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The Constitution and Slavery

[ 13 ] September 19, 2015 |


Slave auction, Charleston, 1856

What’s really amazing about Sean Wilentz’s self-immolation this week isn’t so much that he’s decided to become a hack for Hillary Clinton, but how a once-esteemed U.S. historian has shows such willingness to sacrifice good historical analysis in order to be that hack. That means that his argument was swatted away by many with ease. Just a couple of examples. First, David Waldstreicher:

Another clause in Article I allowed Congress to mobilize “the Militia” to “suppress insurrections”—again, the House with its disproportionate votes would decide whether a slave rebellion counted as an insurrection. Wilentz repeats the old saw that with the rise of the northwest, the slave power’s real bastion was the Senate. Hence the battles over the admission of slave and free states that punctuated the path to Civil War. But this reads history backwards from the 1850s, not forward from 1787. The shaping policies of the early republic were proslavery because the federal government was controlled by southern expansionists like Jefferson and Jackson, who saw Africans as a captive nation, a fifth column just waiting to be liberated (again) by the British.

The refusal to mention slavery as property or anything else in the Constitution means something. But what it meant was embarrassment—and damage control. Domestic and foreign critics had lambasted Americans for their hypocrisy in calling themselves a beacon to human freedom while only a few states moved on the slavery question. The planters didn’t need or even want an explicit statement that slaves were property; it would have stated the obvious while opening up the United States to international ridicule in an era when slavery was coming into question.

On balance, the Constitution was deliberately ambiguous—but operationally proslavery. Perhaps more so than Madison wanted, as Wilentz maintains. But Madison’s putative intentions are all that matters to Wilentz. He’s outdone original-intent jurisprudence in reducing history to a morality play of good founders, bad critics. He loses sight of what actually happened when the ambiguously worded but slavery-suffused Constitution was finally released to an anxious public.

And Lawrence Goldstone:

In late July, after two months of wrangling, the convention appointed a five-delegate Committee of Detail to draft, in secret, a prototype constitution. Anyone who has been in business or government knows that creating the working document bestows enormous influence and power. To chair this all-important committee, the delegates unanimously agreed on South Carolina’s John Rutledge, “Dictator John,” the convention’s fiercest, most unapologetic defender of slavery. (James Madison, whose influence had been waning as the months wore on, was specifically excluded.) Rutledge’s selection made certain that whatever terms emerged would protect slaveholders’ interests.

And so they did. When debate resumed, based on the committee’s report, slaveholders won a series of concessions—on the makeup of the Senate, fugitive slaves, admission of new states, the election of the president, and even the Electoral College. In late August, however, the question of the national government’s control of commerce came up. Here, the North would not budge. In a compromise fashioned principally by Rutledge and fellow Committee of Detail member Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, the slave trade was extended for 20 years (after which the South would be protected by population shifts) and the free flow of commerce was assured when a proposal by the South to require a two-thirds majority to pass navigation acts was stricken. Virginia delegates were livid, none more so than the influential George Mason, who denounced the “infernal traffic” in a speech for which he has been incorrectly lauded by some historians, since he was convention’s largest slaveholder. (Rutledge was number two.) So upset was Mason that he refused to sign the Constitution, and Virginia, a state that had taken the lead in calling for a new constitution, only barely agreed to adopt the document during the ratifying conventions.

So, perhaps as Professor Wilentz suggests, the Constitution didn’t specifically anoint slavery as a national institution, but in clause after clause it tried to make certain that slavery would endure as one.


And Julia Azari:

Wilentz’s piece reads as if a clear delineation exists between national issues and state issues. It’s true that if you look at how day-to-day social policy was made and implemented, prior to the Progressive era, you find a more limited role for the federal government, and up until the New Deal you find much clearer boundaries. But just because this policy distinction held up, doesn’t mean that it applies to the Constitution or the political system generally. The relationship between federal government and the states was contested all the time. This happened in court cases like McCulloch v. Maryland, over the Constitutional status of the national bank, and Gibbons v. Ogden, which posed the question of control over waterways. The provisions of the Constitution intended to clarify what should be left to the states and what could fall under national control have never been obvious in their meaning. Furthermore, the question of whether the federal government was constituted by a compact of states, or represented a distinct entity on its own – a whole greater than the sum of its parts, legally – was a big controversy in the early republic. Andrew Jackson rejected the “compact theory” approach when he rejected South Carolina’s attempt to nullify tariff laws. Not everyone bought it, as evidenced by the eventual secession of the Confederate states. But to suggest that the early American republic was characterized by a clear boundary between national issues and local issues is to miss the basis of much of the political conflict from the Founding to the Civil War.

