Texas Senate Bill 8 is the Fugitive Abortion Act of 2021

Section 7 – And be it further enacted, That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant, his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting him, her, or them, from arresting such a fugitive from service or labor, either with or without process as aforesaid, or shall rescue, or attempt to rescue, such fugitive from service or labor, from the custody of such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or other person or persons lawfully assisting as aforesaid, when so arrested, pursuant to the authority herein given and declared; or shall aid, abet, or assist such person so owing service or labor as aforesaid, directly or indirectly, to escape from such claimant, his agent or attorney, or other person or persons legally authorized as aforesaid; or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, so as to prevent the discovery and arrest of such person, after notice or knowledge of the fact that such person was a fugitive from service or labor as aforesaid, shall, for either of said offences, be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months, by indictment and conviction before the District Court of the United States for the district in which such offence may have been committed, or before the proper court of criminal jurisdiction, if committed within any one of the organized Territories of the United States; and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil damages to the party injured by such illegal conduct, the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost as aforesaid, to be recovered by action of debt, in any of the District or Territorial Courts aforesaid, within whose jurisdiction the said offence may have been committed.

That’s Section 7 of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This Act of Congress allowed states and territories of the U.S. to create commissioners to hunt down black Americans who escaped slavery and return them to their enslavers. If an enslaved person was able to reach a state that had legally banned slavery, their enslaved status was not overturned. Instead, the people of that state were forced, by Section 7, to void their own antislavery laws by helping the slave commissioners in whatever way those commissioners demanded: help them to find enslaved people, take them into custody, guard them while they awaited return to their enslaver, and turn them over to the enslaver. Preventing a slave commissioner from enforcing slavery in a free state was illegal. Helping an enslaved person hide or escape was illegal. Knowing about people who were helping or hiding enslaved people was illegal, because it was a form of “hindering” the slave commissioner. The penalty for those who hindered slavery, directly or indirectly, was a $1,000 fine (a fortune in the mid-1800s), up to six months in prison, and another $1,000 fine to pay back the enslaver the “civil damages” they experienced as “the party injured by such illegal conduct”. Since very few Americans would have $1,000 to pay the first fine, the second $1,000 would be collected “by action of debt” – that is, seizure of property and/or any other asset the person might possess.

We posted about the FSA four years ago, in September 2017 in “The 2017 Fugitive Slave Act”; that time, we were comparing it to laws making it criminal to help immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, and turning police officers into “immigrant-catchers” just like the slave commissioners were “slave-catchers”. When you are rewarded for doing something, you will find ways to do it. When you are punished for doing something, you’ll stop. That’s how these acts work.

This September, in Part 1 of a short series, we’re comparing the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to the 2021 Texas Senate Bill 8. Why? Because this Bill, now law, makes it illegal for a woman to get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy in the state of Texas, and therefore illegal for anyone to provide an abortion or, crucially, to help a woman to get an abortion in Texas after six weeks in any way. Abortion is realistically banned by this procedure, not just or primarily because not all women know that they are pregnant at just six weeks, but because

–all women are forced to make two appointments with an abortion provider, one to get an ultrasound so they can be shown their “baby” and told that they will be “murdering” it if they get an abortion, and one to get another ultrasound before the procedure;

–women under age 18 are forced to get written and signed parental approval to get an abortion; and

–only women with strong support systems, money, and flexible employers who allow time off are able to travel out of Texas to a state that does provide abortions after six weeks.

With the passage of this bill into law, it’s not just illegal to perform an abortion; it’s also illegal to drive a woman out of state to get one elsewhere, to pay for one, or, potentially, to tell a woman where she can get an abortion after six weeks. The law is purposefully vague, using the phrase “conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion” to cover just about anything.

Let’s do a close reading. We took the text of this Bill from the website Texas Legislature Online, which is part of the official State of Texas government website. We’re not reproducing the entire text, but letting you know which sections we’re looking at.

AN ACT

relating to abortion, including abortions after detection of an unborn child’s heartbeat; authorizing a private civil right of action.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS: SECTION 1.  This Act shall be known as the Texas Heartbeat Act.

–The use of the word “child” is already a red flag for subjectivity. A fetus at 6 weeks is a fetus, not a “child”. Anti-choice advocates have long used the words “baby” or “child” to describe something that could one day be a baby or child, but currently is not. From the moment an egg is fertilized by sperm, it’s a “baby”, as Section 171.201 (5) says: “‘Pregnancy’ means the human female reproductive condition that: (A)  begins with fertilization”.

