No Voice, No Vote, No Liberty

Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA matadornnetwork.com

“They who have no voice nor vote in the election of representatives do not enjoy liberty but are enslaved to those who do.” Ben Franklin, 1774

I signed up for VDVR training (Voter Deputy Voter Registrar) since Labor Day begins the campaign season for the 2022 Midterm Election. VDVR is not risk free. The completed registration form lists my name and VDVR number at the bottom. If I incorrectly fill out the form here in Texas, it can bring a criminal penalty, a felony, even if I make an honest mistake. Strange that helping people register to vote can create such fear and loathing in the TX Legislature.

How many people can I register in a day going door-to-door or sitting in a booth at a parade or civic event? 20 to 40. How many people could be registered if automatic registration took place at the DMVor Social Security? Millions. It’s a numbers game. Nationwide 1 in 4 eligible voters are not registered to vote, which partially explains why the U.S. has one of the lowest rates of voting among the developed nations.

But adding registered voters to the rolls does not appeal to some elected officials, who prefer the status quo. Yet progress is being made. Since 2015 nineteen states have switched to automatic voter registration (AVR), primarily blue states. But wait, nineteen mostly red states have acted to restrict voting rights, mostly in 2021. Bills to restrict voting (440) have been filed in 48 states, just 34 have passed, including four wide-ranging omnibus voting restrictions in Georgia, Iowa, Florida, and, yes, Texas.

False Smoke Screen: “Voter Fraud”

Since the 2020 Presidential Election, former President Donald Trump’s redundant and fake cries of fraud, have complicated the registration process. But what’s the risk here? David Litt in Democracy in One Book or Less does not deny there is voter fraud, but instead of dreaming up any old number, he relies on recent, nonpartisan studies.

Litt points to the fact that impostors filling out multiple ballots in places where they’re not registered is rare indeed. Impersonation “tarnishes approximately one ballot out of every 32,250,000.” If you can’t wrap your brain around that number, “imagine a human chain of voters, starting at polling in New York City, stretching across the country to Seattle, dropping down to Los Angeles, and returning back east as far as New Orleans.” In that 5,000-mile line, precisely one of them will commit fraud. (That’s .0000017 percent.) Checks and balances make it much more difficult to commit fraud.

Partisan, geographic, and racial divides over access to the ballot are the law in seven states, which have harsher voter ID laws, seven shrunk the amount of time allowed for mail-in voting, and four limited the use of ballot drop boxes for mail-in votes. Seven states made it easier to purge voters off the voter rolls. In 2020 the Electoral wizards in Georgia applied an “exact match” criterion to registration forms and election day signatures, not by handwriting experts, but by untrained poll workers. Who among us signs their name the same when we’re in a hurry vs. when we’re signing an official document? Is it possible to achieve a “perfect match”? Colorado has agreed to accept “a substantial match” to remove confusion.

Purging Voters: 16 million in 2016

The response to 2020 fears of “voter fraud” created a Catch-22 for those in Florida who have completed prison terms. In 2018 in Florida, nearly 65 percent of state voters supported a referendum (Amendment 4) calling for the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders who completed their prison terms unless they had been charged with murder or felony sexual offenses.

Amendment 4 went into effect on January 8, 2019 and cleared the way for 1.4 million ex-offenders to register to vote. (The state’s ban on felons voting—which disenfranchised 1 in 5 Black Floridians—dated to the Civil War.) However, a year later, Florida’s GOP legislature added another hoop to pass through, contrary to Amendment 4. It requires payment of fines related to their offense (some compounded while they were in prison) before being allowed to vote—essentially a poll tax.

Florida’s county election boards followed the original law established in Amendment 4 and reached out to ex-offenders to register, including 49-year-old street cleaner Nathan Hart. He registered at the DMV in March 2020 and received a Voter’s Registration Card. But on August 18, Hart was arrested by the county sheriff’s deputy and two state law enforcement officers. They charged him with falsifying his registration and being an “unqualified elector.” Both are third-degree felonies. He was held in jail for 14 hours and faced fines of $5,000 and five years in prison.  

Similar cases will grow in Florida with a special “election force, a first-of-its-kind.” Governor Ron DeSantis introduced proudly at a campaign event. He asked for $6 million to hire 52 people to “investigate, detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of election laws. Florida’s legislature reduced it to $1.2 million and 15 investigators.

It’s understandable to delete the names of voters who have died or moved to another state, but the numbers would not reach the millions. The numbers of purged voters have grown nationwide since the Brennan Center reported that nationwide 16 million voters were culled from voter lists from 2014 to 2016. This total is a 33 percent increase from 2006-2008. Texas threw off 363,000, Wisconsin 232,000, and Georgia won the prize saying goodbye to 1.5 million voters, angering candidates. Some of these voters have been returned, but it’s puzzling to know that these purges were not part of a routine process but came in the heat of political battles. A 2016 Reuters analysis found the cuts hit the largest Democratic counties and twice the rate of GOP. Black city voters were more likely to be purged than white suburban dwellers.

In 2015, Wisconsin began to enforce a photo ID law for all elections. However, a federal judge found that the Wisconsin law led to “real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities.” Although the judge found no evidence of widespread voter impersonation in Wisconsin, the “cure is worse than the disease.”

Scrubbing the names of people who have been verified dead or moved to another state can be routine. But a targeted voter purge is not legal, but a throwback to an ugly time. In 1959, the White Citizens Council of Washington Parish, Louisiana, conducted a purge, removing 85 percent of Black voters and just.07 of whites.

Another example, in 1999, a conservative activist group, ironically called the Voting Integrity Project (VIP), endorsed a company called Database Technologies. Florida hired this company to purge its voter rolls before the 2000 election. One example of their over-zealous approach to cleaning the rolls: legitimate voter Michael Jones of Tampa became “confused” with Michael Jones, a convicted felon in Ohio, and Linda Howell, election supervisor in Madison County, appeared on the list. The conservative estimate is that 12,000 eligible voters were erased from Florida’s voter rolls—half of them African Americans. In 2000 Al Gore lost the Presidential Election by 537 votes. Could this purge, before that election have made a difference? But we moved forward.

