Author Page for Erik Loomis
One way Obama’s lands policy has frustrated many in the environmental community is that, unlike most other Democratic presidents in memory and many Republicans for that matter, he has been reticent to use the 1906 Antiquities Act to create new protected lands. This is part and parcel of his centrist lands policy, personified in the Ken Salazar-led Department of Interior.
Finally, Obama has moved to use the act to create Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia, a clear and worthy addition to the National Park system that will center on Civil War and African-American history.
One can certainly question whether we should be adding to the parks when we have underfunded them for so long, but at the very least, this move provides permanent protection for a valuable piece of American history.
Now if only Obama would use the Antiquities Act to protect some of our western lands in danger of mineral development. Unlikely.
One of the greatest managers in baseball history. I would say that I care that he is a Teabagger, but almost all professional athletes are right-wing jerks. LaRussa just talks about it.
Michael Tomasky’s excellent piece on the Washington Redskins, a team whose owner, George Marshall, made the team identity his own virulent racism, is well worth a read. The Redskins were the last team in the NFL to integrate, in 1962 when Marshall was also openly supporting southern segregationists against the civil rights movement. Moreover, the person responsible for its integration was, of all people, Stewart Udall, who forced Marshall’s hand when he wanted Department of Interior land to build a new stadium.
As the world’s population reaches 7 billion sometime today, it’s worth remembering that while overpopulation is an important environmental issue that needs addressing, it is a vastly lesser problem that the consumption of the planet’s resources by the wealthy. I don’t know if there’s any kind of conversion mechanism on the internet, but the purchase of an SUV, the heated backyard swimming pool, and the transatlantic flight each cause tremendously more damage to the climate and to resource depletion than that family of 12 in Chad or Bangladesh. Westerners bemoaning population growth are usually shifting blame from their own responsibilities and blaming poor and brown people for our environmental crisis.
The death of Howard Wolpe, the congressman from Michigan who sponsored bills in the 80s to impose sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa should remind us that Ronald Reagan, who vetoed the bill twice, was for all intents and purposes pro-apartheid. As of course was Dick Cheney, who voted against the bill as a congressman from Wyoming.
Too many worthy stories today, too little time to write them up.
If humans playing football suffer concussions, why don’t woodpeckers?
The drought in the Southwest affects all of us because 70% of our winter vegetables come from northern Mexico. Very high food prices will occur this winter. And the poor will eat less.
Will Valles Caldera become the next national park? Would that status ruin this beautiful area? Turns out that trying to run federal land for profit doesn’t work real well. Who could have guessed?
Yesterday, Occupy Oakland approved a motion for a general strike, to be called for November 2.
I’m curious to see where this goes. General strikes have always had trouble gaining traction in American history. The most successful was in Seattle in 1919 and it only lasted a few days. The last general strike was also in Oakland, in 1946. I have little no doubt that knowledge of Oakland’s radical past helped influence this decision; the same public history exhibit at Occupy Oakland that mentioned the absurd myth of the Chinese peacefully living in America for hundreds of years before Columbus also taught about the 1946 general strike.
In these cases, the general strike was a work-based action, called by radical unionists who had spent years organizing people. So it’s obviously a very different scenario than Occupy Oakland. I think a very important factor in its success will be the response of Bay Area and national labor organizations. Labor and OWS have approached each other with wary caution, with OWS rightfully worried about being co-opted by the AFL-CIO. If labor actively supports the general strike, it could go a long ways in building important trust between the two groups. The legality of such a measure in union contracts is not often clear. Taft-Hartley outlawed sympathy strikes. On the other hand, it may be in the interests of unions to challenge Taft-Hartley and force the capitalists to show their hand in their drive to crush labor and take America back to the Gilded Age.
If labor doesn’t take the general strike seriously, I think it leads to 2 problems. The first is that the protestors alone cannot create an effective general strike because they are not working, in a traditional sense of the word. They are protesting on October 27 and they will be protesting on November 2. The second is that it would undermine any faith that labor is going to back the movement in a serious way.
I guess I’m a bit skeptical about the general strike because I’m not sure anyone knows what it will accomplish. But OWS has surprised people for a month now. I certainly see no downside to this strategy and I encourage organized labor in the Bay Area to take next Tuesday off and join the protestors.