Calling the Bill the “Texas Heartbeat Act” technically refers to the fact that a fetal heartbeat is detected between 3-6 weeks after fertilization. But even the language of this Bill in Section 171.201 (1) reveals what a technicality this is: “‘Fetal heartbeat’ means cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.” Is this what anti-choice advocates want you to think of when you hear “Texas Heartbeat Act”? No; they want you to think of a valentine-shaped heart that represents a baby with feelings and emotions.

Basically, calling a 6-week old fetus a “child” or “baby” is like calling someone you enslave a “laborer” or “worker”, as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 did, consistently calling people who escaped slavery “fugitives from labor.”

Sec. 171.207.  LIMITATIONS ON PUBLIC ENFORCEMENT. (a)  Notwithstanding Section 171.005 or any other law, the requirements of this subchapter shall be enforced exclusively through the private civil actions described in Section 171.208.  No enforcement of this subchapter, and no enforcement of Chapters 19 and 22, Penal Code, in response to violations of this subchapter, may be taken or threatened by this state, a political subdivision, a district or county attorney, or an executive or administrative officer or employee of this state or a political subdivision against any person, except as provided in Section 171.208.       

–Here the Bill leads early with its key component: it’s not being enforced by the State government. No enforcement of the Bill may be taken or threatened by anyone representing the state. Here’s the first part of that following section they refer to:

Sec. 171.208.  CIVIL LIABILITY FOR VIOLATION OR AIDING OR ABETTING VIOLATION. (a)  Any person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in this state, may bring a civil action against any person who:

–Texas never claimed that this Bill is constitutional. The evil genius of it is that it doesn’t have to be constitutional if the state is not carrying it out. No one working for the state government of Texas will be asked to prevent a woman from getting an abortion, or take anyone to court for having an abortion or helping a woman to get one. The state’s hands are off. It’s private citizens who will do this work. Yes, they’re authorized by state law, but this means that anyone who wants to challenge this law will have to go after every individual citizen who acts on it–which could be thousands or tens of thousands of people. No one can sue the State of Texas over it.

Pro-choice advocates will certainly take the first private citizen who acts on this law to court, and hope to work that individual case up to the Supreme Court, just like Brown v. Board of Education or Plessy v. Ferguson. But in the meantime, unknown numbers of people will continue to act on it–far greater numbers than work in Texas state government. 25 million people live in Texas. Far fewer work in state government.

This is an authorization of vigilantism, as we will see. Let’s continue that last section:

Sec. 171.208.  CIVIL LIABILITY FOR VIOLATION OR AIDING OR ABETTING VIOLATION. (a)  Any person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in this state, may bring a civil action against any person who:

(1)  performs or induces an abortion in violation of this subchapter;

(2)  knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of an abortion through insurance or otherwise, if the abortion is performed or induced in violation of this subchapter, regardless of whether the person knew or should have known that the abortion would be performed or induced in violation of this subchapter;

(1) is clear: no abortions can be provided after six weeks. (2) is that horribly vague “conduct that aids or abets the performance” of an abortion that could cover anything. The only specific they give is that insurance companies that pay for abortion can be sued. The vanishingly small number of insurance companies that ever cover abortion will soon, one fears, be reduced to zero.

You may be asking at this point, where is the burden of proof? How can anyone prove that someone “aided or abetted” in an abortion in any way? It’s just hearsay–I can go to court and say “I know that Person A drove Person B to get an abortion” or, worse, “I know that Person A encouraged Person B to get an abortion,” or even “Person A knew that when Person B left the house that day they were going to drive out of state to get an abortion and didn’t try to stop them.” There’s no end to the dystopian nightmare that is made possible here.

This law also makes someone guilty until proven innocent, which is the opposite of the legal principle the U.S. is founded on. If Person A is sued, they are forced to appear in court and argue that they are innocent. The Bill refers to someone in this situation as the “defendant” and the person who sued them as “the claimant”, and never was the word “claim” so accurately and awfully used. No one making a claim against someone will be thrown out of court, and every groundless case will have to be heard–and the “defendant” will pay all the legal fees if they are found guilty, and the state will pay all the legal fees if they are not, as we see here:

[3] (b)  If a claimant prevails in an action brought under this section, the court shall award:

(1)  injunctive relief sufficient to prevent the defendant from violating this subchapter or engaging in acts that aid or abet violations of this subchapter;

(2)  statutory damages in an amount of not less than $10,000 for each abortion that the defendant performed or induced in violation of this subchapter, and for each abortion performed or induced in violation of this subchapter that the defendant aided or abetted; and

(3)  costs and attorney’s fees.

