Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Taking a stab at explaining #OccupyWallStreet #OWS #OccupyMaine


Published online at thePhoenix.com
Based on my observations, conversations, and reading of Occupation reports from around the globe: 
Despite mainstream media incomprehension, the message of the Occupy movement is extremely clear and lucid. It is creating a parallel, alternative society that cares for humans, represents humans, and provides for humans - using systems free of corporate influence and corruption. The message is that such a world is possible, and need not rely on politicians or corporations to exist. Rather, it can be created by regular people, supplied by donations, and duplicated widely in communities around the globe.
Naturally, corporations, governments, and media outlets want to obfuscate this possibility, to hide it from the masses, because their very existence relies on the continuation of our existing nonrepresentative democracy. Many of their drones, indeed, likely cannot even see what is directly in front of them, and therefore claim it is hazy. It's not.
The Occupiers are building a world adjacent to and yet fundamentally different from our existing. By example they are highlighting the gross inequalities and inadequacies of our existing governmental structure.
They are providing social services: feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, providing free basic medical care, and offering educational training sessions. This is all happening with no budget, made out of individuals' assets - clothes, food, money, knowledge, supplies - that are donated to the effort.
They are operating a government: gathering as local decision-making bodies to discuss the local, regional, national, and global issues of the day, and making decisions on how to take action in a process in which every individual's voice can be heard - and they are carrying out those actions. This is happening in public, with no administrative staffers and no lobbyists.
They are about to embark upon a trade infrastructure: The Occupy Wall Street group, flush with donations that fill a warehouse, is talking about renting at least one truck, fill it with surplus supplies, and drive around to other Occupy locations, dropping off whatever they have that is in need there. This is happening funded solely by donations of items and money.
Their efforts are, admittedly, laid over the basic foundation of roads and public-safety protection. But nearly everyone agrees those things are a real, necessary function of a common government.
In their creation of this parallel society from the ground up, they have already demonstrated the failures of our existing governmental system, which is focused not on the well-being of the people but on protecting the privileges of corporations.
The Occupiers are saying to the public: Look at what government does, and look at what we're doing. We can do this ourselves, in what amounts to our spare time away from being students and part-time workers and homeless veterans, better than our government is doing it, and that has to change. Government must serve the people, answer to the people, meet the needs of the people.
Right now, as is very obvious to anyone who takes even the barest glance at the Occupy movement, a group of part-time volunteers are performing the basic functions of government on donated money, donated time, and donated energy - and at times surpassing the quality, scope, and breadth of service provided by professional lawmakers and career civil servants.
They are not only calling for change, or asking whether change is possible. They are demonstrating how to execute the changes we need. Every day the Occupation lasts, it grows stronger, and its counterexample to our failed American system gets clearer.
All that remains is for each of us to choose: In which of these parallel societies do you wish to live?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Finding - and preserving - unheard voices: Speaking with Howard Solomon about his years of LGBT research

Published in Out In Maine


When Howard Solomon's name was submitted as a nominee for the Catalyst for Change Award, the highest honor given by the Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine at the University of Southern Maine, the center's board agreed very easily to bestow it upon the well-known LGBT historian.
"He has an outstanding record in Maine," says Susie Bock, the center's director, who has worked with Solomon for many years preserving papers, records, and items shedding light on Maine's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. (The Sampson Center also has significant holdings on the history of Maine's Jewish and African-American populations.)
"He has played a part in educating people in Maine since he moved here" in 1987, Bock says, writing essays to accompany numerous exhibitions, speaking with school and non-profit groups, as well as teaching LGBT history classes at USM.
Solomon, a longtime history professor at Tufts University outside Boston, first moved to Maine as a result of his relationship with Ron Clark, who worked in Portland. "We moved to Kittery, which was equidistant, and so we were both miserable," Solomon recalls with his characteristic wry humor. Shortly thereafter, Clark was diagnosed with AIDS; the couple bought a home in Gray and lived there together until Clark died in January 1989. Solomon lost his partner, but found a home, welcomed by the Quaker community (Solomon, a Jew, and the Methodist Clark were pleasantly surprised by that)
Solomon also got involved with groups giving diversity workshops around Maine, and so he stayed, commuting to Tufts and doing a lot of organizing and activism here. Out In Maine spoke with him about the evolution of his career and life's work, and the importance of preserving records of ordinary people's lives for future generations.
I WANTED TO FIND OUT HOW YOUR HISTORICAL INTERESTS EVOLVED; YOU STARTED LOOKING AT SOCIAL HISTORY IN FRANCE AND THEN SHIFTED INTO GENDER AND SEXUALITY STUDIES. When I went into 16th, 17th, 18th century French history, one of the things that fascinated me from the very outset of that research was not what was happening in the throne rooms and among the diplomats but what was happening among the people who were silent in the historical record, i.e., the people in the kitchen, the people in the stables, the people in the gutters, the people in the streets. Which also coincided with an interest in France in that period, in the late '60s, which then of course exploded in the 1968 student revolution — what the French were referring to asmarginalit√© et pouvoir, "marginality and power," looking at the relationship between the center and the periphery. When I came to Tufts in the early '70s, I was doing as it were, the "straight French history" — but I was really more and more interested in, what in those days was called, either "marginality and power," which is a loaded term; or, even more loaded, "social deviants," i.e., women, the poor, children . . .
THE USE OF THE WORD "DEVIANT" OF COURSE BEING USED TO DESCRIBE THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE . . . Exactly! All the losers. All throughout history, it's about the winners — what we used to call "maps and chaps," white men on white horses. My own intellectual development coincided with what was happening in the historical profession, but there was a way in which my own personal journey was animating my teaching and research. I was struggling at that time, late '60s-early '70s, trying to understand who I was as somebody who was not heterosexual. I didn't even know the other words, "homosexual," "gay," "queer" — I didn't know what they meant; no one really knew. I taught those courses — the social deviants, the margin — it was all the same course but increasingly, the whole issue of sexual minorities was becoming larger and larger. I left teaching for a few years and went into administration. I took a sabbatical in 1981-'82, and I came back to the university and came out. Before that, I was out to friends but not publicly. I came out in my classroom, I came out to my colleagues, I came out in my writing. I then spun off, from the sort of generic social deviants/marginality courses, to specific courses on what today we would call queer history.
