Tag Archive | history

You only gave us rights because we gave you riots: thoughts on Pride

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power”

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power” (Click to embiggen)

I’ve had three partially-written blog posts about Pride sitting here in the queue for a few weeks, but kept changing my mind about which direction I wanted to go with it. Then over the last few days I’ve seen several more iterations of a question that drives me crazy, and some related stuff appeared on a couple of my usual news sits, which made the three ideas I had coalesce into one. First: never forget that the first Pride was a riot. And it wasn’t just one riot—the rioting continued for several nights. The quick summary: because (among other things) it was illegal for a bar to knowingly serve more the one openly gay person at a time, most of the places where gay, lesbian, trans, and other queer people were able to congregate were illegal bars, usually operated by the mafia. The cops occasionally raided those bars, just to remind the people operating them that they needed to keep bribing cops and other officials. Because it was also illegal for a man to wear clothing traditionally thought as a woman’s, and it was equally illegal for a woman to wear men’s clothes (stop and think about that a moment: it was a crime for a woman to wear slacks of a pantsuit in many states in 1969), in addition to shutting down the bar and confiscating the alcohol, the cops would always arrest everyone who was gender-non-conforming.

So, forget the lies that certain so-called religious people have started spouting lately: the cops were not rescuing underaged people who were being sex trafficked. The purpose of the raid was to insure that the mob paid it’s bribes on time, and to give the cops a chance to rough up some trans people, masculine-looking women, and effeminate men. That was it.

And for some unkown reason, part of the crowd started fighting back on that night. The cops were so overwhelmed that they had to barricade themselves inside the now-emptied Stonewall Inn and wait for reinforcements. Over the next six days, news spread and people gathered, rioting on at least two more nights. The people who led the fights were the outcasts: the street queens, the people of color, the homeless queer teens—the people least likely to blend in at some white middle-class event.

The New York Daily News, a bit over a week after the first riot.

The New York Daily News, a bit over a week after the first riot.

To the extent that the press covered the event, most of it was very condescending. Joe Jervis has been posting the full text of the New York Daily News’ story every June for a few years. If you want to see just how the so-called liberal press felt about gay people, go give it a read. To the extent that the media covered it at all, most of the coverage was either as disdainful and mocking as the New York Daily News, or they focused on the police version of the story.

The Village Voice put the phrase “Gay Power” in the front page!

Technically, the riots didn’t start the gay rights movement. There had been several organizations staging the occasional picket lines (with the men in suits and ties and the women in skirts), or other orderly protests for a couple of decades. In fact, some of the organizations that had been lobbying for gay rights for years issued condemnations of the riots. Second: But the riots did have a several important effects. while the mainstream press either ignored them or made fun of queer people, some of the alternative papers tried to show both sides. And these papers were read outside of the neighborhoods they served, especially papers like the Village Voice which was read by many professional journalists and academics far outside New York. Third, the news of the riots spread through social grapevines, and within weeks younger, less affluent queer people who had never ever heard of organizations like the Mattachine Society were gathering and forming groups like the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance, or the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

Fourth, by the fall of 1969 chapters of the Gay Liberation Front were being formed on college campuses all over the U.S. I know, because I happened to know a man who was a freshman at the University of Washington that year, who was not only a founder of the UW chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, he served as an officer for the next few years.

Fifth: Commemoration led to recognition. The next year, June 1970, on the anniversary of the first riot, a small group met to march in what was then called Christopher Street Liberation Day, but by the time the group reached Central Park, the march had swelled to thousands. And, interestingly enough, the same papers that had been so condescending a year ago were at least less disdainful: “There was little open animosity, and some bystanders applauded when a tall, pretty girl carrying a sign “I am a Lesbian” walked by.”

I mentioned the organizations that had been fighting for gay rights for years. There were enough of them that they had been holding regular conferences for some years before the riots. Several months after the riots Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations passed a resolution supporting the Christopher Street Liberation Day, though the several groups abstained. And the only reason the resolution was under consideration was because a group called Homophile Youth Movement in Neighborhoods had started working with the Gay Liberation Front, and brought some of their members to the convention as guest. The New York Mattachine Society (the people who had been doing that staid picketing for years with no significant changes in the law or attitudes) was one of the organizations that opposed commemorating the riots. But that parade, and others held in other cities all over the country, happened anyway, and they have been growing ever since.

The Mattachine Society had been lobbying for gay rights since 1950 to virtually no avail. The more radical queers who organized after Stonewall made more of a splash: by the 1972 presidential election campaign, there were national Democratic candidates advocating for anti-discrimination laws to include queer people.

Since that first march in 1970, there have been people within the community who call for the parades to be less outrageous. Specifically, they ask people not to wear kink gear, or sexually provocative clothing. Every year I hear someone saying that such-and-such or so-and-so doesn’t belong at Pride. They argue that only if we show the world that we aren’t freaks will we get rights.

Bull.

