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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/8/14

"Papers, please! Papers, please!"

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Message Nicholas Shankin
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'Papers, Please'
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So, after 23 years of life and a two-month-long struggle trying to get it, I have finally been issued my first-ever state ID card.

For me, this is a huge deal--I've always resisted the institution of a state-issued identification system for a variety of reasons, generally privacy-related. The idea of a scannable government barcode used to track you and your purchases, as well as to aid police in running background checks by creating a centralized pool of identities and the criminal records associated with them, has always turned me off. I've never understood how having one's "papers" could be such a necessity in the "land of the free;" all I can hear when the need to check them arises is, "Papers, please. Papers, please. Vere are your papers??" just like the Nazis used to.

Because I believe that all individuals are sovereign inhabitants of planet earth, and that country borders are just imaginary lines created by the state and enforced with violence, I feel as though mandatory state identification cards are contrary to both natural law and the overall freedom of mankind.  It ought to be up to individuals themselves, and those with whom they directly interact, to determine how one's identity ought to be proven.  Even in the total absence of government, there would certainly still be a market for identification and background information services.  The demand for them might perhaps be even greater in the absence of a state, actually.  The ability to verify one's own identity, as well as others', can be quite crucial in many scenarios.  It's only when the state holds a centralized monopoly over such identification practices that I take issue with them.

Somehow, I've managed to avoid getting an ID for this long.  When it came to employment, I would always just find jobs that didn't require one, or where I knew people who could let not having an ID slide.  Renting my various living spaces throughout the years followed a similar model.  When it came to having fun, I've always managed to get into various bars and events using the countless connections I've had to make.   In order to enjoy my life without giving in to the will of the system, I had to make and keep strong personal connections; my very livelihood depended on it.  Unfortunately, I still have had to miss out on a lot of good times and opportunities as a consequence of not having the required identification.  It has always just been an unfortunate price I was willing to pay in order to remain outside of "the system"--that is, until quite recently.

The only reason I even decided to cave in and get one in the first place after all this time without it is because I have been out of work for the past several months, and both of the positions I was finally offered after extensive job hunting required a photo ID before I could even start working.  I haven't been able to pay rent, and have been literally penniless for the last month or so, during which time I tried to get my documentation together for the state.  Thankfully, my parents had my original birth certificate, but my Social Security card was lost.  It was pretty clear that step one was to work on getting a new one.

The first time I went to the Social Security office, located in center city, Philadelphia, I waited for two and a half hours in a room full of all kinds of people (and their screaming kids) from all walks of Philadelphia life while the security guards patrolled us all, yelling at anyone who dared to use their cellphone.  After my number was finally called (yes, you really are just a number there), they denied me from being issued a new Social Security card because my date of birth was absent from my medical insurance card.  They told me I had to come back with additional papers.  Of the list of acceptable documents, the only option that I had left was my high school transcripts.  I've never had a bank account (you can't get one without a photo ID card), and I no longer have health insurance; it's been years since I've even been to see a doctor, let alone a Primary Care Practitioner.  My only remaining chance was to go back to my "alma mater" and retrieve whatever records they had of me.  Also, there was no one available to answer my questions about their requirements when I tried to call--it states clearly on their website that there are no live operators for the Social Security phone line.  Moreover, the telephone numbers of their individual office locations are unlisted--you get what you get when there's a monopoly over any service, whether you like it or not.  There's no competition.


I was hardly shocked to discover that the school (a public school, if that even bears mentioning) had  lost my medical records.  The woman  behind the desk told me that they must have had them at one point or another, otherwise I would never have even been able to attend in the first place.  Basically, all I got out of my interaction with the school was a resounding, "Oops!"  My transcript was all they could offer me, and the photos of me that were included with it were so blurry from the cheap Xerox printer ink and ancient scanner they had used to enter them into their database.  When I took this to the DMV (along with my birth certificate, former medical insurance card, old W2 forms, and official jury duty notifications), they told me it wasn't enough.  I still needed a Social Security card.

And so I went back to the Social Security office, this time trying a slightly different approach with the attendant who saw me.  I simply handed her all of my documentation, saying confidently, "Here's my birth certificate, insurance card, and high school transcripts with photos, just like you asked."  Thankfully, she overlooked the fact that the insurance card lacked my birth date, and after waiting about a week and a half, I received my new card in the mail.

Finally, with all of my paperwork in order, I went back to the DMV again, only to be told that I lacked an acceptable proof of residency because none of the documents I'd provided had been issued within the previous 90 days.  90 days.  That's all they give you in New Jersey.  I went into hysterics, and the man behind the counter told me that my stepfather and I would have to issue a statement that I lived with him at the address I was claiming and have it notarized.  I asked him and the woman next to him if they ever felt like the gestapo, demanding peoples' papers and processing them into a system that is oppressive, corrupt, and invasive of privacy.  All he said in response was, "Nein," and then threatened to have me escorted out by police if I didn't calm myself down.  We were already leaving anyway to go have that letter notarized, though.


Once all that had been settled, and the DMV had finally approved me as qualifying for an ID, they moved me to another booth to have my photograph taken.  To my dismay, they wouldn't let me use my old mugshot from my 2011 arrest as my photo on the ID as I had requested.  The guy at the desk even said to me flat out that, "It's basically a mugshot we're taking of you, anyway." I asked him if he was seriously listening to the words coming out of his mouth; he ignored the question.  I managed to sneak a bit of a scowl into the photo, at least--I do not look happy about any of this.

I also tried to use, "All Rights Reserved," as my signature, but after a big debate about it between myself and the supervisor, they still wouldn't let me. So instead, I sneaked an anarchy symbol in with it.

It's still amazing to me that I can get into bars now, though, or on airplanes (or trains, for that matter: most transit methods demand identification nowadays).  As dehumanizing and against my will as the whole process has been, it's interesting that there is a certain element of liberation that comes with having an ID when one lives within the confines of such an un-free society. But anyway, I'm ready to finally join the world of adults, with all of its legally granted privileges. It's just a shame that without a little piece of plastic with our name and picture on it that assigns us all our government barcodes, we are denied such endeavors. But anyway, here's to the future! I'm just glad this ridiculous, soul-crushing, and old-world-ish mess of bureaucracy is over with, finally, and I can resume my status as a productive member of society and begin to support myself once again.

And get into bars, obviously.  Did I mention that already?

originally posted here.

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My writings are an outlet for me to discuss current events and everyday instances of oppression (and resistance) that occur because of the continued and irrational belief that government is somehow necessary or beneficial to society. It seems (more...)

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