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Discovering Factories of Innovation

Vector illustration with a touch of 80’s style depicting COVID-19 concept and handmade grain effect. istock.

Discovering Factories of Invention

January 7, 2021. As a former Congressional staffer early in my career, I am particularly shocked by the invasion of the U.S. Capitol and loss of life we saw yesterday. In earlier blogs I have discussed the importance of finding “common ground” and treating each other with civility. This is a serious wound to our democracy that will take a concerted effort to repair. To move forward, I continue to address issues of importance to the nation. Here relying on science to help tame critical problems like Covid-19 here and around the globe.

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  Thanks to Thomas Edison’s initial electrical genius our neighborhoods and homes twinkled with electric red, green, blue and white bulbs for the holidays, providing a brief respite from the Pandemic. Putting the light bulb within financial reach of everyone was just one of Edison’s inventions. Over a lifetime he received 2,332 patents in 34 countries.

Drey Family Christmas Lights, NW Austin 2020 Photo by M. Edwards

Yet none of Edison’s 19th century inventions solved the puzzles we’re grappling with in the 21st century—a virus that has killed over 330,000 Americans, flooding ICUs and leaving millions with lasting heart, lung, and brain traumas growing out of COVID-19.

Menlo Park “Factory”

Can today’s researchers glean anything from Edison’s “Factory of Innovation”?  How does his body of work compare with modern scientific discovery? Having the mind of a genius aided his cause, but his wisdom also led him to assemble a group of well-trained, top-drawer scientists in Menlo Park, outside Newark, NJ. Edison realized he needed a village of scientists to be productive and prolific. Edison hired 25 young scientists from colleges and tech schools to carry out his experiments—several at a time. They toiled for “workmen’s wages,” but as one said: “The privilege which I had being with this great man for six years was the greatest inspiration of my life.” Others did privately complain about the 55-hour week, six-days-a-week that could expand into overnight stints when an experiment demanded it.

Many of those scientists, who Edison called “Muckers,” began at New Jersey’s Menlo Park or the West Orange lab complex and went on to continue working with him for great chunks of their lives. The cadre grew to 200, developing specialization along the way, working on batteries, the telegraph or phonograph, a prototype of an electric railway, the motion picture cylinder, and an electrographic vote recorder.

Their efforts took communication and entertainment to levels never anticipated. While Edison lived into the 20th century (1931), he was a man of a wired world. Heck, he made the wires possible that sped the 19th century far forward into the digital, wireless world we embody today. A new raft of scientists and inventive dreamers followed him to bridge the gap between.

Areas of Discovery 2020

The 21st century scientists are branching well beyond “wires” or define them more as “branches” on DNA trees and cultured viruses in laboratories filled with computerized test tubes and syringes and a raft of supplies unfamiliar to Edison. He built his initial 25 X 100 laboratory filled with every apparatus, including a 10-horsepower engine, and chemicals on every shelf for 19th century “scientific research.” He promised to produce a minor invention every ten days and a “big thing” every six months.

Such promises are nonsensical in today’s world of modern biological research, COVID-19 earnest push behind the 21st century work at biotech firms like AbCellera, Abbott, OxGene TESSA, Codex DNA, GIGAGen, 10X Genomics, and countless others. All those mentioned have been selected to be among the Top 10 Innovations of 2020, reported in The Scientist.

While my knowledge of their work can barely meet the task of describing it, I will rely on The Scientist, a publication “exploring life, inspiring innovation,” that selected esteemed judges, who determined the awaredees. As beings alive in this century, we should be aware of the achievements and the trials of these tireless workers.

Are these “factories of invention”?  Since necessity is the mother of invention, in 2020-21 the science of biology has become one essential tool to address the international concern with COVID-19. So rather than look to electricity and electronics, two areas of burgeoning success beginning in the 18th century, attention now turns to laboratory technologies.

Companies and laboratories focused on pharmaceuticals, genetics, and building the tools they need to discover COVID vaccines are the winners. Scientists, who focus their efforts on medicines and the lengthy search for cures, are on the front lines—some of them just as hidden from the public as the “muckers.” Here are a few winners among the Top 10 scientific discoveries in 2020 in core laboratory technologies: single-cell proteome (a system’s collection of protein) analyzer and a desktop gene synthesizer and Pandemic-focused products.

AbCellera Celium TM  The Scientist reported in late March this biotech firm hosted a call with 40 researchers to review the data they’d collected on potential antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. The company deciphered the genetic sequences encoding hundreds of antibodies that might treat COVID-19. They fed their results into Celium, a data visualization tool that intersects more than a million high-quality data points to those antibodies to reveal which ones might work best in a potential therapy. This process helped them focus on the LY-CoV555 antibody, which later entered into clinical trials as a potential treatment, according to Maia Smith, lead of data visualization at Celium, “I think that kind of says it all.”

Fernando Cortea, a protein engineer at Kodiak Sciences in Palo Alto, who partners with AbCellera to identify antibodies to treat retinal diseases, says the company’s package of microfluidics, single-cell analysis, and the data visualization tool “streamlines the process of antibody discovery in a user-friendly manner.”  One of the contest judges praised the “power of the Celium platform as being at the intersection of biology and AI to make new antibody discoveries at a blazing speed.”

Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 Test  For six years, Abbott has helped physicians detect influenza A and B. strep, respiratory syncyt virus (RSV) and more recently SARS-CoV-2, in less than 15 minutes. The toaster-sized device heats samples in an acidic solution that cracks open the viruses, exposing their RNA. This was one of the first tests accessible to the US public in the COVID crisis and its quick response “is critical to stopping viral spread,” according to Normal Moore, Abbott’s director of scientific affairs for infectious diseases. He explained “you’re most infectious early on—and we don’t have that result in that timely fashion, what does it help if a molecular test comes back two weeks later?” In January 2020, there were more than 23,000 ID NOW machines in use in the US, mainly in urgent care clinics and pharmacies. The ID NOW platform costs $4,500 and each COVID-19 test costs $40.

Contest Judge Charmion Cruickshank-Quinn, a scientist at Agilent Technologies, pointed to the ease of the throat or nasal tests using the mobile platform in the field at drive-thru testing locations.

BioLegend TotalSeq  TM Human Universal Cocktail v1.0  allows researchers to analyze blood samples from nearly 300 patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. “I actually know a lot of colleagues across the United States and Europe that have used this same panel to analyze their COVID cohorts. . .which means we’ll be able to combine all of our data and compare. And that’s incredible.”  It also builds an international online laboratory, expanding the size and speed of virus investigations and testing.