I have a few more verbose responses:

First: if we all showed up with the men wearing suits and ties and the women in skirts, and walked calmly down the street the same bigots who claim we are sick and going to hell would still be screaming those lies. Because they did it for the two decades that groups like the Mattachine Society were playing the assimilationship card.

Stop ignoring the blatant sexuality of every day straight culture.

Second: have you ever been to a straight parade or festival? Because let me tell you, the first time I ever attended Seattle’s Torchlight Family Seafair Parade I was shocked at how just how many skimpy bikinis were being worn by women on the floats and how many sexual innuendoes other floats were designed to embody. The only reason why LGBT Pride Parades appear to be outrageous and not-family-friendly to people is because none of the sexuality on display is aimed at white straight men. There is no less sexuality being flaunted at most non-gay festivals, parades, sporting events, et cetera, than there is at Queer Pride Parades. None.

“No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love.” —Barack Obama.

(click to embiggen)

Third: the whole point of liberation and equality is that everyone should be free to be themselves. No one should have to hide who they are to be treated equally before the law. If you’re trying to keep the kinksters, the dykes on bikes, the drag queens, the scantily-clad go-go boys out of the Parade, you’re on the same side of this battle as the anti-gay bigots. You’re helping our enemies, not us. And I’m not the only who he feels this way. Take it away Amanda Kerri, writing for The Advocate:

“I’m frankly too worn out from this stuff at this point to be nice about it anymore. Saying that kink has no place at Pride is a bad opinion and you should feel bad. First of all, kink was at Pride long before upper middle-class queers decided to take their kids to Pride…. As for those of you arguing about how a bunch of queers running around in collars, harnesses, and body tape over their nipples makes us look bad in front of the straights and supports their arguments that we’re all perverts, well you might want to sit down for this: the ones who think we’re perverts don’t care how we’re dressed.”

Fourth: Pride isn’t a celebration of being gay, it’s an assertion of our right to exist without persecution. What is being celebrated is the fact that we have survived and even thrived despite the oppression. What is being celebrated is the rights of each and every one of us to be who we are without shame.

Fifth: Have you been to a Pride Parade lately? Because most of the groups marching in Pride Parades of late are corporate employee groups. They are queer people usually dressed in matching t-shirts approved by some corporate flunky, along with shorts and sensible shoes. Yes, I think there is a lot we need to think about with the corporations who pretend to be gay friendly for marketing purposes while actively supporting our oppressors. And I would frankly have more respect for the people trying to exclude the kinksters if they also talked about the corporate coopting, but they don’t usually seem to be the same people. Regardless, my point here is that just as straight public events aren’t really any more family-friendly than most Pride events, the Pride events aren’t nearly as outrageous as some of you seem to think.

Bottom Line: Everyone who is there to celebrate Pride is welcome, including straight allies. I’m not saying that you have to show up in a g-string with rainbow glitter on your nibbles to participate. I’m going to be wearing a t-shirt and shorts and sensible shoes, carrying my bright rainbow parasol and looking every bit the short, old, queer, nerdy bear that I am. But not only are the street queens, the freaks, the kinksters, the butch dykes, and all of the other “outrageous” or non-conforming people welcome, they were our founders—and they sure as hell belong.

What doesn’t belong at Pride are oppressive attitudes.

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Misleading notions my teachers taught, Part 2: Protestors were small, unconnected groups

People always mis-remember the famous flower in the gun barrel photo as being a young woman. It wasn’t. The photo, taken by Bernie Boston, is of George Edgerly Harris III better known by his stage name Hibiscus. He was a member of the San Francisco based radical gay liberation theater troupe the Cockettes. He died of AIDS in 1982 (when the disease was called GRID for Gay Related Immuno-Deficiency). The photo was taken on October 21, 1967 at a protest at the Pentagon.

People always mis-remember the famous flower in the gun barrel photo as being a young woman. It wasn’t. The photo, taken by Bernie Boston, is of George Edgerly Harris III better known by his stage name Hibiscus. He was a member of the San Francisco based radical gay liberation theater troupe the Cockettes. He died of AIDS in 1982 (when the disease was called GRID for Gay Related Immuno-Deficiency). The photo was taken on October 21, 1967 at a protest at the Pentagon.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, often cited as the beginning of the Modern Gay Civil Rights movement in America. It’s a little weird to realize that events which happened within my lifetime are looked on as distant history by a significant number of adults. To be sure, I was only 8 years old with the Stonewall Riots happened—it was the summer between first and second grade for me—and I didn’t hear anything about them at the time. What I do remember being in the national news was mostly the Black Civil Rights movement and the Anti-War Protests.

That was also a summer that I spent with my Grandparents, which meant that most nights I watched the news with my Grandpa, and during the day I listened to the radio, hearing hourly news updates of about 3 minutes duration, and then listening to Paul Harvey at noon. And the impression I had then and over the next couple of years was that there were a very small number of black people who were unhappy about… things. And any equally small number of completely unrelated people were protesting the war in Vietnam because war is bad.