So if Person X takes Person A to court and wins, Person A is first made incapable of repeating their crime (“injunctive relief” is a court order that demands that someone stop doing something), and Person X, the Claimant, gets “not less than” $10,000 for each abortion performed or “aided and abetted” by Person A, and the court will pay for Person X’s court costs and attorney’s fees. Person X, of course, pays their own costs and fees.

Remember how the Fugitive Slave Act guaranteed $1,000 to anyone who turned in someone hindering a slave commissioner? And put the hinderer in jail, and made them pay another $1,000 so they couldn’t do it again (injunctive relief)? Just add a zero to the Texas law and we’ve got the same situation, except that in 1850 the person found guilty paid the reward to the person who had turned them in. Now, it’s all taxpayers in Texas. Everyone, regardless of their stance on abortion, is helping to prosecute people who provide or “aid and abet” abortion.

(d)  Notwithstanding Chapter 16, Civil Practice and Remedies Code, or any other law, a person may bring an action under this section not later than the fourth anniversary of the date the cause of action accrues.

–There’s a statute of limitations of four years on suing someone for providing, aiding or abetting abortion. We’re surprised it’s that short. Why fear that memory or hearsay or “claims” will be harder to prove with passage of time? Concerns about proof don’t seem to trouble anyone who wrote or passed this Bill.

Sec. 171.212.  SEVERABILITY.      

(c)  The legislature further declares that it would have enacted this chapter, and each provision, section, subsection, sentence, clause, phrase, or word, and all constitutional applications of this chapter, irrespective of the fact that any provision, section, subsection, sentence, clause, phrase, or word, or applications of this chapter, were to be declared unconstitutional or to represent an undue burden.

–This is surprisingly frank. The Texas state legislature would have passed last word of this bill, “irrespective of the fact” that any part of it “were to be declared unconstitutional or to represent an undue burden.”

Part of this lack of concern for constitutional law comes from their deviant removal of enforcement from the state to the private citizen–again, it doesn’t matter if the law is unconstitutional if the state is not carrying it out (even though the state is, of course, carrying it out by allowing cases to be heard and punishing the courts if they don’t hear the cases).

But the larger part is that this is meant to be read as a brave, moral stand against the immorality of abortion. Even if the whole world tells us we’re wrong, the lawmakers say, we know that we’re right, and we stand by it. This wrapping oneself in morality is very selective in the U.S., and seems mostly to occur when right-wing politicians go against something liberal politicians support.

It’s also almost always about life-or-death stands that are fairly meaningless: support our troops by funding weapons and wars, because they’re fighting for our freedom… but don’t give military personnel a living wage, safety from rape and/or abuse based on sexuality, good life and health insurance, easy access to quality mental or physical health care, or good housing.

Here, it’s don’t “kill” an unborn “child” because that’s “murder”… but once that child is born, do nothing to fund early childhood education, school breakfasts, mother and infant health care, affordable and safe day care, after-school programs, or anything else that will help that child live a good life. This is not being “pro-life” but “pro-birth”.

People who ban abortion are almost always “pro-birth”. They want huge governmental involvement, investment, and protection for stopping abortion, and zero of the above for helping all children thrive, regardless of race, religion, first language, income, sex, sexuality, etc. They usually follow pro-birth laws with measures designed to prevent exactly that kind of level playing field for the children they insist be born, from segregated schools to gay “conversion camps” (aka torture centers).

There’s no room for this in a democratic nation. The history of the United States is one of incrementally increasing democracy, of getting closer to liberty and justice for all. Making a Christian position against abortion the law for all Texans, and, one day, for all Americans, is a violation of our founding principle of separation of church and state. Un-American oppression and disregard for the Constitution, vigilantism and sexism, have no place in our nation. Religious belief is not protected by the Constitution, as we’ve noted before:

…What the First Amendment does regarding religion is: first, it forbids our federal legislature from making any laws creating an official state religion; second, it forbids our federal legislature from preventing people from worshipping as they see fit. That’s what “free exercise” means–how you worship. Whether you go to a church, synagogue, mosque, or have a prayer room in your home, you are protected. If you wear a head covering like a yarmulke or turban as a form of worship, you are protected.

The First Amendment is all about physical forms of religious worship. It comes from a time when people would burn Catholic churches or refuse to let Jewish Americans build synagogues. It stops this, and stops schools from forbidding students to wear religious clothing.

