Thursday, July 01, 2010

Great-Great-Grandpa is my Teacher

Ohiyesa, known as "Charles Eastman" said "More than this, even in those white men who professed religion we found much inconsistency of conduct. They spoke much of spiritual things, while seeking only the material."

Are we sorry about what happened to Native Americans in this country?  It’s a rhetorical question, with an answer that’s simply expected.  A more enlightening question, perhaps is… Were our ancestors sorry in 1835 about Cherokee Removal or the later Wounded Knee Massacre?  Whose ancestors did this, exactly?  There were those, of course who thought that it was a horrible thing to do.  But, if they had opinion polls in the 19th century, what would they have said about those things? 

According to history textbooks, they were resoundingly FOR removal and “getting rid of” the Indian.  Officially, 19th century America felt that Indians were in the way.  But, did all of America feel this way?  According to the history books, they did.

An opinion poll is democratic, right?  Well… maybe not.  Today, I think that it's rather a tool of those in control to supply the illusion of public support to something that they are sure may generate opposition.  When the public learns that the “opinion polls” stated that the country was behind any act committed by the government, then they will accept it and stay quiet. But, opinion polls reflect only the opinions of those polled, not necessarily the whole population.  

Here’s another question… if opinion polls were around in the 19th century, what would they say about Wounded Knee before and after December 29, 1890?  I ask about both periods because public opinion would have certainly changed after the massacre.  Before that date, the public would probably have been less FOR the attack on the Lakota Sioux than we think… but, AFTER the massacre (indeed, it was a massacre), the public would most certainly have been against it.  They're good people, our ancestors.  But, they simply had no public venue to voice their opinion beyond newspapers.  Newspapers did carry opposing viewpoints AFTER the massacre, but people were lying dead and frozen on the ground at that point.  Still, the objective was accomplished and public opinion could not get in the way.  “Progress” would continue.  Government found it easy to push their ideology through the official channels. By Government, I'm referring to Congress, of course, the politicians, the guys and gals who follow public opinion (whose public opinion mattered then, again?).  But, then there were no opinion polls, so how did they know.  Railroad companies, Mining Companies, businesses that employed everyone else had lobbyists that threatened to pull their support unless that village got eliminated from the land that they wanted... certainly, that qualified as an opinion poll to Congress.  My Great-Great-Grandpa was probably plowing his field and had no earthly idea. Every Sunday, though, his preacher told him about what happened last month.  Not exactly the Associated Press wire service.  Still, he got to display his democratic prowess and vote every four years, right?  How informed do you think he could have been?

In the 19th century, leaders didn’t need opinion polls because speedy news would have to wait for television and CNN.  Whatever happened, happened, and THEN the country (meaning, people like you and me) found out about it. 

When did opinion polls begin?  Well, in the 19th century, the first such poll was conducted by The Harrisburg Pennsylvanian in 1824 to show that Andrew Jackson was leading John Quincy Adams.  It was a simple poll with one point and a small voter base.  Woodrow Wilson was the subject of another small poll in 1916 and in 1936, the Literary Digest ran a poll, this time with 2.3 million voters, however they were generally more affluent Americans who tended to have conservative or Republican sympathies (rich people, probably with financial interests in oil).  Great-Grandpa was probably a democrat.

What about today?  Well, today the opinion polls are necessary largely due to that annoying thing called television.  If Wilson's day had television, then everyone would have known immediately about our invasion of the newly soviet Russia who de-privatized ownership of oil fields, much to Standard Oil Company's distastes.  What?  Surprised?  1918, Russian invasion... didn't you read about this in school?  Neither did I.  Actually, neither did Congress in 1918 (slight unconstitutional booboo there).  They could've used a TV, I tell ya.  Executive power grew in the early 20th century and virtually ripped control from them, reducing the power structure from a pesky 535 to only 1.  Afterwards, the power(s) that be hated the invention of the television... at first.  They still depended on public opinion, but now that opinion was easily generated and easily broadcast.  Watch any good newscasts on Vietnam lately?  Boy, was that embarrassing for Johnson? Congress/President had to adapt to provide the services that conservative businesses still demanded.  Today, I think you'll agree that it works for them much more than it works against them.

Meanwhile, Grandpa (third generation) was still working the plow, probably another good family democrat.  Still happily plowing that same field, most likely.

Here’s another most annoying question (back to the 19th century... I know, I'm bouncing here)… whose opinion would have been polled, anyway?  Who was allowed to vote?  To be sure, this was not exactly a democratic system, was it?  Did African Americans have a say in the administration before the Civil War?  How about after the failure of Reconstruction?  Did Indians vote for their own removal?  No.  That simply wasn’t the pattern, here.  Public opinion didn’t mean a hill of beans, or wouldn’t have, at least not to everyone involved, only those that mattered.  Manifest Destiny assured us of a right to this land.  I was going to say “our” right, but that was simply my programmed instinct… not reality.  We weren’t happy about how Wounded Knee was done and legislated to prevent future massacres.  Of course, by then, the Indian was nearly a memory.  Railroads crisscrossed native lands all over America.  

Ok... that was awful and embarrassing.  But, we still hide from it today by not teaching this part of our history in school, a white lie about how we got here. We don't want our children to know how naughty we were.  But, they HAVE TO KNOW.  Their opinion will make a difference one day.

Certainly, we have grown a bit.  For that, we can be very proud.  We have much to learn, however.  It’s a daily process, this “learning,” making mistakes, and then learning some more.  Yes, we have much to be proud of (remember? three hard-working generations of yeoman farmers plowing that field) … but, we should never hide from our faults, faults that will teach us the greatest lessons and help us grow even more.  Ohiyesa did his best to instruct us on this point.  It is a fervent need to believe that we have reached perfection, that we have achieved civilization, especially now that everyone else knows what we're thinking (thanks again, TV).  Crime and poverty still haunt that dream, however and throw mud on the picture-perfect party.  Ideals are like that, elusive.  That’s ok.  That’s what guidelines are all about. 

What is past is past.  The future is yet to come, as the saying goes.  Look forward, not back.  But, if we don’t at least peak behind us willingly, we will not know what to expect tomorrow.  Education is absolutely vital and I’m not referring to only your kids.  Educate freely (yourself, too), without worrying about how your ancestors are going to look to you or to your kids.  Tell them that great-great-grandpa was a great man that worked hard and plowed his field, yes, but that he made some mistakes.  We all do.  We all have responsibility for America's reputation in the world community.  Learn about those mistakes so you can add to your repertoire of useful tools and be a more capable representative.  I’ll bet all of our Grandpas would be proud of us for that… they would want what is best for our futures and would willingly teach us if they could.  They can.

Ohiyesa also said, "Among us all men were created sons of God and stood erect, as conscious of their divinity."  It matters not whose God he refers to... that's a statement that cannot be denied.  Another way to think of it is "all opinions stink."  I cleaned that up a bit, but pulled out the idea, I think.  Another bad choice of words... still, all opinions matter.


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