My teachers mostly didn’t talk about any of this stuff until a few years later, and again the attitude was less than sympathetic to either movement. They didn’t go so far as to call the war protesters cowards, like my dad did, or the much worse words he used for the black people, but the overall impression was that people were upset about something that wasn’t a real problem. And, again, it was emphasized that it was a few isolated groups of troublemakers behind it all. Similarly with the Women’s Rights movement and the Native American Rights movements. Each of those things were treated as distinct, unconnected things.

And it only got worse in middle school and high school. By the time I was in high school the U.S. had pulled out of Vietnam and the consensus seemed to be that the whole war had been a mistake, but the people who protested it were still described by many of my teachers as a fringe group that hadn’t really been proven right, but more that their knee-jerk peacenik attitude just happened to coincidentally align with reality. Or something. The woman who taught my high school history class was quite in favor of women’s rights, and had a lot to say about how poorly Native Americans were treated by our society, but seemed to think that the Voting Rights Act of 1964 had taken care of any inequalities facing all other racial minorities.

By high school the Gay Rights movement was at least acknowledge, but none of my teachers (even the ones that many of the students thought might be gay) referred to at as anything but a small fringe group of mentally ill people (almost all of whom lived in California) who wanted their sickness treated a something deserving of special rights. And I do mean all of the teachers. The state-approved text book for my high school health class had an entire chapter on sexual deviancy, and it not only defined all kinds of kinkiness and homosexuality as mental illness, it explicitly referred to it as a single mental illness, in which straight kinkiness would always lead to bisexual and then homosexual behavior which would always progress to bestiality, pedophilia, and necrophilia. Yes, I’m absolutely serious. On the test we had to list all of the stages in the “correct order.” Note that this was in the late 1970s in a state that has been reliably blue for many decades.

But the one thing that all of them still agreed upon was that each of those movements advocating for a better society was a unique, distinct, and totally separate group. Even when I got into college and had not one but two stereotypical uber-liberal history teachers (one always wore turtlenecks, like the other alternated between turtlenecks and ponchos brought back from his summer sojourns into Central America) treated each of those movements as totally autonomous things. They portrayed the Civil Rights movement as solely the work of some African Americans. They portrayed the Native America Rights movement as soley the work of some Native Americans. They portrayed the Women’s Rights movement was solely the work of some women (usually white women). And they portrayed the Gay Rights movement as solely the work of a small group of (white) gay men and lesbians.

The truth was, that the people who stood up to the police and started fighting back at the Stonewall Inn 50 years ago were trans people of color. There were a lot of lesbians of various races in the crowd and some gay men. But most of the white faces in that crowd that night were street kids—the homeless teens kicked out by the families who found their way the New York City and did what they had to do to survive.

And the bigger truth was that all of those civil rights movements and the anti-war movement had a lot in common. There were people who participated in all the fights. George Edgerly Harris III, the young man how put flowers in the gun barrels was a queer man who was part of a radical gay theatre troupe. He went by the name Hibiscus, and became famous for wearing the outrageous drag while keeping a full beard—a look that would later be labeled genderqueer or genderfuck. And in 1967 he joined a protest march on the Pentagon. He was active in the anti-war movement and the Gay Rights movements, obviously, and at different times in life worked with or supported the efforts of the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movement.

Bernie Boston, the photographer who took the “Flower Power” picture, was a photojournalist who covered all of those events, at least one time famously getting into a conflict with some KKK members. And by frequently arguing vehemently with cops or MPs or National Guardsmen when they tried to interfere with the coverage. He was multiracial, of African American, Native American, and Irish American descent, and strangers usually assumed he was black. As a journalist, he was trying to cover the events, not be part of them, but sometimes that line blurred.

Just as Martin Luther King, Jr’s trusted righthand man, Bayard Rustin, was an openly gay man long before Stonewall while he was helping organize things like King’s March on Washington, the New York Bus Boycott, and other events. A lifelong pacifist, of course he supported and worked with the anti-war movement. He argued for making political alliances with other marginalized groups, and was active in the Gay Rights movement, various anti-semitic groups, pro-labor groups, and women’s rights groups.

These are just a few examples. But the thing is that all those fights had both goals and people in common. They were (and continue to be) fighting the forces of oppression in our society. We should all be working together. We should not let people divide us and act as if they are separate fights.

Because nobody is free until everyone is.

Bernie Boston, the photographer who captured the moment, a black/native man who in another incident willingly stood up to a chapter of the KKK.

Bernie Boston, the photographer who captured the moment, a black/native man who in another incident willingly stood up to a chapter of the KKK.

Weekend Update 4/20/2019: 20th Anniversary of a Horrible Precursor

Excerpt from “Influences on the Ideology of Eric Harris” by Peter Langman, Ph.D.,

Excerpt from “Influences on the Ideology of Eric Harris” by Peter Langman, Ph.D.,

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the day that two teen-agers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered twelve of there fellow students and one teacher in Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado. The pair also injured 21 other people before their shooting spree came to an end. The pair also planted several bombs in and around the school. Some of the bombs were intended to kill their classmates and teachers, some were meant to divert emergency services so that they would have time to kill more people. Fortunately that part of the plan didn’t pan out, but the school shooting was enough of a shock that for years afterward the name of the town and school became a synonym for mass shootings and specifically shootings in schools.