It does not protect religion itself, or as we usually put it, religious belief. It does not protect anyone’s right to believe certain things. If one’s religion prohibits homosexuality or birth control, that is a belief, not a form of worship. Belief is not protected because belief is so amorphous. One could claim any crazy notion as a religious belief and demand that it be protected. We could say that our religion says women shouldn’t ride public transportation, or men should not be allowed to use public showers, or cats can’t be kept as pets, and we would have to be accommodated.

The Founders were wise enough not to get into religious belief. They just made a safe space for public and private physical worship.

Laws like the ones passed in Texas, and getting closer to passage in many other states, define one specific version of Christianity as “religious belief”, and seek to make it the state (and national) religion. That’s not what we’re supposed to do in America.

Next time, we go into the details of how the law is playing out in Texas… and beyond.

Powerful history of voting rights in North Carolina in a 15-min listen

The WNYC (New York Public Radio) show “The Takeaway” has a great recent episode on the latest expansion of voting rights to former felons in North Carolina–great in large part because of the terrific summary the show created of the battle over granting black Americans their Constitutionally given right to vote that has been waged in the state since Reconstruction–1875 to the present.

Check out the story here: “A Win for Felony Offender Enfranchisement in North Carolina” – click the yellow “LISTEN” button just under the headline to hear the piece, which documents the wins and losses that civil rights activists have had in their battle to uphold the Constitution.

As host and narrator Melissa Harris-Perry notes, the story of un-American attempts to stop black Americans from voting is not unique to North Carolina, or even former Confederate states, nor is it new: it’s a nationwide problem with a long history that every democratic American will naturally condemn.

Go listen and enjoy this well-done piece of history writing!

Nebraska update, site upgrade, and a new home for our posts on censorship and banning teaching about racism

Hey, it’s a positive update for once! In fact, there are a couple of them to share.

You’re seeing the most obvious one – our new site format. We haven’t updated the site since we created it… IN 2008, and while we value history and being old-school, we felt the time had come. We hope you like it.

We’ve also updated our Pages, most notably to include a one-stop shop for all of our continuing coverage of the anti-democratic attempts to censor K-12 and college education in this country by forbidding people to teach about racism or any other “problematic” features of our past and our present in America.

We hope you enjoy both of these upgrades, and that they help you locate the information you need more easily. Maybe we won’t wait another 13 years to make some changes on the old HP.

Meanwhile, we celebrate a positive update on Nebraska, the most recent state we posted about making attempts to ban instruction about racism and other “divisive” facts: the University of Nebraska Board of Regents voted against regent Jim Pillen’s resolution that critical race theory should not be “imposed” on academic curriculum or staff training.

It was close at 5-3, and undoubtedly another attempt will be made after those who did vote against it are worked over by the press and by lobbyists. Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts “strongly urged” the regents to support the resolution, so this battle is not over–both Ricketts and Pillen have “vowed to continue fighting on the issue”. Pillen plans to run for governor, a race that doesn’t seem to be starting in good faith:

Despite the vote, Pillen expressed optimism that Nebraskans have a better understanding of the issue now and that there will be accountability if critical race theory is imposed on students in the future. When asked, he did not provide any examples of such impositions in the past.

Pillen added that “critical race theory should not be forced on our students and staff as an unquestionable fact. They should be free to debate and dissent from critical race theory without fear of silencing, retribution, or being labeled. They should also be free to avoid the concept of critical race theory altogether without penalty, if that’s what they choose.”

This type of unbearable double-speak is so unbearably common now: people should be free to debate and criticize this theory freely, and also free to choose not to do so, and that’s why I want censorship to step in to take away that freedom to debate and freedom to choose.

This censorship as freedom, censorship as freedom of choice, is only gaining momentum.

But it’s a moment of triumph for Truth in its never-ending battle against Myth, and we have to celebrate it. Here’s what NU president Ted Carter said:

Speaking before the vote, NU President Ted Carter told the regents to hold him accountable if there are problems with critical race theory at the university in the future.

“If something actually is being imposed on our students and it’s wrong, we’ll fix it,” he said.

But Carter emphasized that critical race theory is not required for graduation, and he defended the integrity of the faculty and the ability of the students to deal with the subject appropriately.

“Our students are not children,” he said. “Our students are not at threat of having this discussion. They’re there to think for themselves.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education (no public website to link you to) makes the important note that students who are not white “spoke about the importance of discussing topics of race and racism in the classroom”. It’s maddening that the people who are most impacted by racism past and present are so rarely given the chance to speak to the people making the rules about what they can learn, and how free their speech is.

Stay with us in this new format and this new fight for real history and real democracy.

This time it’s Nebraska: another state to ban teaching about racism?