Judge Robert Meagher, Sandia National Laboratories, technical staff: “This is a really nice merging of next-gen sequencing as a digital readout for sequence barcodes and single-cell barcoding technology to enable single-cell quantitative proteomics (the entire set of proteins produced by an organism).”

Codex DNA BioXp TM 3250 System   released in August 2020 , following a 2014 platform for on-demand DNA assembly and amplification, allowing researchers to synthesize genes and genomes faster than ever before to accelerate the development of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments, according to Peter Duncan, director of produce management at Codex DNA. The equipment can be used on cancer cells or a variety of infectious agents, including SARS-CoV-2.

Prior to this platform, researchers needed to send out samples to be processed, taking weeks or months. This system sequences up to 7,000 base pairs in length can be assembled in a matter of days with the push of a button. Mark Tornetta, Biologics Discovery at Tavotek Biotherapeutics told The Scientist: “All of these methods (that are on the run)on the BioXP save us time and cost to perform.”

Factories of Invention, where researchers work to answer our pressing needs, drawing together science talent and the latest tools to serve society—whether it’s the 18th century or the 21st. To learn more about the other outstanding innovations in 2021, check out the bottom URL below.

https://www.thoughtco.com/thomas-edison-muckers-4071190

Read for yourself about the other 2020 Top 10 Innovations:

https://www.the-scientist.com/features/2020-top-10-innovations-68176

Attitude of Gratitude

Flower Bouiquet Pngtree.com

Although 2020 may seem a time when the heavens plotted against each living soul on the earth, a little reflection will show we are not the only afflicted humans and stars still come out to light the year ahead.

“Joy, prayers and gratitude are the three attitudes that prepare us to live Christmas in an authentic way,” Pope Francis noted in 2017 in his traditional prayer of thanksgiving. Two years earlier, visiting New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, he said:  “It will do us good to think back on our lives with the grace of remembrance. . .to grow in spiritual gratitude.”

You could say that was easy for him to say three years ago, but today 80 million people in 217 countries have been affected with the virus and 1.75 million around the globe have died, most of them alone without family. Here in the U.S. we’ve had 18.8 million cases and 330,000 deaths.

Yet a little light at the end of the tunnel is shining. While this crisis isn’t over, parts of the country are still in the middle of a vicious fight, but the approval of a vaccine gives hope that by spring or early summer enough Americans will be vaccinated against Covid to free us from its scourge. Plans are underway to open elementary classrooms by late Spring, giving parents more time to earn a living while teachers teach.

We’re getting accustomed to cooking our own food, trying new recipes, polishing our own nails, cutting our own hair, washing our own cars (or letting them be)—it’s a do-it-yourself world—as we maintain social distancing while serving human activities. Have you developed a new appreciation for the people who have served you throughout your day?

That’s gratitude and this year we shouldn’t wait until Thanksgiving to offer words of appreciation to those around us. Your words and generosity can encourage your family and friends and may lift-up those discouraged in the value of their work at this most enlightened time of year.  Waste not a moment in reaching out in earned praise, to share comfort, and joy in being alive—to fight another day!

A wise friend of mine shared words of gratitude with me that I try, and sometimes fail, to model:

“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.”  Rumi

Stay tuned: – Thomas Edison’s Factory of Invention applied to 2021 next week.

Big Bend State of Mind

Grand sunset over desert, Big Bend National Park, southwest Texas. https://www.goodfreephotos.com

Get lost in the beauty of an unending horizon, either sunset or sunrise. Wild and wonderful and more than 100 miles from any transportation hub—so you will not be inundated with tourists. (Obviously during a Pandemic, this probably is not a concern, but isolation is increasing the park’s popularity.)

Now is a good time to find a solitary spot of beauty, right? And wild wilderness among 1200 square miles, featuring the soaring, forested Chisos Mountains (8,000 feet), the summer’s torrid desert is winter’s special treat, surrounded by the curvy Rio Grande that names the park. (Reservations are required if you become adventurous and are thinking about hijacking your holiday plans for a trip to Texas’s Southwest desert.)

Big Bend out of Santa Elena. https://goodfreephotos.com

What could be better than a long tromp in the woods? Not just anywhere but seemingly at the edge of the world where red canyons and soaring mountains meet. The Lost Mine Trail exists thanks to FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, composed mainly of local Hispanic workers who toiled from 1933 to 1942 to cut that path and build the road up the side of the Chisos Mountains, which allowed the park to open in 1944, as World War II still raged in Europe. Big Bend officially opened a week after the Normandy Invasion—D-Day, June 6.

Today there is nothing like gazing at the stars in nature’s beauty to renew the spirit and to remind us that this, too, will pass. Do not know about you, but my spirit could use a bit of levitation about now. At Big Bend the natural beauty speaks of the continuity of life—cycle after cycle—lifting the mind to a higher plain.

Timeless nature can renew the soul–civilization has made it through this before. Well, maybe not exactly THIS, but plenty of struggles and mankind managed to wiggle out only to emerge again.

If the stars hold a fascination for you, this is the place to come. It is a paradise away from city lights. See the canopy of stars as you have never seen it before stretching out before you in all directions—from the valley floor to the top of Chisos, 8,000 feet closer to the sky!

Perhaps you are drawn to the flora and fauna of the desert and the mountains. Here the cycles of light and dark are perfect for these delicate marvels. Ocotillo (Oh-co-TEE-yo) captured my attention, featuring limestone-toned spikes 20 to 30 feet tall growing sharps where others feature flowers—nothing to capture your attention, except particularly in spring, red-orange, tubular flowers burst forth in late March or early April. Some refer to them as living rock cactus.

“Don’t Fence Me In”

The year Big Bend opened Gene Autry caught America’s attention with the tune, “Don’t Fence Me In,” which seemed to be the theme of the park early on and Texas forever. 1944 proved to be a productive year. A Harvard professor developed the first automatic digital computer, which would go through many, many renovations before it reduced to the 13-inch marvel on my desk. Oswald Avery isolated DNA and FDR began his fourth term as President. And the Rio Grand just kept on flowing and bending to the southwest, then the northwest, rolling on, providing continuity in 1944 as it does today, nearly 80 years later. The pictures tell the story. I will leave the link, so you can “visit” with your eyes if the multi-hour car trip is not in your Christmas schedule this year. Enjoy and rest your mind. 2021 will come quickly enough.

Notes:

nps.gov/bibe/learn/historyculture/tgttn.htm

nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/bibe/adhiob.htm

Universal Main Street: Under a Canopy of Stars

Nanjing Road, Shanghai. Extends from The Bund along Hangpu River to the Pearl Tower. Taken before 2020

We are not the only folks with a “Main Street.” Some people think of it as a place of commerce; others the center of community—libraries, coffee shops, courthouses, where you pay your taxes or utilities. For others it is where they congregate for prayer or purchase a goat, the most valuable item you will own. Your needs depend on where you live around the globe. But we all bleed the same, live under a canopy of stars, and are capable of contracting Covid-19 because it is 2020 and we are human beings.