What’s notable here is that these historians don’t even have to try to refute Wilentz. The famous Wilentz now writes like an uninformed master’s student with an agenda. It’s pathetic and it’s sad. And so long as Bernie Sanders is in the race, we can probably expect more and we can probably expect the New York Times to publish it.


The Media and the Economy

[ 35 ] September 19, 2015 |

Neil Irwin had a piece on the disconnect between media coverage of the economy and the economy as actually experienced by everyday Americans:

If your entire understanding of the economy comes from headlines about the latest economic data, you would be forgiven for thinking these are the best of times. The unemployment rate is down to 5.1 percent, after all!

If your entire understanding of the economy comes from what is going on in financial markets, you would be forgiven for thinking the same. The stock market, its recent dip notwithstanding, is still not far from all-time highs!

That’s what makes the latest annual data on incomes, released by the Census Bureau on Wednesday morning, an important corrective.

The median American household in 2014 had a lower income, in inflation-adjusted terms, than it did in 2013. The $53,657 the household in the middle of the income distribution earned last year was down 1.5 percent from the year before, though the census said that shift was not statistically significant.

But even if that drop is a statistical blip and you assume that middle-class incomes were really flat, flat isn’t anything to celebrate in the current environment. The 2014 real median income number is 6.5 percent below its 2007, pre-crisis level. It is 7.2 percent below the number in 1999.

A middle-income American family, in other words, makes substantially less money in inflation-adjusted terms than it did 15 years ago. And there is no evidence that is reversing. Those families lost ground in 2014. And as we’ve reported previously, the data on wages in 2015 so far does not suggest there is a meaningful acceleration on the way.

The media coverage of the economy is shameful. So much of it is focused on the wealthy. The constant updating of the stock market, whether on CNN or NPR, is perhaps the most egregious symbol. This has nothing to do with the lives of most of us. As we have seen the last few years, the stock market can skyrocket while most of us live lives of making ends meet. But since the 1980s at least the stock market has been seen as a game we can all play. In the 1990s and then again before 2007, the mania was big enough that a lot of middle class were investing and thinking they were going to get rich off it. Didn’t quite happen that way. Meanwhile, the stock market actually rises the more working people are struggling, since layoffs and low wages and outsourcing mean more profits for the investors.

Meanwhile, as Irwin writes, even with unemployment numbers slightly down (although still not counting those who have left the job market entirely, those who are underemployed, and those who have to put together 2-3 jobs to survive, making this a pretty unhelpful statistic gamed to make the economy look better than it is), wages are terrible and aren’t recovering. Beginning with Occupy and now extending into the Fight for $15 and state-level minimum wage campaigns, people are organizing around fighting these problems. But while the media might cover some of it, it turns back to the stock market as quickly as possible. After all, NPR’s Marketplace needs to assure listeners that capitalism is as healthy as ever.

This Day in Labor History: September 19, 1977

[ 52 ] September 19, 2015 |

On September 19, 1977, the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company shut down its operations, laying off approximately 4100 workers. This event, which became known as Black Monday, was emblematic of the deindustrialization decimating the Youngstown economy and dooming it and cities like it to long-term decline and entrenched poverty it has not recovered from today.