That also coincided, the early '80s, '81, '82, '83, with the emergence of AIDS. I had even from the beginning, in addition to the French history, a parallel interest in the history of community public health. I’d written my dissertation on health issues in early modern Europe.
When AIDS exploded in the early ’80s,  I was doing an awful lot of teaching, both in the classroom and increasingly out of the classroom, on the history of AIDS, the history of disease, the way in which again it's about power and language. Who controls the dictionary, who controls access. Every physician uses diagnoses, but it's also a dictionary game of how things are labeled and who gets the money and who gets the treatment, and who controls the dialogue.
When I think of what I tried to do in teaching, and certainly up to and through my work with the Sampson Collection, it's about listening to the voices, finding the voices that have been systematically silenced. That's what the LGBT Collection is about, finding a place where previously unheard voices can be heard, by collecting everything that is and has been a part of LGBTQ life. Ranging from the obvious public documents of legislation, and the papers of important people, to what archivists call "ephemera." I love that word. The "unimportant," insignificant stuff of our lives like T-shirts and bumper stickers, buttons and ticket stubs, and love letters, the "flotsam and jetsam" of daily life, which, when they're put into a context, tell a story which otherwise cannot or otherwise is not heard.
I’m a recovering historian. The real passion of my life right now is art. In the last four years I’ve been doing found-object sculpture. It’s taken over my life and I’m realizing that I’ve been a Dumpster diver all my life; I was Dumpster diving for subjects in the late ’60s and ’70s, looking into as it were the gutters and garbage for subjects and then I was doing that in a sense with the collection. Going through people’s attics and basements and now I’m the king of yard sales and recycling barns, so it’s all of a piece.
It really is about finding the ephemera, the forgotten, the otherwise dispossessed and rejected. “Discarded” is a better word, and putting into a context and once it’s put into a context, into a frame, it has extraordinary meaning. Things have meaning only when they’re put into a context and if the only context is of the traditional “winners,” straight versus gay, men versus women, the powerful versus the powerless, those stories never never never can be told.
That brings us up to the present. In ’93, ’94, when the first conversations were happening about setting up what was then being called a “gay archive” at USM, I was involved with those conversations from the beginning, along with others.
AND THEN BEGAN THE SECOND PART OF THE DUMPSTER DIVING. Yeah, rural Dumpster diving, right. In 2001, ’02 I took an early retirement from Tufts. I was at an annual meeting of the advisory group for what was then the Gay-Lesbian Archive. USM Provost Joe Wood had just introduced Susie Bock, she had just come to Maine. Joe was saying we’ve got great stuff going here, but we need somebody to help.
All of a sudden it hit me, I could do that. In fall ’02 Joe appointed me scholar-in-residence of the collection, and an adjunct professor of history.
WHAT WAS THE STATE OF THE COLLECTION IN 2002 WHEN YOU JOINED THE CENTER AS SCHOLAR-IN-RESIDENCE? The story I like to tell is I had a colleague at Tufts who taught Chinese history, and whenever we'd have these long conversations making a proposal or curriculum and getting more and more complicated, she would suck on her cigarette and in Mandarin say something. And we'd say, 'What the hell is that?' She'd say, 'Old Chinese expression: A sparrow is a very small animal, but all its parts are there.' In '02 there were the elements of what had the potential to be a really exciting collection. The first issue was the space that was the library then — the university had just bought that old bakery building, and there were absolutely inadequate facilities. So number one we needed facilities, which eventually happened. They're really state of the art now, Library of Congress standards in terms of all the things that are important.
Number two, I — with the help of an advisory board and others — was able to do a more concentrated project of talking to LGBT activists, organizations, allies, on the importance of creating a really vibrant archive. Not only for our community, but for the benefit of the quality of life in Maine in general. So we did that.
Number three, as more people within the community became aware of what archiving is about and why a community needs to have a history, more and more people have given their materials and understood that even the most mundane pile of old T-shirts and bumper stickers and love letters has a real historical value.
Then fourthly, and Susie's been great at this, we did an increasing amount of public programming and partnering with other organizations. Key in that, in 2004 we did a 20th anniversary retrospective of Charlie Howard's death. Charlie died in 1984, so we did a three-day-long conference. We also put together a traveling exhibition, which is still traveling through the state, so literally thousands and thousands of people have seen it.
In the last couple of years, organizations like the Rainbow Business and Professional Organization and Down East Pride Alliance and obviously EqualityMaine and so on are partnering with the collection all the time. Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network is really, really, really using the resources. Susie brings in school groups regularly; she's doing great work.
It’s a collection that must integrate its work with the work of the other two major pieces of the Sampson Center, the Judaica collection and the African-American collection, so they are of a piece.
THEY CERTAINLY ARE VOICES THAT HAVE GONE UNHEARD AND FOR A LONG TIME, DESPITE THEIR NUMBERS. GLBT PEOPLE, OR JEWISH PEOPLE, OR AFRICAN AMERICANS AREN'T ACTUALLY MAJORITIES IN MAINE, BUT THEY'RE VERY SIZABLE MINORITIES. When you're away from Maine, people say 'What, they've got gay people in Maine?' Part of the real contribution of the LGBT collection is regionally and nationally. There are and have been LGBT archives in New York, San Francisco, San Diego, Minneapolis, the big cities. Part of the stereotype which was also ingrained among scholars, many of whom were LGBT scholars, was that the whole LGBT thing is fundamentally an urban phenomenon. What we have shown in the collection, what makes it a national treasure, is that it documents and celebrates a rural statewide phenomenon. There were LGBT groups organizing and active in rural Maine in the late '60s and early '70s; we have the documents of that. That's part of the history. That's a real contribution.