This time it’s Nebraska. On July 26, Governor Pete Ricketts tweeted (because Twitter is where state policy should be formed and debated) that

I strongly urge the Board of Regents to pass the resolution opposing the imposition of Critical Race Theory on students, so we keep academic freedom alive and well at the University of Nebraska.

Additionally, the University of Nebraska should consider it an honor to be listed on the AAUP’s censure list alongside notable conservative institutions, including Brigham Young University, Catholic University of America, and Hillsdale College.

The AAUP is the American Association of University Professors. Nebraska is only the latest state to join the movement to censor K12 and college instruction:

  • On March 18 we wrote about the Iowa state legislature working to incorporate the anti-justice language and intent of the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year. The University of Iowa is being pressured by the state legislature to end diversity education for students and staff.
  • Then on March 23 we posted about the Idaho state legislature attempting to do the same. Then, just over a month later came the terrible update: they did. On April 29 the Idaho House approved legislation aimed at preventing public and charter schools and universities from teaching critical race theory, which examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.
  • On May 14, we posted about New Hampshire, whose House Bill HB544–“An Act relative to the propagation of divisive concepts”–is yet another move to make teaching Americans about racism illegal.
  • On June 7, we posted about Oklahoma and Kansas: Oklahoma Governor Keven Stitt signed legislation to ban critical race theory, and department chairs at Pittsburg State received an urgent email summons to “inquire” whether Critical Race Theory is being taught in any PSU classes. “The specific information would be 1. yes or no and 2. if yes which course(s). The response needs a short timeline as I need to have this information to the Dean’s office by the end of the day.”

We believe at this point Nebraska makes 17 states that have passed or are considering legislation to censor instruction. The irony of using censorship to protect freedom is so grating; how can this transparently illogical strategy be so successful every time?

The resolution Ricketts speaks of was introduced by U of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen. It reads:

Whereas the campus and facilities of a university are places for open reflection, discussion, study, research, and learning and

Whereas America is the best country in the world and anyone can achieve the American Dream here and

Whereas education, free speech, and sound learning are the keys to freedom and opportunity in this country and

Whereas we oppose discrimination in any form and

Whereas Critical Race Theory does not promote inclusive and honest dialogue and education on campus and

Whereas Critical Race Theory proponents seek to silence opposing views and disparage important American ideals

Be it resolved that the Regents of the University of Nebraska oppose any imposition of Critical Race Theory in curriculum.

The vague language is so insulting. “Any” “imposition” of “Critical Race Theory”? What’s an “imposition”? Isn’t any syllabus with required reading on it “imposing” that content on students? The word “any” allows just that–a definition of “imposition” so broad it becomes at once meaningless and an effective total ban on anything that anyone decides is “critical race theory”.

The University of Nebraska has been simmering ever since 2018, when a white grad student teaching adjunct flipped off a white undergrad campaigning on campus for the neo-conservative Turning Point USA organization. The two got into an argument, the grad student gave the undergrad the finger, it was filmed, and all hell broke loose as neo-conservatives claimed it as yet another proof that white Americans are under constant threat and attack on college campuses.

The AAUP censured UNL for suspending Lawton from teaching, and that’s the censure list that governor Ricketts says the state should be proud to be on.

U of Nebraska system president Ted Carter and four campus chancellors have published a defense of academic freedom, which reads in part “Issues around race, equity and the fight against racism are an important part of our country’s story and they have an appropriate place in our classrooms,” which says it as well as we ever could.

Once a term like CRT becomes widespread, it’s pretty reasonable to assume most people using it don’t know what it really means. That’s the way neo-conservatives and white supremacists want it: vague enough to be scary, broad enough to include anything they don’t like.

To allow an individual to define, on his own, what CRT is and does, and therefore to ban it for all, is something we would expect in a dictatorship, like when Viktor Orbán re-writes the Hungarian constitution on his lunch break to confirm his own dictatorial powers.

Our response?

Whereas a crucial component of any claim that America is the best country in the world is an appreciation of the Founders, and

whereas the Founders welcomed and dedicated themselves to open debate, and

whereas the Founders wrote in great detail and great specificity about how they thought this country should be governed, and

whereas the Founders did not hide behind vague wording to hide their agenda, and

whereas the Founders didn’t write threats into our founding documents, and

whereas the Founders didn’t impose censorship to protect any individual agenda,

Be it resolved that all of these vague, threatening censorship laws are un-American, and destroy anything that was great about America.

What makes a country great is its dedication and commitment to facing its problems honestly, in order to slowly but surely resolve them. Find out what your state legislature and state education system are doing and speak out against any attempts to introduce censorship defined as patriotism.

