Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Which Side Are You On?

Which Side Are You On?
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, July 26, 2022, p. A6

In a panel discussion of whether America’s difficulties were the fault of media or politicians, Congressman Barney Frank interjected, “Our constituents aren’t all that great either.”

Abraham Lincoln, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson before him, warned of the fragility of a democracy confronting an authoritarian-driven mob: “And when such a one does [appear] it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.”

The House Select January 6 Committee’s investigation of officials encouraging authoritarian dictatorship is essential – in a country where 44% of U.S. households, 50 percent of Republicans and 18 percent of Democrats have guns.

And yes, a democracy requires independent, respected institutions, such as judges and courts, human rights and voting rights, newspapers and libraries.

However, as with Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson’s oft-quoted preference of “newspapers without government” (over “government without newspapers”) was followed with the less mentioned, “but I should mean that every [person] should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Both Jefferson and Lincoln were emphasizing the need to prepare us as citizens.

Americans will someday search for the enemy who caused our democracy to crumble and wash away, like sandcastles at the seashore. They will discover, as Walt Kelly’s cartoon Pogo observed, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

The founders realized all Americans would need to be well informed and involved to function as democracy’s governors. They made it job one for each of us. Volunteers, handsomely paid with the rights and freedoms of democracy, in exchange for responsibilities willingly accepted.

To train us they provided free public education. Iowa created more one-room schoolhouses than any other state (12,000-plus). To create the social benefits of easily accessible information the founders created a postal service with reduced rates for books, magazines, newspapers and nonprofits. The colonial libraries have expanded to over 9,000 today – 542 in Iowa.

Each of us can help keep our democracy – or push us further down the slope to fascist dictatorship – in hundreds of little and big ways each day. Whether you chose to praise our election officials, teachers and librarians – or drive them to resign (as in Vinton). Whether you choose to subscribe or advertise in newspapers.

Whether you volunteer in political campaigns, contribute what you can, and never miss voting. Stay informed about policy and politics, while questioning unsupported assertions. Learn enough about other democracies evolution into authoritarian states to spot those changes here. Participate in neighborhood associations and civic organizations.

Pew reports only 40 percent of Americans are committed to democracy. A third of Republicans and 17 percent of Democrats say, “a strong leader who can govern without interference from other branches of government is a good thing.”

“Which side are you on, boys?” union organizers sang in 1930s Harlan, Kentucky. It’s a question you must answer today. The most important decision you’ll ever make. You can’t sit this one out.

Which side are you on?

[Photo source: "Harlan County War," wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlan_County_War] _______________
Nicholas Johnson is the author of Columns of Democracy. Contact mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org


Barney Frank. The quote is from memory. I heard him say it. But I cannot find a source where it is reported or recall the details.

“Barney Frank,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barney_Frank#Public_image (“In 2004 and again in 2006, a survey of Capitol Hill staffers published in Washingtonian [magazine] gave Frank the title of the ‘brainiest,’ ‘funniest,’ and ‘most eloquent’ member of the House.”)

Abraham Lincoln. “Report of Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, 27 January 1838, ‘The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” (full text Lincoln speech), https://papersofabrahamlincoln.org/documents/D200130 (See full paragraph beginning: “The question recurs “how shall we fortify against it?”)

George Washington. “Washington’s Farewell Address to the People of the United States,” Sept. 19, 1796, U.S. Senate, https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/Washingtons_Farewell_Address.pdf

(“Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”)

Thomas Jefferson. See below.

January 6 Committee. “Select Committee to Investigate the January 6xth Attack on the United States Capitol,” https://january6th.house.gov/

Gun ownership. Lydia Saad, “What Percentage of Americans Own Guns?” Gallup News, https://news.gallup.com/poll/264932/percentage-americans-own-guns.aspx

32% of Americans own guns; 44% live in a gun household “Republicans (50%), rural residents (48%), men (45%), self-identified conservatives (45%) and Southerners (40%) are the most likely subgroups to say they personally own a gun. Liberals (15%), Democrats (18%), non-White Americans (18%), women (19%) and Eastern residents (21%) are the least likely to report personal gun ownership.”

Thomas Jefferson. “Jefferson Quotes & Family Letters,” Monticello, https://tjrs.monticello.org/letter/1289

(“Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” … (“the basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter, but I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”)

Pogo/“we have met the enemy.” “Pogo (comic strip),” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pogo_%28comic_strip%29 (page contains image of strip with that quote)

Iowa schoolhouses. “A Walk Through Iowa’s One-Room Schoolhouses,” Iowa Department of Education,” https://educateiowa.gov/walk-through-iowa-s-one-room-schoolhouses

(“Take the one-room school house, once ubiquitous across Iowa’s country landscape. Numbering an astonishing 12,000 to 14,000 at one time, depending on what report you use, Iowa had more one-room school houses than any other state in the union.”)

Postal Service and reduced rates. “A Brief History of Preferred Postal Rates,” U.S. Postal Service Inspector General, Aug. 20, 2012, https://www.uspsoig.gov/blog/brief-history-preferred-postage-rates

(“Since the beginning of the Post Office and the Postal Act of 1792, certain types of mail have qualified for lower postage through preferred rates. It was assumed that these types of mailings yield social benefits for senders, recipients, and more importantly, a large nation. Preferred rates’ roots trace to the first federal postal policy, which recognized that disseminating newspapers at below-cost postage would advance the important social goal of educating the electorate. Soon after, magazines received special rates. For its first 50 years, the Post Office was predominantly a newspaper circulation service . . ..”)