Youngstown Sheet and Tube opened in 1900, one of many heavy industries establishing themselves throughout cities in the Midwest and Northeast in the Gilded Age. This company helped make Youngstown a steel town. U.S. Steel had large operations there. Republic Steel did as well. These steel mills made Youngstown. It was only a small town before the Civil War, growing from 3000 in 1860 to 45,000 in 1900 and 167,000 in 1940. Youngstown soon became the nation’s second biggest producer of steel, only behind Pittsburgh. The city became a home to thousands of immigrants, particularly Italians, Croatians, and Slovaks, who migrated for the brutally hard but comparatively remunerative work, at least compared to their home nations. But that doesn’t mean they were satisfied with their low pay, long hours, unsafe working conditions, and lack of a voice on the job. The fight to unionize these and the rest of the nation’s steel factories had been a long, hard, and even deadly struggle. But the success of the United Steelworkers of America in the 1940s transformed this hardscrabble town into one where hard work was still central to its identity, but where hard work also paid good wages with benefits that would raise workers into the middle class. It also increasingly attracted an African-American and Latino workforce; by 1977, 23 percent of Youngstown Steel and Tube workers were racial minorities.


By the 1970s, the jobs were disappearing from Youngstown quickly. Youngstown Steel and Tube was sold to the Lykes Corporation, a shipping conglomerate based in New Orleans and who had little interest in running a factory that was struggling in the face of international competition. On September 19, 1977, the 4100 workers showed up on the job, only to be told they were being laid off. Over the next several weeks, they experienced their final day on the job and for many, their final day working in a steel mill. That was the end of not only an era of work, but of a way of life and a community identity. Throughout this period, the USWA continued representing its members as well as possible. But in the aftermath of the 1959 strike, the government and the industries that relied on steel began looking for international competition to make up the gap for the periodic shortages caused by frequent strikes. At the same time, American allies in Japan and South Korea began producing a lot of steel in modern mills for low prices. Soon, not only was the USWA cowed from more strikes, but the steel companies found themselves in a rapidly declining industry. American steel mills innovated and remained quite productive, but between 1969 and 1978, employment in American steel declined by 17 percent, a loss of 95,000 jobs.

If this was the only factory to close, Youngstown might have recovered. But the combination of foreign competition and newly unrestrained capital mobility meant it was repeated over and over. In 1979, the Brier Hill mill closed. In 1980, U.S. Steel closed its Ohio and McDonald Works. In 1985, Republic Steel shuttered its Youngstown mill. 50,000 workers in Youngstown lost their jobs during these years, in steel, other industries, and the stores and shops that relied upon steel wages for an economically healthy community. By 1992, only about 1000 people worked in Youngstown steel mills, compared to 40,000 after World War II. With companies able to close at any time without giving workers any time to prepare, it could be devastating. George Chonock was 62 years old when Youngstown Steel and Tube told him on a Monday that his last day would be Thursday. He had 3 days to prepare. Of course there was nothing he could do in that time. Companies also started letting workers know plants were closing by announcing at the bargaining table for the next contract negotiations, forcing USWA officials to spread the news, a last slap in the face of the unions they always hated.

As has happened more often than you’d think, local community members, in this case led by churches, tried to buy one of the old steel mills and run them as workers’ cooperatives. But this failed pretty quickly as the federal government refused to give the effort funding. People fought in other ways. When U.S. Steel shut its operations, workers occupied the company headquarters in Pittsburgh. But all U.S. Steel really had to do was wait them out. The companies had all the power here. A coalition of religious and union leaders filed a lawsuit, arguing for a new form of eminent domain that prioritized community property over private property that would stop plants from closing immediately like this. This went nowhere but is a really great idea and is part of the package of ideas we need to stop the New Gilded Age with extreme capital mobility.


Conservatives, including the business leaders of Youngstown, responded with contempt for the workers. Local business leaders invited conservatives like Michael Novak and Irving Kristol to come give talks about how what the workers were really experiencing was creative destruction that they would soon overcome if they were deserving. Major news publications basically reported the same story. Business Week took the opportunity to blame environmentalists, even though pollution controls had nothing to do with it, despite the EPA telling steel mills to stop dumping wastes into the Mahoning River. Meanwhile in the real world, community decline set in fast. Between 1970 and 2000, the population of Youngstown fell from 141,000 to 82,000. Today it has about 65,000 people. By the mid-1980s, Youngstown had the nation’s highest arson rate. Enormous stretches of the city are abandoned. The sewer system does not work properly because it was planned for growth and decline means not enough water flows through to wash the wastes away, and then when heavy rains fall, the dilapidated system discharges into lakes in the city’s parks. The steel companies and their descendants have not taken responsibility for the long-term pollution they inflicted upon the city. And of course, this all inspired the famous Bruce Springsteen song.