At the time, the pair were depicted as the victims of bullying who might of been driven to their horrific crimes by video games or music. The truth is that they were deeply enmeshed in Nazi and white supremacist thinking. They weren’t so much the victims of bullying as they were fairly ordinary middle class white straight boys who had come to see a world that didn’t treat them as superior to people who weren’t white, male, and straight, as a form of bullying.

Yes, they were alt-right white supremacists. They weren’t poor, misunderstood victims. They were Nazis:

The day he attacked Columbine High School, Eric wore a shirt that read “Natural Selection.” Eric often wrote and spoke about survival of the fittest and natural selection. In his mind, this meant eliminating “unfit” people from the planet. This desire was similar to what Hitler and the Nazis sought to do.
In the fall of his senior year, Eric wrote a research paper on the Nazis. One of the themes he focused on was the Nazi goal of eliminating people who were deemed unfit for life. In his paper, Eric wrote about “the euthanasia program that led to the killing of approximately 100,000 lives that were ‘not worth living.’” He also wrote, “in Nazi Germany, all mentally disabled people or ‘incurable mental defectives’ were killed.” In addition, “Arithmetic was used to show how ‘wasteful’ the mentally challenged were and how much money could be saved by euthanasia.”
—Peter Langman, Ph.D., “Influences on the Ideology of Eric Harris” https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/harris_influences_ideology_1.2.pdf

In the months leading up to their crime, they scribbled swastikas and SS symbols in their journals. They praised Nazis, calling the Nazi annihilation of various ethnic groups, disabled people, on so on, as a smart and efficient way to improve society. They committed their crime on the anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birthday (and their journals indicated this was intentional), for goodness sake!

They were not victims. They were murderers.

They were not victims. They were domestic terrorists.

They were nor sweet innocent boys who were driven to commit their crimes. They were entitled man-babies who thought someone that freedom was a zero-sum game; that equality for others somehow took something from them that they thought rightfully was theirs.

They were precursors of the current alt-right adherents and apologists who have taken over the executive branch of government.

And we didn’t recognize the warning for what it was. Just as we continue to treat individual angry white men who burn down churches and go on shooting sprees as trouble individuals, instead of recognizing the terroristic fascist movement that it is.

The Columbine shooters were white supremacists. Their shooting was an attempt to enact a genocidal program similar to the Nazis. Don’t let anyone tell you different!

St. Patrick’s Day parades used to be political riots…

Anti-irish sentiment was rampant in the U.S. during the 19th Century, with political cartoonist portraying them with ape-like features destroying “true american values.”

Anti-irish sentiment was rampant in the U.S. during the 19th Century, with political cartoonist portraying them with ape-like features destroying “true american values.” (Click to embiggen)

The current wave of White Nationalism and Islamophobia we’re embroiled in was hardly the first time that the U.S. succumbed to anti-immigrant fervor. When the 1845 potato famine sent thousands of Irish people to America, hoping to find work and feed their families, the long-brewing anti-Catholic feelings in the country boiled over. Take this paragraph that describes the cartoon above:

“[Thomas] Nast’s anti-Irish cartoons focus on the Irish as a destructive and lying group, who endangered American society. In the immediate aftermath of the Orange Riot of July 12, 1871 in New York City, in which Irish Catholics clashed with the National Guard protecting an Irish Protestant parade, Nast drew a number of anti-Irish cartoons for Harper’s Weekly. One cartoon illustrated the Draft Riots of July 1863, where Irish Catholics attacked African-Americans throughout New York City. At the top of the drawing Nast wrote that the Irish Catholic is bound to respect “no caste, no sect, no nation, any rights,” highlighting the believed lack of respect the Irish immigrants had for American society. Furthermore, the contrast between the Irish and the Anglo-Saxons in this cartoon clearly shows the Irish in negative light. While the Anglo-Saxons are drawn as regular looking people, the Irish are drawn with ape-like faces illustrating their inferiority as well as the lack of intelligence. Such depictions of Irish were not limited to Nast, with other papers such as Puck and Judge also using caricatures of Irish as primitive and violent.”
—“Thomas Nast Anti-Irish Cartoons”, Catholic Historical Research Center

As I said, anti-Catholic sentiment had been a thing in the U.S. before the famine. There were the Bible Riots in Philadelphia, where anti-Catholic mobs set homes and churches on fire, killing dozens and wounding far more. And I want to emphasize that popular perception was that Catholicism was the religion of invaders. Most of the English colonists had been protestant, and many of the people who participated in the riots and demonstrations were part of so-called “Nativist” organizations, out to protect “real American culture.”

To be perfectly clear, I say so-called because none of them were members of Native America tribes. These were white mutts just like me, whose ancestors had come over mostly from Holland and England just a few generations before and either participated in or profited from the systemic slaughter and displacement of America’s indigenous peoples.