Why on earth would Mitt Romney wade into the SB-5 fight in Ohio? John Kasich’s union-busting bill is extremely unpopular and is about to go down to a crushing defeat. Given Obama’s somewhat surprising resiliency in the southern and western states he won (and also Arizona where recent polls show him doing pretty well against any Republican), the best Republican hope for victory in 2012 is to peel off the Rust Belt. Indiana seems pretty sure for Republicans whereas I’d bet dollars to donuts that the successful auto industry bailout pretty much guarantees Michigan for Obama. That leaves Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania as vital states for Republicans. Yet Romney flip-flops over whether to support a bill that may well have doomed Republicans in Ohio in 2012? Why would he do this? It’s not like this is a key issue that Americans are clamoring to know about. It’s not as if the other Republicans contenders have weighed in. What is the possible gain Romney gets here? Making the Ohio Republican primary voter happy? A lovely tea party with classy Ohio Republican elected officials like Mean Jean Schmidt and Josh Mandel?
An absolutely stupid move that really hurts Romney in a key battleground state.
I’ve been making it through the many Looney Tunes collections over the past couple of years. Last night, I watched “I Love to Singa” for the first time in a very long time:
This play on The Jazz Singer is fantastic from the modern perspective not only for the art of the cartoon, but to remember how revolutionary and threatening jazz was for a lot of people. A decade ago, I was sitting in on a job talk for a Gilded Age/Progressive Era historian. This was one of those searches that had 400 candidates, of which 50 would have been awesome. Anyway, this guy worked on southern music and talked about the reactions to ragtime, which unleashed a furious response in the white community of fears that these beats would turn our good young white women into the sexual conquests of black men. In other words, a response that would repeat itself in one form or another with jazz, rock and roll, the music of the counterculture, and of course, hip-hop.
Never mind that the jazz used in Looney Tunes was an extremely white form of it, whether here or in so many other cartoons. This is your Benny Goodman/Andrews Sisters 1940s version of jazz. When black musicians are portrayed, they are caricatures, which of course was common for any racial minorities in these cartoons (not to mention that most of the major characters use speech impediments as defining characteristics). The music is still great and satirized real cultural fear of older Americans. That the very people who enjoyed this whitened jazz would flip out over rock and roll is hardly lost on the modern viewer.
“I Love to Singa” is perhaps best known today thanks to a direct reference to another form of cultural innovation that freaked out conservative parents:
God, that’s funny.
While I love the well-known characters of Looney Tunes, there’s something great about the cartoons that don’t push those narratives because they can be completely anarchic and creative. This isn’t only when they bring jazz into the equation, but especially when they do. Take “Katnip Kollege” for instance:
I also adore the many cartoons that reference stars of the day. As someone who sees W.C. Fields as a guide to growing older, I can’t get enough of those references. But I’ll leave these cartoons for another post.
On this date in 1676, Nathaniel Bacon, the leader of the movement known as Bacon’s Rebellion, died of dysentery. This effectively ended the rebellion, an event that helped entrench slavery as the labor system of the American South.
The first African slaves arrived in Jamestown in 1619, but through the 1640s, it’s unclear whether they were held in what would become chattel slavery. There is evidence of slaves being freed and becoming landowners. In any case, African slaves were a small part of the early Virginia labor force. This wasn’t because tobacco planters didn’t want to buy slaves. Rather, they couldn’t afford them. Tobacco was a far less valuable product than sugar and thus even the richest Virginia planters were barely middling compared to the sugar barons of the Caribbean who could buy slaves and be so wealthy as to not care whether they lived or died.
But there were other labor options for the planters. Thousands of poor English, both men and women, were willing to become indentured servants in Virginia. Conditions in England in the early and mid 17th century were not good. Food riots were common. Work was scarce. Political strife, including the Puritan Revolution, did not help. Virginia offered these people hope. If you signed a contract for 5-7 years, you would get land of your own at the end of it. But that doesn’t mean things in Virginia were great. Mass death defined the Chesapeake colonies in the 17th century. People died of malaria, dysentery and other diseases at astronomical rates. Essentially, these were cold weather people moving to a subtropical swamp while wearing wool clothing, not understanding how to access clean water, and without immunity to mosquito-borne illness. People quickly realized what was happening and would time their arrival to Virginia in November and December, so they could develop as much immunity as possible before the pestilence of late summer and early fall would wipe most of them out.