I borrowed from a few different sources for this post, including Steven High, Industrial Sunset: The Making of North America’s Rustbelt, 1969-1984 and the essay by John Russo and Sherry Lee Linkon in Jefferson Cowie and Joseph Heathcott, eds., Beyond the Ruins: The Meanings of Deindustrialization.

This is the 158th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Tribal Contracts

[ 60 ] September 18, 2015 |


Still from The Exiles, Kent MacKenzie’s 1961 film about Native Americans leaving their reservations and moving to Los Angeles.

I’m glad the Obama administration settled a lawsuit brought by Native American tribes across the country over decades of underfunded federal contracts.

The Interior Department announced the proposed $940 million agreement in Albuquerque on Thursday along with leaders from the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Zuni Pueblo and Ramah Chapter of the Navajo Nation. They were among the lead plaintiffs in a contract-dispute lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 600 tribes and tribal agencies. They brought the case in 2012 before the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices ruled for the tribes.

They had argued underfunded federal contracts dating as far back as the 1970s often left them to face shortfalls as they tried to meet critical needs in their communities, ranging from health services to housing.

The settlement still must be approved in federal district court.

“Deep and painful cuts were made every year,” said Val Panteah, governor of Zuni Pueblo, resulting in what he described as “a financial death spiral” for his community in eastern New Mexico. He said poverty, inadequate health care and education present major challenges for the pueblo.

Oglala President John Yellow Bird Steele said the $940 million negotiated with the government was a fair settlement for tribes.

The Interior’s proposed payout would represent the latest in a series of recent major settlements addressing years of legal disputes between tribes and the federal government.

While there’s not a single administration in U.S. history that has dealt with Native American issues to the extent they deserve, the Obama administration has done a good job of trying to settle long-standing issue and give the tribes a fair shake. What’s more important though is that we usually think of modern racial issues in terms of black and white or Latino and white, with Native American exploitation being something that happened a long time ago. But it isn’t. Native Americans remain the poorest group of people in this nation today, with enormous unemployment, drug, and suicide rates, not to mention suffering from police brutality (which was the actual issue that led to the creation of the American Indian Movement in the 1960s). And the federal government has continued to break treaties and underfund promised contracts to the present, or nearly so.

This is an important issue and we need to spend more time talking about it. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, Native American issues get next to no attention on most progressive websites, not to mention in the media at large. Speaking of such things, it would be nice if the writers of articles on Native Americans bothered to look at a map, because Zuni Pueblo is west of Albuquerque, near the Arizona border, not eastern New Mexico.

Egypt and Organized Labor

[ 13 ] September 18, 2015 |


Given how little coverage organized labor in the United States receives in this country, it’s hardly surprising than when talking about international events, the news media really ignores labor. But of course the internal dynamics of other nations has a profound effect on the labor movements of those nations. That includes Egypt. This is an outstanding report on how the military government that took over in 2013 has repressed organized labor. The whole thing is worth reading, but here are the key points:

Between 2004 and 2013, Egypt witnessed a wave of labor strikes and protest unlike anything seen since the late 1940s, peaking in the January 2011 revolution.

After the revolution, the state offered no concessions in laws and institutional arrangements regarding freedom of association, the right to strike, or a minimum wage—which had been demands of labor activists and independent unionists.

Since June 2013, the state has stepped up its repression of labor protest and strikes.

The rising repression has gone hand in hand with calls for national unity against terrorism and in support of the current regime. Social protest and labor strikes are viewed as treasonous.

The regime is adamant about reimposing the structures of the old Nasserist state. It seeks to bring together trade unions under a state-dominated federation of unions, while placing extraordinary restrictions on industrial action.

At the same time, the state wants to liberalize the economy at the expense of workers, which would mean upholding political Nasserism but ignoring economic Nasserism.

The current situation is unsustainable in the long term. The drivers of the January revolution remain entrenched. Workers are still economically and politically marginalized. Real incomes are declining and previous gains are threatened with future privatizing of state-owned enterprises, downsizing of the government bureaucracy, and increasing informal labor in the private sector.