You might be familiar with some of the better-known main streets in the world:

  • Nanjing Road, Shanghai, the #1 Chinese commerce district with 360 stores stretching to The Bund on the Huangpu River, facing the stunning Oriental Pearl Tower.
  • “The Main,” Boulevard Saint Laurent that bisects Montreal, linking affluent residential neighborhoods to the north and the garment district, Little Italy, and Vieus (Old) Montreal with its seaport.
  • Cat Street, Tokyo, Japan, joins two of the city’s most vibrant and artistic neighborhoods, Shibuya and Harajuku, drawing the city’s youthful and creative cultures and allowing pedestrians to avoid battling Tokyo traffic.
  • London’s Camden High Street draws people from every corner of the globe who come via underground Tube to its unique architecture, independent shops, and markets.
  • Las Ramblas in downtown Barcelona brings together three pedestrian-oriented streets for an eclectic mix of retail, kiosk sales, eateries, markets, exhibitions, museums, cultural institutions, and pubs.
  • Champs-Elysees in Paris, considered by some to be the most celebrated promenade in the world, is a 2.6-mile-wide boulevard lined with outdoor cafes, theaters, and boutiques that stretches from the Place de la Concorde to the Place Charles de Gaulle with the Arche de Triumph rises along this path. In 1610 Louis XIV had his architects draw up plans for the promenade to provide an impressive view from the Tuileries garden.

Many world travelers are missing this shopping season in far-flung places. Others may never travel beyond a 10-mile radius of the tin-roofed structure they call home. Dharavi, the slum on the edge of Mumbai, India, the setting for the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” houses 800,000 people in a single square mile. Flimsy structures are built cheek to jowl and vertically. The density is 10 X that of Manhattan. People there have a high risk of getting the Coronavirus. By 2030 at the current rate, there will be 1 billion people living in slums worldwide.

Dharavi, a slum in Mumbai, India, where 1 million people live. “Slumdog Millionaire” filmed here.

In late July 2020 health workers tested and found 110,000 people tested positive for the Covid-19. The infection rate in Dharavi went s high as 57 percent. Not unexpected in such a densely populated place with one latrine for every eight families, many of whom struggle for food and clean water. It is not uncommon for eight people to live in a tin-roof structure the size of a small American bedroom.

But as of December 12, 2020, the slum dwellers are surviving at a higher rate than people in the US who have soft beds, warm food, ample access to a shower, and a bathroom. Rather astounding. India, the country neck-and-neck with China for the highest population in the world, has a total of 9.88 million COVID-19 cases, while the US stands at the top of the world with 16.58 million cases. The nation embarked on a campaign to educate slum inhabitants about the disease and provide safety kits. This year, according to December 11 figures, India has a total of 143,389 people who have died of the disease. While in the US more than twice as many deaths have occurred: 305,362. Just under 10,000 more active cases are active in the US, compared with India with 37,762.  Worldwide 72.4 million people have contracted COVID-19 and 1.62 million people have died of the disease. There are 312,030 total cases now being treated.

Many of the shopping districts in Europe are home to nations still struggling to manage the disease. France ranks fifth worldwide; the United Kingdom ranks sixth and Spain ninth. America’s neighbors: Mexico at thirteenth, Canada at 47th. In Asia, which has had longer to wrangle the disease: Japan 46 and China 79. The first vaccines went out to England last week and will reach some American cities on Monday.

We hope the vaccine will be the beginning of the end, although it is expected to take at least three months to complete inoculations and people will be persuaded to take the vaccine to protect not just themselves, but their families, neighbors, and their communities—the Main Streets–that surround them.

 Writer Alice Walker shares a universal thought in 2020. “Though the heart is breaking, happiness can exist in a moment, and because the moment in which we live is all the time there really is, we can keep going.” Existing until the next moment, we savor the moments we have. As this season of sharing and universal understanding circles the globe, may we find solace in the humanity we share with others, no matter where they reside on the globe. May we all take a moment to consider the critical impact the little decisions we make can have on others as we share Main Street.

Where’s Your Main Street?

Stowe, Vermont Christmas Village. Our family travels.com

I knew where Main Street was when I was eight. When the temperature dropped and darkness came around dinnertime, my heart beat faster. The biggest event of the year on Main Street in Huntington, Indiana, (population: around 16,000) would be soon.

On a crisp Saturday morning my younger brother and I bundled up in our snowsuits and gathered our next-door neighbors to race down to Main Street. We heard the merry strains of “Jingle Bells” wafting from loudspeakers tied to streetlights along the way.  The size of the crowd in front of Penny’s was perfect—room for us to fit in to have a good view of Santa Claus, but enough people standing around to make it cozy—a break against the wind. Penny’s being the last stop where Santa got out and threw candy to the crowd of eager youngsters.

This annual parade became ho-hum to parents familiar with Sheriff Jones, who dressed up in a red suit and a white beard to ride the sleigh each year. If he could have hung a “Vote Sheriff Jones May 4” banner across the front of the sleigh, he would have. Instead, he pitched tasty, peppermint candies wrapped with his holiday greeting, “Vote Sheriff Jones May 4.” We ignored his speechmaking but followed his advice to begin the season’s shopping.

 Our parents would haul us into Penny’s Department Store, where we stopped to see the whisp of gray smoke rise from the Lionel train circling a miniature Toy Town, dancing bears, and talking dolls—offering a lame resemblance to Macy’s windows, a half continent away. But we did not know any better then.

Decades later, red scarf and tan coat pulled tight against the wind, sans snowsuit, sans Sheriff Brown, I awaited the multi-story Snoopy floating down Fifth Avenue towards the Mother Ship, Macy’s on 34th Street. Followed by a two-story red sleigh and a realistic Santa with a bright red suit and a million-dollar smile, the parade satisfied. Evidence experiencing the frigid temperatures adds to the festivity came this year when the Pandemic removed the audience along the Macy’s Parade route and forced families to view online. Brought back fond memories, though it wasn’t the same.

Can you go home again?

We’ve all heard the phrase “You can’t go home again.” Main Street today may not be the same place we remembered when we wore snowsuits to attend outdoor Christmas parades as kids. The last time I walked a Main Street in Indiana was June 2003, when my daughter took me to Nick’s, the iconic campus pub in Bloomington. Her present to me: a visit to my college campus after she graduated from arch-rival Purdue, a couple hours away. Like all Main Streets, it changed over the years, but retained the essence of place for me.

