October 4th, 2019
(published in the Daily Memphian)
You’ve watched the movies; you know the plot. Our hero is running from them, whoever they may be. An oppressive government, an agency of said government, rogue actors high up determined to destroy all that’s good in the world, and our hero is in possession of the secret or the thing that can bring them down. In the old ones, train stations were involved, and the bad guys wore trench coats and fedoras. In the new ones, airports are involved, and the bad guys are bald and wear black tees. In both, time is short, lines are involved, somebody’s going to ask for papers, and our hero’s papers are suspect.
“D-243 to window E,” the loudspeaker says.
My turn. After an hour and a half, I get my shot at renewing my driver’s license at the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Driver Services Center – our snappy new Orwellian name for what we used to call the DMV. I went in person because I wanted to go ahead and get my “REAL ID.” If you haven’t heard of REAL ID, a word from the state website:
“The REAL ID Act of 2005 establishes minimum security standards for license issuance and production and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for certain purposes driver licenses and identification cards from states not meeting the Act’s minimum standards.”
And now it’s time to get real about this, because:
“Beginning October 1, 2020, all persons must have a REAL ID license for accessing Federal buildings, entering nuclear facilities, and boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft.”
Words as broad as “for certain purposes,” you know, like Social Security and flying, and maybe voting in a federal election in November 2020, get my attention. So, I step up to window E, and I present my valid license for renewal and my valid passport for my REAL ID.
Nope. I remain unreal, a non-person.
I was short my Social Security card – the paper one, non-laminated, non-metal, the one I got in 1965 – that’s somewhere in a box with other dinosaur bones. My driver’s license was nice, but I also needed the title to my car, or my voter registration card, or two of eight things required to prove that I lived in Tennessee. The passport was nice, and qualified as one of the nine things
that you have to have one of – out of the three categories full of what you have some of to be recognized as real on the sheet of paper I was handed, titled “REAL ID CREDENTIAL.” And, yep, for you birthers out there, a birth certificate is on the list. And, oh, for you women who took your husband’s name –you’ll need a marriage certificate along with your birth certificate to prove the name change. Divorce decrees make the list in all caps.
In that old box, along with that original Social Security card, I think there’s a picture of the girl I was dating at the time, so maybe she’ll vouch for me. How about it, Janice?
On my return from that adventure, I find a letter in my mailbox from the Social Security Administration telling me that I may not be who I am, and that I must show up in person at their midtown office to prove that I am or lose my benefits within 30 days.
“F-496 to window 18,” the loudspeaker says.
After an hour and 15 minutes and a visit to window 12, who refers me to a special claims agent, and another 30-minute wait for my call to window 18, I get my shot at saving my good name. I present the aforementioned driver’s license and passport, and a bank statement to show my account number and routing number, and …
Success. I’m me again. If not yet in Tennessee, at least to Social Security. I wonder if the agent there would vouch for me out at window E at the driver’s center. How about it, window 18?
So, at the risk of being fitted for a tin foil hat or starting to peek through closed curtains to see if they’re out there, one must wonder about all of this, about who and what we’re protecting, and who and what we’re denying.
How many of the people around me in waiting rooms at the driver’s center and the SSA office can find all the things they need to get their driver’s licenses, or their benefits, or the REAL ID required by October of 2020? Do they even know what’s required? If they can find it all, can they take another three or four hours off from work, find another ride, find somebody to stay with the kids, find a way through it all. All of those working people, all those not working, all those in wheelchairs assisted by family or friends, or all alone, or even older than me, or different from me in so many ways, all are my fellow citizens just trying to get by.
But the real question is this: Will they be able to vote?
In that answer lies the real reason behind REAL ID.
I’m a Memphian, and I’m looking for my papers to prove it.
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