Why did Americans fight in wars?

There are many correct answers to this question, from the noble to the mundane to the misguided. But we feel confident claiming that making it hard for Americans to vote was never a stated purpose for going to war in the United States.

Texas state representative Jack Enfinger does not agree. We’ll get to him in a moment. For now, the background. We were listening to a story on the radio about Texas Senate Bill 1, which is titled thusly:

An act relating to election integrity and security, including by

preventing fraud in the conduct of elections in this state;

increasing criminal penalties; creating criminal offenses;

providing civil penalties.

It is one of the many state bills that have been or are about to be passed to stop non-white people from voting in the name of correcting election fraud. It’s not a leap to make this statement, as the decisions of the Supreme Court has been openly stating since 2013 and its Shelby County decision that times have changed, non-white Americans no longer suffer from institutional discrimination, and there is no need to keep the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

We posted about this at the time – see The Supreme Court strikes down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 4 of the VRA sets out the criteria for determining when a state/local jurisdiction is violating fair elections and voting. As we said back then,

the Court was reviewing two things: whether racial minorities still face voting intimidation and restriction nearly 50 years after the 1965 Act; and whether it was unfair to keep singling out Southern states for closer inspection than other states. The answer to both these questions was “no”.  The current system, says the majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts, is “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day. Congress—if it is to divide the states—must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current condition. It cannot simply rely on the past.”

That is, we can’t say that since Southern states prevented black citizens from voting during Reconstruction, in the 1870s, those states should still be identified as requiring federal oversight. The problem with this logic is that one does not have to go back to the 1870s to find voter repression in the Southern states singled out (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia). These states were preventing black people from voting in the 1920s, 1950s, 1970s, and today. The history of intimidation, arson, and murder used to prevent black Americans from voting in those states is unbroken from 1865 to 2013.

The proof of this claim is in the hundreds of proposed changes to state voting laws in the Southern states currently pending at the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s in the statements made yesterday by Republican leaders in those states that they will take “immediate action” to not only introduce new laws restricting voting rights, but to revive and pass old laws that were rejected by the Justice Department as infringing on the right to vote.

“After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot,” reports the Houston Chronicle. “North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats. …Laughlin McDonald, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union’s voting rights office, said he agrees that pending submissions to the Justice Department are now moot. It’s less clear what happens to scores of laws that the feds have already denied since the 2006 reauthorization.”

The Southern Republicans in question say that the ruling is a validation of their states’ move away from racial discrimination, an acknowledgement that times have changed. In one way they are right: over the past 20 years, Southern politicians widened the scope of their ambition to attempt to prevent not just black Americans from voting, but the poor, elderly, and Latino as well—all groups they perceive as voting for Democratic party. They have moved away from purely racial discrimination to a much broader discrimination.

Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, said, “Voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the Act’s extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the States, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements. As we put it a short time ago, ‘the Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs.’”

There are many things to question here:

If, as the Court claims, voter discrimination still exists, but southern states are no longer the single source of that voter discrimination, then why didn’t the Court expand the VRA to include northern states, rather than kill the VRA?

If the states that wanted the VRA overturned have representatives publicly stating that they would immediately introduce laws that restricted voting, how can the Court state that overturning the VRA will not make voter discrimination worse?

If the VRA is outdated because it’s not current, then what just happened with the Court’s decision in Brnovich v Democratic National Committee?

We won’t go into all of the details of this decision here – you can find an objective, very detailed explanation here at BallotPedia. What we will focus on is the decision’s selection of 1982 as the standard for judging state voting laws: here’s a clear reference from the decision itself:

(B) The degree to which a voting rule departs from what was standard practice when §2 was amended in 1982 is a relevant consideration. The burdens associated with the rules in effect at that time are useful in gauging whether the burdens imposed by a challenged rule are sufficient to prevent voting from being equally “open” or furnishing an equal “opportunity” to vote in the sense meant by §2.

If the problem in 2013 was that an Act from 1965, and thus 48 years old, was too outdated to be relevant (a dubious claim), then how is 1982 okay in 2021? That was 38 years ago, and will only get older.

This discrepancy is just a token for the overall violation of voting rights that the Brnovich decision represents.

Now to circle back to our question about why Americans fought in wars. When we were listening to the radio, we heard many Texas residents saying their piece for and against the legislation. Then we heard state rep Jack Enfinger, of San Antonio, say this:

“This thing about voter suppression is a major false claim—a joke.”