When I thought about writing this blog, I ran across Mindy Thompson Fullilove, MD’s, Main Street, How a City’s Heart Connects Us All. Her book offers the thoughts of a social psychiatrist with a heart for personal connection. Seeking this essential element of city geography led her to the Community Research Group at Columbia University and the New York Psychiatric Institute, where she worked for 26 years. To write about Main Street, she spent eleven years visiting the streets of 178 cities in the U.S and 14 foreign cities. She shares what she learned about what makes a city special, how they enrich and bring us together, and how they are now threatened in a myriad of ways. Her academic mission: to discern the contribution of Main Street to our collective mental health. I can only touch upon an example of a gathering place that was important enough for a community to fight to keep it. But the book also offers food for thought for those who love our cities and small towns and want to protect them.

Pandemic threatens Main Street favorites

 Even before the Pandemic, the cost of rent has threatened the future of many favorite eating, drinking, listening, and congregating places. Several months ago, a long-time Austin location for musicians to “play out,” Threadgill’s, closed its doors on Lamar Avenue. North of town, maybe too far off 6th Street, Threadgill’s’ location was no longer a determining factor, as every Austin music venue shuttered for a while as Covid-19 ended customers’ cozy proximity to the bar and their favorite musicians.

Dr. Fillilove had her own wake-up call to the change gentrification can make in a community. Her favorite restaurant and bar, the working class Coogan’s at Broadway and 169th Street, opened decades ago not far from the New York Psychiatric Institute, where she worked in a neighborhood that led the city in drug violence. She’s frequented the bar and restaurant since 1990 and remembers her feet crunching the vials of crack cocaine along the sidewalk on her way to work.

Restaurant owner Dave Coogan helped enrich the neighborhood by hosting events to build community with the 5K Blues, Salsa and Shamrock runs and the park event, Hike the Heights, and by hiring and training bartenders, runners, cooks, and waiters from the neighborhood.  Coogan’s held the promotion party for Bob Fullilove, when he became the first African American professor in the School of Public Health at Columbia University. His photo joined those of other regulars that lined the walls.

Community saves Coogan’s

On January 10, 2018, three years after the author moved to a faculty position at The New School near 14th Street, she read in the newspaper that Coogan’s was to close. Dr. Fullilove joined 15,000 New Yorkers in signing a petition supporting the restaurant in its battle with landlord New York-Presbyterian Hospital that upped the lease way beyond Dave Coogan’s ability to pay. They had been in negotiations for three years but could not come to a settlement. Friends emailed friends and finally a neighbor tweeted out: “one of the true Washington Heights mainstays, and has embraced every wave of neighborhood changes. I love Coogan’s. My stomach hurts from this news.” Lin-Manual Miranda, Hamilton author and Broadway performer, also sent an SOS to his father, the New York politico. He and New York Congressman Adriano Espaillat met with the CEO of New York-Presbyterian Hospital. They drew up a simple change in the lease that Dave Coogan could accept and he was back in business. He said he always knew the restaurant would be missed, but said, “the love that came out of this community was incredible.”

Weeks after his restaurant slipped the noose, Coogan visited a Hispanic elementary school in the Washington Heights neighborhood for pay back. He asked the students, “How many of you come from a small island surrounded by water? Raise your hands.” He knew most of the students were from Puerto Rico, and he raised his hand too. Coogan explained his family immigrated from Ireland, another island country. “My mother came when she was sixteen,” he told them. (Full disclosure: My grandmothers were second generation Irish immigrants, too.) He said the Puerto Ricans (likely Luis Maranda) saved the Irish and he was grateful.

Not every Main Street restaurant, bar or community gathering place will survive the Pandemic, but we need to back the ones we care about and nurture those who do. That is how it works on American Main Streets. As Dr. Fullilove explains: “Those making, retaining Main Street for us are one of the great centripetal forces holding our universe together.”

Keep posted: There is more to this story as we talk about famous Main Streets around the world. More in the coming weeks.

First Presidential Thanksgiving

Abraham Lincoln at his desk.

President Lincoln issued the first American Thanksgiving Proclamation for the “gracious gifts of the most high” who “has remembered us with mercy,” in 1863 before the last guns of the Civil War were ceased. He proposed the fourth Thursday in November for this celebration. (A century later, presidents would often move the date back to assist retailers, allowing more time for Christmas shopping).

As a child I remember dressing up in white aprons and Pilgrim hats to recreate the “first Thanksgiving” in 1621 near Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, a matter of wishful thinking. My mother would read a story for children she’d written about that event for, based on the way the story had been told to her. We have gotten a more complete picture since.

More than a century and a half earlier, George Washington also proposed a Thanksgiving celebration in 1789 after Revolutionary warfare had ceased and the Treaty of Paris signed (1883).

But annual celebrations were inconsistent UNTIL President Lincoln declared a federal holiday and encouraged Americans to celebrate in unison: “It seemed for me fit and proper that it (Thanksgiving) should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the American people.” (Words written by Secretary of State William Seward) If it was good enough for Lincoln and the Americans who were coming out of the Civil War, so might it be for us today?

We often forget, or maybe never knew, that Lincoln used Secretary Seward’s words because he remained in his bed after contracting smallpox at the time of the Gettysburg Address in Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863. The nation then also experienced the threat of fatal disease.

“I invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, at sea, and living abroad, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving . . .to heal the wounds of war and to restore as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to thee full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.”

In 2020, one hundred and fifty-seven years later, we Americans find ourselves once again divided, not North-South, but politically so that in some places the division is within households, between spouses, neighbors, and friends who struggle to find common ground. For some this is not based on philosophy, or dogma, but on the parsing of “facts” that may or may not be. May we test the waters for one day and find what we HAVE in common.

This is America’s prayer for Thanksgiving to appreciate what we have accomplished together as a nation. To acknowledge the combined efforts of each and every one, for example, the newborns and students who give us hope for the future, mothers and fathers who have the honor and the responsibility to create the next generation, teachers who instill a love of learning, generation X and Z already seeking solutions, the military who are on the frontlines in war and disasters, and the health care workers all over America working round the clock to assist the Covid patients.  Thanksgiving for all the families who share them with us, cooks who prepare healthy meals, those who make products to help us be productive and think about what comes next, those who help us maintain our bodies (gyms and pools), workers who build our homes, fix our cars, preserve and restore our health, and volunteers everywhere who spread their human glue to hold it all together. Thank you each and everyone.

This comes as a reminder that Americans have been in tight places before. Somehow, through Providence, hard work, or sheer luck, we’ve succeeded as a nation—always with room to do and be better, but we stuck together.