Mail-in Ballots: Dangerous or Necessary?

A mail-in ballot made it easier for me in 2021during Covid. First, I requested a ballot online. I had time to review the candidates and issues, then used my notes when I filled in the ballot. I drove to the Travis County Elections office and deposited my ballot into a sealed box (with an election official standing next to it).

Despite the hew and cry against it, mail-in voting is not something new-fangled. Oregon has done it since 1989. Since then, seven other states have instituted mail-in balloting: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah (by no means a liberal state), and Vermont. In addition, Nebraska and North Dakota often experience foul weather in the fall, permitting counties to opt for mail-in ballots.

Mail-in ballots can be a Godsend for disabled people or the elderly who can no longer drive. Nine states allow mail-in balloting in small elections: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming. As the expense of finding locations for a general election, expensive voting equipment, and the challenge of staffing them grow each year, other states may be forced to reconsider

We have options. It doesn’t need to be so difficult to register or even vote. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems there are elected officials who work to make it more difficult, not easier. We need to tell them with our votes that we, the people, don’t want voters removed to meet their political benchmarks. We want it to be easier to vote for all Americans. Despite the roadblocks put in our way, the message will get through if we work diligently to protect our democracy.

Next time we’ll talk about Elbridge Gerry, who went to Harvard, worked in his family business in Massachusetts, then served in the Continental Congress, became governor, and won praise from John Adams. Did he deserve the shame upon his name for “gerrymandering?”    

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What’s the Magna Carta have to do with Pleading the 5th?

Signing of the Constitution and Bill of Rights 1787, Continental Congress, Philadelphia
Signing of the Magna Carta, King John (far right) Knights (far left) 1215

Remember when we believed someone who pleaded the Fifth was guilty? Those who took the 5th did not want to “incriminate” themselves. So the accused would not answer questions. Donald Trump, the same guy who in 2016 lacerated Hillary Clinton’s tech staff who installed her private email server, for taking the Fifth.* Trump said, “only the Mob takes the 5th.” But in 1990, in his first divorce trial and just last week, Trump took the Fifth himself. He says the allegations against him are a “witch hunt” or a “fishing expedition” as his excuse for not responding.

Trump sat with New York State’s Attorney General Letitia James a week ago. She has been investigating Trump’s state tax returns in a civil suit for tax evasion (lowering his income for purposes of income taxes) and inflating his wealth to obtain loans to cover his debts.

During his presidential campaign, Trump said that evading taxes “shows he’s smart.” But now, Trump’s long-time chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, 75, pleaded guilty to 15 counts of evading taxes on $1.7 million perks, including a free apartment in Manhattan, school tuition for his grandchildren, and lease payments on a luxury car. (He made a plea deal rather than face 15 years in prison and will spend five months at New York City’s Rikers Island. He will be answering questions.)

What’s the source of the Fifth Amendment?

It goes back to the heart of Anglo-Saxon law–The Magna Carta signed on June 15, 2015, by King John, the British barons, and landowners at Runnymede. The charter limited the king’s absolute authority and laid out the rights of English citizens and commoners. American law is based on this social contract written into the Magna Carta.

In America, the Continental Congress passed the Bill of Rights in 1789; this included the 5th Amendment to protect a person’s rights in these ways:

  1. A person cannot be forced to give testimony against themselves (Self-Incrimination). The 5th Amendment is the basis for the Miranda Warning. (“Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.”)  The government must call other witnesses and find evidence to prove the crime.
  2. You have the right to a fair trial that follows procedure through the judicial process
  3. You are judged innocent until proven guilty. (Due process)You can’t be tried twice for the same crime (Double Jeopardy)
  4. A Grand Jury looks at the evidence to determine whether to indict the accused for a criminal offense; if they decide to charge a person with a crime, they issue an indictment and hold a trial. The Grand Jury traces its roots directly to 1215, the Magna Carta, and Due Process.
  5. The government cannot take your private property unless you are paid current market value in return. (Eminent Domain)

Another critical case about the Fifth Amendment (self-incrimination) involved five young black men convicted of killing a white woman in Central Park in New York City. After they were imprisoned for ten years, a court ruled they had been coerced into giving false testimony after lengthy interrogation and abuse. Under the Fifth Amendment, a confession obtained illegally is not admissible in court. They were freed when the truth came out. Then the actual killer was arrested and convicted.

Due process says that a person is innocent until proven guilty and deserves an opportunity to present their case in court. The concept of due process tells me to reconsider my idea that those who plead the 5th are “guilty,” but it is challenging at times.

Taking the 5th has different outcomes in criminal vs. civil courts. In federal cases, taking the Fifth does not imply guilt. But in civil cases, it can have consequences—providing an inference of guilt is allowed. The current case in New York State likely will be the beginning of a triangular legal sea saw between Trump, NY Attorney General James, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

What’s the Magna Carta’s role in Pleading the Fifth in American courts today? It’s bedrock. American law sits on the foundation of British law that traces to the 13th century when the nobility and the landed gentry demanded fairness in their courts and protection from the absolute power of the king.

Next week I’m looking at David Litt’s book Democracy in One Book or Less.

  • No one was ever charged after the investigation into the mail server.

DOJ Doesn’t Play Games

Who holds the Aces? Time will tell.

Let’s get the objections out of the way first. Last week’s FBI visit to Mar-a-Lago was not spur of the moment. In January 2022, the Department of Justice issued a subpoena for documents that Donald Trump had taken back to his Mar-a-Lago property in Palm Springs upon leaving the White House. Then they obtained 15 boxes, some marked classified. These were taken back to the National Archives, where Presidential Records are kept. After a review, the Archives found that boxes of classified information were missing.

