Red State, Blue State, Old State New State

Russ Feingold, holding his chin, looking like he is deciding something.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) taking time, making up mind

So the midterm elections were held earlier this week.  Most of the “pundits” I heard talking about this whole thing seemed to think that it was a referendum on the way the country has been run by President Obama.

This supposed ’10 conservative backlash has spurred a social media backlash in its turn, as many Facebook-ers (I guess I have more Democrat friends than Republicans, even though most eschew the Politics section of the personal profile, or put something quirky) have posted the link to to the website – a helpful litany of the social-good actions taken by President over the past almost-two years.

So that is a bit of a face-saver. Although, reading the list, I remembered this election-year explanation from hip-hop legend K.R.S. One, in which he explains how the President of the United States is like the manager of Burger King:

Yeah… so what would that make the Congress? Burger King employees?

Yet and so, America got to go out and vote for its duly elected officials – and I did so too. I’ve heard all the jive talk from friends about how “if voting could really change anything, it would have been outlawed years ago.” Perhaps, perhaps. But politics is like a game based on fear of what others will do, not love of your actions (kind of like Family Feud).

One thing’s for sure: the U.S. does have that whole Coca-Cola/Pepsi, “Autobot/Decepticon” (in the brilliant words of Mos Def on Real Time with Bill Maher), McDonalds/Burger King binary thing going on with its political parties. Other nations don’t seem to feel threatened by breaking up the two-way political cluster-f*** by throwing in a third, or even fourth, party into the elections, but that has been an unheard-of issue for the longest here in the would-be paragon of democracy.

We seem to love watching that map light up with red and blue, and the election projections flashing across our screen up to the last moment before the news media, no, the BROADCAST NEWS MEDIA, tells us who won, based on their calculations. But answer me this: why can’t we wait even 24 hours before we have to know who won (or who was the projected winner – never mind whether the provisional or absentee ballots have been counted yet, or if those damn Diebold voting machines ever got the “kinks” out of them since the ’04 debacle). Do we really have to call it all that night?  Other countries can take weeks to count all the votes and determine winners. Do we need that primary colored map to sleep that night? Even American Idol waits a full day before announcing who is going back to the karaoke bar.

In my state of New York, the Democrats (the Blue Team! Hurrah!) carried the evening.  Supporters of governor-elect Andrew Cuomo breathed a sigh of relief when he beat plain-crazy Republican Carl Palladino and I guess this is good for those of us who like social services, gay marriage (though time will tell) and non-crazy people. But I have a hard time voting for people who have the same last name (and blood kinship) with people who held the same elected post in the recent past. This is supposed to be a democracy, people!  We’re not supposed to keep it in the family!

So, Nov. 2nd being the day after rent day (if I actually paid my rent on the first, instead of being a grace-period kind of person), I was reflecting on how my rent was pretty damn high. So I voted for this man:

My candidate, Mr. Jimmy McMillan got a rare chance to express his platform at the NY Gubernatorial Debate in October, as you can see above. Though laughed off and dismissed, this perennial candidate had a passion and truth of message that touched me at the core. Mr. McMillan got almost 40,000 votes. The karate expert, Brooklyn activist and Vietnam veteran was the easiest vote I cast in my whole voting career. But it wouldn’t be enough. Not by a long shot.

Wednesday’s wee hours of the morning saw the heartbreaking ouster of Russ Feingold, Senator from Wisconsin, my home state, the ethical, quiet, eloquent, broke-ass, vaguely Bert from Sesame Street-resembling Maverick (before McCain and Palin wore out that term with their dead-eyed smiling buffoonery). Feingold voted against the Patriot Act (and was the only U.S. Senator to do so), and looking back, you get the feeling he did the heavy lifting with the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act too.  When others bought their way to the white-domed structure of their choosing with mud-slinging campaign ads designed to make you think their opponent wasn’t just a potentially bad legislator, but perhaps a back alley-stalking predator, Feingold campaigned on TV one year by showing the beat up old van he used to campaign the first time back in 1991. He was the poorest Senator several years running, but Wisconsinites stuck to their populist roots and re-elected him time and again. This week he was ousted by Ron Johnson, a businessman who proudly knows nothing about Washington, and once arranged for an organization he was part of to pay thousands of dollars in speaking fees to hear the Bell Curve c0-author Charles Murray hold forth.

Again, my Facebook network exploded with laments and paens to Feingold, and I was saddened to see the senator I had been so proud of, and always perked up to see on C-SPAN, getting the boot in favor of a serious Know-Nothing who would do who knows what in the name of Wisconsin.

My home state was red. I was already in bed. And I am getting sick of Burger King.

Tecumseh’s Vision (If You Don’t Know, Now You Know): PBS’ We Shall Remain

On Monday, PBS aired Episode Two: Tecumseh’s Vision (available in its entirety for viewing online here) of We Shall Remain, American Experience’s five part series retracing the history of the native peoples to what is now the United States (largely neglected by mainstream narratives of U.S. History) by examining five pivotal moments in time.

Episode One explored the aftermath of the Mayflower’s 1620 arrival from England, bearing the people known as Pilgrims. The episode told of their encounter with the Wampanoag people, shattered by an epidemic of European-origin disease years before. The film made potently clear and accessible the fact that the disintegration within two generations that resulted in all-out war by the English on the existing nations of what became New England was anything but inevitable.

Episode Two fast-forwards to the late 18th Century, when the growing United States, newly chartered via the American Revolution (1775 – 1783) was pushing ever more into what had become known as Indian Territory, the area West and North of the Ohio River, South of the Great Lakes and East of the Mississippi.

Among the nations in that area were groups of Shawnee, based in modern Kentucky. Two young Shawnee brothers, Tecumseh (whose name represents a shooting star that resembles a leaping panther) and Tenskwatawa (meaning “open door”) emerged as powerful spiritual and military leaders who mounted an unprecedented and effective defense of their homeland.

Tenskwatawa had been alcoholic and abusive before undergoing a trance in 1805, from which he emerged claiming that he had spoken to the Master of Life. Tenskwatawa began to spread a powerful message urging the Shawnee and all indigenous people to reject the habits and lifestyle of the white man that had spread to them over the past century and a half. Tecumseh, his whole life a steadfast provider and expert warrior, emerged to lead a pan-Indian confederacy mobilized by the words of Tenskwatawa against the encroachment of the United States, whose offensive was led by Northwest Territory governor and future U.S. president William Henry Harrison.

In the war of 1812, Tecumseh and his warriors allied with the British and dealt several major blows to American forces, including putting a halt to the American invasion of Canada. But ultimately, the British pulled out of the fight for the independent Indian state in which is now the heart of the Midwestern U.S. – literally deserting Tecumseh and his warriors in the middle of a battle with the Americans.

As with Episode One, Tecumseh’s Vision incorporates stunning and powerful cinema-quality reenactments, featuring Michael Greyeyes as Tecumseh.

Growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the middle of the area defended by Tecumseh (the Ojibwa and Potowatomi joined his army), I feel grateful for having finally learned the history of the land I had wandered – it seems to me now – almost blindly.

Don’t miss Monday, April 27th 2009:

Episode 3: Trail of Tears

on your local PBS station