It was a journey they had waited nearly three long years to take.
Ten weeks after being released by Boko Haram, 21 freed Chibok schoolgirls and a baby returned home this month to celebrate Christmas with their families for the first time since they were snatched by the terror group.
The April 2014 kidnapping of nearly 300 girls from a boarding school in Chibok sparked global outrage a #BringBackOurGirls campaign on social media.
CNN accompanied the 21 girls as they made the journey from the capital Abuja, where they have been undergoing medical and psychological assessments since they were released by Boko Haram nearly two months ago in a deal brokered by an unnamed Swiss contingent and the Nigerian authorities.
On Thursday, CNN’s Isha Sesay boarded a flight with the girls from Abuja to Yola in eastern Nigeria, where the girls would make a six-hour road trip north to Chibok.
The change in the Chibok girls from 10 weeks earlier was remarkable. Their tattered clothes were gone and they were clearly better fed after surviving for two and a half years on meager or non-existent meals.
After their release in October, one of them, Glory Dama, told the assembled media that they once went without food for 40 days in the bush.
“I did not know that a day like this will come, that we will be dancing and giving thanks to God among people,” she said. “For one month and 10 days we stayed without food. I narrowly escaped a bomb blast in the forest.”
‘Beautiful and grateful’
Kidnapped as teenagers, the girls were now returning home as young women.
They have been taking English classes and playing outdoors, their caretakers told CNN. One girl, Agnes, added that they have been learning how to knit. Several have had surgery to remove shrapnel.
One of the girls, Rebecca Mallam, said they felt “beautiful and grateful.”
The girls, Christians who were forcibly converted to Islam by their captors, prayed together before leaving Abuja Friday morning on the first leg of their journey home.
The girls’ names
The Nigerian government also released the names of the 21 freed girls:
1. Mary Usman Bulama
2. Jummai John
3. Blessing Abana
4. Luggwa Sanda
5. Comfort Habila
6. Maryam Basheer
7. Comfort Amos
8. Glory Mainta
9. Saratu Emmanuel
10. Deborah Ja’afaru
11. Rahab Ibrahim
12. Helin Musa
13. Mayamu Lawan
14. Rebecca Ibrahim
15. Asabe Goni
16. Deborah Andrawus
17. Agnes Gapani
18. Saratu Markus
19. Glory Dama
20. Pindah Nuhu
21. Rebecca Mallam
Source: Nigeria federal government
As they waited to board the flight to Yola they appeared tense. Their colorful clothes and bright smiles did little to mask the pain and anxiety behind their eyes. Some of the girls had confided in their Abuja caretakers that they were worried about how they would be received by the wider community due to the stigma of being held by Boko Haram.
Memories of that fateful April night were surely not far from their minds and one could only imagine the trauma they endured at the hands of their Boko Haram captors — one of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups.
However, there was a palpable sense of growing excitement Friday once they were on the move. They smiled more readily, giggling and chattering freely among themselves.
When asked how they were feeling about reuniting with family and friends in their hometown, they answered in unison: “We are happy!”
After landing in Yola, they were welcomed by the governor and local community leaders. But the second half of their reunion journey was delayed as the road to Chibok was deemed too dangerous to travel at night.
So the girls gathered Friday night in their Yola hotel — surrounded by military guards — to pray and sing Christian hymns and songs. Their captors would have certainly not approved.
Watching them during these solemn acts of worship, it was not hard to see how they kept going through the worst moments of their ordeal with Boko Haram.
Home at last
At the crack of dawn Friday, the girls hit the road, accompanied by a military convoy that escorted them to Chibok. As we entered the town six hours later, we were greeted by a crowd of locals, many waving excitedly.
Parents and other family members were waiting anxiously to see their daughters again.
The moment of reunion finally arrived amid scenes of unbridled joy. Parents and daughters embraced, the pain and relief of the past two and a half years etched on their faces.
But then, suddenly we could hear wailing and heart-rending screams. Some mothers had come expecting to see their daughters, only to learn they were still being held by Boko Haram.
These women had thought their girls would be among the group coming home for Christmas. Their moment of hope gone, they remained inconsolable.
There are 197 Chibok girls still in captivity, and talks are ongoing to free them. Sources tell CNN that negotiations only involve 83 of the girls.
More joyful reunions like the ones we witnessed here may soon follow. But they may also be tempered by the grief of parents whose daughters are never coming home.
I am happy to tell you that after a great deal of time and much suffering on the part of the girls, 21 of the kidnapped girls came home. These girls stolen by Boko Haram have been returned to their parents and other family members. What an amazing outcome to the terrible tale of families robbed of their daughters. The fear and grief had to have been almost paralyzing. With prayer and hope they faced each day with hope that they would see their beloved girls again.
Prayers will still be needed as the girls attempt to fit back into their families, and for those still remaining with Boko Haram. After all that they have been put through, including being “married” to soldiers, raped, and forced into slavery, they are not the same young women who were carried away. The fear and violence will have taken its toll. For those who were impregnated, this will stress the girls, families and for the children themselves. In my opinion, this qualifies as a real Christmas miracle.
Sending all my readers and friends around the world
greetings and best wishes for the Holidays.
Chanukah celebrations begin this evening around the world.
Children will play the Dreidel game
Menorahs will be lit with candles in remembrance
of the time when Jews regained the Temple
to find that they had only one day’s worth of oil left in the Temple
for the Eternal Flame
And a miracle let the oil last for eight days
long enough to make more oil
Presents are given to children for the eight nights the holiday lasts
Christmas Eve is also tonight and is frequently when families go to candle light
services as a family.
Some open presents on the eve and some on Christmas morn.This
is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
Kwanzaa begins December 26 and runs through January 1
The greetings during Kwanzaa are in Swahili. Swahili is a Pan-African language and is chosen to reflect African Americans’ commitment to the whole of Africa and African culture rather than to a specific ethnic or national group or culture. The greetings are to reinforce awareness of and commitment to the Seven Principles. It is: “Habari gani?” and the answer is each of the principles for each of the days of Kwanzaa, i.e., “Umoja”, on the first day, “Kujichagulia”, on the second dayand so on.
Gifts are given mainly to children, but must always include a book and a heritage symbol. The book is to emphasize the African value and tradition of learning stressed since ancient Egypt, and the heritage symbol to reaffirm and reinforce the African commitment to tradition and history.
The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green as noted above and can be utilized in decorations for Kwanzaa. Also decorations should include traditional African items, i.e., African baskets, cloth patterns, art objects, harvest symbols, etc.
However you celebrate your holiday be blessed
and know you are a part of the family of Man and of God.
We honor all cultures and all paths
Put positive energy into the Universe and the entire World
will Shine with the Light of being connected to each other in Love and Acceptance.
What a delight to fly into the dawn, a compensation for getting up at 4.30am!
Flying over The Pyrenees was very beautiful.
And now we are in Canovelles with the family, enjoying warm sunshine and getting ready for Christmas. On a stroll around the area we came across some planters full of marigolds where bees were busy collecting nectar.
The snow-scoured hills and buttes of the Missouri Breaks are dotted with isolated houses, until the sudden appearance of the Oceti Sakowin encampment on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The presence of so many people catches at the heart. Snow-dusted tepees, neon pup tents, dark-olive military tents, brightly painted metal campers, and round solid yurts shelter hundreds on the floodplain where the Cannonball River meets the Missouri. Flags of Native Nations whip in the cutting wind, each speaking of solidarity with the Standing Rock tribe’s opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, or D.A.P.L., owned by Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics. This pipeline would pass beneath the Missouri River and imperil drinking water not only for the tribe but for farmers, ranchers, and townspeople all along the river’s course.
Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Fires, refers to the seven divisions of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota, people who are perhaps best known for their resistance to colonization (Little Big Horn, 1876), their suffering (Wounded Knee, 1890), and their activism (Wounded Knee, 1973). One of their most famous leaders, Sitting Bull, was murdered in the town that is now their tribal headquarters, Fort Yates. Down the road from Fort Yates is the town of Cannonball, named for the large round stones polished by the whirlpool that marked the convergence of the two rivers, just outside the Oceti Sakowin camp. The round stones disappeared when the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Missouri, in a giant project that lasted from 1948 to 1962. The result of that project, Lake Oahe, flooded Standing Rock’s most life-giving land. The Lakota were forced onto the harshly exposed grazing uplands, and they haven’t forgotten that, or much else. History is a living force in the Lakota way of life. Each of the great events in their common destiny includes the direct experience of ancestors, whose names live on in their descendants. It is impossible to speak of what is now happening at Standing Rock without taking into account the history, as well as the intense spirituality, that underlies Seven Fires resistance.
On December 3rd, veterans from all over the country began to arrive at Standing Rock. Jack Dalrymple, the governor of North Dakota, and the Army Corps of Engineers had called for the camp to be cleared of protesters, who from the beginning have preferred the term “water protectors,” on the 5th. Vehicles were lined up for nearly a mile to get into the camp. It did not seem possible that many more people could fit onto the space, but somehow the camp seemed to morph to hold envoys from all over the globe. To name a few: Maori, Muslims, delegations of priests and ministers, people from more than ninety Native Nations, plus any number of Europeans, and various rock stars. The curious came, the bold, the devoted, not to mention the Water Wookie Warriors, whose pop-up camper had a “Star Wars” theme; passionate young Native people as well as seasoned elders joined the resistance camp. The arrival of veterans adept at winter survival and ready to join the fight against the pipeline was yet another influx.
A small group of veterans in various patterns of camouflage gathered before their first briefing, standing in the sun outside the tiny plywood and thermal-sheathed headquarters at the eastern edge of Oceti Sakowin. There had been rumors that supply stores in the area were not serving anti-D.A.P.L. customers, and that police were blocking or fining anyone who attempted to bring building supplies to Standing Rock. But, a few feet away, supplies were being unloaded and a barracks was quickly taking shape. A tall, rugged National Guardsman wearing a wool stocking hat and a tactical desert scarf talked to me before the briefing began.
“I have been on the front lines of other protests, but I’m here because of the brutality of this police response,” he said. “They thought they were way out here and could do anything.”
On October 7th, Dalrymple had requested backup for the Morton County police under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which is normally used for natural disasters. Officers from twenty-four counties and sixteen cities in ten different states responded, bringing military-grade equipment, including Stingrays (cell-site simulators) and armored personnel carriers purchased under recent federal grants. On the night of November 20th, police weaponized water against the water protectors, causing seizures and hypothermia. The next day, the county sheriff, Kyle Kirchmeier, said, at a press conference, “It was sprayed more as a mist, and we didn’t want to get it directly on them, but we wanted to make sure to use it as a measure to help keep everybody safe.”
As we waited at the camp, in warm sun, I asked veterans at what moment they had decided to meet here. Most of them talked first about online videos of riot-gear-clad police using water cannons in subfreezing weather, of masked police tear-gassing water protectors, of Native people being maced as they held their hands up, and of the use of attack dogs. The disturbing scenes initiated by the Morton County police and other police units were instrumental in activating increased support for Oceti Sakowin.
“I am here because of state violence on behalf of a corporation,” Matthew, a genial, lightly dressed man, said. He’d put nineteen hundred and ninety miles on his modest sedan driving from Florida with a group of veterans. Some said that they regarded maintaining a clean water supply as a homeland-security issue, and corporate greed as the enemy. Other veterans talked about the oath they had taken to defend their country from “enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Brandee Paisano, a cheerful, fit, and forthright Navy veteran from the Laguna Pueblo tribe, said that she was there to keep the oath she had taken on enlistment. “I signed up to be of service, foreign and domestic. As a Native woman, it’s even more important for me to be strong and support my people.” She was also there to uphold the Constitution, she said. Many of the veterans recited parts of the Constitution–the First Amendment was mentioned most often.
Native Americans serve in the military at a higher rate than any other ethnic group. More non-Native people probably get to know American Indians via the military than any other way, except perhaps living in a city. (Urban Natives constitute more than half of the over-all U.S. Native population.) People in the military quickly become bound by mutual need, if not extreme duress. These are lasting friendships.
A veteran sporting reflective sunglasses and an undercut man-bun hopped up on a tree stump and began explaining that the mission many of them had in mind—to link arms in front of the water protectors while wearing their uniforms, walk forward, and take whatever punishment the Morton County police cared to deal them—was probably not on the Standing Rock tribe’s agenda.
“So if you hear a battle buddy talking about charging the fence, reel him in. This isn’t our mission. We’re here as an asset,” he said. “And if you come across a ceremony or hear singing, take off your hat, lock it up, and stand there.”
Later that day, tribal leaders held a meeting at Sitting Bull College. Two local veterans, Loreal Black Shawl and Brenda White Bull, took charge.
“The highest weapon of them all is prayer,” White Bull said. She explained that her Lakota name meant “Compassionate Woman.” Like so many Lakota, she was the granddaughter of a Second World War code talker, one of the Native soldiers who, using their own language, communicated in a code that was never broken. “The world is watching. Our ancestors are watching,” she said. “We are fighting for the human race.”
David Archambault II, the tribal chair, who from the beginning has led the resistance to the D.A.P.L. pipelines, told the veterans, “What you are doing is precious to us. I can’t describe the feelings that move over me. It is wakan, sacred. You all are sacred.”
Along with many other members of the Standing Rock community, Archambault has steered the encampment in a nonviolent direction. The camp’s direct-action group, Red Warrior, has maintained a discipline and humility that still speaks powerfully to people all over the world. A recently published photo of a person from that night of November 20th, covered in ice and praying, illustrates the deep resolve that comes from a philosophy based on generosity of spirit.
“People said, ‘I am ready to die for this,’ ” Archambault told the assembly. “But I want you to live. To be a good father, mother, uncle, sister, brother. I want you to live for my people.”
On the afternoon of December 4th, the Army Corps of Engineers made the stunning announcement that it had denied Energy Transfer Partners an easement to cross under the Missouri River. In the end, though, the veterans did take on a lifesaving mission. In every way that they could, they helped secure the camp against what turned out to be a blizzard of unexpected intensity. The blizzard arrived on December 5th, and, in the deep cold that followed, veterans reinforced shelters and helped maintain a spirit of coöperation that enabled the thousands of new camp members to survive their experience on Standing Rock.
Besides frostbite, what did people take away from there? This was probably the first time many non-Native people had been on a reservation, or in the presence of Native ceremonies. That’s a positive. The more people understand that Native Americans have their own religious rituals and objects of veneration—which to many non-Native people are simply features of the landscape—as well as cathedrals and churches, the better. Understanding the natural world as more than just a resource for energy, or a recreational opportunity, or even a food resource, gives moral weight to the effort to contain catastrophic climate change. Imagine if Energy Transfer Partners planned to drill underneath Jerusalem. Of course, the company wouldn’t consider such a route. Yet it would be safer than drilling beneath the Missouri River.
Most visitors and supporters who came to Standing Rock encountered a portrait of sacred humility. As in any large decentralized gathering, there were conflicts, but the over-all unity was remarkable. Tara Cook, an African-American veteran from Charlotte, North Carolina, told the Bismarck Tribune that she planned on taking exactly that message home to use in organizing for Black Lives Matter. Other Americans, disheartened after the election, threw their hearts into chopping wood for the camp, and left with the sense that the next four years will require just the sort of toughness and resolve they had experienced at Standing Rock. Every time the water protectors showed the fortitude of staying on message and advancing through prayer and ceremony, they gave the rest of the world a template for resistance.