Lincoln, like other Presidents after him who did not want to frighten their constituents, suffered alone and came under greater physical threat from disease than we originally knew, according to recent scholarship.

We now know that Lincoln had a fever, became dizzy, very pale, suffered severe headaches, and back pains and felt ill prior to delivering the address at Gettysburg. His valet, William Johnson, a black man who went with Lincoln to Gettysburg, contracted smallpox after serving Lincoln there, and died of the disease upon his return. The President mourned the loss of Johnson in Washington and he himself did not recover for three weeks, not in time for the Thanksgiving he proclaimed. Lincoln began to feel himself around December 10, in time to prepare for Christmas and pray for peace the following year.

Peace would not come until April 1865, the same week in which Lincoln died of an assassin’s bullet. But after Gettysburg Lincoln was able to see the Emancipation Proclamation begin to take effect and by 1865 be believed that the country would remain unified and eventually become one again. Had he not survived 1863, the outcome might have been different. For that we can be truly thankful and pray again that America’s people look at the glass half full, instead of half empty, and work together to fill it up.

P.S. We may be on the brink of an even more difficult moment, but again, ours is a strong nation, created by strong minds and stronger people. This division did not occur over night and it won’t be resolved quickly. But small steps, like finding areas of common interest, being willing to see what can be achieved together, might help begin a reconciliation between those willing to bridge the gap. That could be how Americans slowly emerge from their bunkers and begin the painful process of rebuilding trust and believing again that we can find ways, however small, to work towards being one nation again.

Common Ground? Try Pie!

Pumpkin pie. Vector illustration.

Thanksgiving 2020: Looking for a common denominator to bring the family together? Why not pie? In late November, nary a cherry or blueberry pie would suggest the right or the left to commemorate the season. This is the season when bright orange pumpkin pie, or apple/pear simmered together, or maybe even maple-flavored, Texas-grown pecan pies rule the side table, tempting little fingers to sneak a taste. Orange may become the purple of the season, bringing us together. Who can quarrel with pumpkin?

Maybe this is one time when dessert should come first. Send sweetness flowing throughout the room, mellowing dinners before the main course, when verbal fireworks would be more likely to commence.   

Celebrity chefs Scotchman Gordon Ramsey, Italian Emeril Lagasse, Americans Bobby Flay and Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten might not swear to the success of bringing on the familiar pastry first to greet their guests, as a panacea to family division. But I might gamble that Paula Dean and Rachel Ray would join America’s sisters, mothers, and grandmamas desperate to create a peaceful kingdom in the dining room and just bring on the pie!

Of course, politics is not the only topic that can heat up a meal. Religion comes a close second, along with the usual cultural battlelines we’ve leaned into during the 2020 campaign.  But this season, politics is the topic that haunts us. Maybe it’s time to bring out the board games? My understanding is that Chess sets are flying off the shelves/online during the Pandemic. Maybe some dinner guests can help initiate the less experienced players as they dig into a more cerebral contest.

Union—Is it out there?

If you’re a Past Becomes Present reader, you know I began a few weeks ago looking into Jordan Blashek and Christopher Haugh’s book Union, A Democrat, a Republican, and a Search for Common Ground. One a Republican, the other a Democrat, crisscrossed America from New Hampshire to the Carolinas and Chicago to Mobile, Washington, DC to Northern California and Los Angeles, in an inherited Volvo taking the temperature of the nation, and sometimes struggled to maintain their own equilibrium along the way.

As they pulled their way out of the Oregon lowlands to Crater Lake, the green forests made Chris a little homesick for California’s redwood groves. Chris’s role now to help Jordan write the “manly maid-of-honor” speech for his sister’s wedding by the time they reached Sonoma. “So tell me about your older sister,” Chris asked in his speechwriter mode. “Jenna always protected me growing up, “ Jordan explained, even though they went to different high schools. “She went to one of the most liberal high schools in the country, and there was a lot of Republican-bashing going on,” he said, wincing at the memory.  “At one point she’d had enough and stood up before a school assembly—about 500 people,” Jordan said.

Jenna took no prisoners. “All of you need to stop it,” she said. “My parents and my brother are Republicans, and they are still good people!”

“I’ll never forget that,” he relayed to Chris.

Chris finished writing the speech prior to his sister’s wedding, then they found themselves back on the road a year later as Jordan started year two of business school and Chris flew to California after writing in DC that summer. They headed to Tijuana but made a detour to peruse a Trump rally in Phoenix after Chris noted hashtags #PhoenixRally and #Trump. 

After the speech and the posturing by the various segments of the crowd and counter-protesters, they saw how people engaged. “What gave us hope was that performances are not who we really are,” Chris wrote. “Performances are artificial, like the borders and lines we draw around one and other. And that meant we could overcome them.”

They headed towards Zion National Park in Utah before sunrise. From a plateau atop a valley, their discussion led to: “We humans will likely always separate ourselves into tribes, requiring us to give up a piece of ourselves in service to the group’s rules and mores.” This came after an evening drinking with Marines who pulled Jordan in as one of their own, after two tours in Afghanistan, and accepted Chris as his road-trip buddy.

Chris and Jordan gave homage to community, as we are different people with a range of ideas: ”Community makes us stronger, and when done right it makes us less suspicious and more noble-–be it churchgoing folk gathering on a Sunday for a homily, soldiers swapping photographs in a foxhole, or protesters singing the same melodies as those who came before them.”

Their trips around America revealed to them that “the stories we tell each other and the parables we whisper our children” pinpoint responsibilities that grow out of each and DEMAND GENEROSITY!

That brings us full circle.  By immediately sharing your orange pumpkin pie with those who put their feet under your Thanksgiving table (or neighbors and friends out the kitchen door), you could help promote a positive Thanksgiving. By changing the mood before the meal, you could encourage your guests to select a non-famous person who makes them happy to be alive. See where that goes.

Jordan Blashek and Christopher Haugh, Union, A Democrat, a Republican, an a Search for Common Ground. (New York: Little Brown and Company, 2020)

America two countries or one?

Red State Blue State

20200827_redBlueStates_1000x700-790×310 Dictionary.com

 When did primary colors invade politics? NBC, the first television channel with color (Remember the expanding wings of the peacock?) wanted to show off their Crayola colors on a massive wall behind their newsmen (and newswoman Jessica Savage) in 1976. The authoritative voice of John Chancellor and much younger sidekick Tom Browkaw explained states tinted blue were for incumbent Representative Gerald Ford, while Jimmy Carter’s states would display in red. (Ron Elving, “The Color of Politics: How did Red and Blue States Come to Be?” Nov. 13, 2004, NPR.) Those original colors came from Union blue, during the Civil War, and rebels from the South were red.

