Missive the Thirty-Fourth
The Union We Maintain.
DATELINE: Friday, November 10, 2000, at 2300 hours CDT.
Conway, Arkansas, USA
By D. Ebenezer Baldwin Bowles
CornDancer & Company
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Missive the Thirty-Fourth is very long, about 3,300 words, but I think you'll find it worth the reading. Eight of Cricket Song's subscribers contributed to the narrative about the election of November 7. Their reports from the field appear after EB's introduction.]
The Presidency doesn't arrest my attention like it once did. I vote from a dogged sense of obligation, I suppose; or from habit, acquired in a younger phase of passionate intensity.
I wish I cared more about the office and the government it symbolizes. I'd like to believe with some conviction in the precepts of nation, citizenship, and the common weal. I think it would be comforting to be part of a united citizenry, fully dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for one and for all.
Instead, when I put my nose to the winds howling from the halls of this supposed democracy, I detect a foul odor of corruption. The corruption is codified by the duplicity of its keepers. The government they keep is fully co-opted by the corporate aristocracy. What matters it, then, when our choices for presidential leadership are benign and benigner?
To What Am I Obliged?
If my vote on Tuesday was cast from a sense of obligation, then to what am I obliged? Does my vote perpetrate the lie that the United States of America is a democracy?
"It is a democracy!" my former friend, Mr. Capitalist Success Story, shouted at me on those occasions when I voiced my radicalism. "You're insane to think otherwise."
He was found of calling me insane. I said ok, fine, but the inmates must be running the asylum. On Tuesday he would have accused me of wasting my vote by casting it for Mr. Nader, but we aren't talking anymore. It's a pity.
If I am Citizen, am I obliged to be fiscally honest and pay my taxes?
To register for military conscription when I come of age?
To propagate the citizenry by making babies for the realm?
To keep state secrets, should I learn any?
To spill my lifeblood for the flag?
To inform on those native-born rebels who might advocate the violent overthrow of their government?
To stand when Old Glory passes by, hold my hand over my heart when the anthem is played?
Engaged in the Fullness of Life.
Cricket Song's readers are a diverse and brilliant lot, fully engaged, in one sphere or another, in the richness and fullness of Life. Some were thoughtful enough to write about this week's elections. I've decided to keep their identities anonymous. It's better that way. We are an opinionated, sometimes passionate lot -- and I can't imagine us agreeing amicably on too many issues.
I ask, simply, that we keep the peace within this little family of readers. It's a nice creation, CornDancer and Cricket Song, and getting nicer. I value it as I value each of you. To be able to stay in touch to spite our Age of Dissolution is a miracle of sorts. I cherish the miracle.
So Wrapped Up in Our Own Agendas.
We begin with the wry and witty Ms. A., an activist, devoted mother, and gifted writer from Ohio, who focused on the universal We:
"We have spoken. We don't care who wins this presidential election. We don't care if it's Bush, Gore, Tiny Tim, or Charlie Chaplin. We know that some of these people are dead. Death isn't an issue in politics for us. We've elected dead people to office and we have allowed dead people to vote.
"No, we don't care who is president as long as he doesn't violate our space. We are so wrapped up in our own agendas that we don't even care to vote anymore. We look upon voting as a game -- just something to talk about at the beauty shop or on the 'net. I'll trade you my bubble-gum-card vote for yours.
"If we truly cared about the next president, more of us would have gone to vote. More of us would have looked at the issues rather than playing spin the bottle. Some of us voted against Bush because he had "beady eyes." I know of at least one person who did this! Others voted against Gore because he didn't live in his home state enough. We, as a nation really didn't equate just how the outcome of this election would affect our futures and those of our children. As a nation, we didn't seem to understand that our next president will make a difference in all of our lives -- whether through court appointments, social security overhauls, or just plain incompetence.
"In another realm, another time, my grandmother had to pay 'poll taxes' in order to vote. This woman, who was glad to earn $10-15 per week, would save nickels and dimes so that she could do her duty, pay her taxes, and vote. Her poll tax receipts were saved for decades as a reminder of the past, until a forward thinking relative decided that the treasured receipts were just so much trash and burned them. This relative didn't care anymore about her past than we, as a nation, care about our future.
A Vote Cost Between Three and Five Dollars.