Even if they did survive, and they usually didn’t, they faced other problems. You might indenture yourself to a quality man, but you might not. Your status as an English person granted you some rights, but enforcing those rights on the remote plantations was nearly impossible. Perhaps the worst offenses came with men taking advantage of their female servants. Most contracts for women included a clause where pregnancy would result in additional time on your contract. Masters sometimes raped their female servants, got them pregnant, and thus the woman would have to stay there longer.
If these indentured servants did survive long enough to get their own land, they had limited options. The fertile bottomland along the rivers was already purchased by the early plantation owners. That left two choices. You could buy land farther inland, but that meant you had to pay for the transportation costs to get your tobacco to the ships that docked at the big plantations, and had to pay the big owners for the privilege of using his dock. Or you could move farther west. But out there were Indians less than thrilled to see continued English expansion into their lands.
By 1676, the farmers who had chosen to move west were demanding that the leaders of Virginia raise a military expedition to force the Indians out. But the government in Jamestown, led by Governor William Berkeley thought these people, most of whom were former indentured servants, were a bunch of yokels and ignored them.
Nathaniel Bacon was a man who could straddle the divide between the rich and poor. Bacon was a newcomer to the colony and bought land in the west, but he was also well-heeled. His wife was friends with Berkeley’s wife. Bacon brought an impressive 1800 pounds of capital with him. Berkeley nominated him to the colonial council immediately. Yet Bacon was also sympathetic to the problems of his poorer neighbors. Moreover, he wanted to kill some Indians. Berkeley opposed this, wanting the friendship of Indians and worried about these poor people out there causing trouble.
In truth, there’s little positive to say about Bacon’s Rebellion. They murdered a bunch of Indians, captured Jamestown, murdered some more Indians, and then burned Jamestown to the ground. Then Bacon, like most everyone else, died of a horrible disease.
The real importance of the revolt is not in its accomplishments, such as they were. Its that, according to Edmund Morgan’s brilliant American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, it turned the tide away from indentured white labor who had the inconvenience of eventually becoming free and causing problems toward permanently enslaved African labor. There were several structural factors that contributed to this, including improving conditions in England, knowledge of the horrible treatment of indentured servants in Virginia, and lower prices for African slaves. And while there’s no evidence of a meeting or something where Virginia landowners made this decision, after 1676, the number of African slaves increased rapidly with numbers of white indentured laborers falling equally dramatically.
Moreover, Virginia increased the institutionalization of permanent slavery. Some of the groundwork had already been laid. In 1662, Virginia declared the status of slave children depended on their mothers, allowing white men to rape slaves and then own their own children. In 1667, it ruled that baptism did not free a slave and in 1669, decided that death of a slave by a master was not a felony. By 1700, at least half the labor force in Virginia was enslaved.
As the 18th century began, new laws were passed to suppress runaways with maximum brutality including dismembering and murder and for the state compensation to a master if a slave was killed while being hunted down. In 1691, Virginia cracked down on miscegenation, reacting against a number of mixed-race marriages. To use their words they acted “for prevention of that abominable mixture and spurious issue which hereafter may encrease in this dominion, as well by negroes, mulattoes, and Indians intermarrying with English, or other white women, as by their unlawfull accompanying with one another.” Free white women who had an illegitimate child by a black person was fined or forced to five years of forced labor while the child, although technically free, had to serve the first 30 years of its life as indentured labor. This move to an explicitly race-based labor system was a strategy by 18th century Virgina elites who found it convenient to build white solidarity against blacks as a way to overcome the serious class divisions that had led to Bacon’s Rebellion. The creation of despised black labor meant the rising in social status of even the poorest whites, creating an increasingly comfortable political stability for the colony’s wealthy leaders that continued until the American Revolution.
So while Bacon’s Rebellion is only something of a labor incident, its impact upon American labor and racial history is enormous.
Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom goes into all of this in much more detail and I highly recommend it.
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