I am a grudge-holder, so, when leaders practiced radical forgiveness, there were times I had trouble living in the moment. In most prayers that I heard, the police, the sheriff, and the pipeline workers were included. The U.S. government was forgiven for all it had done to the Great Sioux Nation, and, later on, the military also. But there is something extremely compelling about surprise compassion. A friend of mine, Marian Moore, who spent time at the camp in support of the water protectors, told me that, one day, members of the Indigenous Youth Council took water up to the barricade that prevented access to pipeline construction. The young people offered the water to the police who stood on the other side. Two of the officers refused, but one took some water and spilled it onto his shirt, over his heart. Then, across the barricade, the police officer and the water protector bowed their heads and prayed, together.
I like the concept of surprise compassion. I wonder if there might not be more compassion in the world if we didn’t find ourselves posturing for the cameras, looking for the right angle, or trying to find the best spin.
If the eyes of the our communities were not on us, if the media would not interpret our actions as weakness, would we act different? That is my question for this eve of the eve of Chanukah and the eve of Christmas eve.
The knowledge gained by the non-native people after observing the native people celebrating their spiritual rights is important. The experience is invaluable. The knowledge that our native people have kept to their own spiritual path and have found nurture and guidance is amazing to me. We, the white supremacists, thought we had gotten rid of the pagan worship they had practiced before our landing. We made a wonderful attempt with genocide. I am happy to know that we failed.
The phrase “a template for resistance” also caught my eye and my heart. So after hundreds of years, the native people have given to the whites a plan, a diagram if you will, on how to survive all that we must survive over the next four years. Actually, not just survive because that isn’t enough, we must thrive. We must thrive to protect and be compassionate to the marginalized around us. There are many and our work is sacred and vital to those lives. Perhaps we are on the path to finding out that though we may look different, we are all the same. We, humans, are brother and sister, cut from the same cloth, children of the same Universe. We are all called to walk in respect, love and kindness for one another. While our paths are called by different names, they are all the same path.
The Sacred Pipe
With this pipe you will bebound to all your relatives:
your Grandfather and Father,
your Grandmother and Mother.
This round rock,
which is made of the same red stone in the bowl of the pipe,
your Father Wakan-Tanka has also given to you.
It is the earth,your Grandmother and Mother,
and it is there where you will live and increase.
This Earth which He has given to you is red,
and the two-leggeds who live upon the earth are red;
and the Great Spirit has also given to you a red day,
and a red road.
All of this is sacred and so do not forget!
Every dawn as it comes is a holy event,
and every day is holy,
for the light comes from your Father Waken-tanka;
and also you must remember that the two-leggeds and all the other peoples who stand upon this earth are sacred and
2016 has been a rough year. A lot of death, a lot of loss — not just of people, but also of civility, decency and, in many cases, Hope.
But not for all of us; not for all of you.
There are so many on WordPress who are sharing Light. They share decency, civility and respect. They share Ideas and Passion and Compassion and, yes, Hope.
Emily Dickinson said “Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all,” and I believe this gentle bird is chirping it’s beautiful song here and I wanted to take the chance to thank my readers and my friends and my fellow bloggers for helping to keep that beauty alive and fluttering, like a butterfly, from heart to heart and from mind to mind.
Please, take this award and share it with those you find worthy, those who give you the most hope. Share this award with the bloggers who have kept you inspired this past year.
The people who have made me hopeful in the darkness that has covered so much of this year are:
”Your opponents would love you to believe that it’s hopeless.”
Activist and writer Rebecca Solnit said this in the foreword to her book, “Hope in the Dark” ― a book originally written during the Bush Administration about avoiding the pitfalls of cynicism in the face of injustice and fear. This year, shortly after Donald Trump won the presidential election, “Hope in the Dark” sold out.
For many women, 2016 was a wildly difficult year, and “hope” often felt like a difficult thing to come by.
After all, we didn’t just watch a man accused of sexual assault win the 2016 presidential election ― we watched him win against a significantly more qualified candidate, who happened to be a woman. We watched him win with a running mate who has spent his career trying to diminish the rights of women. We’ve watched him fill his cabinet with men who have been accused of domestic violence.
But in moments of despair and uncertainty, we can, and should, look to the women who have spent much of their lives fighting the relentless fight against injustice of all kinds.
In the words of 10 trailblazing women, from Angela Davis to Cecile Richards, we can find the comfort, shared rage, and motivation necessary to move forward.
”Cultivating the mind of love is so crucial. When love is the ground of our being, a love ethic shapes our participation in politics. To work for peace and justice we begin with the individual practice of love, because it is there that we can experience firsthand love’s transformative power.” ― bell hooks, Lion’s Roar, November 2016
”We have to stop looking up, especially with Trump now, and start instead looking at each other.” ― Gloria Steinem, in a speech at the Make Equality Reality Gala, December 2016
”How do we begin to recover from this shock? By experiencing and building and rebuilding and consolidating community. Community is the answer…Whatever we are already doing, we need to do more. We need to accelerate our activism.” ― Angela Davis, in a speech at the University of Chicago, November 2016
“We’ve got work to do, and not a minute to waste. Those of us with privilege have a responsibility to use it as allies in the fight for justice and opportunity for all. And every one of us has a responsibility to stand up for what we believe. Don’t wait for permission or an invitation to get involved ― reach out, start organizing, send a message to anyone who will listen. The election doesn’t define our country ― what we do next does.” ― Cecile Richards, to The Huffington Post, December 2016
Diane Von Furstenberg
”We must believe in the values of tolerance and inclusiveness that are the fabric of our country. We must believe we can make a difference and use our influence by creating beauty, optimism and happiness. More than ever, we must embrace diversity, be open minded, be generous and have compassion.” ― Diane Von Furstenberg, post-election email to Council of Fashion Designers of America, November 2016
”In this heterosexist society every male is preferable for any position of power than the most qualified female in the world. Maybe I had forgotten this simple fact. Maybe I believed we as humans had moved forward. Maybe I was lying to myself. This concept has once again been made painfully clear to me. I am a radical butch dyke queer activist. I intend to keep my rage.” ― Lea DeLaria, to The Huffington Post, December 2016
”Real change is personal. The change within ourselves expressed in our willingness to hear, and have patience with, the “other.” Together we move forward. Anger, the pointing of fingers, the wishing that everyone had done exactly as you did, none of that will help relieve our pain.” ― Alice Walker, in a post on her personal website, November 2016
”It always gets better before it can get worse. But it will get better. Like everything else, and like our past struggles, at some point we win, but before that win, there’s always that loss that spurs us on.” ― Dolores Huerta, Santa Fe Reporter, August 2015
”Your opponents would love you to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win. Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away.” ― Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark, March 2016 (third edition)
”Believe in our country, fight for our values, and never give up.” ― Hillary Clinton, in a speech at the Children’s Defense Fund gala, November 2016
Things have been tough since election day. Now we look at a New Year and the the inauguration of a president most of us didn’t want. The “You are not my president” marches continue around the country. Boston is planning a large march. On the 21st there will be a million person march in Washington D.C.
It appears that Trump will keep some campaign promises and others he is no longer interested in. We have talked and discussed and worried about the people around us. 2017 will bring us the answers to all that is unknown presently. Women are facing a renewal of sexism and inequality as many other groups will also experience.