Vinton librarians. Gage Miskimen, “With another leader leaving, Vinton Public Library closes for now; Library lost 2 directors in 2 years amid resident complaints,” The Gazette, July 9, 2022, https://www.thegazette.com/news/with-another-leader-leaving-vinton-public-library-closes-for-now/

(“The library board met Tuesday to accept the resignation of Colton Neely, the interim director. Neely, formerly the library’s children’s director, will become a museum curator in Burlington. . . . Most recently departing the library before Neely was Renee Greenlee, its director for six months. She had been the children’s and family services library assistant at the Marion Public Library and had worked at the Hiawatha Public Library and the Kirkwood Community College library. Greenlee, who left the Vinton post in May and started a new job at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, declined to comment. . . . Vinton also saw another director, Janette McMahon, resign in July 2021. She now is director of the DeWitt Public Library in Clinton County.

McMahon previously told The Gazette that she received complaints about children’s books on display, including “Joey,” written by first lady Jill Biden, and “Superheroes Are Everywhere” by Vice President Kamala Harris. She said some residents argued the library should have more books about former Republican President Donald Trump on display.

“I can’t buy what doesn’t exist, and there weren’t quality books about Trump.”)

Gage Miskimen, “Two directors quit Vinton library after complaints about hirings, LGBTQ and Biden books,” The Gazette, June 20/July 10, 2022, Thegazette.com/news/two-directors-quit-vinton-library-after-complaints-about-hirings-lgbtq-and-biden-books/

Gage Miskimen, “Vinton Library to Reopen Monday with Limited Hours,” The Gazette, July 15, 2022, p. A1

(“closed this week after losing its interim director — and, before that, two directors in two years — will reopen for limited hours beginning Monday.

Marandah Mangra-Dutcher, “Johnson County librarians oppose Iowa bills looking to change intellectual freedom,” The Daily Iowan, March 20, 2022, https://dailyiowan.com/2022/03/20/johnson-county-librarians-oppose-iowa-bills-looking-to-change-intellectual-freedom/

David Sye, “Beyond Book Banning: Efforts to Criminally Charge Librarians,” Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association, March 8, 2022, https://www.oif.ala.org/oif/beyond-book-banning-efforts-to-criminally-charge-librarians/

Vinton, Iowa, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinton,_Iowa

Marcela Cabello and Stuart M. Butler, “How Public Libraries Help Build Healthy Communities,” Brookings, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2017/03/30/how-public-libraries-help-build-healthy-communities/

(“According to a 2015 Pew survey, almost two-thirds of adult Americans say that closing their local library would have a major impact on their community. As Pew found, over 90 percent of adults think of public libraries as “welcoming and friendly places,” and about half have visited or otherwise used a public library in the last 12 months.”)

Crystle Martin, “Who says libraries are dying? They are evolving into spaces for innovation,” theconversation.com, Aug. 19, 2015, https://theconversation.com/who-says-libraries-are-dying-they-are-evolving-into-spaces-for-innovation-44820

(“many of today’s public libraries are taking on newer roles. They are offering programs in technology, career and college readiness and also in innovation and entrepreneurship – all 21st-century skills, essential for success in today’s economy.”

Pew authoritarian study. Richard Wike, Katie Simmons, Bruce Stokes and Janell Fetterolf, “Globally, Broad Support for Representative and Direct Democracy,” Pew Research Center, October 16, 2017, https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2017/10/16/globally-broad-support-for-representative-and-direct-democracy/

(“Unconstrained executive power also has its supporters. In 20 countries, a quarter or more of those polled think a system in which a strong leader can make decisions without interference from parliament or the courts is a good form of government.”

[Info in chart; not quotation. U.S. 40% committed to democracy; additional 44% willing to consider non-democratic alternatives]

“And in the U.S., a third of Republicans say a strong leader who can govern without interference from other branches of government is a good thing, compared with 20% of independents and 17% of Democrats.”)

Which side are you on? “Which Side Are You On?” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Which_Side_Are_You_On%3F (origins),

“Which Side Are You On?” (song; 1941 recording by Almanac Singers including Pete Seeger, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEwE0R_7TDc&t=17s (or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEwE0R_7TDc)

Harlan, Kentucky. “Harlan County War,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlan_County_War

(“The Harlan County War, or Bloody Harlan, was a series of coal mining-related skirmishes, executions, bombings, and strikes (both attempted and realized) that took place in Harlan County, Kentucky, during the 1930s. The incidents involved coal miners and union organizers on one side, and coal firms and law enforcement officials on the other.[1] The question at hand: the rights of Harlan County coal miners to organize their workplaces and better their wages and working conditions. It was a nearly decade-long conflict, lasting from 1931 to 1939. Before its conclusion, an indeterminate number of miners, deputies, and bosses would be killed, state and federal troops would occupy the county more than half a dozen times, two acclaimed folk singers would emerge, union membership would oscillate wildly, and workers in the nation's most anti-labor coal county would ultimately be represented by a union.”)

# # #

Tags: Abraham Lincoln, authoritarian, Barney Frank, democracy, education, George Washington, citizen governors, guns, Harlan County War, House Jan 6 Committee, January 6, Thomas Jefferson