Donald Trump, like any other former President, could take with him diaries and personal documents not related to official business in office as president. But the records are not like a tray of mints offered upon leaving Sardi’s in New York, free for the taking. According to the Presidential Papers Act, originally passed in 1978 responding to Richard Nixon, official presidential documents were to be released to the Archives upon leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

During the outrange by the former president’s supporters last week, there has been a reference to Watergate. Many of these people either weren’t alive then, haven’t cracked a history book, or just liked throwing around the word “Watergate” to gain support from others not curious enough to learn the true backstory. This search for documents took place in broad daylight.

Trained members of FBI operated with a legal search warrant, which was granted based on information about where the documents were located (all necessary before a federal judge in Florida would sign off). The attorney general added his signature to the warrant on Friday, two days prior to the search.

Watergate” involved a break-in at a Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Office Building in 1972. The five men arrested for the break-in were connected to the Committee for Re-Election of the President (Nixon) sponsored by a political branch of the Republican Party. They were low-level thieves hired because Nixon had become paranoid, thinking he would lose the election. So paranoid that he set up an audio taping system on his White House phone that laid out his illegal deeds like a roadmap.

The search of Mar-a-Lago came with a legal search warrant and did not come without warning. In May 2022, AG Merrick Garland and the DOJ sent a subpoena to DJ obtain information about the missing documents. Trump ignored it. Because of the sensitive nature of the documents, the DOJ determined to press for the documents. They needed to learn where the classified documents were kept in order to obtain a legal search warrant. Someone within Trump’s inner circle provided the information needed to obtain the warrant. A Florida judge signed off after receiving specific information about the documents and the location on August 5. On Monday, August 8 the search began. This wasn’t a spur of the moment “witch hunt.”

Outrange from Trump supporters followed during the week (see Watergate above) reached a dangerous level, threatening the security of federal law enforcement. Garland held a press conference to explain the process of the warrant and indicate Trump had a copy, which he could release if he desired, but set a deadline. Move up to Friday, August 12, DOJ got the go-ahead from Trump and released a copy of the August 8th search warrant and a list of the contents of the 20 boxes removed from Mar-a-Lago on Monday. The boxes taken included 11 boxes marked classified, including 4 sets of top-secret documents. Charges were made for mishandling of defense information (classified documents) and destruction of federal documents. Those included related to Oliver Stone’s pardon and interaction with French Premiere Macron.

One irony in the case is that in 2019 Trump signed into law an increase in the punishment for breaking these laws from one to five years in prison.

Trump could have present the list to the media himself. Instead, he sent out attorney Christina Bobb to explain that Trump was following “decorum.”  Since when in his life has Trump followed decorum?

On Friday, August 12, Garland released the list of the boxes taken from Mar-a-Lago, as the match continues. Garland remained calm, uncharacteristically responding to the uproar during an FBI investigation. He said he signed off one the search warrant himself after the judge. Friday Garland also released the list of the boxes taken from Mar-a-Lago. The match continues, but with classified documents now in DOJ hands, DT’s limo may have hit a speed bump too high to sail across.

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Don’t Let Freedom Fly Away!

My 2022 July 4th wreath celebrating the eagle’s pride and the hope representing the brightest stars in the sky.

This wreath carries meaning for me this July 4th. Over the past few years, I saw too many American flags flying from the back of pick-up trucks circling U.S. beltways or hand-held by Proud Boys marching in Charlottesville or invading the U.S. Capitol. They swore allegiance to falsehoods and exclusionary beliefs I will never share.

They have warped the authentic meaning of the red, white, and blue. Yet, the principles of truth and justice have never wavered for me. I pledge my allegiance to the true America I love. I cannot associate myself with those who do not ask the critical questions democracy requires but prefer to follow along and exclude others from the opportunities and rights we enjoy.

In 2022, this wreath, approximating the proud feathers of the American eagle and the brightest stars in the sky, will represent my brand of patriotism. Today America is a country struggling mightily to return to its principles–while suffering body blows from those we never elected. A President, who lost the popular vote in 2016 and refused to concede his loss in 2020, now spreads political mayhem from coast to coast. His efforts further ignited falsehoods and culture wars that erupted at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th and are slicing this proud nation in two.

I don’t love my country less because I do not agree with the false representations of the U.S. flag in 2021. I can’t see our nation dragged backward two and a half centuries. The 21st century has no time for fabricated beliefs and false images of a glorified Disney-esque “Davey Crocket” time when men provided for their families by landing dinner with buckshot. American families cannot afford to move backward, leaving behind our leading role in technology, business/industry, and world affairs.

Do we want to return to an era where women tended the firepot to prepare whatever animal their spouse’s musket fell? Then women had four children because the child mortality rate was over 30 percent. Women didn’t fare much better. Without contraception, women wore out their bodies with repeated pregnancies, and a high percent died young while giving birth (life expectancy: 38 in 1787). Today women’s work outside the home and their earnings are as important as a men’s. The economy tanked during the Pandemic when schools were closed, and many women stayed home. We’re still beefing up the workforce.

If women had been present for the writing of the Constitution in 1787, the document would have taken a different course. Families and women’s needs, would have been recognized– not listing women as chattel belonging to men—unable to own land, start businesses, or sign legal documents without their husband’s along side.

Over the years, women have realized the only way to make gains legislatively would be by gaining the vote for themselves. Unfortunately, women did not get an opportunity to vote until 1920, one hundred and thirty years after the ink dried on the Constitution. Today women are in Congress: 24 serve in the U.S. Senate and 120 in the House of Representatives (27% of the 539 elected, an all-time high, but well below women’s 50.5 percent of the population.)