Anyway, the Archbishop of New York had a wall built around St. Patrick’s Cathedral during this time, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians (a pro-Irish group) stationed men armed with muskets around many catholic churches in cities where tensions were high. This is the same organization that sponsored (and in some places still sponsors) many of the St. Patrick’s Day parades throughout the U.S. today.

St. Patrick’s Day parades, during the 19th Century and well into that the 20th, were acts of political protest. Police and National Guard units were sometimes sent in beat up and arrest as many of the parade participants as possible. When Harry S. Truman first participated in the New York City parade in 1948, it was a big deal.

St. Patrick’s Day Parades were Irish Pride Parades—people marched to protest inequality, anti-Irish prejudice, anti-Catholic prejudice, and to honor previous generations who endured those riots, police assaults, and so on.

And during those turning point years, after Irish-America cops fought for the right to march in their uniforms, there was a bit of controversy in some parts of the community—people who were old enough to remember when riot police were sent in to stop the parade.

Now, most people think they are just big parties. Green beer! Everyone’ Irish on St Paddy’s Day! Right? Right?

Several politicians boycott Staten Island St Patrick’s Day Parade after LGBT+ group told they can’t participate.

Over the last few years some of the big city St Patrick’s Day Parades have begun to allow gay Irish-American groups to participate in the parades. But not everywhere. And before you try to argue that since St Patrick is a religious figure (though he was never canonized by a Pope, so not officially a saint), remember all that green beer and cheap Irish whiskey shots at bars? All the raucous behavior and public drunkenness at the parades?

It is not a religious event.

The St Patrick’s Day Parades in America have always been political events. They were originally about fighting discrimination. They are supposed to be about pride in being Irish, right?

Guess what? A lot of Irish-Americans are queer. Hell, a lot of Irish people are queer. The current Prime Minister of Ireland is an openly gay man! He brought his husband with him when he met with the Vice President last week, and then our very homophobic Veep had to stand by and smile diplomatically while the Prime Minister gave an anti-discrimination speech. In 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote!

My own heritage is mixed, like a lot of pasty-pale-skinned Americans. A chunk of my dad’s ancestors came to the U.S. from Ireland, but they were descended from Anglo occupiers who invaded Ireland in the 15th Century. Many of my mom’s ancestors came from Ireland and were poor Irish Catholics. There are conflicting stories in the family about exactly how and when each branch converted to evangelical Protestant, but, my great-grandpa was proud of his Irish roots, and told stories of how his great-grandpa struggled to find work after coming to America during the potato famine.

So, I think I have at least a bit of a right to state an opinion on Irish Pride Parades. And this queer fairy descended from more than a few Irish immigrants, thinks that telling queer Irish-Americans they can’t march in a St Patrick’s Day Parade is bigoted, backward thinking best described as pure blarney.

The viaduct is being demolished at last — good riddance

This is not how a tunnel boring machine works…

I’ve written a time or two before about the extremely aging elevated highway in Seattle that was severely damaged 18 years ago in a severe earthquake. For the next several years after the quake, state and local governments fought over how to replace the cracked and sinking structure. A deal was reached, laws passed, and the then governor signed it. At the signing ceremony, she said that at the advice of the engineers, no matter how long the replacement tunnel took to build, the highway was definitely coming down no later than 2012…

…and here we are, seven years later, and three weeks ago said highway was finally closed. This week, the tunnel finally opened for traffic. Coincidentally on the first day of real winter weather we got this year. And then the process of taking down the unsafe structure—packing most of the rubble into a much older tunnel that, it turns out, is just as rickety as the old elevated highway and needs to just be filled and sealed—has finally begun.

I have found myself not just biting my tongue a lot reading commentary by some acquaintances about why, oh why, the ugly structure that hasn’t adequately served the region’s transportation needs for the last, oh, 50 years of its existence isn’t being replaced by something even bigger and uglier.

Fortunately, a friend has posted a much more reasoned and comprehensive explanation (and linked to an impressive number of pictures she took at the day this weekend the public was allowed to walk on the old elevated structure and through the new tunnel). So go read Dara’s take on this, including a really nice explanation of the why the highway became obsolete only a few years after being built: So long to the viaduct!

What are you doing for others?

“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a white-bearded pasty-pale very white old guy, I feel I shouldn’t do anything to drown out the voices of people of color, specifically African-Americans, and what they have to say on this day to commemorate the legacy of Dr. King. So I am not going to. Instead, I want to refer you to this excellent article by Tyrone Beason published today:

Former Olympian John Carlos Raised a gloved fist for justice 50 years ago, but his act should inspire us today.

Go read it.