Reagan’s Landslide Turned GOP Red

But by the time of the Reagan landslide in 1980, his GOP states were switched to red, which were there in abundance with his 270 electoral votes to Carter’s 15. NBC called the election at 8:15 pm Eastern for Reagan. But not all the other networks followed the same color scheme

By the 2000 Bush-Gore match-up, Red (GOP) and Blue (DEM) were an established function of political analysis because the decision process continued, so the media map returned to home screens night after night. Eventually to avoid confusion, red became the universal GOP color and blue represented the Democrats.  

In that contest political journalist Michael Barone described it in a Wall Street Journal essay: “The 48 percent to 48 percent cut in the 2000 election (became) two nations of different faiths. One is observant, traditional-minded, moralistic. The other unobservant, liberation-minded, relativistic.” Church attendance was a better barometer of the divide by 2000 with 59 percent of the GOP voters for Bush regular attenders vs. 39 percent of the church attenders for Gore.

A slight majority of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States have voted the same way over the past seven elections, up until 2016. All but 10 states have repeated their choice of party three times. The current red-versus-blue map was mostly written by 1988, when the first president Bush defeated Michael Dukakis. (Robert David Sullivan, “How the red and blue map evolved over the past century,” American magazine, June 29, 2016)

 The keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention on July 27, 2004, attempted to erase the metaphor for partisanship that red and blue had become. “The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red state Republican and blue states for Democrats,” Barack Obama said. “But I’ve not news for them. We too worship an awesome God in the blue states and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries (referring to the Patriot Act) in the red states.”

Obama Flipped Nine States Blue

Four years later Obama was the candidate for President and won decisively 365-173 in the electoral college against John McCain. The screens were royal blue that year. Obama flipped nine states from 2004: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. He pulled in 69.5 million votes, the most since LBJ in 1964 until the 2020 election.

Moving into 2014, the division became two more diverse systems– red America: traditional religious, self-disciplined, and patriotic, and blue America: modern, secular, self-expressive, and uncomfortable with patriotic display. Flash forward two years: self-discipline appeared to be excused at the top.

The divide between the states grew deeper in 2016. The proportion of voters living in counties that were   won in a landslide for the Democratic or Republican presidential candidate has steadily increased over the last seven elections and now makes up a whopping 60 percent of the electorate, according to Gregory Aisch, Adam Pearce, and Karen Yourish, “The Divide Between Red and Blue America Grew Even Deeper in 2016,” November 10, 2016, New York Times. Nearly all this 10-point increase came from Republicans in rural and small-town America, who swept Donald Trump into office.

Bill Bishop, co-author of the 2008 book “The Big Sort,” found that in 1992, 38 percent of voters lived in one of these landslide counties, defined as being won by over 20 percentage points or more. This shift reflects the tendency of like-minded people to live near one another. Lifestyle, which drew people together in the past, has come to be reflected in politics.

By 2019, 64 percent of white Christians were Republicans and 30 percent white Christians were Democrats. (Ronald Brownstein, “How  Religion Widens Partisan Divide,” CNN, October 22, 2019). Among Evangelicals, which make up 16 percent of the US population, 75 percent vote GOP (including a portion of the Hispanic vote) and 19 percent Democrat, which came into play in 2020, but the white suburban women helped make up the difference for the Democrats. As church attendance continues to drop, even the Evangelicals who provide the foundation for the GOP base could be less plentiful. Demographic changes as the aging White population disappears and people of color increase in parts of the country.

So where are we by 2020? Have we been convinced that people that reside in either the red or blue states, depending on our own preference, are so different from us that it would be difficult to live next door? Do people pick their location based on politics, or work, or family? Or has this political shorthand cast the people on the coasts in opposition to those in the middle and those in the upper Midwest against their neighbors and their Western neighbors?

Political writer David Brooks does not characterize this as a Wild West scenario. In “Nation Slightly Divisible,” in The Atlantic, December 2001, he saw it more like a high school cafeteria with the Jocks and the Nerds, the Creatives, the Cheerleaders, etc. where there are cracks, not division cleaved with a knife. For his article, he traveled from Blue Montgomery County in Maryland 65 miles north into Red Franklin County, Pennsylvania (a trip he or someone might need to repeat to explain where we are today after the election of 2020). He realized then as we understand now that there are differences that suggest not just political, but also cultural and demographic between the states. The Red vs. Blue system is based on a winner-take-all electoral college vote distribution by 48 states (not Maine or Nebraska, they split their electoral votes by congressional district and statewide).

At the local level, individual members of those parties have a variety of positions and outlooks, so that nearly every town, city and patch of farmland in the country is “purple,” a mix of neighbors, friends, and family, each of whose own mixed political preferences tip the scale to vote for one side or the other in a contest.  They cannot be reduced to red or blue. Purple maps were drawn showing this idea in 2004, to consider the nation as less divided, made up by individuals. (Phil Fox Rose, “We Are All Purple: The Destructive Lie of Red States and Blue States,” Patheos, November 7, 2012.

What would it take to bring America together?

Brooks may have seen different world views when he spoke to residents of Franklin County nearly two decades ago. Issues that burn hot today–health care, racial justice, climate change, law enforcement, international engagement, and the economy—were important, but not as critical as they are now. The cost of living was cheaper where they live, and they appreciated the slower pace of life and the beauty of rural life. It was their choice to live in a small town where they knew most everybody. The coastal cities were far away, and they liked it that way.

Then post 911 the country came together after the shock of an attack on American soil that took 3,000 lives at three locations. Today’s threat to our families nationwide does not have the impact of a loaded 737 crashing into and destroying the Twin Towers. The threat is invisible until it strikes.  By the end of July, it infected 9 percent of Americans. About one-third of these were in densely populated places like New York City, leaving those in small towns and rural areas to sigh in relief.

Now Covid-19 comes around for a second, and in some places third time, just in time for Thanksgiving, at least an awareness of the danger creeps across the nation. Smaller communities now being hit are farther from major health care facilities that could treat an outbreak. ICUs and hospital beds in small and medium-sized communities are reaching capacity. Since the beginning there has been a reluctance to wear masks and socially distance in parts of the country that believed they were immune or feared the financial loss due to closed businesses outweighed the danger of the disease. Now we are in this together: 10,904,891 Americans have been infected since March and 245,600 people have died. It might be time to find a way to treat this as a universal threat that could bring a purple agreement to save lives and prevent further loss of businesses before a vaccine eventually is available nationwide in spring or summer 2021.

https://www.americanmagazine.org/content/unconventional-wisdom/how-red-and-blue-map-evolved-over-past-century

Democracy Can Be Messy – Example: 1876

Democracy word play, GoGraphics This image outlines some of the elements that play a part in America.