The future of the labor and trade union movement is not clear. In the short term, the movement is weakened and likely to wane.

There is no doubt that workers have gained a significant amount of experience in the past decade, and that the instruments of repression cannot erase that experience from their memory. This could someday form the basis for trade unions that truly represent Egypt’s workers.

Americans and Guns

[ 16 ] September 18, 2015 |

A chart says a thousand words.


Of course, the terrorist front organization called the National Rifle Association loves this.

More here.

IPAs in Europe

[ 214 ] September 18, 2015 |


I have long stated that the European beer scene is largely disastrous. Even in Belgium, everyday people drink Coors Light and Carlsberg. This awful situation includes Ireland, where every bar serves the exact same 6 mostly bad beers. Guinness is ubiquitous of course, but I don’t particularly care for it. Other than that, it’s slim pickings, with the second best beer being Smithwick’s, if that’s even possible to call the 2nd best beer under any circumstances.

There was a time, 15 years ago even, when Guinness was the gold standard of quality beer in most of the United States. That time has of course changed with far superior microbreweries cutting severely into that reputation. Guinness has tried to counter that by creating new beers, largely for the American market. Among them is the utterly pointless Guinness Blonde, which I see no reason to ever try even as it seems to be selling. Perhaps more interesting, but probably not, is the new Guinness IPA. It’s unclear whether this will be available in Ireland, but European beers could use a strong shot of hops to counter the mediocrity on tap everywhere. I’m perhaps more optimistic is the new deal between Lagunitas and Heineken.

That makes it a win for Heineken, as large brewers increasingly attempt to buy in to craft beer’s biggest waves. “We recognise and respect the tremendous success of Tony and his team in building one of the great U.S. craft beer brands,” Heineken Chairman and CEO Jean-Francois van Boxmeer said in a statement. ”We look forward to that same team partnering with us to expand Lagunitas globally, so it can reach parts of the world that other craft beer brands have not.”

Tony Magee, the founder of Lagunitas, has criticized “big beer” companies in the past. He justified this partnership by pointing to the large international market he hoped to tap into. ”This is not the end of anything at all at Lagunitas, except maybe it is the end of the beginning, meaning that we are now standing at the threshold of an historic opportunity to export the excitement and vibe of American-born Craft Brewing and meet beer-lovers all over the Planet Earth, our true homeland. This could one day even be seen as a crucial victory for American Craft Brewing,” he wrote in a blog post announcing the deal, titled “The Future Will Not Be Like The Past”.

With the best national beer scene in the world*, the United States could engage in some useful beer imperialism and start selling quality products globally. Certainly I would welcome that when I am traveling. The beer scene around the world is so bad that before recent changes in Mexico that have created a nascent microbrew scene of sorts, I think my favorite beer country I have traveled to is Bolivia of all places, and this only because that each city had a different beer. None of them were particularly good but at least they were different and I wasn’t stuck drinking Tiger or Singha or Carlsberg or Imperial and Pilsen (for god’s sake Costa Rica, you have so much going on but why are both your beer and your food so atrocious, even compared to your neighbors?).

* I understand that the top end of Belgian beer is better, but there’s really no question that because of the fantastic varieties of American beer and because actual Americans actually drink it instead of the good stuff being exported, the U.S. beer scene is better. As for Germany, yes that’s good too, but the lack of variety and the purity laws (never change Germany) create limitations.


[ 81 ] September 17, 2015 |


Joe Manchin is as close to useless as a Democrat can get. I get that he has to survive in the intensely racist and right-wing climate of West Virginia. And I get that any Republican who replaces him will be even worse. But sometimes you have to ask how much worse, especially when Manchin allies himself with Republicans on just the most detestable things. For instance, he is the only Democrat to sign onto a letter to the administration fearing allowing Syrian refugees in this nation could lead to terrorist attacks and urging it to double down to make sure that none of these people are terrorists, as if one can somehow do this and still allow more than a tiny trickle of people into the country. There’s just no good reason for him to do this. While I suppose it’s possible that fears of Sharia or whatnot will actually play in West Virginia, it’s hard to imagine him not signing this will make a difference either way. He’ll still be tainted with the hated Obama. Instead, he chooses to close our doors to refugees, people who will make the United States a more diverse and better place to live.