These women each hold up some hope and suggestions for the future. I encourage all of my readers to read and use anything that speaks to you. I think that as we learn how to respond to next year’s challenges and protect the marginalized around us, we will grow in kindness, compassion, and understanding. Will our words and actions be challenged by some other citizens? It is possible. But as we stand up and speak out, we will be showing our children and our children’s children that we lived our convictions and we cared about injustices that happened to the unfortunate. We care about racism, misogyny, deported immigrants, disabled people, anti-semitism, and Neo-Nazis. We will work to eliminate these hate groups and will protect their victims.
The Native American myth of Deganawidah has many astonishing parallels with the story of Christ
The influence of Christian myths may well have affected another story from Native American traditions — that of the Deganawidah the Pacemaker. This semi-mythical character, also known as the Man from the North, was born into the Wendot tribe, later known as the Huron, who lived along the northern shore of present day Lake Ontario. According to tradition, Deganawidah was born of a virgin who, when she confessed to her mother that she was pregnant but had never known a man, was revealed to have been visited by a messenger of the Great Spirit Tarenyawagon, who was sending a messenger to bring lasting peace to humankind. At first there was much doubt among the tribes-people, and it is even told that Deganawidah’s grandmother tried three times to kill the child after prophecies that he would bring no good to the tribe. Yet Deganawidah survived, and grew imbued with wisdom, intelligence, and kindness. He spoke with animals and birds, and began to teach a message of peace among his fellows. The walking Huron found this distasteful and strange and tried to drive Deganawidah away. On reaching manhood he wandered in the wilderness for a time and then set forth in a white canoe said to have been made, astonishing, of stone, to visit other tribes. In the years that followed he traveled amongst the tribes and eventually founded the great Iroquois Confederacy, a democratic union of five tribes from amongst the northeastern woodlands, the concept that influenced not only the founding got of the United States constitution, but also that of the United Nations.
Deganawidah’s death remains mysterious, and like King Arthur, it is believed that he will return at the time of the his country’s need. Remembered still as the Peacemaker, he is seen as a harbinger of peace and as messenger of God. His life parallels that of Christ in many ways, especially in his birth and youthful deeds. He is a perfect example of the Children of Wonder, who come in the dark heart of Winter to bring light and a message of peace to the world.
Deganawidah, the PeaceMaker, was brought up with intelligence and kindness and, like Jesus, went on to spread a message of peace and democracy
–From The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas by John Matthews
What kind of nation fights a civil war over the question of whether people of African descent are people or property, and then looks the other way when the loser ignores the resolution of that war? What kind of nation waits until 1965 to guarantee black people’s right to vote?
Americans speak of our Constitution as if it were a religious text. To label a law “unconstitutional” is not simply to say that it violates some procedural rule or legal technicality, it is to label it fundamentally unAmerican. To do so is to question the values of any lawmaker despicable enough to support such a law, and to suggest that those values are at odds with who we are as a nation.
But our Constitution has not served us nearly as well as we would have been served by other systems adopted by our peer nations. Nor has it lived up to the expectations of its drafters.
It did this because our Constitution remains the product of a compromise with moral monsters who believed that human beings could be owned as property. It did this because our Constitution offers no guarantee, or even much in the way of likelihood, that the men and women elected to lead the country will share the preferences of the nation as a whole. It did this because our Constitution fosters voter ignorance. It did this because our Constitution can be gamed — and was gamed quite successfully by the Republican Party.
The price of peace
There are competing theories for why America has an Electoral College. One, offered by Alexander Hamilton in an advocacy document written to persuade the nation to support its new Constitution, is that it would allow “men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to” the presidency to determine who should hold that crucial job.
Another theory, which Hamilton did not include in his sales pitch for the Constitution, is that the Electoral College was part of the price northerners had to pay in order to form a union with states whose entire economic model depended on slavery.
Regardless of which theory you prefer, it is undeniable that the Electoral College now serves the second goal of giving a leg up to racists far better than it serves the first. In 2016, the electors themselves are almost entirely obscurities — party activists who are typically selected more for their willingness to cast a vote for their party’s candidate than for their ability to analyse the qualities best adapted to the presidency. Even if they’d wanted to elect someone other than Donald Trump as the president, they lack the stature necessary to quell unrest that would likely ensue.
What the Electoral College has done is steal the presidency from the woman who won it, and given it to a man who openly campaigned on racism and nativism. It’s the sort of outcome that would make many of the Founding Fathers smile — the ones who demanded a terrible price as the cost of Union.
To be sure, there were good men at the Philadelphia convention that drafted the original Constitution. There were men who, as Gouverner Morris said in a speech to the convention, saw slavery as a “nefarious institution” and “the curse of heaven on the States where it prevailed.” There were also delegates from large states who stood for the very simple proposition that a vote from Virginia should count exactly the same amount as a vote from Delaware.
The good men in Philadelphia agreed to these terms in service of a singular goal: peace through Union. As Yale’s Akhil Amar explains, the Articles of Confederation, the loose alliance of states that preceded the Constitution, conceived of the United States as “an alliance, a multilateral treaty of sovereign nation-states.” Pennsylvania was as much a separate a sovereign nation from Virginia as Russia is today separate from China. The Articles largely bound these nations into a pact of mutual commerce and defense.
Nevertheless, the framers were well-versed in European history. They knew of the frequent warfare which plagued that continent, and they came to see Union as the best defense against a similar fate. As Amar describes their concerns, “each nation-state might well raise an army, ostensibly to protect itself against Indians or Europeans, but also perhaps to awe its neighbors. America would then recreate continental Europe — borders, armies, dictators, chains, and all.”
The threat from such armies, moreover, was twofold. As Hamilton warned, these armies could themselves be turned against the people, becoming “engines of despotism” that would lead the states in a “progressive direction toward monarchy.” Standing armies were a threat, not just to rival states, but to the people of their home states.
More than two centuries later, the Founding Fathers’ belief that their Constitution would keep America from keeping a standing army is quaint. The United States has the most powerful military in the world, in addition to a network of federal police, intelligence agencies, and an entire cabinet department devoted to internal security. Perhaps these institutions will balk if Trump orders them to impose the kind of tyranny Hamilton feared, but the Constitution sure did not stop them from being built.
It also didn’t save us from war among the states. The early history of the United States was an uneasy peace broken by regional conflicts and near-misses — the Nullification Crisis, Bleeding Kansas, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. And then the war came, a four year conflict that killed between 2 and 3 percent of the nation’s entire population.
Our Founding Fathers traded away democracy. They traded away the fundamental principle that every American’s vote is equal. They traded away every person’s inalienable right to freedom. And they’d traded it away for nothing.
Three generations of lost rights
If you go to the American South today, and you speak to a black person over the age of 50, you are most likely speaking to someone who was born into an apartheid state. If you speak to someone over the age of 70, that person probably had their voting rights stolen from them by a white supremacist regime.
This is not ancient history. These are flesh and blood Americans who live and work among us. America became a liberal democracy in 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. Free and fair elections, at least at the nationwide level, are not something we have all that much experience with.
The Fourteenth Amendment declared, for the first time in American history, that everyone born in the United States is a citizen and that every citizen enjoys certain rights solely because they are an American (without this amendment, states were free to violate the Bill of Rights). It provided that no one can be stripped of their liberty without appropriate legal process, and it insisted on equal treatment along racial lines.
Yet, for much of the next century, the South gleefully ignored these guarantees. “Black codes” relegated freedmen to a status that was often difficult to distinguish from actual slavery. Black men were arrested for minor or even fabricated offenses, then rented out to whites as cheap labor. Jim Crow segregated African Americans and stripped them of their vote. And if anyone dared to question white supremacy, they were quieted by terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which often worked in close coordination with the state.