It helps break down the urban-rural thing; it also helps break down the gay-straight issue, because much of the collection is about the ways in which LGBT issues have been and are inextricable from larger issues of community formation, identity politics, politics and spirituality in Maine.
Let’s talk a bit about the use of the collection as a historical record. Susie and I were just talking about the trans and bi communities; we need more of their documents and history in the collection. We have it, but we need more. It’s about not only the content of our lives, but how we, and others, understand and describe those lives.
The thing you have to do is to say, ‘I want to hear them,’ and then you’ve got to devise questions which enable you to find those places where their voices can be heard and if you don’t do either of those, they’re never going to be heard. For us, even asking those two questions has been the luxury of privilege. People in places of privilege, whether they’re historians, or prime ministers, or white, WASP males, have the privilege of not having to ask.
IN MY OWN READING ABOUT 17TH-CENTURY ENGLISH HISTORY, I OBSERVE WHAT I SOMETIMES CALL THE PEPYS PROBLEM, WHERE ENGLISH DIARIST SAMUEL PEPYS IS REALLY THE ONLY VOICE HISTORIANS HAVE OF “REGULAR PEOPLE” OF THE TIME. IN THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS HE SPEAKS FOR ALL WHITE MALE LONDONERS; IN THE WORST, HE SPEAKS FOR ALL BRITONS, OR FOR ALL EUROPEANS, AND IT REALLY BECOMES A PROBLEM BECAUSE THERE’S SUCH A LIMITED ARCHIVE FROM WHICH TO DRAW. It’s part of the takeaway that I always try to leave, whatever presentation I make, is that there are documents out there which are vulnerable to disappearing. There are flooded basements and mice in the attics and moving companies which every day are destroying materials that need to be preserved. We take for granted that the Gutenberg Bible is going to be taken care of, but the handouts that we get on Monument Square at some demonstration, or the ordinary photographs that we have in a shoebox in our basement about the Fourth of July picnic 20 years ago — the LGBT archive can protect those and enable them to speak 50, 100, 200 years from now. We have those in the collection and they speak volumes.
ONE OF THE THINGS I'VE ALWAYS LIKED ABOUT HISTORY IS SEEING, IN SOME CASES, HOW LITTLE HAS CHANGED, BUT IN OTHER CASES HOW MUCH HAS CHANGED. In the media 20 years ago, let alone the 50 or 60 years ago when I was coming up as a younger person, the presence of LGBT issues was — there was no presence. Or if there were presence, it was the most painful, inaccurate, frightening, pathologic presence one could imagine. When I was 12, 13 years old — I was born in '42 so that is '53, '54 — there were no queer presences on TV other than Milton Berle in drag. There was a nationwide, Senator Joseph McCarthy purge of liberals and homosexuals in all areas of the government. That was filtering down to a 12- or 13-year-old kid in western Pennsylvania. It was on the radio.
I remember I hung out in the school library looking around, making sure nobody was looking at me as I looked in the big dictionary under the word "homosexual," and saw that it was described as a pathology. It's still a tough world and people are being bashed. Andthere has been progress. I would like to think that the collection is a piece of that.
When the Charlie Howard collection is going around the state, we'd set up in a school and you'd see the civics class come in and the history class, and they'd look at it. It would be 20 or 30 students. Then an hour later, maybe during a break or in between class, you'd see two or three students come in and look at it more closely. Those were the ones that really touched me. It's tough enough being a gay teenager. But their awareness perhaps that somewhere else in the state of Maine there were some other gay people, and there were resources and possibilities and promises for us today that may not have been there before, and I am not alone.
RIGHT, AND HERE ARE PEOPLE YOU CAN TALK TO, AND THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WILL HELP. AND THAT'S A REALLY POWERFUL THING. Had there been a gay-straight alliance in Bangor High School, Charlie might still be alive. When Susie has the school groups and provides resources to teachers, that trumps just about everything in my mind. How do you measure the benefit of something as amorphous as a library? You can count the number of people coming in the door, count the number of people who show up at a presentation. But one has to trust that's what culture is about. One trusts that the preservation and publication of documents in their broadest extent is an act of faith, an investment in the future.

Press Releases: Mayors, media, masses

Published in the Portland Phoenix


Portland's 15 mayoral candidates are missing an opportunity to connect with the people, both directly and through the media, by failing to publicize their support for OccupyMaine. Perhaps their reasoning is that the underlying demand of the Occupy movement — supporting the removal of money from politics — might upset their donors.
Why else would they avoid a chance to publicly join the largest and most popular reform movement the US has seen in decades? As Ralph Carmona told us, the Occupiers are "basically saying to people in this country, 'We feel your pain.'" Remember how that used to win elections?
Maybe it's that positions on the issues of "the 99 percent" are not something that differentiates the candidates from each other — of the baker's dozen the Phoenix was able to reach, not one objected to the group's efforts (and the other two seem pretty unlikely to dissent, from what we can tell of their campaign messages).
But part of winning an election — especially in an instant-runoff ballot situation like this — is attracting people who will support you. While some of the candidates — Michael Brennan, David Marshall, Richard Dodge, John Eder, Charles Bragdon, and Ethan Strimling — have been down to Monument Square and/or the tent village in Lincoln Park to hold signs and/or speak directly with members of the Occupation, others say they are sending their support virtually.
Perhaps it's confusion about the message. Activists like Carmona, Eder, Marshall, Peter Bryant, Hamza Haadoow, and even the conservative Bragdon grok the breadth of the movement (with Carmona saying, "Major change in America has always come from outside the mainstream political process" and Eder proclaiming "The only thing that politics responds to is direct action").
