When I was 10 years old in 1953, my family moved from the small town of Milford to the larger town of West Haven, Conn. For us it could be seen as a step up. We moved from a neighborhood that was mostly low income to one that was firmly working class.
In West Haven my mother was always involved in local Democratic politics in various grassroots roles. I found myself thinking of her as I listened to the testimony of Wandrea Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, at the Jan. 6 committee hearings and, more recently, as Rudy Giuliani was found liable for defaming them.
One of the roles my mother filled was as a registrar of voters. There were six districts in West Haven. In Massachusetts they’re called “wards.” In each district there was one Democratic registrar and one Republican. Periodically, they were required to visit each home in the district that had a voter and verify their status.
It might take them a couple of weeks, going door-to-door together, working all day, establishing the list of voters in that district. And, at least in my mother’s case, it was an opportunity to establish a friendship. That was the kind of person she was. They walked together, talked together, had tea together in each other’s homes, and together, Republican and Democratic ladies, they did their part to make the American system work.
Mom also worked at the polls on election day. She was the stuff of which grassroots democracy is made.
On our street, the front porches of the Democratic and the Republican district leaders were directly across the street from one another, halfway down the block. The Democrat, Bob Deignan, his wife, and their two children walked past our house every Sunday on the way to 10 o’clock Mass at St. Lawrence Church. I don’t know where or if the Republican district leader, Alan Spargo, and his family went to church.
But I do know that I would see the two leaders chatting amiably from time to time — or at least it seemed amiable to a 10-, 12-, or 15-year-old boy. I believe it was.
As a boy a very clear message was conveyed to me in all this. We were Democrats — there was never a question about that — and some of our neighbors were Republicans. And they were our “neighbors” in the New Testament sense of that word. Not enemies. Not “others.”
I thought of my mother as I watched Moss and Freeman testify before the Jan. 6 committee. Like my mother, they worked at the polls on election day and I’ll bet they lived in a neighborhood similar to the one I grew up in.
After the 2020 election, Moss and Freeman were threatened with violence, harassment, and harm to themselves and their families.
At the hearing, another election official from Arizona testified that Trumpists showed up at his home at all hours of the day and night shouting threats and invective over loudspeakers — people with hate in their hearts making the vilest accusations.
After Giuliani falsely accused her of stuffing ballot boxes, Ms. Moss’ grandmother suffered a home invasion by a mob looking for her, threatening retribution based on false accusations.
Nooses were tweeted to more than one election worker after the 2020 elections.
Election violence was not limited to Jan. 6 in Washington. In the months following the 2020 election there was organized violence across our country. Federal and state authorities in each state are tracking down those who threatened to harm poll workers.
The “free speech” our founders envisioned did not include shameless, ugly, violent, and unlawful threats against election workers. My mom did not feel endangered. Neither should Moss and Freeman.
Jim Walsh is a Nahant resident.