There are many villains in this saga. The resilience of white supremacist government in the South occurred because the Supreme Court largely sat on its hands, often explicitly embracing the South’s most odious practices. It happened because the rest of the nation lost its nerve, abandoning Reconstruction for a peace built from the bones of black Americans. It happened because of immoral men willing to use murder as a tool of political control. But white supremacy also thrived because of the Founding Fathers.
Remember that compromise? The one that gave Alabama exactly the same number of senators as New York? It also prevented Congress from enacting a single civil rights law from 1875 until 1957.
The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was one of Congress’ final serious attempts to reconstruct the South. Enacted just over a year before Rutherford B. Hayes sold out black America in order to secure his presidency, the Act banned racial discrimination by “inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement.” It survived eight years before it was struck by the Supreme Court.
Though new civil rights legislation sometimes passed the House — five such bills did so in the 12 years following World War II — none of this legislation survived contact with the Senate. The same Senate malapportionment that, for many years, gave slave states parity with free states in Congress’ upper house, despite the fact that the free population in the North significantly exceeded that of the South, now gave the Jim Crow states a far louder voice in the Senate than their population warranted.
That thumb on the scale, combined with the filibuster, was enough to keep civil rights bills from becoming law.
Nearly six decades after the Senate finally ended its blockade of all civil rights laws, malapportionment continues to advantage conservatives and stymie progressives. To give just one example, the 54 senators who make up the current Republican majority (and who effectively kept the Supreme Court in Republican hands by preventing Chief Judge Merrick Garland from being confirmed to fill its vacant seat) represent fewer than 150 million people. The 46 senators in the Democratic majority, meanwhile, represent more than 170 million.
What’s more, according to the group FairVote, “the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes.”
The ungovernable nation
Even setting aside the undemocratic Senate, the United States is an outlier among our peer democracies because of the unusual number of roadblocks our Constitution places before any bill that seeks to become law.
America’s separation of powers, which typically requires consensus among the president, two houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court — not to mention the cooperation of congressional leaders and committee chairs who have outsized power to hold up legislation — is generally taught to schoolchildren as if it were divine wisdom delivered to the Founding Fathers at Mt. Sinai. But it is a highly unusual system, in no small part because so many democracies that adopted similar models failed.
In his seminal essay “The Perils of Presidentialism,” the late Yale political scientist Juan Linz warned about the danger inherent in a constitutional system, like the one in the United States, which elects the nation’s chief executive separately from its legislature. In such a system, it is easy for two irreconcilable factions to each gain control of at least one veto point that enables them to halt the legislative process. Moreover, because both sides “derive their power from the votes of the people in a free competition among well-defined alternatives,” there’s no “democratic principle” that can be cited to break such an impasse.
“In some such situations in the past, the armed forces were often tempted to intervene as a mediating power.”
As one Republican lawmaker defended his party’s actions in the lead up to the 2013 government shutdown, “I too won an election. You want me to just disregard all of my voters and all of the promises that I made and how I got elected?” The shutdown happened because both our Democratic president and our Republican House had an equal claim to democratic legitimacy.
The shutdown is an unhappy memory, but it is hardly the worse case scenario for what can happen if the president and the legislature face a unsolvable disagreement. It is “no accident,” Linz recalled of other nations that have faced such an impasse, “that in some such situations in the past, the armed forces were often tempted to intervene as a mediating power.”
The United States, fortunately, did not reach the point where Obama and former House Speaker John Boenher (R) needed to start counting their loyalists among the nation’s generals and admirals. But there’s still plenty of evidence of the issues that Linz is referencing in U.S. government.
Our stagnant, imperfect democracy leaves many problems — crumbling infrastructure, a job market that still has not fully recovered from the recession — unaddressed or underaddressed. It also denies voters much of the feedback that they need in order to cast their ballots wisely.
A likely reason why Republicans felt hornswoggled when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law is that they had good reason to believe that such a thing wasn’t possible. After all, every Democratic president since Harry Truman (as well as Republican Richard Nixon) promised a universal health plan. Yet, for more than six decades, they failed. Failed health care reform plans were as American as baseball and capitalism. It’s hard to blame Obama’s opponents for thinking they were safe from the horrors of affordable health care for the less fortunate.
And yet, somehow, the American people just elected a Republican Congress that is poised to enact these unpopular proposals and a president (albeit not with anything close to a majority vote) who is likely to sign them into law. How can this be? Why did so many voters condemn themselves to policies that they hate?
Vox’s Sarah Kliff offers one explanation for this dichotomy. In a recent trip to a Kentucky town that voted overwhelmingly for Trump, despite the fact that many of its residents depend upon Obamacare for health coverage, she heard a frequent refrain. In Kliff’s words, these voters “just couldn’t fathom the idea that this new coverage would be taken away from them.”
In one of the most heartbreaking interviews in Kliff’s piece, a voter whose husband is waiting for a liver transplant was able to get health insurance for her family thanks to Obamacare. Yet she told Kliff that she backed Trump because “I guess I thought that, you know, he would not do this, he would not take health insurance away knowing it would affect so many people’s lives.”
In 2012, a Democratic super PAC convened a focus group to assess whether Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s support for the GOP’s fiscal proposals could be used against him. Yet the focus group’s reactions to these proposals resembled the conversations Kliff had with Trump voters in Kentucky. When the super PAC “informed a focus group that Romney supported the Ryan budget plan — and thus championed ‘ending Medicare as we know it’ — while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.”
The Constitution of the United States, in other words, built a nation where elections frequently don’t have significant consequences. In doing so, it lulled many voters into a false sense of security. It taught them not to believe politicians’ promises because, chances are, those promises won’t be implemented anyway.
And then, when a party actually does bring about sweeping radical change, the same voters seem flabbergasted that the government they elected actually did what it said it would do.
The risk of permanence
One good thing that can be said about unified Republican control of Congress and the White House is that it is likely to break this cycle. If Republicans succeed in repealing Obamacare, replacing Medicare with a voucher program, slashing Medicaid, cutting Social Security benefits by 20–50 percent, and using the savings to put more money in the wealthiest Americans’ pockets, then it will be hard to pretend that elections don’t matter. Or that voters shouldn’t pay attention to a party’s ideas before they cast a ballot for its candidates.
There are many good things in our Constitution. But they don’t mean very much if the Supreme Court is unwilling to enforce them.
There are also strong arguments that partisan gerrymandering violates either the First Amendment’s protections against viewpoint discrimination, or the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. Yet Republicans on the Supreme Court also thwarted efforts to combat such gerrymandering in court. These decisions, combined with geographic factors that advantage Republicans, prevent Democrats from enacting legislation even when they win. In 2012, for example, Democratic House candidates won nearly 1.4 million more votes than Republicans. Yet the GOP kept control of the House.
There are many good things in our Constitution. But they don’t mean very much if the Supreme Court is unwilling to enforce them.
Once Trump adds another Republican justice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the Court’s first orders of business will probably be a long-pending dispute that seeks to hobble public sector unions’ ability to fund themselves — it is highly likely that Trump’s nominee will provide the fifth vote to inflict this wound on unions. That not only means lower wages for government workers in the long run, but also means Democrats will lose much of the political infrastructure that these unions provide.
And enabling voter suppression while carving up unions is really only a small part of the damage a truly partisan Supreme Court could inflict upon democratic governance. In the worse case scenario, a Supreme Court stacked with Trump justices could recreate the early twentieth century, when minimum wage laws, child labor laws, and much of the New Deal were blocked by an ideological Court that did not feel especially constrained by the text of the Constitution.
Despite all the obstacles laid by voter suppression and similar tactics, Democrats could claw their way back into congressional majorities and the White House — only to discover that their efforts to roll back Trump era legislation will be struck down by Republicans on the Supreme Court.