Misleading notions my teachers taught, Part 1: Democracy’s Not What You Think

U.S. population isn't equally distributed, which wouldn't be a problem except that the Constitution apportions several important thing by state. (click to embiggen)

U.S. population isn’t equally distributed, which wouldn’t be a problem except that the Constitution apportions several important thing by state. (click to embiggen)

I believe that it was one of my fourth grade teachers who first explained to me how the Founding Fathers designed our government. First she explained that seats in the House of Representatives were allotted proportionately to each state’s population. Then she explained why the Constitution gave every state two Senators, regardless of their population: “They were afraid that the big states would gang up on the little states.” And she pointed to Virgina on the map as an example of a big state, then Rhode Island as an example of a small state. For elementary students this choice evoked a very specific idea, because we were all familiar with the experience of a kid who was bigger bullying a smaller kid, as well as how gangs of bullies seemed to form on every school yard.

There were problems with the teacher’s analogy, of course. The first is that Virginia was a “big state” for purposes of the actual Constitutional question, not because it was physically larger, per se, but because it had a much higher population. The second is that, while a state is a governmental entity that in theory represents the people inhabiting it’s territory, that entity doesn’t always represent the needs and wishes of all of its citizens equally.

Now, at the time the Continental Congress was drafting the Constitution, state population densities were not as lopsided as they are now, so there happened to be a rough correlation between the physical size of most states and their populations, so it is easy to understand how the geographic size became conflated with size of population.

There was a fear among the states with lower populations that the higher population states would, if given power in the new government proportionate to population, overrule concerns raised by those states. That is one reason why the original Continental Congress had consisted of an equal number of delegates from each state, and why each state only got one vote (despite having multiple delegates). It is also why under the Articles of Confederation, the Congress (which consisted of only one house, and was the entirety of the Federal government for the first ten years of independence—there was no executive branch nor a judiciary) had also consisted of an equal number of delegates from each state, regardless of population.

It wasn’t a fear of a few big hulking bullies, it was a fear of the tyranny of the majority.

So, when the states all agreed in 1787 that the Articles of Confederation weren’t giving them an actual working government, they called a Continental Congress (separate from the federal Congress) to draft a solution.

That process created a Congress of two houses, one had members (in theory) proportionate to the population of each state, the other gave equal representation to each state regardless of population. At the time, this seemed like a brilliant compromise. Another portion of the Constitution laid out the election of the President in a similar way: each state would get a number of votes equal to the total number of representatives and senators it had in the Congress. This gave high population states more votes than low population states, but also gave the low population states more votes than they would be entitled to due to population alone.

I mention above that the representation in the lower house is only proportionate in theory, and here’s why: every state, regardless of population, gets at least one representative. There are currently three states whose populations are fewer than the average population of a congressional district in more populous states. And, because the size of the lower house hasn’t been increased in 90 years, these disparities get weird even when comparing only states that have more than two Representatives in the House: some districts are nearly twice the population of others.

Because the Electoral College is skewed by both the two-senators-no-matter-population rule and the mathematical disparities of the apportionment of the House, that means that voters in the less densely populated states have, for all intents and purposes, four times as much say in selecting the President as voters in some of the more densely populated states.

Because of this disparity, half the population of the country only accounts for 18% of the votes in the Senate. That means that the other half get 82% of the votes.

Because of this disparity, half the population of the country only accounts for 18% of the votes in the Senate. That means that the other half get 82% of the votes.

When maps like the second one here are shared by conservatives, the question that gets asked, “Do you really want only this much of the country to elect our Presidents?” This plays into the same misconception that my teacher gave about big states and little states: Even though it says right there in the text by the map that these nine states comprise a full half of the population, emotionally you process the size of the other states as representing a majority, when it doesn’t.

The fact that 82 of the 100 members in the Senate represent only half the population of the country, is also one reason why we frequently have Congressional gridlock. And it is certainly playing out in the current government shutdown.

How to steal and election. Gerrymander.

How to steal and election. Gerrymander. (click to embiggen)

Gerrymandering of district for electing Representatives also contributes to these problems. And gerrymandering can be very powerful. My favorite example is to just look at what happened in my state, Washington, during the 1994 midterm elections. At the time, Washington had nine Representatives in Congress. In that election, just over 60% of the voters of Washington state voted to have a Democrat represent them in Congress. Knowing that 60% of the voters chose a Democrat, you would expect that out of 9 seats, at least 5 of them would be filled by Democrats, right? That isn’t what happened. Instead, only 3 seats went to Democrats, and 6 went to Republicans. That was because of gerrymandering.

When I’ve written about these issues before, some folks have pointed out that fixing it would require amending the Constitution—which requires supermajority votes in both houses of Congress and then a supermajority of states have to ratify. Plus, fixing the Senate is a particularly difficult issue. And no one likes the solution I suggested (half-jokingly), which is a Constitutional amendment that requires any state whose population isn’t large enough to justify three Representatives must cease to be a state and merge with a neighboring state.

But there are things that can be done to alleviate the problem which don’t require amending the Constitution. The first is to simply increase the number of Representatives in the House so that the district disparities are alleviated. There have been a number of bills proposed (and some with bipartisan sponsors) toward this end. One popular solution is called the “Wyoming Rule.” Not because it was proposed by Wyoming, but because Wyoming is the lowest population state. The Wyoming Rule would set up a system where each time when Congress does reapportionment after each Census, part of the process is to increase the total number of Representatives so that the average size of a Congressional District equals the population of the least populous state. Many nations of parliaments/assemblies/what-have-you that are much larger than our House of Representatives and they manage to conduct business just fine.