You have a responsibility, both men and women, to exercise your right to protect our future and our nation. This right comes with a commitment to get out to vote (or obtain and mail in a ballot if your state allows). Help protect your freedom by exercising that vote. In most states, you cannot register to vote on the same day as you vote. So, get registered NOW. Contact your county’s Board of Elections and be prepared to vote come November.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Best Mother’s Day Flowers 2022 Tom’s Guide

Aretha Franklin raised the roof and our self-confidence with that song in 1967. Yes, 55 years ago, but the music resonates to this day. Why? Because as Aretha said: “Everyone wants respect.”

Being respected –no matter what makes the national headlines of the day—is the issue of prime importance. If we feel “dissed” and people don’t consider our needs, we melt on the inside and no longer stand up straight. We may not even look others straight in the eye as our self-confidence has taken a hit.

If you’ve read my blog during the Pandemic, you know that I have struggled to understand what’s really behind the divisions in our country. In the beginning, I thought Americans would find ways to tie the ends of the frayed rope between us after Covid passed. That might have been naïve. The differences among us only tightened when we were stuck away alone. Nothing good comes when we don’t attempt to communicate with others, particularly those with a different view. Instead, we let the concrete set around our ideas and beliefs. Our thoughts spool in our brains in an endless loop. No new ideas arise from that cycle.

It’s more difficult for new friends and ideas to come into our lives if we don’t create room for them. No two people think exactly alike, so there will always be areas of difference, possibly disagreement. Our current friendships already have a foundation of mutual respect that allows us to patch over the rough times when conflicts arise. But when we encounter people or ideas that appear to be the polar opposite of our own, it’s even more challenging to grant them a moment’s consideration.

I know listening to “the other side” strains my patience when I strongly disagree, but we’re stagnating –yelling across picket lines or opinion pages. This discourse does not improve the situation. Instead, we find ourselves digging a deep crevice across which are lobbed some of the ugliest words and images ever used in American public discourse (and there has been strong language used in the past). We are providing a hideous example for our children and laying down an embarrassing digital record that will live long after 2022.

If we as a nation take a small step back from this, we might begin to make a long-term change. Of course, it will take more than a finger snap to solve. But we can start by offering respect to all the people we meet at work, no matter the job they perform, the process can begin. Then if we can carry this on to those we see at the grocery or on a walk, the ball could get rolling. Even our partners and children could appreciate a spur-of-the-moment friendly smile or a nod of understanding. 

None of this will cure what ails the world, but you might feel better yourself, and it might be contagious.

That’s all I’ve got for Mother’s Day 2022.

Living Up to Lincoln’s Sacrifice

Abraham Lincoln lithograph, JoAnn 10, istock

After viewing the devastation in Richmond in April 1865, Lincoln knew the Civil War would be over soon. Yet he also realized that the most challenging task remained—bringing the country together as one people, not unlike the difficulty the nation faces today. This weekend we once again recognize Lincoln’s sacrifice156 years after his assassination. But few acknowledge his death came because John Wilkes Booth could not stomach giving even a few African American veterans the right to vote.

Lincoln wasn’t sure he had the words needed to temper Americans’ anger with their opponents or ease their grief for what we’ve lost. But he agreed to address those gathered in Lafayette Park across from the White House. His first words met their expectations: “We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in the gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond and the surrender of the principal insurgent army (he did not identify it as Confederate) give the country hope for a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained.”

Speaking from the White House balcony, Lincoln didn’t notice a tall man dressed in black stalking the fringes of the crowd. John Wilkes Booth scowled at the President’s remarks. Less than a month earlier, on March 20, Booth and his conspirators had attempted to capture Lincoln to use him as a bargaining chip to negotiate Southern freedom from federal rules ending slavery.

Then Lincoln turned to the purpose of his speech–Reconstruction—to restore and unite the nation after the war. “No one man had the authority to give up the rebellion for another man. We must begin with and mould (sp) from disorganized and discordant elements,” he said.

He noted the political differences that stood between Americans. Nevertheless, Lincoln sought to begin to bind the wounds of Americans now that the war had ended. The President stated the nation’s problem: “We, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of Reconstruction.”

But then, the critical message that would seal the President’s fate. Lincoln told the crowd the nation should grant African American men, particularly those who fought for the Union, the right to vote. Before this speech, no president had ever publicly endorsed even limited suffrage for blacks.

Booth became enraged when he heard Lincoln speak of suffrage. The thought of giving any African American the right to vote infuriated Booth. Standing in the shadows across from the White House, Booth turned to his co-conspirator, Lewis Powell, and nearly spat out his disgust: “That is the last speech he will ever make.”  As an actor well known at Ford’s Theater, he learned when Lincoln would be coming to see Laura Keene perform there in Our American Cousin.

On April 14, 1865, just after 10 pm, Booth’s lightning-quick tempter drew him up the stairs, where he pushed open the door to Lincoln’s box and pulled out a derringer that fit into the palm of his hand, which he used to shoot the President. Booth shouted: “Sic Semper Tyrannus! (Ever thus to tyrants!) The South be avenged.”

Lincoln’s plans to restore the country equitably died with him. His vice president, who took control, Andrew Johnson, a Dixie Democrat and an enslaver from Tennessee, came from the opposite political view. Johnson believed in States’ rights. He allowed Southern governors to make their own decisions regarding the treatment of African Americans.

Four million enslaved people were freed when the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery passed on January 31, 1865, while Lincoln was alive. However, laws to establish freedom of movement and voting rights for African Americans would not become law for a century.

What would Lincoln say today as Congress fails to support voting rights for all Americans? He acted because he believed it to be right and just. Today’s Republicans, who express their pride in being “the Party of Lincoln” but can’t support voting rights, the principle for which he gave his life. fail to live up to his sacrifice. They lack the courage to stand up for all the voters in their state. They betray Lincoln’s legacy and further rip apart our delicate democracy.

Sarah Moore Grimke: Trailblazer

Women leaders throughout history. Sarah Moore Grimke takes the pole position in this modern rendition “feminists at work” of the 1932 photograph of steelworkers taking lunch 850 feet above NYC by Lewis Hines.