While Americans were eager to find out who would be the 46th U.S. President this week, I went backwards in time to discover the 1876 election of the 19th President. After President U.S. Grant left the stage under the cloud of Teapot Dome, whether deservedly or not, the 1876 Rutherford Hayes-Samuel Tilden Presidential race came on with all the steam the Republicans and Democrats could muster. Smithsonian Magazine called it “The Ugliest, Most Contentious Presidential Election Ever.”

When Republican Rutherford Hayes went to bed election night, Democrat Samuel Tilden led in the popular vote, eventually stretching ahead 260,000 votes. But eventually there were 19 electoral votes in dispute that denied the Electoral College to either candidate. (Stay tuned for key tips about the Electoral College.)

Trivia questions: 1) Who were the Five Presidents who lost the Popular Vote, but won the election?

2) Which Presidential election yielded the highest number of voters?

A bipartisan Electoral Commission went to work and devised The Compromise of 1877, which seems from here to have been a dirty bargain. During intense closed-door meetings, Democratic leaders agreed reluctantly to give Hayes all 20 outstanding electoral votes in return for the withdrawal of federal troops put in place after the Civil War in the last two still-occupied states—South Carolina and Louisiana. Republicans agreed to several handouts and entitlements, including federal subsidies for a transcontinental railroad line through the South (which never materialized).

The compromise ended Reconstruction and turned the South over to the Democratic “Redeemers,” who disenfranchised black voters.  Jim Crow laws were strengthened in the South, suppressing Black votes and within time pushed a vast migration from the South into the Northern industrial towns. Support for Reconstruction had dwindled as plummeting cotton prices ushered in the economic downturn of 1873 and the severest depression the South had experienced since 1861-65. This paired with the allegations of corruption in Republican Grant’s Administration helped Democrats win control of the House in the 1874 Midterm Election—for the first time since the war.

We cannot determine what the results would have been if a fair election had been held without the violence and intimidations throughout the South that disenfranchised many African Americans made eligible to vote under the 15th Amendment. But it is likely that Hayes would have won 189 electoral votes to Tilden’s 180. (The term “bulldoze” came from this election — meant to intimidate by violent means, sometimes by whipping or flogging. Both Democrats and Republicans used this intimidation technique on political opponents and African Americans in Southern states, particularly Louisiana). Black voters now eligible to cast a ballot under the Fifteenth Amendment made up the majority population in South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana would likely have voted for Republican Hayes. Florida with a majority White population would have gone to Tilden.

Wonder why America did not address racial issues during the Bicentennial?

Three years prior the Supreme Court came into play, not in the election per se, but through the Slaughterhouse Cases, which delivered a blow to Reconstruction. The Court ruled the 14th Amendment’s promise of due process and equal protection covered violations of citizen’s rights by the states, but not by individuals.  This ruling made it more difficult to prosecute anti-Black violence perpetrated by the Klan and White supremacist groups, disenfranchising Black voters and reassert White control of the South. In 1876 the Supreme Court overturned the convictions of three white men convicted in connection with the massacre of more than 100 Black men in Colfax, Louisiana, three years earlier, as part of a political dispute. The men had been convicted of violating the 1870 Enforcement Act, which banned conspiracies to deny citizens’ constitutional rights and had been intended to combat violence by the Ku Klux Klan against Black people in the South.

Election 1876: Historic voter turnout

This election was the second of five presidential elections in which the person who won the most popular votes did not win the election (see Trivia question), but the only one in which the popular vote winner received a majority of (rather than a plurality) the popular vote—Tilden 50.9% to Hayes 47.9%.  In the end, Hayes recorded the smallest electoral vote victory (185 Hayes – 184 Tilden). This election yielded the highest voter turnout of eligible voters in American history (81.8%). Final tallies for 2020 election are running at 41%, although the vote totals for mail-in ballots, triggered by the Pandemic, will likely be the highest number of ballots cast, but there were fewer Americans in 1876, so the percentage was higher.

President U.S. Grant considered running for a third term, but in 1873, the House by a vote of 233-18 passed a resolution declaring the two-term tradition put in place to prevent a dictatorship. This came for two reasons, to follow George Washington’s two-term example, and because the Teapot Dome and other financial shenanigans had come on Grant’s watch, whether he was involved or not the buck stopped on his desk.

The Republican National Convention had met in Cincinnati, Ohio, giving Ohio Governor Hayes a leg up and helping him reach 384 by the seventh ballot.  In St. Louis, Tilden, the New York Governor and prosecutor who sent political boss William M. Tweed to jail, had a clear path among the Democrats from the beginning, eventually receiving 738 votes.

Here are accounts of each candidate, neither completely capturing its subject:  Henry Adams, a historian of the period, said of Hayes, a wounded Civil War Major General: “A third-rate nonentity whose only recommendation was that he is obnoxious to no one.” Newspaperman John Defers described Tilden: “A very nice, prim, little withered-up, fidgety old bachelor, about 120 pounds avoirdupois (overweight), who never had a genuine impulse for many or any affection for women.” A bit cruel, in this era maybe even libelous without facts to back it up, but a picture from one reporter. (Holt, Michael F., By One Vote, University Press of Kansas, 2008, pg. 129)

Southern states and future elections

No Republican presidential candidate until Warren G. Harding in 1920 would carry any state that seceded and joined the Confederacy. That year he carried Tennessee, which never experienced a long period of occupation by federal troops well before the first Presidential election of the Reconstruction period (1868).

Long memory in the South: None of the Southern states that experienced long periods of occupation by federal troops after the Civil War (until 1876) was carried by a Republican again until Herbert Hoover in 1928. (He won Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia.) This was the last election in which the Republican candidate won Louisiana until 1956, when World War II General Dwight D. Eisenhower carried it. And the last in which the Republican candidate won South Carolina, until 1964 when conservative Republican Barry Goldwater carried it along with four other Deep South states (Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia), and his home state—Arizona, but nothing else. When we look at the birth of Red states and Blue states next week, we will see what changes have taken place.

The Electoral College—how did it come to America?