"Only about half of the registered voters went out to vote. Only half of that half voted for either Bush or Gore. Yet, it's estimated that the Republicans and Democrats spent between $3-$5 for every presidential vote received in this election.
"I have an idea. Let's pass a law to tax those who don't vote. It could be like an income tax. $100.00 for someone on a fixed income, up to a million or so for the rich guys. Candidates would be required, as part of their platforms, to say that they would cut out the vote tax, but no one ever would. Once the primaries are over, each party candidate would be allotted a certain amount of money to spend, and no more.
"Zany you say? Not a chance. What we need is something to get us out of our comfort zone -- as a nation. Even with all the turmoil going on in Florida right now, we ain't there yet."
Two readers from Arizona sent their thoughts to Cricket Song.
One, Mr. J., an activist in his mid-twenties with a mature world view and no small dose of budding cynicism, teaches English as a Second Language in a community where the second language is very much an issue. His feisty sense of energy infuses his report with engaged intensity:
Stories to Tell about the Election of 2000.
"What the hell has happened to our elections?
"Controlled chaos is what it seems like to me, much like the O.J. Simpson trial and the Monica Lewinsky affair. I am only 25-years-old, but at the rate America is going … boy, will I have lots of stories to tell my children and grandchildren.
"When referring to Election 2000, my story or interest does not commence with November 7, 2000, but rather a while back when I became interested in the candidacy of a man named John McCain.
"Something about Senator McCain (Republican, Arizona) appealed to me. Was it because he was Republican and the fact that I am a white male? Or, was it the fact that I am a recent carpetbagger to the State of Arizona and felt the strong need to prove myself as a Phoenician (name for a person living in Phoenix) or an Arizonian? Or was it the free beer administered at most of the McCain rallies? Most likely the answer, my friend, lies in all of the above.
"To make a long story short, I volunteered a large amount of time campaigning for McCain and I even donated money to his cause. There was no function where I was not present. Once I accidentally attended a women's breakfast function at the Ritz in Scottsdale just to get a chance to chat with McCain. I only mention this because I am a grad student (poor) at Arizona State University. We all know that McCain eventually kowtowed to the Republican Party and to G.W. Bush.
"Bitter at the GOP and at McCain for 'selling out,' I vowed to vote everything but Republican. On Election Day I enthusiastically pressed the button for Gore. Nader... or Buchanan... no way Jose!
The Controlled Chaos of Major Institutions.
"Like the rest of you, I have been enjoying the ride Election 2000 has given us. I can't keep from pondering the nature of the major institutions in America that have gifted us with O.J., Monica Lewinsky, and now Election 2000. It's controlled chaos.
"For all of you not from the Grand Canyon State, I will enlighten you about one local issue: English Only.
"The Arizona constituents voted for PROPOSITION 203 (English Language Education for Children in Public Schools) by a large margin of 63%. Are the Anglos that scared? Do they think Spanish is really going to take over English? Hell, English prevails in most every corner of the globe... but not in Arizona!
"This measure appeared on Arizona's ballot after California released test scores showing ESL (English as a Second Language) children performing better on standardized tests than BLE (bilingual education) children. I can't say that I voted for this proposition; as a student of linguistics, I am concerned not only about the large number of Spanish speakers in Arizona, but also about the Navajo, Hopi, Pima and other native American tribes.
"Just today I had a job interview with Washington School District, which is predominantly Latino. Last week the buzzword would have been bilingual education. Today, it is English as a Second Language. I realized all of his did not matter when I peered into a classroom and noticed the demographics and the language of the students. I silently snickered... English Only: A paper tiger!"
An 'Introspective Perspective' and Some Angst.
Gabriel, sweet of spirit and gentle of countenance, a very young man who went West a few months ago in search of love, wrestled with old-fashioned angst because of something he didn't do: Vote. Here is his Introspective Perspective.
"Not once in my life have I ever felt as helpless and as embarrassed as I have felt this week.
"I'm sitting here, at my makeshift computer desk, quite ill with something like the flu, wondering why I didn't vote.
"My simple, quick-fix explanation is that neither of the two popular, mainstream candidates persuaded me that they have any idea how to make this country a better place.
"Sure, they can run the beast, but can they tame her?
"Splinters of my mind whine callously,
- 'Gore is a career politician.'