How did I not know about the contribution of this woman born in 1793, just 17 years after the Declaration of Independence? But if I missed her contribution earlier, I can’t be the only one. So, younger women of all hues and backgrounds with dreams of becoming lawyers or setting right the wrongs in our society, I present Sarah Grimké. Today, she comes to mind as the House of Representatives confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman to join the Supreme Court.

The picture above of 11 women and a youngster posed on the steel beam, just like Lewis Hine’s photograph of the steelworkers in 1932, provides a unique view of America’s female leaders throughout the decades. Sarah sits at the head of this group. The Bill of Rights came before her. Yet, even if you were to say that “We the People” meant everyone, the nation did not treat everyone the same. For example, women could not vote until 1920, yet Sarah worked to achieve voting rights more than 100 years earlier.

Sarah Moore Grimke

If you believe we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, Sarah’s strong shoulders and nimble mind form a good foundation. She grew up in South Carolina, the sixth of 14 children on a plantation supported by slave labor. Despite her quest for knowledge, she knew then she would not be admitted to law school as a woman while her brother Thomas was. Nevertheless, she consumed the books he studied for a degree at Yale College while fulfilling all the required “female” arts—embroidery, French, watercolors, etc.—required of a proper Southern maiden.

Her father, an attorney, and speaker of the House of Representatives in South Carolina, realized her intellect but would only allow her to study geography, history, and math, but denied her an opportunity to learn Latin. Her brother, Thomas, secretly filled in the gaps with Greek and a bit of Latin.

Ironically her father praised her ability, saying if Sarah were a man, “she could be the greatest lawyer in South Carolina or the greatest jurist in the country,”

On Sundays during her teens, Sarah would teach the Bible to young enslaved people, which was against the law in South Carolina, where they feared educated enslaved people would revolt. Secretly she taught reading and spelling to her slave, Hetty, by screening out the light in the keyhole to her door and lying flat on their stomachs before the fire. On the plantation, she became aware of the inhuman treatment of African Americans.

Soon realizing that South Carolina would not tolerate her belief that slavery was wrong, she went to Philadelphia when she was 26 and joined the Quakers. They were early abolitionists and allowed women to preach. But Quakers did not tolerate her growing interest in women’s rights and were critical when she and her sister, Angelina, preached to mixed audiences of men and women. They called these groups “promiscuous.” Nevertheless, they were the first women to address a legislative body in New England.

Sarah’s writings, considered radical, were among the first to express the links between racial and sexual oppression boldly. Sarah wrote to the clergy against the evils of slavery. She wrote “Letters on Equality,” which received a rebuke from the General Association of Congressional Ministers. Churches and the public burned her writings, and Sarah received threats of arrest. But Sarah wrote on. In 1839, Sarah, Angelina, and her husband, the abolitionist Thomas Weld, published American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses.

The sisters walked the talk. When they learned that their brother fathered mixed-race children before his death, they took the boys in and supported one through Harvard Law and the other as he completed the seminary at Princeton. Sarah didn’t give up. She passed out copies of Harriet Taylor Mill and John Stuart Mill’s pamphlet The Subjugation of Women on the street when she was 79.

Decades, even a century would pass, but the relentless courage reflected in her writing became the bedrock upon which other women built a political case to have their say-so concerning the nation’s decisions.

In her confirmation hearing, Ruth Bader Ginsburg paid tribute to Grinké by using her quote: “I ask for no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” Her predecessor also gained recognition in 1998 when Grinké became recognized by the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Looking back upon Grinké’s work, we recognize her contribution to women in 2022. Yet we wonder what she could have achieved if she and others could have reached their whole potential centuries earlier in her lifetime. Today Judge Jackson opens a new chapter in the history of the Supreme Court, recognizing the capability of an African American woman.

Maybe we will come closer to a paraphrased quote from Grinké: “I know nothing of man’s rights, or woman’s rights; human rights (and human intelligence and judgment) are all that I recognize.”

Notes:

APA: Alexander, K.L. (2018). Sarah Moore Grimké. Retrieved from https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-moore-grimke

Chicago: Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Sarah Moore Grimké.” National Women’s History Museum. 2018. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-moore-grimke.

MLA: Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Sarah Moore Grimké.” National Women’s History Museumhttps://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-moore-grimke. Accessed [date]. 

Books for more information:

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Life Up Thy Voice  by Mark Perry

The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina  by Gerda Lerner

Who Knew Nixon Would Not Be Last?

Tall stack of paper against a background of stormy sky covered with dark clouds represent the rising stack of documents protected by the Presidential Records Act to givde Americans an insight into our past to provide wisdom in making future decisions.

How 44 Years of the Presidential Records Act Impacts Us Today

When Congress passed the Presidential Records Act (PRA) in 1978, it placed the records of subsequent Presidents in federal custody to prevent their destruction. Congress reacted to Nixon’s destruction of incriminating documents. PRA reduced secrecy, allowed the public a peek behind the veil of government, and provided historians and journalists the resources to do their jobs. Politics being politics, PRA didn’t have enforcement teeth, nor could it overcome future Presidential Executive Orders designed to limit what power it did carry. As a young Congressional staffer and future amateur historian, I believed PRA would be a highlight of my four-year career on Capitol Hill. Ignorance was bliss.

A House Government Operations Subcommittee crafted the PRA bill in 1977 to assist America in preventing a future President from swiping or destroying documents created in the Oval Office. At the time, it seemed impossible to believe there would be another President whose ego, fear of reprisals or concern about his (or her) legacy would supersede an interest in the public’s need to examine the Chief Executive’s records.

Specifically, the PRA put the ownership of official Presidential Records in the hands of the American people to build trust in the work of the federal government and its Chief Executives. The National Archives and Records Administration scheduled retrieval of documents under PRA to begin January 20, 1981, as the Reagan Administration began.