[ 22 ] September 17, 2015 |


The United States has not passed comprehensive labor law reform that was pro-worker since 1938. 77 years is a long time. Democrats are now proposing a law to change that.

The Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act, which Democrats introduced Wednesday, adds hefty monetary penalties for violations of workers’ rights to collectively organize, whether to join a union or simply to improve conditions in the workplace. It also provides for injunctions to force employers to quickly re-hire workers if they were fired unjustly, undocumented or not. And it allows workers to sue in federal court for damages and attorneys fees, which they’re able to do under other labor and civil rights statutes, but not the NLRA.

That’s a departure from the labor movement’s most recent effort, back in 2009, when it narrowly failed to pass the Employee Free Choice Act — or “card check,” which would have allowed workers to join when a majority sign cards in favor of doing so. The WAGE Act is a broader approach.

“There’s a sense that this is about workers, not about unions,” says Harvard Law professor Benjamin Sachs of the new proposal. “EFCA, that’s a union bill. If you think about the Fight for $15 [an hour], this would apply to those workers.” That’s important, he says, because it could draw a larger base of support.

“When unions succeed politically is when they push for things that are for all workers,” Sachs says, “and do poorly when they push for things that are just for unions.”

Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit have a more in-depth analysis of what this all means.

The WAGE Act would give workers the same remedies as employees whose civil rights are violated: the ability not just to get their jobs and back pay, which is the rule now, but to win punitive damages, to engage in legal discovery that gives lawyers access to an employer’s internal files, and win attorneys’ fees when workers prevail. Employees also can get a preliminary injunction to get their jobs back right away.

By giving workers a fresh way to think about becoming part of a union – as a civil right, rather than just joining a special interest – the idea has a chance to re-awaken a conversation that has languished in American politics. The decimation of the American labor movement has been catastrophic for the middle class, keeping wages down and weakening the voice of middle-class citizens in the political process.

Research has long shown that labor unions boost the wages of members; in a recent paper with our colleague Mark Zuckerman, we estimate that the average nonunion worker could expect to accumulate an additional $551,000 in wealth over her career if she were in a union. Moreover, new research from the Center for American Progress shows that the effect last more than a generation: unions also boost social mobility for the children of union members. Even centrist economist Lawrence Summers recently argued that strengthening unions “has to be an important component of any realistic American inclusive growth agenda.”

The idea of employees being able to sue—known technically as a “private right of action”—isn’t new; we wrote about it in a 2012 book, and the WAGE Act echoes legislation introduced last year by Congressmen Keith Ellison and John Lewis. But now the idea has gone mainstream and is backed by the ranking members of the House and Senate labor and education committees – which suggests that the time may be right for it on the Presidential campaign trail

The lawsuit aspect of this is so important and it’s for the same that I propose international lawsuits against American corporations in Out of Sight. Corporations only respond to financial pressure or political pressure. Without the former, we are unlikely to get the latter. Voluntary standards, company unionism, greenwashing efforts, etc., never are going to create change that puts power in the hands of workers and citizens. Lawsuits can do that. Which is of course why Republicans hate trial lawyers so much.

Giving workers the right to sue employers for punitive damages if they are fired for organizing is an outstanding idea and I am very glad Democrats in Congress have introduced this bill. I hope Sanders and Clinton make public statements in favor of it very soon and that it becomes part of the conversation in the 2016 election. It’s not passing under a Republican Congress, but these are the ideas that can later be encoded into the law. Organizing around them now is a smart move.