- 'Bush is a fratboy with no clue.'
- 'Nader is a capitalist, digging for youth votes instead of money.'
- 'My head hurts, I need to read a book.'
"So, you know. I picked up a work of Dostoyevsky's, and I read a little.
"And with that, I slipped my mind back to neutral, resolved to vote in 2004, resolved to stop feeling sorry for myself.
"My father writes-in "Pogo" on his ballot every year. I think I'll do that next time around."
From St. Louis, the radical mystic and impudent champion of all things audacious, Miss Mashiara Z., self-proclaimed Goddess of the Universe, paused from her university studies to post her commentary. Hers was the first to arrive at Cricket Song and served as the catalyst for this collaborative effort.
Going Out of the Way
To Discourage the Green-Hair Vote.
"Hey. I just thought I'd drop you a few lines because I can totally agree with your missive (Number Thirty-Three, Surviving Election Day at a Breeding Ground for Proto-Fascism). I had to vote at a suburban elementary school. It was full of car-pooling, mini-van driving soccer moms who stared at me because I have green hair. It seems that the establishment is really going out of it's way to keep (certain) people from voting.
"This was the first Presidential election I was able to vote in and I was so excited until I saw all the bullshit that went on. A co-worker of mine stated today that maybe We the People should do something to get rid of the electoral college. I agreed with him. As far as I can tell it doesn't really do any good except in some rare occurrence.
"But I have already begun my campaign. Be on the lookout for me sometime in the next 30 years. Mashiara for President! Don't let the man get you down, EB!
"Paid for by the Mashiara for President campaign."
Seeking Meaning in a Historical Perspective.
Dr. S., a first-rate professor of English with a passion to teach literature, is the author of two books about men prominent in America during the Nineteenth Century. A gifted musician with too many cats, he sought meaning in a historical perspective.
"Off the top of my head, two things about the current situation come to mind. The first is how exciting this circumstance is, not having happened in over 100 years. The second is gratitude that whichever way the election is finally decided, less is at stake today than was the case in the contested election of 1876 between Hayes and Tilden.
"In that one, Hayes cut a deal with white Southern politicians to end Reconstruction if they'd support him. The result, of course, was the re-establishment, in all but name, of slavery in the South for roughly the next 80 years.
"Certainly there are important economic and social issues that will be affected in different ways depending on who finally becomes president, but nothing, I hope, of the magnitude of Hayes-Tilden."
Giving Strength to the Voiceless Earth.
My dear friend N. M., a thoughtful and mellowing radical from a major city in the Deep South, a counselor and writer of some renown, also mentioned The Hayes-Tilden election -- and penned a poetic closure.
"Here in the Bible Belt, there is concern over whether the indecisiveness of the vote is an indication of the times. People seem to grasp the uncanny similarities between the 1876 election between Hayes and Tilden, where the outcome of the election was ultimately decided in Florida, with Hayes winning by the slimmest of margins in a venue far removed from the polling booth. The same is possible with Bush, possibly winning by the smallest margin in an electoral vote based, at the end, on the votes of Floridians. Hayes was Republican; howbeit, the political focus of the parties were somewhat reversed.
"People in my state, though the vote went in favor of Bush, are concerned that improprieties in counties outside and surrounding ours (the largest county in the state) kept Gore from taking the election here.
"There are some who express the Biblical implication of this election. Is God saying in this new millennium that the end of the world is indeed being addressed in the political arena to show the need and advance a new world order? Should we change from an electoral college to a popular vote of the people?
"Finally, some ask, why vote to empower divisions of the land to elect the president? Why pretend that the Electoral College represents a congressional fairness when in fact it gives strength to the voiceless earth to say, "Who leads the people?' "
'Paint Me Somewhat. . . . Disgruntled.'
Major J., veteran of the Boer War (just kidding!) and long-lived warrior for the realm, a man of humor and loyalty and honor, zeroed-in on local contests as the pivot point for his personal reappraisal of the meaning of the electoral process and long-cherished political ideals. I chose to edit away one paragraph, in which he sent fire ants and camel fleas on a mission to pursue a certain national political leader he despises with particular intensity.
"FROM THE FLATLANDS IN L.A. (Lower Arkansas)
"Paint me somewhat…. No, take that back, paint me a bunch disgruntled. Pissed. Red-assed to the extreme.