Learning the wrong lessons
If America holds a free and fair election in 2020, and if that election places a Democrat back in the White House, there’s a danger that liberals will learn the wrong lessons from four years of Donald Trump.
To be sure, some of the right lessons are obvious and unlikely to be missed. The Electoral College, for example, is a pathology that will have few informed defenders outside of the party that has twice seen its losing candidate declared the winner.
But conservatives also spent much of the last century spinning a fairly consistent narrative about what’s wrong with the American system of government. In their mythology, the problem with the United States is that it is too democratic. That it is too easy for the federal government to enact new programs and regulations. And that the way to save America is to erect barriers that make it harder for elected officials in Washington to govern.
This narrative is likely to have some appeal to liberals reeling from four years of Trump. The idea that Obamacare, or Medicare, or Social Security, could have been saved if only there’d been more veto points in our system will be appealing. We are likely to see just how bad things can get if government is able to move quickly.
If Brexit does prove to be a calamity, British voters will at least know who to blame.
But liberals will shoot themselves in the foot if they succumb to the appeal of a left-libertarian alliance whose sole goal is to keep future Presidents Trump from doing too much, too quickly. In the short term, they are likely to freeze government in the weakened state that four years of Donald Trump will produce. In the long term, such a single-minded alliance would exacerbate the constitutional defects that brought America to the point we find ourselves in today.
Today, as President-elect Donald Trump waits to take the oath of office, the nation of Great Britain faces a similar crisis. The Brexit campaign, which appealed to much of the same racism and nationalism that drove Trump’s campaign, is victorious. A web of alliances that helped end centuries of warfare within Europe is now at risk. British workers are expected to “make £38 less a week than their E.U. counterparts by the year 2030 once the country leaves the E.U.”
The British parliamentary system, which typically places a single party in charge of the entire government, did not prevent these outcomes. But if Brexit does prove to be a calamity, British voters will at least know who to blame. It was a Tory prime minister who allowed the Brexit vote, and a Tory government will manage the nation’s transition out of the European Union.
There can be no doubt in London that elections have consequences. And no further doubt about who foisted these consequences upon the British people.
And, if Tory candidates campaign on a plan to dismantle their nation’s universal health care system, British voters will know damn well that they better believe that these candidates will actually do it.
They won’t vote, as so many Americans did, to dismantle our social safety net by accident.
The United States Constitution was written over the summer of 1787 at a convention in Philadelphia. Fifty-five delegates from twelve states eventually signed the document that created the modern American government, but its main author was Virginia delegate James Madison. He later became the fourth president.
His plan included the basic institutions of our government—The Supreme Court, the U.S. Congress, and the presidency. These remain essentially unchanged today.
A national government had been created during the Revolutionary War. Most of the early Americans felt that the national government was dysfunctional. It had been accepted in 1777. The government lacked the authority to collect taxes. Each of the original thirteen colonies had an equal say in national policy. New York and Virginia, which had larger populations, were upset about the equal say. Small states were aware of this flaw in the Articles of Confederation. and they were wary of giving too much power to neighboring states. Rhode Island, for example, wouldn’t even participate in the Convention.
The new constitution formed the House of Representatives, whose seats would be allotted by population and the Senate, where each state had equal representation.
Slavery was still a huge problem for the Founding Fathers. Washington and others wanted to end slavery. Their southern brothers knew that the economy of the south was dependent upon the free labor from slavery. This moral question went around and around. The southern states threatened to withdraw and become their own country. The Founding Fathers did not want that to happen to the great experiment—democracy.
They came up with a compromise. It was called the Connecticut compromise and it removed the greatest obstacle to the success of the convention and our country. In a nutshell, a non-free person would be counted as three-fifths of a person for tax reasons and in determining representation in Congress. The delegates locked themselves in until the could come to an unanimous decision,
I think they should have ended slavery but Washington is quoted as saying, that perhaps it should be left for later generations to decide as we would be able to handle it better and with less strife. We clearly were not better equipped to handle it. The black man and woman were the ones who suffered from all of our lack of ability.
The electoral college was set up at this time to prevent the people from electing someone to be president who was illiterate and totally unable to run the country. Many Americans were illiterate at the time and the founding fathers sought to protect our new nation. The population of a state would determine how many delegates in the electoral college each state would have. The delegates were to vote on the candidate the state determined they wanted to be President. Historically, it served its purpose. Now in the twenty-first century, it has elected a President twice that the people did not want nor did they elect. Gore was the first person and Bush ended up in the White House and now Clinton with Trump ending up in the White House. The college needs to be altered because it is outdated by around 240 years. We could also dismantle the college which is my favorite option. We no longer have a need for this outdated balancing remedy. Almost all of America is now educated enough to be able to cast their ballot with out worry.
Dear Students: Rap and Revere Hamilton, But Remember to Sing A Jeffersonian Melody
Binary choices are never easy and sometimes they are completely unnecessary.
Such is the case with two of the most remarkable Americans that have ever lived, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. One is at the zenith of adulation while the other languishes in a cultural malaise of extraordinary shortsightedness. Young Americans should cherish them both.
Here’s why: 2016 will be remembered as the year that belonged to both Alexander Hamilton and Donald Trump. It is axiomatic that politics makes strange bedfellows and this year is certainly no different. As enthralling as Hamilton: An American Musical certainly is, the aftermath of the 2016 election has revealed a chasm in our political climate so cavernous and intense it would take a semi-divine power to repair it.
Granted, Alexander Hamilton is all the rage right now for a variety of good reasons: his life is a powerful testimonial to the notion that America is a nation of aspirational immigrants, his staunch abolitionism, his vision of America as an energetic commercial republic yoked together by a strong central government. Hamilton understood what America could, should, and would be. We are made in his image.
And yet, in the aftermath of this year’s fractured election results, Hamilton is not the tonic we desperately need. Ironically, in the year of Hamilton, it is the spirit of his nemesis, Thomas Jefferson, we must summon, for it is his vision of America that has the unique potential to bind the wounds of this long, destructive political season.
This is, admittedly, a curious claim. America’s esteem for Jefferson now seems to be at its nadir, fueled not only by our current love for Hamilton and the Broadway sensation his biography spurred, but also by the fact that Jefferson seems to be on the wrong side of virtually every issue the modern American mind considers to be of consequence.
Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a rural, yeoman republic simply never came to fruition. Instead, Hamilton’s hope of a vibrant, urban, commercial society has blossomed into an undeniable reality. Jefferson’s constitutional vision never triumphed and seems woefully outdated (even antiquated) for the needs of modern American society. The idea of a federal government dominated by the Congress that views the president as a mere constitutional handmaiden of legislative directives was passé, even in his own day (thanks to Hamilton’s assertiveness as Washington’s aide-to-camp). Moreover, a national government dominated and, at times, subservient to the states, is utterly archaic in a post-Civil War, post-Progressive Era, post-New Deal, post-Warren Court America. Worst of all, this Jeffersonian vision inadvertently laid the intellectual groundwork for the nullification and succession movements that precipitated the Civil War.
Most damning, of course, is the fact that our national conversation is heavily centered on issues of racial division and strife. Time and time again, Jefferson was on the wrong side of racial injustice. He has invited the ire of race conscious Americans recasting American history in ways that are damning to traditional narratives of high principal. Most contradictory, of course, is the fact that Jefferson exalted the universalism of natural law in America’s founding document yet persisted in owning slaves, and probably having sexual relations and children by them. New scholarship has even shed light on his rough treatment of slaves at his beloved Monticello. Moreover, the party founded by Thomas Jefferson, the Democratic-Republicans, espoused a political philosophy that made it difficult for the nation to ever confront the horrors of involuntary servitude on a national level.
How could this man, a man so full of contradiction and complexity one of the best-known biographies of him is entitled American Sphinx, be the solution for so much that ails us?