Race and History in New Mexico

[ 60 ] September 17, 2015 |


Race and history in New Mexico are contested in a way unique to the United States. This has to do with discrete historical events that took place in the Land of Enchantment and the layers of conquest the state deals with today. What you had in 16th century New Mexico was a lot of small, semi-sedentary tribes (the Puebloan peoples) with some larger, raiding tribes on the edges like the some of the Apache groups and the Navajo. When the Spanish sought to expand their control north of the central Mexican silver regions, they followed the same basic trail that indigenous people used in their trading networks, going up the Rio Grande and originally establishing a capital at what the Spanish would later term San Juan Pueblo (unlike the other Pueblos, the people of San Juan have reclaimed their indigenous name and now are referred to as Ohkay Owingeh. This just happened in the last few years). The Spanish were led by Juan de Oñate, a would be next-Cortes or Pizarro who hoped to find gold and silver farther north. When Oñate arrived in New Mexico, he kicked the Ohkay Owingeh out of their homes, expected the native peoples to feed and house and work for them, and basically treated them like conquered people. When they resisted, he responded harshly, particularly at Acoma Pueblo. On a mesa west of modern-day Albuquerque, the Acoma had a great natural defense and thus took a major toll on the Spanish forces. But the Spanish eventually conquered Acoma. Several hundred Acoma were killed. More notoriously, Oñate ordered a foot cut off of all men over the age of 25 to show Spanish resolve, although only 24 actually received this punishment. The Acoma were sent into slavery, although they eventually returned and the pueblo exists today.

This is the first major racially contested event in New Mexican history. The second is the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when the pueblos united, except for Laguna which stayed with the Spanish, to kick the Spanish out of New Mexico. This is the only successful Indian revolt in the history of the Americas. They mutilated the priests, burned the churches, and tried to reinstate pre-Spanish life. This didn’t prove possible. It seems that they leaders of the revolt were fundamentalists of a sort and a lot of people didn’t want to give up their European livestock, guns, pots, etc. So divisions developed. This event caused a major panic among the Spanish, who saw it (rightfully as it turned out) as a sign of their nation’s waning power and inability to control its northern frontier. They were exiled to El Paso, where in 1692, led by Don Diego de Vargas, the Spanish came back north and took the pueblos back over. While the violence involved here wasn’t as brutal as what led to the Pueblo Revolt, it was a military conquest with a lot of casualties. In the aftermath, a weak Spanish state had to ally with its reconquered pueblos to battle the newly powerful Comanche, Apache, and Navajo, all of whom benefited from the horses the Spanish left behind in 1680 to establish themselves as powerful military forces. That’s especially true of the Comanche, who was the most powerful nation between the English colonies and the Pacific in the late 18th century, including the Spanish.

That’s the second major racially contested event in New Mexican history. The third is the U.S. takeover of New Mexico during the Mexican War and the subsequent dispossession of the Spanish land grants later in the 19th century. The establishment of American-style white supremacy in New Mexico, which certainly never fit the American racial binary and which the U.S. had no idea what to do with (thus New Mexico did not become a state until 1912 despite easily meeting the population requirements. But could these people be citizens? Not according to many white Americans), challenged the Spanish elite. This led to the myth of Spanish purity that elite Hispano New Mexicans (including I believe the current governor, Susanna Martinez) hold on to. This states that many Spanish never intermixed with Indian blood and thus are pure-blooded European and white. This is totally absurd and without real evidence at all. Theoretically I suppose it is possible, but c’mon. I guess Oñate’s troops are the only troops in the history of American conquest who never saw indigenous people as potential sexual conquests. But the elites of New Mexico hold on to this fiercely because it was their claim to whiteness and power in a time when it was challenged. That they still hold on to it today is frustrating because a) you know, it’s OK to be Mexican in 2015 and b) it’s really about class and elite status as much as about race and so it’s still about exclusionary politics. When I was at the University of New Mexico teaching History of New Mexico courses, I had students drop them because I said the myth of pure Spanish blood was ridiculous.

All of this leads to a racial politics unlike anything else in the U.S. because all three groups–indigenous, Hispano (the preferred term there) and Anglos (which covers every non-Spanish white person from English to Jews; you can guess how much my Irish-American wife loved being called an Anglo) are in New Mexico in large numbers, each with access to power and official narratives of history. What’s largely happened is a sort of myth of racial peace where all three groups get along. It’s a good way not to talk about these things too much. What’s really happened of course is that Anglos are rich and living in Santa Fe, Taos, Los Alamos, and nice neighborhoods of Albuquerque, Hispanos are of mixed economic status but with a lot of poverty, and Indians are poor. And note that this is really only a story about northern Mexico. Eastern and southern New Mexico are largely totally excluded from all of this; there you mostly have white ranchers and oil towns with large Mexican populations that look a lot more like Texas or Arizona.