Under this custody and management of Presidential records, the Chief Executive would file personal papers separately from official Presidential records. Then, when leaving office, the official records would be automatically transferred into the custody of the U.S. Archivist at the National Archives.

Under PRA, the Archivist has five years to process the documents from a retiring Chief Executive before releasing any. Unfortunately, processing has become a Herculean task with a minimum of 30 million records coming from a single four-year term, including audio files, and videotapes. Freedom of Information requests, based on the 1974 law from citizens, journalists, and historians, are accepted after the documents are processed. But can in emergencies, like court orders seen recently, can be applied earlier.The Archives can have 12 years to protect various aspects of a President’s records. (The Pandemic partially halted the Archives’ efforts to process documents, increasing the timeline.)

Presidential Documents Release: Nixon’s Secret Tapes

President Richard Nixon’s worries about being defeated are evident in the secret tapes he recorded in his office. That marked the beginning of his demise in August 1974, when he left the White House. While Nixon died two decades later, the final release of those secret tapes did not occur until 2013—thirty years after his death and 48 years after he left D.C. for California. LBJ’s audiotapes, recorded in the Administration before Nixon’s, were released piecemeal, but the last batch did not open until 2016.

The temptation to Presidents to protect “certain” documents from public view has stretched America’s patience, and now we are in another battle that could rival what’s gone before. I mention the role Executive Orders have played to amend, stretch, and sometimes erase the intent of the Presidential Record’s Act.

Power of the Pen: Executive Orders

Today, with the nation politically sliced in half, winning legislative battles has become an eternal struggle. However, to accomplish some segments of the legislative agenda that don’t require a Congressional vote, a President can take advantage of the Executive Order.

Now with changes made sinde 1987, the complexity of the guidelines issued by Executive Orders requires a spreadsheet to comply. During the last four decades, the weaving routes of politics and culture have complicated the process.

Three critical Executive Orders concerning Presidential Records have been signed since 1978, adjusting PRA or countermanding the prior President’s penned desires. Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12667 in 1989 when he left office. It allowed former U.S. Presidents to limit access to certain records created in their terms. Before releasing any presidential records, the Archivist must notify both the incumbent and former President which document is requested and whether they may claim Executive privilege.

President George W. Bush increased the number and types of documents and the withholding timetable for Presidential Records when he issued Executive Order 13233 on November 1, 2001. It permitted a President or former President to withhold several types of documents. In addition, his father’s papers (George H. Bush’s Vice Presidential and Vice Presidential papers–1981 and ended in 1998) fell under enhanced protection.

Executive Order 13233 allowed a President to retain certain types of documents longer, including:

“military, diplomatic, or national security secrets, Presidential communications, legal advice, legal work, or the deliberative processes of the President and the President’s advisors and to do so in a manner consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425 (1977), and other cases….”  

Some aspects of George W. Bush’s executive order were a reaction to 9-11, which occurred less than two months before he issued the order. As a result, security rose to top priority. Still, the only way to avoid future disasters would be to know how the intelligence community failed and where America could be better prepared.

The Society of American Archivists and the American Library Association criticized the President’s exercise of executive power. They charged George W. Bush’s order with “violating both the spirit and the letter of existing U.S. law on access to presidential papers as clearly laid down in law. They noted that the order “potentially threatens to undermine one of the very foundations of our nation.”

John Wertman, a member of former President Bill Clinton’s White House staff, wrote in 2006: “Order 13233 “represents a wholesale change in the way the federal government preserves and promotes our national public memory.”

Going Backwards to Iran-Contra

Questions arose about the Iran-Contra Affair in Reagan’s second term. The official justification for arms shipments to Iran in 1985 was that they were part of an operation to free seven American hostages in Lebanon held by Hezbollah. Reagan needed to return these Americans, fearing a repeat of the backlash that chased Carter out of the White House ahead of him.

Senior Reagan Administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to the Khomeini government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo. (President Jimmy Carter established the ban after  Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and took 52 hostages. Reagan pledged to continue the arms sale ban after his inauguration in January 1981.)

Congress had passed the Boland Amendment in December 1982 to prohibit further funding of the Contras. Oliver North and his assistant testified before Congress in 1985 that National Security Council documents related to the arms sale were destroyed to prevent proof of the arms sale and funding to the Contras.

International relations and national politics wound their way around Reagan’s pledge. Under the Reagan Administration’s plan or one devised among his advisors, the U.S. would use $15 million from the sale to Iran to fund the Contras fighting the Communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Reagan vocally supported the Contras but told the independent Tower Commission (in testimony as a sitting President addressing the arms-for-hostages scandal) said he did not authorize the deal. The Commission’s 200-page report criticized Reagan’s oversight of the National Security Council (where Oliver North served as a military aide, who was indicted and fired for his role).

Bush’s Executive Order sealed documents related to Iran-Contra for an extended period. This frustrated historians and others trying to piece together American foreign policy decisions in the Middle East and Central America that still worry the U.S. and the world.

In 1985, personal health considerations arose in the Reagan Administration, which were not broadcast widely. The Gipper underwent a seven-hour surgery to remove two feet of his colon for cancer in July 1985. Three days later he met in the hospital with National Security Advisor McFarlane, who engaged in shuttle diplomacy with Iran to get hostages released. Later McFarlane resigned as one of the two dozen Reagan Administration staff or cabinet members indicted in the Iran-Contra Affair. Ten of those were found guilty, but George H. Bush, Reagan’s Vice President and a former director of the CIA, pardoned all on the last day of his presidency.

Before the PRA, Jimmy Carter, no questions asked, turned his Presidential Records over to the Archives at the end of his term. Former President Gerald Ford said: “I firmly believe that after X period, presidential papers, except for the most highly sensitive documents involving our national security, should be made available to the public, and the sooner, the better.”