First, an admission of Hamiltonian hubris: he saw little value in state or parochial political power, argued for hereditary political offices during the constitutional convention, and would have been completely out of step with both Jacksonian democracy and the progressive reforms of Woodrow Wilson. He referred to the American body politic as “the mob” and had a penchant for both bellicose foreign policy abroad and supremacy of the banking class at home.
Lincoln, on the other hand, famously wrote, “All honor to Jefferson—to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times.” It is this “abstract truth” that has the power to bind and renew us in this season of palpable disunion, if we will but remember it.
This abstract truth undergirds the culture of our democracy and is the beacon of aspiration heard the world over. Jefferson understood America is more than a territory, more than the sum of its natural and human resources, more than an aggregation of historic triumphs and foibles, more than even its constitutional system or financial dynamism. America—at its core—is an idea, an “abstract truth,” perhaps the most powerful and profound idea and truth in all of human history.
Thomas Jefferson is its most artful and consistent defender.
Put simply: human beings are both naturally free and infinitely improvable. The station of one’s birth has no bearing on the exercise of one’s freedom or the potential to reach the zenith of happiness. Each citizen is equally endowed with an inviolate agency, the power to make decisions according to the dictates of individual reason or whim, inspiration or obligation. Jefferson is the American foil of Sophocles and Greek Fatalism in general, vigorously optimistic that in the arena of life, the Fates can be slayed, or at least tamed, in deference to the will of the individual.
But how does this idea play out in modern times and how can it be a catalyst for national reconciliation?
Worried about “fake news?”
There is Jefferson in 1787, serving as Minister to France, writing to Edward Carrington that “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
The good sense of the people may be obscured or demagogued in the short term— perhaps the length of an entire election cycle—but Jefferson believed a society exalting objective rationality would eventually coalesce around a consensus of truth.
Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment, believing that the tribunal of critical consciousness was ubiquitous and accessible to all. In such a world-view there is no “post-truth,” no radical subjectivism, no post-modern solipsism in which humans construct their own separate realities of equal validity. Such a road leads to a vacuum of authority and no hope of universal objectivity. Jefferson did his part to vanquish the powers of the political crown and the religious altar, but only in the hopes of elevating human reason. To embrace Jefferson is to rekindle our faith in human rationality and the hopes of an enlightened society.
Worried about Islamophobia and maintaining a strict separation between church and state?
There is Jefferson, the writer of The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the man with an epistolary flair who wrote to the Danbury Baptists coining the phrase, “a wall of separation between church and state,” the man who rewrote the New Testament in a project called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, removing all mention of the supernatural because he believed in Christ’s morality but not his miracles. As he writes, “…we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests.”
Jefferson prospered as a political leader despite religious views that were clearly contrary to the majority of his time. He rejected the notion of a fallen nature, believing instead that education and learning would lead mankind to a flourishing prelapsarian state of progress.
The creed of America, of Jefferson, is as universal as the mechanics of Newton and the universe he worked to described. Thus, the pantheon of American politics and public discourse must use a language that is accessible to all citizens from all religious persuasions. This is why public officials need not fulfill a religious requirement in the land of Jefferson; the Mormon, the Muslim, and the Methodist might differ on dogma, but they share a common creed of human rationality. Everyone speaks the language of Newton, Bacon, and Locke—Jefferson’s triad of greatest men who ever lived—by virtue of a shared rational faculty untethered to religious faith.
Worried about race relations and the unraveling of the American experiment itself?
Yes, even on the issue of race there is a charitable variant of Jefferson that is restorative of high American idealism. However, it is an admittedly youthful Jefferson who lyrically recognized and proclaimed the contradiction between human bondage and universal claims of Enlightenment natural law.
A spry and buoyant philosophy of freedom appears in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence as Jefferson writes, “He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.” This passage, which school children rarely read or even learn about today, was eventually omitted because of Southern objections.
In 1778, he led the Virginia General Assembly to ban the importation of slaves into his beloved state. Seven years later in his full-length book, Notes on the State of Virginia, he penned a passage, a short portion of which now appears on the third panel in the Jefferson Memorial, that reads, “The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it. . . .”
For all of Jefferson’s faults and foibles—and there were many to be sure—his faith in the infinite potential of America and her citizens never waned. Indeed, Jefferson was the walking embodiment of this optimism. He was a master of civilization through a life- long devotion to reading and learning that seems almost superhuman by modern standards. He read The Iliad in Ancient Greek, The Aeneid in Latin, and taught himself Spanish (on a transatlantic trip in 1784). I
In 1962, at a White House gathering for Nobel Prize winners of the Western Hemisphere, President Kennedy famously observed of Jefferson, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet.”
The birth of The United States was a second Eden to Thomas Jefferson, an opportunity to remake human history by abandoning European superstition and monarchical oppression. His life and writings were singularly devoted to fostering the dream of self-government and the proliferation of human happiness.
Jefferson was our Da Vinci. He understood that service of a broader ideal first requires the individual to decide what that ideal must be. An American thinks for herself, acts for himself, and feels the pulse of possibility anchored by the wonderment of freedom. We are citizens, not subjects.
Jefferson was deeply flawed and is terribly out of fashion among the American intelligentsia and urban literati. But to the average American he can be a catalyst for renewal at a time when so many Americans have forgotten the substance of our creed.
It is this creed and our tireless devotion to live it that truly makes America great.
Have you thought about America’s creed and what it means to you? Are you willing to fight for the creed to help make America great again. America is made in the image of Hamilton’s image and it grew in that image. Jefferson, being a renaissance man, directed our new democracy down a path to greatness. We are now at a tipping point and our democracy is hanging in limbo. Are we strong enough to get on the path again; to get back on Jefferson’s path? Do we believe in equality, goodness and kindness? Are we willing to give up our comfort to stand with the marginalized people? Millions of us are. I hope many more will join us in taking the fear and suffering out of being an American.
Massive 2013 Oil Spill in North Dakota Still Not Cleaned Up
By JAMES MACPHERSON, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Three years and three months later, a massive oil spill in North Dakota still isn’t fully cleaned up. The company responsible hasn’t even set a date for completion.
Though crews have been working around the clock to deal with the Tesoro Corp. pipeline break, which happened in a wheat field in September 2013, less than a third of the 840,000 gallons that spilled has been recovered — or ever will be, North Dakota Health Department environmental scientist Bill Suess said.
A farmer, Steve Jenkins, who’d smelled the crude oil for days, discovered the spill in his northwestern North Dakota field near Tioga — his combines’ tires were covered in it.
While the nearest home was a half-mile away and the state said no water sources were contaminated and no wildlife hurt, one of the largest onshore oil spills recorded in the U.S. serves for some as a cautionary example, especially given a recent pipeline break about 150 miles south and ongoing debates over the four-state Dakota Access pipeline.
“What happened to us happened and we can’t go back,” said Patty Jensen, Steve’s wife. This month’s pipeline break in Belfield, which belched an estimated 176,000 gallons of oil into a creek that feeds into the Little Missouri River, a tributary of the Missouri River, really rankled her.
“But I get really upset when I hear of a new one and I wonder what is being done to prevent these spills,” she said.
Both the Tesoro break and the Belfield break occurred on 6-inch steel pipelines — a part of a large network pipelines that crisscross western North Dakota’s oil patch. By comparison, the Dakota Access pipeline is made of 30-inch steel and will carry nearly 20 million gallons daily.
The Tesoro spill was not far from where oil was first discovered in North Dakota in 1951.The Texas-based company and federal regulators have said a lightning strike may have caused the 2013 rupture in the pipeline, which runs from Tioga to a rail facility outside of Columbus, near the Canadian border.