But sometimes the racial tension bubbles to the surface in ways that really upset those who want to believe in the myths. That’s especially true of the Hispano elites when the Pueblos push back on the history of their conquest covered up. In 1998, to mark the 400th anniversary of Oñate’s conquest, Hispanos put up a large statue of the man near San Juan Pueblo. In response, members of the Acoma tribe came over and cut off its foot. This was a major story in New Mexico that resonated in New Mexico for years.

I mention all of this because one of Santa Fe’s major festivals is the annual Fiesta, which includes a reenactment of Don Diego de Vargas’ reconquista of New Mexico in 1692. This year, for the first time, indigenous people protested.

Until this year, when Jessica Montoya handed out 25 black T-shirts emblazoned with the date 1680, the year of the Pueblo Revolt against the ruling Spanish, who then turned the tables on them 12 years later.

“Native Americans were killed in the process,” says Montoya, 32, who works at a nonprofit that empowers women in Española but also calls herself a social activist. “But I wouldn’t call it a protest. We were just there to add on to the story: that Native Americans suffered the consequences of the reconquest.”

In a debate that is really divided along racial lines, the political repercussions have already carried over into Santa Fe City Hall, where Councilor Peter Ives suggests that maybe it’s time to talk it all out, suggesting that the city hold an all-day symposium once a year.

“I’m just thankful no violence broke out,” Ives tells SFR, suggesting that symposium be held between the Indian Market and Fiestas.

Councilor Joseph Maestas, in the same sort of compromising vein, says another idea might be to have the city’s historian, Ana Pacheco, review the history to make sure the re-enactments are “consistent” and “respectful” of history.

Meanwhile, Mayor Javier Gonzales, who actually played the controversial role of de Vargas in 1989, took to social media to state his opinion a day after the Entrada.

“I do believe it’s time that we be truthful about the actual events that occurred during the resettlement,” Gonzales writes on his Facebook page. “De Vargas by all accounts was a religious man of peace but force was still used to resettle Santa Fe and the indigenous people were forced to adopt Christianity as their religion.”

Hard to say what will happen, but it’s about time that the real discrimination against Native Americans in Santa Fe become part of the conversation.

But Mary Eustace, a Native American from the Cochiti-Zuni tribes, doesn’t have to travel back in time to witness discrimination due to skin color. She says she sees it every day in her job selling jewelry, and she had a front-row seat at the Palace of the Governors over the weekend.

“They come by us and they yell, ‘Que Viva, Que Viva La Fiesta!’” Eustace says. “They march right by us, never really thinking how we might feel about the situation. A lot of people call us Indians but we’re not Indians. We’re Natives, and we’re Natives of this country. And we struggled back then, and we still struggle today.”

It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the Fiesta and its Vargas pageant is racist.

On top of all of this is the reality that for all of Santa Fe’s symbolic importance for New Mexico, the city has become increasingly white and very rich, pushing out the Hispano and indigenous people who once could live there and who still do the work of serving these wealthy white New Yorkers playing out their cowboy fantasies and going to $200 restaurants. So this is a racialized battle between two groups while the dominant racial and economic class is who actually lives here.

In other words, New Mexico is a really complicated place.


[ 39 ] September 15, 2015 |


There is not a single one of you who couldn’t benefit from seeing this collection of advertisements for cocaine and cocaine accessories from the 1970s.

Bloody Bill’s Dream Ticket

[ 73 ] September 15, 2015 |


Bill Kristol has the sads about Donald Trump. He’s claiming he would support a third party if Trump won the nomination. This has allowed to him masturbate to dream about his ideal ticket.

Kristol’s idea of a “third party,” however, failed to veer off the Republican ranch and instead remained firmly entrenched in the realm of the war hawks. Go figure. Kristol singled out two of the most vocal critics of the international Iranian nuclear deal as his dream ticket. Former Vice President Dick Cheney and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, “would be an excellent independent ticket!” Kristol told CNN in an email.

“Cheney/Cotton ’16. Kill ’em All!!!”

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