But others, including Brennan, Jed Rathband, Chris Vail, and Dodge, say they see a lack of focus in the movement (Rathband says "we're all wanting to see what life form it's going to take") and would like the purpose to be clearer. Similarly, Jill Duson finds "a lot of messages I agree with," but hesitates to offer stronger support because "I'm not sure what all the messages are."
Nevertheless, economic justice is on the candidates' minds. Jodie Lapchick says she thinks the city should pull its money "out of Wall Street" — Portland's money is presently held at TD Bank — and put it into a state-coordinated "public bank" along the lines of the Bank of North Dakota. (Portland Democratic state rep Diane Russell proposed such an idea, but it died in the last legislative session.)
Dodge, who says he recalls protesting in the 1960s and '70s, defends the concept of profit, but in the same breath condemns laissez-faire attitudes of government regulators: "Capitalism isn't a bad thing. It's the government and its regulations that allows what's going on."
And Bragdon agrees the issues raised by the Occupy movement are pressing: "I anticipate whoever gets elected having to deal with it very soon."
Given the increasing comfort of the Lincoln Park camp, and with OccupyAugusta settling into fancy-ish digs (fire pit!) basically on the steps of the State House, it's coming time for candidates and lawmakers to declare themselves — and for the media to ask them about it if they don't.
It's also definitely time for anyone in the Occupy effort — as well as any who sympathize with it — to take Dodge's advice: "I hope they're all registered to vote."
• In other news, both the BANGOR DAILY NEWS and the PORTLAND PRESS HERALDannounced SIGNIFICANT STAFF REDUCTIONS in the past week; 61 at the PPH (23 buyouts and 38 layoffs, nearly all among news-related staff) and unclear numbers at theBDN so far, though the paper itself reported management was looking for as many as 30 people to accept the carrot of voluntary buyout offers, with the stick of possible layoffs to follow. Departures have already begun. Best wishes to those leaving — and to the ones staying, who will continue the increasingly difficult struggle of keeping their papers interesting.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Try These United States: Interview with Colin Woodard on the possible futures of our union

Published in the Portland Phoenix


Colin Woodard's book American Nations delineates the 11 separate nations within the political state of the United States, explains their origins and interactions with the others, and uses the historical record to better understand how the country's social tensions develop, ebb, flow, and either mesh or conflict with each other. Ranging from the earliest European settlements in the New World through the present day, Woodard's approach melds primary research (including detailed election analysis) with historiography and broader social-science assessments to draw a clear picture of these United States.
The Portland Phoenix caught up with him to talk about how this approach might be useful to understanding (and even solving) our many national problems.
IN THE EPILOGUE THERE'S A REALLY BLEAK PICTURE OF THE FUTURE OF THE UNION OF THE UNITED STATES. YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW THEY MIGHT BE RESOLVED, BUT OBSERVE THESE KINDS OF CONFLICTS HAVEN'T BEEN RESOLVED VERY WELL IN THE PAST. My real goal in writing the book was to understand where we've come to in the present and to look back in the past and be able to actually identify the big problems that lead to the divisions and political stalemate that we're in now. I wanted to show that those divisions have existed over a long period of time, and in the process give a new framework for better understanding American history and identity and how certain events from the American Revolution, through the Constitutional conventions, and the American Civil War, really came together — and how regionalism was so important. However, everyone always asks about the future. It was not my goal, so I can't claim that I spent years thinking about exactly what would happen. It's fair to say that nobody knows where we will be in the year 2100 but the essential fractured or balkanized nature of North America on regional grounds does give one cause to pause and reflect on whether or not by the end of this century the nation will be intact — and the likelihood that some dramatic change that could involve fracturing the country on these lines is entirely possible.
Canada has a history of being on the verge of their federation falling apart, mostly because of Quebecois separatism. That can't be discounted. As recent as 1995 there was a referendum that was defeated by the slightest sliver in Quebec that would have potentially led to the collapse of Canada. And still at the time, people of French and Quebecois extraction voted for it; they were just outvoted by the people of what I call First Nation up in Northern Quebec and English speakers and immigrants pretty much outweighed there. Both of our other federations are not necessarily stable. I think Canada is probably the most stable of the three because Canada has come to recognize the fractured and poly-cultural characteristics of their nation, and has accommodated them accordingly. So I think Canada actually stands in pretty good shape. So that brings us to the US and we can see in our current state of affairs where the country is deadlocked and deadlocked in a political conversation that largely falls on regional lines.
There is the possibility that, in a time of crisis that we can't predict now, what if the pandemic flu of the variety that struck the world at the end of World War I were to take place where suddenly you have everybody in the world becoming sick and staggering mortality rates, like some epidemiologists predict? Or you have some horrific terrorist attacks greater than 9/11 of the sort that we hope don't happen, but we know there are people who are out there who would like to cause them to happen. It's hard to say. What if you actually had to declare martial law and have to suspend most of our liberties because it really was a crisis that required that. If there's a pandemic you'd need to be able to stop people from moving from place to place and defend hospitals and those kinds of things.
What would happen in the aftermath of such an event like that? It's hard to know, but given the fractures and the political differences we have in a time of peace, at least domestic peace, it does give you cause to pause. There are scenarios you could imagine where the status quo is brutally shaken and it's hard to say whether or not everything would hold together in those kind of situations.
What I'm saying is there are these fault lines that can become active in a time of crisis. And I personally hope they don't because even though it's difficult for these separate regional cultures to live together under one roof, I fear from my time in the Balkans that separating such a place would be fraught with even greater dangers. Now, the optimistic spin is hey, we've been through a lot of crises as a federation before and somehow carried on through it. So one can hope that that would be what would happen in the case of a crisis going forward.
Our track record is fairly good at holding it together, so it's also entirely possible that we'd hold it together, but by no means assured.
If we wish to have this federation of ours, this United States, continue in something resembling its current form, it's really important that we respect this sort of shared bargain we all have, which is the Constitution as generally understood. Once you start pouring solvent on the basic understandings of what it does and doesn't mean, you're destroying one of the few adhesives that holds our sprawling and poly-national federation together.