North Dakota regulators initially thought just 750 barrels of oil was involved in the spill, but later updated the amount exponentially. They also expanded the affected acreage from about 7 — the size of seven football fields — to about 13 acres, Suess said. The cleanup has cost Tesoro more than $49 million to date and is expected to top $60 million, according to recent filings to the state.
Tesoro spokeswoman Destin Singleton said she could not immediately confirm the numbers, and noted the cleanup completion date remains unknown. The pipeline was monitored remotely, but the company has said the spill wasn’t detected.
Crews have had to dig as deep as 50 feet to remove hundreds of thousands of tons of oil-tainted soil, Suess said. The company has now switched to special equipment that cooks hydrocarbons from crude-soaked soil in a process called thermal desorption before putting it back in place.
The Dec. 5 spill on the Belle Fourche pipeline also was discovered by a landowner. Crude oil migrated about almost 6 miles from the spill site along Ash Coulee Creek, and fouled an unknown amount of private and U.S. Forest Service land along the waterway. Seuss said it appears no oil got as far as the Little Missouri River, and no drinking water sources were threatened.
It’s not yet clear why monitoring equipment didn’t detect the leak, according to Wendy Owen, a spokeswoman for Casper, Wyoming-based True Cos., which operates the pipeline.
The Dakota Access pipeline builder, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, has said the project will be safe and that workers remotely monitoring the pipeline will be able to shut it down if a leak is detected.
Owen said didn’t know how long it would take to clean the Belle Fourche spill, given that wintry weather was slowing down the progress, or how much it would cost.
Patty Jensen is aware of the glacial pace of oil spill cleanups. For more than three years, it’s been part the couple’s life.
“They are there working away 24 hours a day, seven days a week — it’s pretty amazing,” she said. “The noise from the equipment used to bug us but we’ve grown used to it.”
Only the hardiest remain at Dakota protest camp
The remaining activists are grappling with plunging temperatures that make conditions more difficult at the protest camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, December 14, 2016. Picture taken December 14, 2016. REUTERS/Valerie Volcovici
A couple of the remaining activists that are left grappling with plunging temperatures that make conditions there more difficult at the protest camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, December 14, 2016. Picture taken December 14, 2016. REUTERS/Valerie Volcovici
A couple of the remaining activists, hold up signs as they grapple with plunging temperatures that make conditions more difficult at the protest camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, December 14, 2016. Picture taken December 14, 2016. REUTERS/Valerie Volcovici
Supplies left for the remaining activists who are grappling with plunging temperatures that make conditions more difficult at the protest camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, December 14, 2016. Picture taken December 14, 2016. REUTERS/Valerie Volcovici
Supplies are piled up for the remaining activists that are left grappling with plunging temperatures that make conditions there more difficult at the protest camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, December 14, 2016. Picture taken December 14, 2016. REUTERS/Valerie Volcovici
Remaining activists keep warm inside, at an emergency center, as they are grappling with plunging temperatures that make conditions more difficult at the protest camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, December 14, 2016. Picture taken December 14, 2016. REUTERS/Valerie Volcovici
A snowman stands as the remaining activists are grappling with plunging temperatures that make conditions more difficult at the protest camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, December 14, 2016. Picture taken December 14, 2016. REUTERS/Valerie Volcovici
Two weeks after a victory in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, most protesters have cleared out of the main protest camp in North Dakota – but about 1,000 are still there, and plan to remain through the winter.
These folks say they are dug in at the Oceti Sakowin Camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, despite the cold, for a few reasons. Most are Native Americans, and want to support the tribal sovereignty effort forcefully argued by the Standing Rock Sioux, whose land is adjacent to the pipeline being built.
Others say they worry that Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP.N), the company building the $3.8 billion project, will resume construction without people on the ground, even though the tribes and the company are currently locked in a court battle.
Future decisions on the 1,172-mile (1,885-km) pipeline are likely to come through discussions with the incoming administration of Donald Trump, or in courtrooms.
“I’ve seen some of my friends leave but I will be here until the end and will stand up to Trump if he decides to approve the permit,” said Victor Herrald, of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, who has been at the camp since August.
At one point the camp had about 10,000 people, including about 4,000 veterans who showed up in early December – just before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a key easement needed to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to run under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River.
After the Corps decision, Standing Rock chairman Dave Archambault asked protesters to go home. The camp’s population now runs from 700 to 1,000, depending on the day, and many come from the nearby Standing Rock reservation where they live.
Those left say they are there to “show our strengths,” as Bucky Harjo, 63, of the Paiute tribe, from Reno, Nevada, put it, while the tribe deals with the legal battle.
Logistics are key for those still at the camp, located on federal land. Theron Begay, a Navajo journeyman who is a certified construction worker and heavy machine operator, has been put in charge of winterizing the camp. He is training volunteers to build structures that can withstand sub-zero temperatures and bitter winds, as well as compost toilets.
Some people at the camp have gotten pneumonia, and they and others went to an emergency shelter that was built three miles away to escape the cold.
Because the Oceti Sakowin camp is located on a flood plain, waste from the camp poses risks to the nearby Cannonball River. Tribal leaders have said the camp may need to move if it wants to remain active. Begay said the structures can be “disassembled like a puzzle in two hours” and re-established on drier ground.
North Dakota’s Governor Jack Dalrymple said in a Tuesday statement that he and Archambault recently met to discuss reducing tensions between the tribe and law enforcement. They are discussing reopening the nearby Backwater Bridge on state highway 1806, which has been blockaded since Oct. 27, when activists set vehicles on fire.
Harjo said he will leave “when I see the drill pad removed and DAPL out of here, and when they reopen 1806 and when we are free to go at our own will and not be targeted on the highway.”
Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, and a constant presence in the camp, said the protest is transitioning “to the next level of our campaign” to stop the pipeline.
Some still at the camp worry that if they leave, Energy Transfer Partners will restart construction. ETP asked a federal judge on Dec. 9 to overrule the government’s decision and grant the easement. The judge declined that request; the parties are due back in court in February. The Army Corps is considering alternatives, which could take months.
Trump, who owned ETP stock through at least mid-2016, according to financial disclosure forms, could order the Army Corps to grant the permit. His choice for U.S. Energy Secretary, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, is on ETP’s board. Standing Rock Sioux representatives met with members of Trump’s transition team this week to urge the incoming president to deny the easement.
Protesters who remain at the camp are still receiving donations of money and supplies from people across the United States. On a recent visit to the camp’s emergency shelter it was filled with boxes delivered via Amazon.com.
Goldtooth said tribal leaders are talking about an exit plan for the camp. “We will continue to provide infrastructure support to those who stay here,” he said. “We’ll make sure they’re safe and warm.”
Many believe that if there is a pipeline breach, it just gets cleaned up and life goes on. The truth is that it takes years to clean up and the land and the animals and the water are affected and we don’t know if it is ever completely cleaned up. The big oil and gas companies may not want to pollute the environment but they are not going to turn away from their huge profits to possibly save a piece of land.
Beginning on January 20th, the Federal government will have a conflict of interest between the native people and Trump’s owning a piece of the Energy Transfer Partners, the oil company installing the Dakota Pipeline. Those of us that care enough about America to love our environment and our beautiful land don’t care about profits. We the people care about keeping our land beautiful and pristine. That can’t be done if the land and the water is polluted and unsafe for people to use.
Some of the native people have gone home to their families and jobs. There are some 700-1000 protesters who plan on staying throughout the winter. I think that we need to continue our prayers and continue to send donations as we have been doing since the beginning. I also think that letters of encouragement from us, the adults, or from our kids would be a wonderful way to let the native people know that we are with them and that they are not forgotten in their long dark winter.