  1. The Holy Roman Empire used an Electoral College from the Middle Ages through 1792. When the Founders met in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention (1787), this was one of the more challenging issues. The greatest number did not want Congress (and its politicians) to select the President, but rather the American people. Electors were to be from each state, but NOT politicians.
  2. Actually “Electoral College” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. Article II of the Constitution and 12th Amendment to the Constitution refer to “electors” not the College. The words do not appear in federal law until 1845.
  3. Today the electors are bound either to a political party or a state
  4. Nothing is in the Constitution about how the states allot the electoral vote. Now all the states, except Maine and Nevada, have passed laws giving electoral vote to the candidate who wins the popular vote in that state.  Electors are no longer independent but promised to the state’s winner. They gather in their state capitols about six weeks after the election to cast their ballots.
  5. Founders expected the House of Representatives would decide if no one won majority—each state one vote.
  6. Founders figured there would be lots of candidates, which would help decide the electoral vote. In the beginning, there were no separate ballots for Vice President. The person with the second most votes became VP. But early on (see Jefferson-Burr run off) this did not work out, so they changed it. National parties formed and number of political parties shrank. Only two Presidential elections have been decided by House—the last in 1824 John Quincy Adams v. Andrew Jackson.

Much talk occurs during every Presidential Election about whether the system would favor the popular vote without the Electoral College, but then smaller states and rural areas might be short-changed. Eliminating the Electoral College is easier said than done, since to do so would require a 2/3 supermajority in Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment. Then the amendement would need to be ratified by 2/3 vote in each of the states. A high bar.

Next week: How did America become divided into Red Republican states and Blue Democratic states?

We’ll update an article by Robert David Sullivan, a senior editor at America magazine laid out in 2016: “How the red and blue map evolved over the past century.”  https://www.americamagazine.org/content/unconventional-wisdom/how-red-and-blue-map-evolved-over-past-century The blog on the road trip across America in Union will come after that.

Trivia 1) 5 elected Presidents  John Quincy Adams beat out Andrew Jackson, who led in popular vote in 1824 and was ahead in the Electoral College, but Jackson lacked the winning number in the Electoral College. Jackson was shy 32 electoral votes, so it went to the House. After another deal, Adams won.

Rutherford Hayes (above) 1876

Benjamin Harrison 1888 beat Democrat Grover Cleveland, who won popular vote by 90,000. Cleveland lost electoral vote 233-168. Following election Cleveland took the prize.

George Bush 2000. Al Gore took the popular vote by 500,000, but the electoral votes came down to Florida and Gore lost, 271 to 266.

Donald Trump 2016 won 304 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 227 but lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes.  https://www.history.com/news/presidents-electoral-college-popular-vote?li_source=LI&li_medium=m2m-rcw-history

Trivia 2. An overwhelming number of Americans voted in 2020, but per capita the number of eligible voters who cast a ballot in 1876 nearly doubled 2020’s percent with 81% voting. At the time of this writing 41% of those Americans eligible to vote in 2020 did. About 150 million Americans out of 239, 931, 921 eligible voters. Not all 309 million Americans are eligible. (Census figure)

Notes: Gilbert King, “The Ugliest, Most Contentious Presidential Election Ever,” (Tilden’s opposition had called him everything from a briber to a thief to a drunken syphilitic.) September 7, 2012, Smithsonianmag.com

John Kelly, “What in the Word?” The racist roots of bulldozer, Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford University Press.

https://www.history.com/news/reconstruction-1876-election-rutherford-hayes

Between 1828- 1928. Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections: 1828-2008. The American Presidency Project. University of California, Santa Barbara.

Keith Ian Polakoff, The Politics of Inertia: The Election of 1876 and the End of Reconstruction (1973)

Table 397. Participation in Elections for President and U.S. Representatives: 1932 to 2010. Census Bureau. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012. U.S. Census Bureau.

Morris, Roy, Jr. (2003) Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876. New York: Simon and Schuster, pp. 168, 239. ISBN 978-0-7432-5552-3.

Polling Around the World Differs

Is it the BBQ or socializing?

Australians, you knew they might have a different take on it. Honest, it is the “barbie” for them.  They are concerned to find the best BBQ place before selecting a polling place. Seems they queue up to grab their customary “Democracy Sausage.” The queue for the meat is often longer than the queue to vote.

Our neighbors, the Canadians, according to researcher Brandon Tozzo, pre-register when they file taxes and are mailed a slip with the location to vote. There are dozens of voting places in a riding (decided by a non-partisan federal institution) that is well staffed. A voter goes in, shows their voting slip, and casts a ballot. Rarely takes more than five minutes (course there are fewer Canadians, mainly stuffed near their southern border by the cities, but others are spread out throughout a vast wilderness).

One Canadian commentator in Ontario wrote that a nonpartisan national commission runs the election, while another note: “I’ve waited longer for a bus than I have ever waited to vote.”

An Irish woman told researcher Tozzo: “20 minutes (it took me to vote) but that was because I met a neighbor, then a friend, then knew the returning officer so said hello, then finally voted.

“Took another hour to leave the pooling station, nothing like an election for Irish people to get a chance to chat.”

Folks in Norway, Germany and other European countries said there were plenty of placed to drop off ballots ahead of time and that unlike in the U.S., most polling locations were a short walk from home. (In fairness these countries are more compact that the United States, which adds to the challenge.)

Voting is simplified in a variety of countries from Germany to Israel by scheduling Election Day on a weekend—thus not cutting into a working day or complicating day care for families (although children are welcome in polling booths in the U.S.)

One man from India, the second most populous country in the world, points out his country handles more ballots than any other democracy in the world. At the same time India has a higher level of illiteracy than the U.S. and a lot more people vote in India than in the U.S., but still without these long lines.

Some Appreciate the Enthusiasm

Some like Annie of Austin, TX, waiting in the dark and cold with friends for the polls to open on the first day of early voting, see enthusiasm in the line wrapped around the building and down the street. Pizza to the Polls in Austin, TX, came to the aid of voters there. The company vowed to “make democracy delicious” by delivering free food to all polling places with long lines. They reported scanning twitter for locations and have sent 2, 418 pies in 2020.

Roland Martin from Atlanta said he had voted all his life, but he had tears rolling down his face in his car outside Friendship-West Baptist Church in Atlanta. He drove up and saw a long line rolling down the street and felt honor in the length of the line.

Former Congressman John Lewis 1940-2020

Martin remembered civil rights leader John Lewis, who played a pivotal role in the Selma, Alabama march and later served decades in Congress. In July he was buried from Martin Luther King’s church in Alabama. Lewis’s words came to Martin: “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have.”

American citizens have different opinions about what the voting experience should be. Voting in America, particularly registering to vote, is more complicated than it needs to be. Yet as of Sunday, November 1, 2020, a total of 93 million early ballots have been cast 68% of the total votes cast in the 2016 Presidential Election. After the Pandemic we need to devise a simpler means of voting—polling places that don’t vary or confuse voters and a simpler mailing process, which will be proved a safe means of balloting after this election—moving closer to the true meaning of democracy.

https://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2020-54532189

Next week well have Part 2 of Union, the story of a cross-country road trip by two college graduates talking with Americans on all sides of the political circle. This story about polling around the world seemed to fit in better right now.