Increasing the number of Representatives alleviates at least two of the problems: it decreases the odds that a Presidential candidate who lost the popular vote will win the electoral college, and it makes gerrymandering much more difficult.

Another couple of things that could help: Statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. D.C. has a population larger than two of the states of the union, and they have no vote in either house of Congress. D.C. statehood has been opposed by National Republicans for several years because the demographics of the district make it likely that it was most often elect Democrats to the Senate. Puerto Rico has a population that exceeds the three least populous states added together! In fact, it has a higher population that 21 of the states. Again, National Republicans have opposed statehood for the territory because it is assumed it would likely add two more reliably Democratic seats to the Senate. And that is precisely why statehood for each would alleviate some of the problems of partisan imbalance in the Senate.

Then, of course, there is the movement to change the way the states appoint their electors: National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

Thanksgiving Links (ritual sacrifice, with pie edition)

“Hurray, I'm Gay, it's Happy Thanksgiving Day! How's that for a holiday family outing?”

(click to embiggen)

In the U.S. it’s Thanksgiving, a day which most of us were taught in school was to commemorate a peaceful feast between the the Pilgrims and their neighboring Native Americans. Of course, we are also taught in school the equally false notion that the pilgrims came to the America from England looking for religious freedom, when in fact what they came to do was establish a theocracy—they fled England because the folks back home wouldn’t let them persecute neighbors who worshipped very slightly differently than they did. So while the Native Americans whose land the Pilgrims were squatting on did occasionally meet and break bread with the colonists—and have to teach them how to farm since most didn’t know how and so forth—the traditional Thanksgiving story is a myth.

Being raised in evangelical fundamentalist churches, I was also taught that it was a religious holiday (after all, who would we be saying “thanks” to, right?), though there isn’t really anything very holy about what the European colonists did to either the Native Americans nor the environment we found here.

Anyway as Anya observed in that one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “To commemorate a past event you kill and eat an animal. A ritual sacrifice… with pie.” And I have to admit that the past events I am commemorating are the holidays spent with extended family back when all my grandparents and most of the great-grandparents were still alive. Which is why one of the dishes I’m cooking and serving today in sweet potatoes with heavy cream, molasses, and pepper… as close to how Great-grandma used to make it as I can get.

Since a lot of my bookmarked stories this week don’t really make sense to include in tomorrow’s Friday Five, in case you need something to read today, here are some Thanksgiving Links:

(click to embiggen)

Here’s What Your Part Of America Eats On Thanksgiving.

This Is How Long Thanksgiving Leftovers Actually Last .

The Ultimate Thanksgiving Dinner Menu .

It wasn’t just an episode of a sitcom, this community actually through turkeys out of planes at their annual festival: Tossing a Bird That Does Not Fly Out of a Plane: A Thanksgiving story about the limits of human empathy.

Why First Nations People Regard America’s Thanksgiving Day as a National Day of Mourning.

And let me remind you: don’t jump the gun on Christams!

"Slow down!! Let's eat the damn turkey first!"

(MemeGenerator.Net Click to embiggen)

Indigenous People’s Day: Columbus didn’t discover America, he invaded it

“Columbus didn't discover America, he invaded it!”

“Columbus didn’t discover America, he invaded it!”

I’ve written a couple times before why I support renaming Columbus Day. Yes, I’m a pasty-white-skinned blue-eyed guy whose ancestors came from places like Ireland, England, and France, but I recognize that I only got to be born here because a lot of horrible things were done to the native peoples, including driving them off the land.

And don’t get me started on how the European invaders just had better technology and the land was underused. Get yourself some history about the pre-colonial Piedmont Prairie and Forests, which were maintained by multiple native tribes, who did controlled burns and crop rotation in some portions, carefully leaving other protions alone, so a huge number of species of plants and animals (including a species of woodland bison) could thrive there. The European colonists made land sharing deals with native tribes… and then decided to ignore their own deals and through encroachment, clear cutting, dam-building, and the occasional outright slaughter drove the indigenous people away. And also drove a bunch of species into extinction.

And if you’re the sort of person who uses “illegals” as a noun and yell at anyone with dark skin, or a non-European name, or who just disagrees with you politically to “go back where you came from!” I have to say, “You first.” Until then, shut up.

Other people have written a bit more about the historical reasons we rename the day and why Columbus isn’t a hero. And since some of them are natives, you should read what they have to say on the topic.

Of the dead, speak nothing but truth… or, I refuse to whitewash this sepulcher

This was a John McCain campaign ad, approved by him, run by his campaign. Many times. Do not call him the savior of the Affordable Care Act.

This was a John McCain campaign ad, approved by him, run by his campaign. Many times. “Leading the fight to stop Obamacare.” Do not call him the savior of the Affordable Care Act.