YOU DO SAY AT ONE POINT IN THE BOOK THAT IF THE UNION IS GOING TO SURVIVE, AMERICANS "HAD BEST RESPECT THE FUNDAMENTAL TENETS OF OUR UNLIKELY UNION." BUT DOESN'T EVERYBODY MAKE THE DEAL FOR A DIFFERENT REASON? ISN'T PART OF YOUR POINT THAT EVERYBODY HAS A DIFFERENT FUNDAMENTAL TENET THEY'RE HANGING ON TO? They do, but the Constitution, it's a peculiar and in some ways self-contradicting document. Particularly as originally drafted. Slavery being one of the most obvious points. How could you have a democracy with the sort of lofty ideals that we think of, the United States as holding, and yet also allowing for some people to be counted as three-fifths of a human? By the way, that was considered a triumph by liberals and anti-slaveholders because they were trying to reduce the influence of the slave lords in the Congress. If they were able to count all their slaves as whole people, and obviously the slaves had no political independence to vote at all, or vote for anybody they wanted to. So that was actually a compromise to try to reduce slave power. Even though that is kind of forgotten today. Even worse than that framework, if slaves had been counted as whole people and yet had no political rights, that would have made things even more complicated.
What I'm saying is The Constitution has always been a document that was essentially a compromise between extremely different visions of what America should be and American ideals. And we've been fighting over it ever since. In the aftermath of the Civil War we settled a few things about the Constitution, and to be messing around with some of those primary tenets and the notions of what the bargain was, is in historic terms, not the safest and wisest thing to be doing. Take separation of church and state; the role of any particular religion in public life. That's been sort of a long-standing Constitutional bargain. Back in the day when they were working on the Constitution, greater New England, Yankeedom, actually had a state-sponsored church where state taxes were imposed on them. And they were worried about losing that. An other people didn't want the Yankee Congregational Church to be ruling over them of course. In fact,
If you had a federal government, whose church? Different areas had different religious heritages. Some were dominant Anglican, some were dominant Calvinist, some were founded like New Netherland on the ideal of tolerance of all different religions. You couldn't possibly pick one that was going to be the federal religion and therefore the deal was none of them will be. You keep that out of our government framework because otherwise we're going to be fighting about which one.
That seems to have been forgotten in the evangelical Christian right side now where they say we're a Christian nation and they mean a particular interpretation of Christianity on top of that. Many people are not Christian and many many many people are not from the Protestant tradition that is concerned primarily with personal salvation rather than trying to make the world as it exists now better. They're two very different ways of looking at religion's role in life.
It's fraught with danger once you start trying to bring religion into the public sphere because we've made the deal that for the good of the religion and for the good of the public sphere you don't mix those two. Only one religion would be able to be dominant, and everybody else wouldn't be happy about it. That's the bargain. For one or multiple regions where the majority culture are adherents of a particular religious worldview to think that somehow the Founding Fathers wanted that worldview to be exercised by public institutions across the federation is ahistorical and it's also entirely impractical and if ever imposed would be something of a deal-breaker for the future of the federation because many regions in the country would not tolerate that. Them's fighting words.
ANOTHER THING YOU WRITE IS THAT ONE OF THE WAYS THE COUNTRY MIGHT CONTINUE TO EXIST IS LIMITING CENTRAL GOVERNMENT. That's another scenario. But that would be a change in our current form. If we want to continue in our current form we need to respect the grand bargains of the Constitution and the way some of them were settled after the Civil War, because some of these things were settled by force. There were different regional interpretations of it meant and what it should mean and we had a horrific war about it and it will be good for the Union as a whole if weren't re-fighting those same battles.
When you hear especially Deep Southern political leaders talking about states' rights, what does that mean if they want to roll back federal power significantly and increase those of state governments? In effect, in most locations what they're talking about is transferring powers in the Deep South to regions — they control quite a number of state governments — and removing federal oversight over many aspects that the federal government does have now, protections and enforcement of certain interpretations of what the Constitution means in education or in religion and public life and so on and so forth. So When you talk about states' rights you're talking about devolving authority away from the central government and you're starting to create something that resembles more the original confederation before the 1789 Constitution or resembles, oddly enough, today's European Union — a weaker set of shared central institutions and a stronger set of sovereign individual governments. In fact there are whole regions of the country, whether or not they've thought through it clearly, that are basically advocating policies that would lead us to being more of an European Union than a strong federation as we have been. Those who like to shake the American flag around in a nationalistic way, many of them, oddly enough, are advocating policies that would make us more like "wicked" Europe, structurally and politically.
THROUGHOUT THE BOOK YOU QUOTE PEOPLE, COLONIAL AND POST-COLONIAL LEADERS AND EVEN THROUGH THE CIVIL WAR, WHO ARE TACITLY ACKNOWLEDGING THESE BOUNDARIES AND THE CONFLICTS BETWEEN THE REGIONS. IT SEEMS LIKE THAT UNDERSTANDING DOESN'T EXIST ANYMORE IN THE BROADER SOCIAL DIALOGUE.It's not obvious. When people step back in the big picture it's often forgotten, but you get a little closer to the ground and people still know where those fissures are. I mean every Marylander knows there are three Marylands and they could probably tell you exactly where the line is between them. Southern Maryland is a very different place from Northern Maryland or Western Maryland and the same thing in Texas. Every Texan knows that Austin is the capital but that Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are the hubs of three very different Texases. California, upstate Illinois, downstate Illinois, I mean it goes on and on, but recall that line from Primary Colors where the James Carville character is giving one of the other characters a primer on Pennsylvania politics: "It's Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and Alabama in between." If you're speaking of Highland Alabama that's essentially correct in regional cultural terms. When you look at it state by state people sort of know that. We just forget about talking about it often when we, you know, start actually covering national politics. Those divisions have remained; they are just not always focused on.