Obama Reflects Faith in History

The day after his inauguration Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13489 revoking George W. Bush’s Executive Order. It would be unfortunate if Presidential Papers were to be tossed from one Administration to another like a ping pong ball or hot potato. I merely touched on the current matter of the former President’s records because of their coverage in the daily news, but this background information might shed some light on how we got here.

The lack of trust in American culture today has multiple sources, but locking up Presidential Records for an extended time further erodes confidence in the American government. As we live through dark political times, ignorance of our history can pull us full circle to relive the worst of our past. Or we can learn from our history and shine light into the future.

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Thanksgiving: Seafood -1621 Macaroni & Cheese – 1789 Pecan Pies with Molasses – 1863

Brad West Unsplash–Full array of seafood, representing New England’s coast, 17th century

 (Plus Mac & Cheese recipe with Parmesan from )

Plenty of stories about the original Thanksgiving float around at this time of year. I’m going with the Smithsonian’s story: Massasoit, the Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Tribe received an invitation to thanksgiving from William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony in fall 1621.

The Pilgrims, who Bradford led, had fled England to avoid religious prosecution. To them “Thanksgiving” meant fasting and praying, so the original intent of the gathering might not have been a gourmet feast. But Native Americans had held Autumn Festivals for many years.

When Governor Bradford invited Massasoit, 90 warriors from combined tribes were meeting to form an alliance for mutual defense. Ousamequin, the warrior’s leader, had heard gunfire from the colony. (Colonists, not unlike future Americans, were celebrating by firing shotguns into the air.) The Tribe believed it meant a war had begun. But native leadership remained level-headed, thanks to the skill of translator Tisquantum. (Bradford called him “Squanto,” based on his community: Squantum.)  After negotiating with Bradford, the Wampanoag agreed to attend thanksgiving.

Backstory

Tisquantum had been kidnapped from the Patuxents on the coast of Cape Cod by explorer Thomas Hunt in 1614. Hunt took him to Spain, whereTisquantum was sold into slavery, but educated by monks. He escaped to England and learned English working for shipbuilder John Slanic, then returned to Plymouth. Upon his return, Tisquantum found his family and the entire tribe had died from Yellow Fever they caught from the European explorers. Alone, he joined the Pokankets.

After arriving on the Mayflower, forty-five of the 102 Pilgrims died of disease or starvation between 1619 and 1620. Maybe because of his own loss, Tisquantum agreed to share with the Pilgrims what he had learned about coastal farming, hunting, and fishing. He explained how to use a fish to fertilize the corn seed to improve the Pilgrim’s crops. His advice helped the Pilgrims to survive and become self-sufficient. This showed the true sense of community that could have marked a turnaround in Pilgrim-Native American relations. But as the colony grew, so too the need for additional land. Unfortunately, the value and scarcity of the rich land on the tip of Massachusetts created a desire to own it, which motivated the colony and later the growing nation’s efforts to push the Native Americans off the land.

1621: What Did the Warriors Bring?

Wampanoag warriors were fishermen and hunters, skills that ensured their tribe would have food. They came to the celebration loaded down with the fruits of their toil and the bounty of New England’s seacoast:

Venison, lobster, fish, wild fowl, clams, oysters, eel, corn, squash, maple syrup, and wild rice—a substantial feast. Maybe the warriors thought it was an “autumn festival!” It could easily take a three-day festival to consume such a feast. Over the centuries, the Native American tribes moved into the heartland,chasing buffalo and/or pushed west and south by federal policies. The tribes brought the foods they originally discovered on the coast that contribute to our Thanksgiving tables today: beans, potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkin, Chile peppers, and cacao, the basis of chocolate, another gift to us from Native Americans, is seen as an “essential” food by those craving sweets.

Did Anyone Say Pie?

Today most Americans take Thanksgiving pie for granted. If pie existed at all in 1621, it would come from a squash molded into a bowl and cooked over a fire. Move forward to 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first official Thanksgiving before the end of the Civil War. For his celebration, Lincoln made sure The Excelsior Pie and Cake Bakery had set aside one of his favorite Pecan Pies with Molasses.* Now we have a full spectrum of fruit pies year round, through the magic of freezers and pre-made pie shells. I’m depending on pumpkin blended with the modern miracles of Cool Whip and cream cheese for a Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie!  (See Plum Pudding Recipe below.

(President’s Cookbook, Poppy Camon and Patricia Brooks, 1968.)

Obviously, not Mac & Cheese in 1621, right? Well, the British came up with pasta made from breadcrumbs in the 1390s! They added a sauce made of stock and what they called chese ruayn, a hard cheese similar to brie. The result: a cross between macaroni and cheese and lasagne. But it wasn’t your mother’s or my daughter’s Mac & Cheese!

My update to Mac and Cheese couisine came on Wednesday’s National Public Radio’s “1A” discusson of 2021 Thanksgiving offerings. Stephen Satterfield, host of “High on the Hog” podcast, explained that the updated British recipe for Mac & Cheese came back across the Pond in 1789. Thomas Jefferson’s slave James Hemings (half-brother of Sally) trained to be a chef in Paris. He rose to head chef at the Hotel de Langeac before heading back to New York City when Jefferson became Secretary of State.

Englishwoman Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe “To Dress Macaroni with Parmesan Cheese,” brings together bechamel sauce, cheddar cheese,and pasta (see below) Published in 1769, it could be similar to what Hemings served to Jefferson’s guests.

I have my own favorite Mac & Three Cheese recipe my daughter fixes at Thanksgiving. Breadcrums on top bake up to an crunchy, brown crust. The treat lies below among the moist macaroni and the three flavors of cheese. Some things do get better with time!