Jack Enfinger, a San Antonio Republican, testified that Texas offers multiple ways to vote, including two weeks of early voting.

“How much more does Texas have to bend over backwards for… the voters? Voting is not supposed to be easy. That’s what our men died for.”

The disdain and incomprehension in Enfinger’s voice when he said “the voters” was remarkable. He makes it very clear that “voters” are a subspecies of American that somehow cannot be equated with “citizens.”

But it’s his claim that American men [sic] fought to prevent Americans from being able to vote easily is so alarming and cray that it takes your breath away. What can it mean? Because the bill in Texas makes it harder for non-white people to vote, the only possible answer seems to be that he’s saying white American men fought and died in foreign wars to make sure that only white American men could ever vote here at home. Americans fought and died in WWII to keep America white.

This is, by now, mainstream, often-heard white fascist content in America (we never thought we’d be saying this in our lifetimes). It hardly causes a stir anymore–since 2020, we’ve become used to fascism in the mainstream. This comment will win Enfinger more Republican support, and otherwise disappear.

But the Supreme Court is on his side, and that’s a problem that’s larger than Texas, and won’t go away. The Shelby decision and the Brnovich decision and the decisions that are coming soon don’t use Enfinger’s direct language, but they are of a piece, and they shore him up and support him.

We seem to end every post the same way lately – do what you can on your local level, vote, protest, get involved in local politics. The minority of people who are passionately devoted to destroying democracy in America are active every day in these ways. SIgn a petition, go to a speech by your representative or a candidate. America has a long tradition of making this relatively easy to do… for now.

Oklahoma and Kansas ban diversity education

…if it seems like the HP only rears its head when another state legislature or university initiates a crackdown on democracy, in the form of banning instructors from teaching American students that racism was, and is still, a real thing that we are all a part of, some of us benefiting from it even without trying to, others of us suffering from it, then… you’re right!

That is what we’re devoted to this year, ever since we began a series on examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site.

We’ve always been about civics here, and the ever-lengthening roll call of states in the list below is an abject object lesson in how sometimes democracy is chipped away at bit by bit, and sometimes it falls in an avalanche. If you’ve ever seen a glacier bridge calving in-person or on YouTube–an unfortunately common sight as climate change rages on mostly unchecked–you’ll see that small bits fall off, then much larger pieces, then enormous shards, and then the whole structure falls.

We’ve been seeing small bits and larger pieces falling in our democracy for years, as dedicated efforts to shore up and protect white power began in this country in the 1970s, when the impact of legislation from the most recent Civil Rights Era (1950s and 60s) began to be felt. It only took a few small instances of non-white Americans benefiting from equal rights to send those white Americans who are racist into a rage, and the effort to undo all of that Civil Rights legislation began under Nixon, and his touting of the “silent majority” of Americans who were not on board with revolution, rioting, drugs, and all the other fearsome things he associated with Americans living up to our founding principle of liberty and justice for all. There was a break in the action under Ford and Carter, and then neo-conservative forces regrouped under Reagan, and the fight to keep the “real” America–white people–safe from welfare queens and drug dealers and everything else non-white began in earnest.

Now enormous shards are falling. The attempted racist coup on January 6 hit the water hard. But multiple shards are falling in individual states, where it should be so much easier for people to fight back, because it’s their local legislatures hacking away at democracy. This very learned helplessness is itself one of the tools that right-wing conservatives use constantly, telling Americans that their government is corrupt and dangerous at every level, and they should just a) elect a strong-man to go in and “drain the swamp” for them, then b) stay far away from their governmental institutions and let the strong men go to work unchecked and unquestioned.

Perhaps this seems like editorializing rather than history. People often make the mistake of conflating objectivity with neutrality. When we study the atrocities of human history, the failures, the wars, the greed and destructiveness that characterizes all eras, we have to do all we can to gather all the data available to us, so we know what really happened, and we’ve gotten enough information from all sides to understand how the actors in those events defined what they were doing and their reasons for taking action. We then draw conclusions from the evidence about whether those actions helped improve human life, or whether they contributed to making it more miserable, narrow, and hopeless. We are, after all, studying human beings, not electrons or tectonic plates. We’re studying human actions born of human intention. No one takes action without hoping that the action will have a lasting impact on their own life, lives immediately near to them, and, sometimes, on their society or even the world as a whole.

History describes, then assesses those intentions and impacts. The objectivity part is in the work of reading critically and gathering all available data, not just from a few actors, and not just the parts that confirm your theory, or the parts you agree with, or want to hear. The assessment is necessarily subjective, because “impacts” are felt and borne by human beings, objectively (people can’t vote) and subjectively (people feel inferior). Historical actors want to achieve both objective and subjective impact in order to make the change wrought by their actions more impactful, and long-lasting.