I'm not the first person to notice these and know of the importance of them in politics. Kevin Phillips, the Republican strategist who created the plan Nixon used to win and predicted, in this book The Emerging Republican Majority. In 1969, he predicted everything that was going to happen for the next 40 years in American politics: this crazy idea that the Republicans were going to become the majority party by abandoning their former stronghold as the party of greater New England and embracing a Southern strategy and the growing demographic and political power of an area which he called the Sun Belt. All of that happened, and he did it by looking at these ethnographic, historic, and regional patterns across the country. He did that back in 1969 and was able to use it like a political prophet to predict everything that happened since. These things have not been entirely forgotten and are sort of known. We look at them in different fields. Pollsters know some of these things as they look at the map in a certain way, historians look at it in another way, and anthropologists in another, but it's been a long time since it was integrated and synthesized so you could see the grand picture and set it out on the table for us to really talk about, to pull it out from behind the curtain and say look, these divisions we're seeing are largely geographic and this same geography has been affecting our country's history ever since the beginning. That's the contribution I'm trying to make, is I'm trying to draw it all together and deliver it onto the national stage in a synthesized form.
THERE ARE A LOT OF SIGNS THAT AMERICAN CULTURE, UNITED STATES CULTURE I SUPPOSE I SHOULD SAY, HAS BECOME MORE HOMOGENEOUS, WITH YOUNG PEOPLE — BY WHICH I MEAN KIDS, TEENS, TWENTY-SOMETHINGS — SHARING A LOT OF VALUES ABOUT, FOR EXAMPLE, SAME-SEX MARRIAGE AND DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF SOCIAL OR ECONOMIC JUSTICE ACROSS SOME OF THESE REGIONAL LINES. WILL THAT HOLD WITH THEM, OR WILL THESE REGIONAL LINES CONTINUE? I think the regional lines will continue to exist. What you're saying is true of a subset of any generation, particularly in their youth, but they're people with all sorts of political beliefs and persuasions. We as individuals think all sorts of things. The question is, are we living in an area where we feel like we're battering our head against the wall with them? Or do we have the wind at our backs and feel like we live somewhere where you feel like you fit and belong and the cultural majority is in agreement with you in applying policies in the same way? If you look at the vote in almost any city anywhere, there's usually 20 to 30 percent of the population voting for the guy that didn't win. That still translates, in most states, to hundreds of thousands or millions of people.
So it's not like you can't get a bunch of people who are willing to protest almost anywhere. You could probably get a sizable anti-Mormon protest in Salt Lake City. It doesn't mean that the dominant culture is at their backs. Any particular movement, whether it's the Christian right or the anti-corporate left, is going to find that in certain regions, their protests will have wider popular support than in other regions and that you will find the maps I provided will probably give you a pretty good indication and way of predicting in what places the political establishment and governors and senators and congressmen are going to be likely to back the protestors' point of view, and what areas they'll be entirely rejected. That's the key.
I WAS LOOKING AT A MOTHER JONES MAP OF THE LOCATIONS OF THE OCCUPY PROTESTS AND NOTICING NOT JUST THE FACT THAT THERE ARE LOTS OF THEM ALL OVER THE PLACE, BUT AS I STARTED LOOKING MORE CLOSELY AND LOOKING AT THE MAPS IN YOUR BOOK, AND THERE'S RELATIVELY LITTLE OCCUPY ACTIVITY IN THE SOUTH, THERE'S VERY LITTLE IN THE FAR WEST. It seems to be that most major cities have it happen, but conspicuously the Deep South I mean, there seems to be far less activity, even in the big cities. You get the college towns, the universities. Research Triangle is engineers and scientists and researchers from all over the world moving to that technology cluster, which is great, but it does mean that there are a lot of transient people with the regional people in addition. That's not to say that there might not be plenty of traction ultimately in Greater Appalachia. There's a now latent populist tradition in Appalachia fighting against outside interests like mining companies and such that there's no deep inherent cultural reason for them not to be upset with the bankers in that region and have a history of expressing their dissatisfaction vocally.
The Far West too, like Appalachia, is currently latent but has a long populist tradition as well because the Far West is characterized by considerable upset at having been treated as an internal colony by both the federal government and big corporate interests, be they mining, ranching, railroads, and so on that were based outside the region. Prior to World War II the populist tradition was actually bucking a lot of the corporate powers that were making decisions over what happened in those places that were often to the detriment of the Far West itself.
More recently though it's been primarily directed at the federal government and the ways in which the federal government has treated the Far West as an internal colony. There's no reason also why you couldn't have that re-actualized as in Appalachia and have people upset at the role of banks out there as well.
Those are the two of the current what I call Dixie Coalition, the successful coalition that was built in the aftermath of the 1960s, that's the Republican regional coalition now, but the two weak partners are Far West and Greater Appalachia because of those populist streaks. And the two nations you identify on this particular map you showed me conspicuously not having many protests (Tidewater and Deep South) are also the two that have the tradition of deference to a hierarchical order and to authority, and very little emphasis on popular participation in politics.