Modern Thanksgiving

Anything goes in 2021 after a year and a half Pandemic that separated families and friends, isolating Americans. Now we have an opportunity to cook whatever your heart desires for the people you love, related or not. Whether it’s turkey or tofurky, to stuff or not to stuff, pumpkin pie or candy cames, the script is your to write this year. Take a moment to read about America’s Native Americans. You can start with the link below:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-museum-american-indian.2019/11/27/do-american-indians-celebrate-thanksgiving/

Note: A six-foot tall stone marker and aging bronze plaque at Plymouth, Massachusetts, commemorates the meeting of the Wampanoag’s Massasoit and Plymouth Colony Governor Bradford. Fortunately, Tisquantum of the Patuxent tribes could translate.

The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1769

To Dress Macaroni with Parmesan Cheese

Elizabeth Raffauld   

Boil four ounces of macaroni till it be quite tender and lay it on a sieve to drain. Then put it in a tossing pan with about a gill (a quarter of a pint) of good cream, a lump of butter rolled in flour, boit it five minutes. Pour it on a plate, lay all over it parmesan cheese toasted. Send it to the table on a warm plate, for it soon gets cold.

Plum Pudding  Native American Traditional Recipe

Wild plums, sugar, cornstarch

Wash plums, put in a pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the plums split and fruit comes away from the seeds. Cool and strain juice and put juice in pot and boil. Make a paste with cornstarch and hot water. Used about e tablespoons cornstarch to ¼ cup hot water. Stir until lumps disappear. Slowly add paste to boiling juice to thicken pudding. Add cornstarch if needed. Remove from heat and add sugar to taste.

Future Tangles with the Past

Hourglass on Ocean Beach. Amazon.com

The Future Tangles with our Past

Recently I read that high school students who have lived through the Pandemic mainly choose to live in the Present, letting the Future fend for itself. They are not willing to trust they will be around tomorrow, so why plan for it?

Frightening! 

Some are still willing to slug through calculus or biochemistry or trigonometry to prepare for careers in engineering and medicine. But that is not a large number.

 Those parents who are able are speeding up their plans for retirement, now more aware that life is short. Why not begin to enjoy the benefit of one’s efforts as soon as possible, not knowing what the future may bring?  While others are still struggling to feed and educate their children today.

Many of us vaguely remember the “Before Times,” as some call them, and are not certain that we can return to what now seems to be the distant past. Frankly, the times of being crammed like sardines into stadiums, music venues, and offices are not as appealing as they once were and will require mental and physical retrofitting.

While we are thinking about the future, will we be able to blindly return to following one political party or another out of habit or will we require something more?

“Identity politics” some call it, following along with a particular label because it is what you have always done, blind allegiance to the Dems or the GOP Party. Not because you believe what it stands for. But because you feel a part of the group.

Originally the parties were considered “shortcuts” that provide a range of choice between alternatives of action. “The act of choosing a party is the act of choosing whom we trust to perform our values across a vast range of issues that confront the country,” according to Ezra Klein, who believes the most valuable opportunity to influence the course of public affairs is in their choice of a party. He authored “Why We’re Polarized.

The rub can be traced to 1923 when Idaho Republican Senator William Borah said: “Any man who can carry a GOP primary is a Republican. To Borah it did not matter if the guy (then they were all guys) believed in free trade, states’ rights, or every policy of the Democratic Party.

Move to the 1950s when the positions of the two political parties became muddled as much by regional thinking and historical perspective. Voters could not define the party by the beliefs of their individual candidates. Democrats in Minnesota ran liberal candidate Hubert Humphrey, while in South Carolina the same party put uber-conservative Strom Thurmond on the ballot, both in Senate races.

Without the restraint of party unity, some argued political disagreements escalate. Debate on issues, like health care, motivates supporters and turns them against opponents. But in the end, issues get aired and resolved. Divisions get deeper and angrier.

Think about 1964 or consider this if you were not around for that initial foray into the political ring we encounter today. Republican Presidential Candidate Barry Goldwater promised an election that “would not be an engagement of personalities, but an engagement of principles.” But the conservative wing of the GOP got hung up with purity and worked diligently to “expel the moderate wing” of the party, forgetting they would need them to win the election. Goldwater got creamed by Democrat Lyndon Johnson.

George Romney, then moderate Republican governor of Michigan who would be a candidate for President in 1968, (and the father of Mitt Romney, who ran for President on the GOP ticket in 2008) outlined his disagreement with Goldwater’s “take no prisoners” approach.

After the Goldwater disaster, George Romney wrote his Republican colleagues: “Dogmatic ideological parties tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation, leading to government crises and deadlocks, and stymie the compromise so often necessary to preserve freedom and achieve progress.”
Think about that.

Interesting that Mitt felt it necessary to brand himself as “severely conservative” during the 2008 Presidential Campaign. And he went down, not as severely, but lost his bid never-the-less. In 2021, Mitt has taken sides again, more as a moderate, perhaps taking a longer view, sees the impact of following the former President down a purist rabbit hole could have on our democracy.   

Shortly the Republicans in the House will stage another “purity contest.” This one based on whether a House leadership position should be held by a conservative woman (Liz Cheney, daughter of a Republican VP under Bush II) who has been vocal in her opposition to Trump and his continuing cries of “foul” over the final tally of the now fading 2020 Presidential Election. She also objects to the former President’s role instigating the June 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Fear that Trump would back a Primary challenger against them weakened the knees of many Republican House members who voted against accepting votes cast for Joe Biden. Nevertheless, the election results were approved on a vote of 306-232 at 2:15 am on the long day-into-morning of January 6-7, 2021.

William Faulkner, a writer who I suffered through in college, but respect more with age, wrote: “Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.” He noted that “the past is never truly past, but it returns through haunting and repetition.”

Ezra Klein, Why We are Polarized. New York: Avid Reader Press, 2020. In November Klein resigned as editor-at-large at VOX to become a New York Times columnist and host of a political podcast.

Stay tuned for interesting thoughts on what percent of the country is fully invested in the political divide (six percent). And how the rest of us can help pull the needle from the far walls. What can be done to give thinking a chance and avoid having the noisiest among us rule.