"An immense black population in my hometown has been largely excluded from the political process except for a few lapses of conscience ... and a few court decisions designating gerrymandered white/black majority districts for one level of government or another, or a court here and there. My fellow Caucasians and alleged leaders of the community are not using their talents and resources to nurture and encourage a corps of responsible leaders from ranks of the community's black citizenry.
"Not to say that this is the only way a community leadership talent pool can develop, but having a mentor (as I have been fortunate to have) to ease one into the circle of decision makers is like a little chicken soup, ' ... it can't hoit.' (Translation for speakers of other languages: 'It can't hurt.')
'A Cadre of Twisted Leadership'
"The net result of this avoidance of community duty is that a cadre of twisted leadership seems to have generated itself from the spores of discontent that are rife in certain pockets of the black community. Mind you, people who 'have not' ... and people who 'have not recognizable leaders,' ... when seeing one of their own seize the mantle of leadership ... and upon hearing a line of typical propaganda against 'the man' ... for eons have joined lock-step to lodge their protest in riots, wars, insurrections and last, but certainly not least ... in local elections.
"Now our burg is facing an unfortunate choice.
"On one side: A mayoral candidate who is within the system and who, in my opinion, is at least 'a part of the problem.'
"On the other side: A spore-generated candidate, who is jobless (despite his claims to be president of his own construction company, no evidence has ever surfaced that this company has hit a lick at a snake), lives in public housing with his ten children, and who has privately vowed to disrupt the system when he takes office. This miscreant is glib, outspoken and speaks to the masses like the siren song of the Pied Piper of Hamlin with general mistruths, misleading missives, and volatile invectives to stir-up support, not for the community, but for his own personal agenda and his raucous and insatiable ego. This agenda is presented to the public in the dragged-out-of-the-closet and dusted-off costume of 'progress' - 'time for a change,' etc. ad nauseum.
The President's Traveling Medicine Show.
"You may have heard of the bussing of people just leaving church from the pew to the Sunday-opened voting booths. It's real. I personally observed the practice. Then to further complicate matters, HRH one W. J. Clinton brings his traveling medicine show to town, where he touts the Prince of Do-nothingness, the candidate for Congress from his political party, to the crowds as the President's personally anointed disciple, all in an obsessive effort to dethrone our slightly eccentric but damned effective Republican Congressman. The Republican may be a little fruitcakey at times, but by golly, he's our. . . . make that was our fruitcake.
"It all boils down to this: I'm having an identity crises. Am I so liberal I would salute Barney Frank on the Fourth of July? Am I so conservative that folks would say I'm slightly to the left of Attila the Hun? Am I disenfranchised and deserted? I don't know.
"This I do know. I'm pissed."
Honest and True, Thoughtful and Faithful.
Finally, brief reports from two university freshmen, both dear to my heart. They reminded me of why I became interested in the concept of elections and politics when I was young -- and when the world was so very, very new.
The young man, honest and true, wrote:
"As a college student I suppose I should be totally interested in the election, but I seem to be disillusioned by the whole process. I do concede that this is one of the most exciting elections I've witnessed, partly because of the controversy, but mostly because it was the first election I've witnessed from the perspective of the voter. I did vote, but I'm not so passionate about it. To be frank, I'm busier trying to maintain high grades and practice my music, but I enjoy the conflict and debate which was stimulated among fellow students backing their candidates."
The young woman, thoughtful and faithful, wrote:
"Yes, I am proud to say that I exercised my democratic right to cast my vote today.
"It was interesting, and I fear I was a little unprepared for some of the categories, like judges and mayor and sheriff and such. It would have been better if I had been following it all summer while living here, but it's been such a short time and I was left out of the loop :)
"Well, note to self: follow more closely next time! I had trouble understanding the amendment things, but I think I did okay. All in all it was a good feeling, and we'll see how it turns out. I don't usually get excited, but just watching on TV is making my insides jiggly! hehehe...politics just isn't for me!"
I would think the contrary, that politics is for her, and for him, for each of us whose intellect is represented through the words we share, the ideas we debate, and the Union we maintain.
WATCH FOR MISSIVE THE THIRTY-FIFTH
in your mailbox sometime 'round sundown
on Tuesday, November 14, 2000.
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