I WANT TO ASK YOU A LITTLE BIT ABOUT MAINE, BECAUSE WE'VE OBVIOUSLY GOT A TEA PARTY GOVERNOR, AND I'M ALSO LOOKING AT PEOPLE LIKE MICHELE BACHMANN WHO'S A BIG TEA PARTY ICON FROM MINNESOTA, YANKEEDOM. IN READING THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE NATIONS AND HOW THEY CARRY THINGS OUT, TO ME THE TEA PARTY SEEMS DEEP SOUTH IN CHARACTER. It is indeed, and the regional nature of the Tea Party is to be discussed in a feature that I wrote for Washington Monthly that's coming out in about a week or two. I'll be treating it in great detail. I don't want to steal their thunder, and I will back it with statistics and everything in that article, but yes, the vast majority of the Tea Party caucus in Congress, the self-identified Tea Party caucus, come from the four nations that form the Dixie Bloc coalition with a staggering number from the Deep South, and there are only three from the entirety of Yankeedom, none from New Netherland, none from Left Coast, and almost all of the Tea Party's most high-profile leaders, with the exception of Bachmann, all come from the Far West or Deep South or Greater Appalachia, and those who have succeeded here, the Tea Party has seen major setbacks in Yankeedom, including in Maine. Scott Walker in Wisconsin who won by very little, it's not as though the majority culture of Wisconsin has embraced his platform. He's encountered enormous headwinds, including the successful recall of state senators. Paul LePage's agenda, he won in a vote split. Not only are his opinion-poll ratings staggeringly low, but within a month and a half he managed to alienate the legislative Republican leadership in the state and is well-known to not be friendly with the conservative head of the Republican Party. So yes, the Tea Party appears to be national at first glance, but in fact when you actually look at where it's succeeding and where it's failing, it's extremely regional. But details on that coming up shortly in that magazine piece.
What the book is ultimately suggesting is where we see all these divisions today and the country seems to be so polarized and everyone's worried about it and the federal government's having difficulty functioning, what I bring forward in American Nations is that a lot of these divisions that we see now are regional in nature and in fact the country has seen those same regional divisions throughout our history, in all sorts of events. We've always been divided on regional grounds ever since the beginning. I think people sort of forget that. In times of crisis, we often are trying to look back at the Founding Fathers to recapture the supposedly lost set of shared ideals. You know, that if we only could recover those the country would be healed again.
A crucial point is that the Founding Fathers were not the people who founded the country. They were the great-great-great-great-grandchildren of the actual founders, who founded separate countries, and didn't think that they were working together to found one place. They were all founding separate clusters of colonies. And there were contradictory missions of those colonies and very different religious and ethnographic backgrounds. There's no one set of American values and ideals. There's no one great intent of the Founders. There are separate intents. There are separate sets of American ideals and separate sets of American values, and always have been. That's the reason we can't seem to agree on what those founding values were, because they were separate sets of values. It was a grand compromise between often contradictory sets of values. It's important for us, in order to negotiate these problems we have, to understand the true nature of the problem. Only by identifying the problem correctly can we begin to talk about it and perhaps work toward some kind of solution for it. Otherwise we're going to keep talking past each other about what the true set of American ideals are. Are we based on an ethic of tolerance and pluralism, or are we a Christian nation, or an Anglo-Saxon Protestant one? We can't be fundamentally both. It's not reconcilable that we be a Christian nation and a nation founded on freedom of inquiry and conscience. You can't be both simultaneously. But in fact we are; it's just that different regions were based on those different things. That's something that seems to have been forgotten in the argument about who we are as a people.



THE REGIONS
Briefly (abridged from a clear, thorough explanation in the book's introduction), the nations Woodard' treats and some of their basic characteristics are below. See the accompanying map for their locations within the US.
YANKEEDOM founded as religious utopia where pursuit of the "greater good" was paramount; high education, civic involvement, views government as means to improve people's lives
NEW NETHERLAND originally a Dutch colony; highly tolerant of ethnic and religious diversity; committed to free inquiry; based in commerce and exchange of goods and ideas
MIDLANDS founded by English Quakers; pluralistic approach to ethnic and religious diversity; believes society should benefit regular people; suspicious of government intrusion
TIDEWATER founded by younger sons of English gentry to expand aristocratic manorial society; high respect for authority and tradition; low value on equality and public engagement in politics
GREATER APPALACHIA founded by clannish warrior frontiersmen from Scotland, Northern Ireland, and northern England; suspicious of outsiders; committed to individual liberty and personal sovereignty
DEEP SOUTH founded by Barbados slave masters as exploitative, despotic society with overlords and underlings; like ancient slave cultures, believes democracy is a privilege, not a right
NEW FRANCE based in eastern Canada (and with an exclave in southern Louisiana after the British takeover of Acadia); egalitarian, consensus-driven; draws attitudes from northern France mixed with Native American traditions
EL NORTE a hybrid between Anglo and Spanish America; Americanized Mexico mixed with Mexicanized United States; independent, self-sufficient, revolutionary in the service of democratic reforms
LEFT COAST colonized by Yankee traders and missionaries, and farmers and outdoorsmen from Greater Appalachia; mixes intellectualism and social-reform drive with individualism and self-discovery
FAR WEST colonized and controlled by corporations; few traditions of settlers' origins survived the altitude and dry climate; an internal colony, exploited by other nations for economic gain; distrusts government intervention but is dependent upon it
FIRST NATION still occupied by indigenous people with their culture largely intact; working to reclaim sovereignty and political power

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Watch: Occupation grows, expands around Maine

Published in the Portland Phoenix


With formal occupations slated to begin Augusta and Bangor this week, and impromptu ones springing up all over the state (including one so far during daylight hours only in South Portland's Legion Square), the two-week-old OccupyMaine movement really picked up steam over the weekend.
The central branch, in Monument Square, itself built huge momentum, with nearly 1300 people participating in a variety of events over three days, such as a teach-in by USM professors and marches to centers of power like City Hall and the cruise ship terminal, where a luxury cruise liner was in port, providing a stark backdrop of wealth and privilege. A decent number of female protestors went topless in the summerlike heat, too.
While negotiations with the city continue about having events in Monument Square and much remains to be seen about an extended camping presence in Lincoln Park, the events to date have been peaceful and largely without conflict (standard downtown-Portland crazy-person encounters notwithstanding).
That stands in marked contrast to the situations in New York City and even Boston, where police have moved in on peaceful protestors with pepper spray, batons, and handcuffs. Late Monday night, Boston police officers attacked a crowd on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, adjacent to the initial location in Dewey Square. The movement had expanded its area to accommodate increased numbers. There, the cops pepper-sprayed and arrested more than 100 demonstrators, including members of the local Veterans For Peace chapter.
