Pop Goes The Political Culture, Week of October 1, 2018
Hello, MPU-universe. Chances are you are reading this through a red scrim of rage that has suffused your vision ever since the FBI released it’s “report” this week and it became clear that the GOP was going to finalize the nomination process of Rapey McLiarson and put him on the Supreme Court. Then, to add insult to injury, Senator Collins decided to go on the Congressional record and talk about all the ways in which Democrats are mean and bad and, oh yeah, she doesn’t really believe Dr. Ford.
Hope that all the dark money rules Kavanaugh will uphold are worth it, Senator Collins. I mean, none of us will have SuperPACs helping us get and keep jobs but at least you get to have that.
Anyway, we’ll discuss all of this in excrutiating detail on the podcast, so for now, here’s all the news that’s not fit to ‘cast.
Founding Patriarchy: I don’t usually like to cite books I’ve haven’t finished reading but I’m going to make an exception here. (Yes, I know. I talk a lot about books. I like books, ok?) I’ve been slowly making my way through The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon for a while. The story of the intertwining of the Hemings family, the Skelton family, and the Jefferson family is a stark illustration of everything that was wrong with the institution of chattel slavery in America.
One of the things that I learned from this book is that American slavery had a deliberate and well-considered structure. When the Virginia Company incorporated rules for the new colony under King James, it modeled most laws off the British code but made a few adjustments.
For example, in Britain, a child inherited its status from its father. Therefore, a baby born to an enslaved woman and a free man was automatically free. The Virginians changed that up so that status was conferred matrilineally. Thus, a child born to an enslaved woman was also enslaved, regardless of paternity. That means, that Virginia slave owners could make new slaves just by impregnating the women they already “owned”.
That is all as profoundly disgusting as it sounds. Chattel slavery is already an abomination, then Virginias addeed to that permission to rape (because there is no consent in such a situation, let’s face it), and then force women to bear children they never asked for, over whom the man would then have complete dominion. IT IS SO FUCKED UP.
And the architect of our independence Thomas Jefferson, as well as all his slave-owning buddies, were all up in that mess. That’s who founded out country. They weren’t saints. They thought this was just and right.
It took hundreds of years, hundreds of lives, and gallons of blood sweat and tears to get from the point where TJ would “own” his offspring with Sally Hemmings – who was his dead wife’s half sister, BTW, and also her “property, given as a “gift” by their mutual father – to the point where a woman with a PhD in psychology could walk into the United States Senate and say “I demand to be heard” and then be heard.
She was heard imperfectly and the outcome was disappointing but, make no mistake, Dr. Ford and every person who lifted her up as she made her way to the halls of power, walked away with a handful of gravel pulled from structure of white, male supremacy in America. She didn’t win but she will be written in history as one of the millions of people who helped to destabilize the patriarchy.
The fight is not yet over. But we have come so far from where it all began that we cannot stop now.
Speaking of History: A couple of my friends posted this wonderful essay that Howard Zinn originally published in 2005.You should read it. It’s entirely relevant and resonant today. He was talking about the confirmations of Justices Roberts and Alito and the despair the left felt over those.
The whole essay is a reminder that changes doesn’t come from the top. Change in America is a grassroots effort. We are at our most successful when the least among us walk in lockstep to march toward a single socially just goal. As Zinn puts it:
Our culture–the media, the educational system–tries to crowd out of our political consciousness everything except who will be elected President and who will be on the Supreme Court, as if these are the most important decisions we make. They are not. They deflect us from the most important job citizens have, which is to bring democracy alive by organizing, protesting, engaging in acts of civil disobedience that shake up the system.
Or, in more Hollywood terms, we have the evergreen line from Aaron Sorkin’s The American President: ” America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight.”
The part of America that is the final reflection of the white, landed patriarchy is grasping to retain its power. That is undeniable. However, it is within our power to stop it. It won’t be easy. We’ll need to throw some tea into the harbor. We’ll need to flip a lot of state legislatures. But we can do this.
Remember that America is us, not the Court, not the Congress, and not the Constitution.
As Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’