate and we’re good to go, easy-cheesy!” when you’ve been on the run from an abusive spouse for the last three years?)
But there are other stories the gentile among us might find more palatable, and a few were shared with the North Liberty council last month.
First, there was the California native who was evacuated from her Iowa City home in 2008 just before floodwaters devastated her house and much of its contents, including important papers stowed in the basement. She had three minutes to grab the most essential items and get out; it didn’t occur to her to run downstairs and rifle through boxes to find her birth certificate or passport. She was elderly, she didn’t drive and wasn’t sure the hassle and expense of obtaining a new birth certificate was worth it when all she needed was a simple identification to allow her to get a library card.
Then there was the Chinese owner of an Asian market who regularly had customers who would like to pay with credit cards but lacked the proper photo ID. Many others regularly carry their passports as identification, a risky practice anywhere. She herself lost her legal documentation after arriving here from China when her handbag was stolen; while she’s been a legal, business-owning, tax-paying resident of this country for 20-some years, she cannot prove who she is. Because of that, she was recently unable to open her own mailbox.
Finally, we heard from a man who was smuggled across the U.S.-Mexican border at the age of 7– clearly not of his own volition. An honor roll student and community volunteer who accepted positions of leadership and passed his drivers ed. exam, he cannot get a driver’s license. Not having a government ID has made him petrified to interact with law enforcement officials, he said, lacking any way to prove to them that he belongs here.
When my tap water turns rusty, my toilets back up or the roads aren’t plowed as early as I’d like, I can complain and curse the inconvenience, but I know that most likely, all will be fixed in a matter of hours.
But lack of accepted identification is not a simple inconvenience for folks like these who strive to be part of this community, who wish to contribute to society and be accepted and take part and stand up for what’s right. A Community ID program may not fix everything, but it can go a long way toward granting a small convenience most of us take for granted.
Conversely, where is the inconvenience to the Johnson County communities who agree to accept them?
Just wondering.