Lots of people repeat the very bad translation of an ancient proverb, thinking that it is rude or crass to say anything in the slightest bit negative about someone who has died. But that isn’t what the proverb actually meant in the original language. It didn’t say never say bad things about the dead, what it actually said was, “Of the dead, speak nothing but truth.” Don’t tell lies about the dead, but there is nothing wrong with saying truthful things that are less than flattering.

So, I am not here to say false things about John McCain, I am here to speak truth, a truth that absolutely contradicts most of the stuff people are trying to say about him.

First of all, he was not a maverick. He was not a loose cannon who stood up to President Trump. He said some things that condemned some of Trump’s worst lies and distortions and most hateful statements, and then he turned around and in every case except two, voted in favor of the evil, hateful laws that Trump wanted and the corrupt unqualified people Trump nominated.

And this is something that McCain did for his entire political career. At certain strategic moments he would verbally disagree with some of the most extreme statements of his fellow Republicans, but then nine times out of ten he voted in favor of the very policies that people think he opposed.

As an example of this theme, let’s look at the Affordable Care Act, often called “ObamaCare” (though a more accurate name would be RomenyCare, because it was virtually identical to the health care system that Mitt Romney signed into law when he was governor of Massachusetts). Many people like to focus on McCain’s dramatic vote against the attempted repeal after Trump took office. First, this ignores the more than 50 times that McCain voted to repeal the law during the six years prior to Cadet Bonespur occupying the White House. McCain opposed it when it was initially proposed. He voted to repeal it more than 50 times. He bragged about voting to repeal it. He mentioned his opposition to it in numerous re-election campaign ads. He fundraised for both his re-election campaign and multiple Political Action Committees on his pledge to repeal it. For a bit more than six years McCain was opposed to Obamacare.

There are people who try to spin his decision to switch sides and stop the repeal of Obamacare are the result of newfound compassion due to his own health care crisis. First, is statement when he cast the vote doesn’t support that interpretation. He said he was opposed to repealing it without going through proper hearings about the impact of the repeal.

And think about what was going on. His own constituents (and thousands of other people outside Arizona) were calling his office and begging him to spare their lives. Voters were begging for the health care coverage of their loves ones. They were begging. And they had been for some time. Every time the Republicans had brought up repeal before, the devastating cost, including the tens of thousands of people who would die needlessly because of the repeal in the first few years was explained. They had the facts and figures. They knew what it meant.

And John drew it out dramatically until the last moment, swooping in with maximum press attention to save the day.

It was the moral equivalent of holding a gun to head head of someone’s sick grandmother or child saying, “It would be a shame if something happened to them,” then pulling the gun away at the last moment and saying, “All right, I won’t kill you today.”

And he expected to be treated like a hero for doing not pulling the trigger.

The primary way that a senator influences policy is with their vote. And if you look at John McCain’s voting record, it does not paint a picture of a hero. He opposed gay rights at every opportunity. He voted against adding sexual orientation to the list of protected classes for anti-discrimination laws and hate crimes. He voted against the federal government recognizing civil unions or marriage of queer people if states enacted it. He voted against allowing queer people to service opening in the military. None of those votes makes him a maverick among Republicans. And it shows a clear bias against my rights under the law.

Another way a senator can influence the policy is decided which party to caucus with. No matter what party the senator belongs to or was elected under, they can choose to caucus with either party. Doing so changes who makes decisions about what is voted on and when. If John McCain had truly been opposed to Trump’s policies, he could had caucused with the democrats. It would only have taken three Republican senators doing that to stop most of Trump’s agenda in its tracks. That would have been the actions of an independent-minded senator putting loyalty to the country ahead of party.

He didn’t do that. Despite the fact that many constituents were writing and calling his office and begging him to do so.

John McCain served his country for most of his adult life. He served in the Navy as a pilot during the Vietnam War until he was shot down and capture. He spent a long time in a prisoner of war camp and was tortured. I don’t dispute his service or his patriotism displayed at that time. I’m not one of the crackpots who try to claim he was a war criminal or traitor because of some of his actions to being tortured.

While he had been a prisoner of war, his wife had been in a horrific car accident. She was required 26 surgeries over a six month period to recover. Once she was able to leave the hospital, she needed assistance to walk, but she resumed caring for their three children. Six years after returning from Vietnam, McCain started an affair with a much younger (and wealthy) woman. He divorced his wife, moved to Arizona, married the younger woman, and then started campaigning for Congress. It has always amazed me how the party that embraced the Moral Majority and calls itself the Family Values party embraces men who cheat on their wives, leave those wives for the younger women, and insist that the men are honorable and upstanding men.

Yeah, life is complicated and people are imperfect. I’m not saying that he was a monster. But he wasn’t a hero in his political life. He voted for and enabled racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic policies. He enabled a corrupt and probably treasonous administration to push this country a long way toward being a fascist autocracy. And he wasn’t a hero in his personal life. He was a man. Not a great man, merely a man.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like unto whitewashed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
—Matthew 23:27

John McCain giving a thumbs up. The words: “I got my healthcare! Good luck affording yours” over the image.

(click to embiggen)

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