In Portland the conflict has been of a legal sort, with letters flying back and forth between city attorney Gary Wood and OccupyMaine's lawyer, John Branson, discussing the exact nature of the city's restrictions on protests, which are protected by the First Amendment. Mass gatherings are typically required to get permits from the city for groups larger than 25 (and City Council approval is needed for events attracting more than 2000 people to public spaces). But the city code also appears to exempt from permit requirements all First Amendment-related activities.
The protestors, while demanding respect for their free-speech and other constitutional rights, are also working to respect the community surrounding Monument Square. In addition to creating a sanitation committee to minimize litter and coordinate other aspects of waste removal, over the weekend those attending a General Assembly meeting (all are welcome at the meetings; 6 pm daily) approved limits on drumming, with only hand drumming to be undertaken unless there is a march, and all drums stopping at 10 pm on weekends and 8 pm on weeknights.
From what I have seen and heard in Maine and read about from other places, this movement differs in several important ways from today's unrepresentative democracy. It's creating a functioning society based on common tenets of communication, representation, and collaboration. The movement has already proved that we as a society can, through collective action and donation, keep thousands of protestors around the country fed, clothed, sheltered, and accompanied by additional supporters. It has already proved that the people can come together in our public squares and actually meet face-to-face to civilly and productively discuss the issues of the day and what we're going to do in response. And its longevity and broad support may yet prove able to withstand pressure from the established powers in government offices and corporate boardrooms.
Several events are already planned to further the cause, including a free day-long concert featuring Sparks the Rescue, Stream Reggae, Sandbag, and Huak. Organizers had wanted to have it on October 15 in Monument Square, but city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg says the square has already been reserved for use by charity walks (benefiting the Iris Foundation and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer) both that day and the following day. (The resolution of that was not yet clear by the Phoenix's Tuesday deadline; check thePhoenix.com/AboutTown for updates as they are available.)
There's also a move afoot to organize a Halloween march on October 29, at which participants are encouraged to dress as "corporate zombies" — truly undead, and feeding on the brains of the living.
Also, SPACE Gallery has put out a call for entries in an "OccupySPACE" installation in the front window at 538 Congress Street, on the theme of "public thoughts about our financial crisis and threats to true democratic process." Anyone can enter — submit either a letter-sized piece of paper in person or by mail, or email a printable PDF of a page that size tonat@space538.org. The show will go up on October 17, and at the future (unannounced) date when it comes down, the materials will be collected in a binder for archiving.
Follow @OccupyMaine and #OccupyMaine on Twitter, OccupyMaine on Facebook, and see coverage of OccupyMaine, OccupyBoston, and occupations up and down the East Coast at thePhoenix.com.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Gubernatorial Scorecard: Consistently inconsistent

Published in the Portland Phoenix


One of Governor Paul LePage's most impressive performances, to date, has been his consistency. At times it has been without regard to reality or facts, but still, there's something impressive about a politician who stands up and says what he thinks, without caring which way the wind is blowing. No more. Herewith, our ninth Gubernatorial Scorecard, in which we score LePage on political savvy, and on whether what he's trying to do is good policy. Note the running total.
VOTING INCONSISTENCY | While LePage and his fellow activist-conservative Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers seem determined to bar people from registering to vote on Election Day, supporters of same-day registration have discovered that LePage himself registered to vote on Election Day 1982 in Waterville, and accused LePage of wanting to bar only his political opponents from participating in democracy.
POLITICS • It's a big national GOP issue, but doesn't make much sense to regular people | 5/10
POLICY • Honestly? Making it harder for people to vote? C'mon. | 1/10
FEDERAL INCONSISTENCY | The guy who proclaimed on the campaign trail that he'd tell Obama to "go to hell" sure was grateful for the president's approval of millions of dollars in federal disaster-relief aid to clean up Franklin, Oxford, and York counties after Hurricane Irene. Declaring the damage "of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State," LePage asked for roughly $2 million in federal aid.
POLITICS • Will his party punish him for taking a government bailout? | 5/10
POLICY • Bring more cash into Maine isn't bad | 9/10
MURAL INCONSISTENCY | After giving all sorts of crazy reasons for why he ordered the labor-history mural removed from a state office, LePage topped himself last week by telling Brian Williams he did it for an all-new reason: the mural cost money that could have helped struggling Mainers. He didn't bother to note that the feds have said if the mural stays down, they want their money back — out of funds that could have helped struggling Mainers.
POLITICS • It's the economy, stupid. | 5/10
POLICY • Very clearly a lie made up for national TV, then issued a statement blaming the media for paying too little attention! | 1/10
CONSERVATION INCONSISTENCY | As recently as August, the gov apparently thought the Maine outdoors are wonderful, and is happy to take corporate donations of land for preservation (see: Indian Pond), but is now proposing merging two cabinet-level departments, Conservation and Agriculture. LePage says they have common interests, like scientific monitoring and a clean environment. Critics worry it could diminish attention on protecting Maine land in favor of business commoditization.
POLITICS • Doesn't pander or solve any real problems. What's this a smoke screen for? | 5/10
POLICY • Even the feds know parks (Dept. of the Interior) are very different from forests (Dept. of Agriculture) | 2/10
MILL INCONSISTENCY | LePage says he is a fiscal conservative, but recently allowed a private company to wash its hands of a $14-million-plus landfill cleanup in the Katahdin region — by putting Maine taxpayers on the hook instead. He says it helps get jobs back in the troubled mill industry; it may also boost state employment in the mess-removal industry.
POLITICS • Anything goes when the word "jobs" is spoken by a GOP leader | 5/10
POLICY • Seriously? Mill jobs held hostage by a landfill? What about the industry's decades-long slide? | 2/10
This month's total | Politics 25/50 | Policy 15/50 | Last month: Politics 43/50 | Policy 32/50 | Overall: Politics 299/450 | Policy 188/450