So when people attempting to pass, and succeeding in passing, legislation that forbids Americans to learn that racism against black citizens was and still is carried out by white citizens make very clear, plain, unashamed statements about their desire to protect white people from ever feeling implicated in racism at all costs, including the cost of censorship, silencing of black people, and continued racism, we gather that data. It’s in all of these sources:

  • On May 14, we posted about New Hampshire, whose House Bill HB544–“An Act relative to the propagation of divisive concepts”–is yet another move to make teaching Americans about racism illegal.

And then we analyze those statements and draw our conclusions from facts. And the conclusions are, necessarily, objective descriptions of attempts to subjugate black Americans, which can only provoke a subjective response, whether that’s positive, because you want black Americans to be subjugated, or negative, because you don’t.

We don’t. So we will add to our list this week, and feel the alarm of adding not one but two states to that shameful roll call:

  • Oklahoma: Governor Keven Stitt signed legislation to ban critical race theory from being taught in schools. “The bill prohibits public schools and universities from teaching that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another,” and that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.” Proponents say it also bans the teaching of critical race theory, which examines systemic racism and how race influences American politics, legal systems and society. The Oklahoma GOP called on Stitt, a Republican, to sign the bill to “ensure that children are not indoctrinated by dangerous leftist ideologies.” The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have announced their student diversity trainings can no longer remain mandatory under the new law, and the first course has been “paused” – a euphemism for “shut down forever.”
  • Kansas: On June 2d department chairs at Pittsburg State received an urgent email: “Good evening. I have received an email this evening from Dr. Pomatto inquiring for the Provosts office if Critical Race Theory is being taught in any PSU classes. The specific information would be 1. yes or no and 2. if yes which course(s). The response needs a short timeline as I need to have this information to the Dean’s office by the end of the day. Please reach out to the faculty within your programs and have them, or you, get back to me ASAP by the end of the day tomorrow.” Why this information was needed so urgently is unclear, but given our growing list, it seems that someone at Pittsburg State is anticipating inquiries from the Kansas state legislature.

In each of these cases, there is pushback, but it’s very weak. The Oklahoma City Board of Education has protested the new law, but that will not do much to overturn it. And some faculty at Pittsburg State are angrily commenting on Twitter, which is equally impotent. Unless Americans can shake off the political paralysis they are rewarded for, existing laws will not be overturned, and more will come.

Perhaps you will say these new laws must represent the wishes of the majority, and so must be honored as truly American, and consonant with what America is all about and meant to be all about. In reply, we steer you firmly to the original of our “tyranny of the majority” posts: Court decisions are not democracy? It focuses on the judiciary, not the legislature, so after you read that, go to one of our many “tyranny of the majority” series posts that covers state legislation banning gay marriage being overturned by state judiciaries–try Gay marriage in Alaska v. Tyranny of the majority.

We’ll be back with more; that seems clear.

Jen Psaki on the proposals to penalize teaching the history of racism

You know the drill: another week, another installment in our unhappy, once short, now long series on examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site.

On March 18 we wrote about the Iowa state legislature working to incorporate the anti-justice language and intent of the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year. The University of Iowa is being pressured by the state legislature to end diversity education for students and staff.

Then on March 23 we posted about the Idaho state legislature attempting to do the same. Then, just over a month later came the terrible update: they did. On April 29 the Idaho House approved legislation aimed at preventing public and charter schools and universities from teaching critical race theory, which examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.

On May 14, we posted about New Hampshire, whose House Bill HB544–“An Act relative to the propagation of divisive concepts”–is yet another move to make teaching Americans about racism illegal.

The surprise? We don’t have a new state to report on this week. And we’re not going to bend your ear forever about this attack on democracy.

Instead, a very short video of Jen Psaki, press secretary for the Biden Administration, dealing with it more concisely and definitively than we ever could. If the link doesn’t work, go to YouTube and type in “Psaki on Proposal to Penalize Teaching History of Racism.”

Enjoy hearing from someone else this week who is as devoted to Truth v. Myth as we are!

New Hampshire bill would ban diversity training

These grim updates have become part of the routine here at the HP–yet another state is pushing a bill through its legislature to stop the monstrous threat to democracy that is… democracy.

If you’re wondering why we will once again give you links to all the previous posts on this topic in this post, it’s to show the growing number of dominos falling over a very short time.

So here we go: this thread began with our short series examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site.

On March 18 we wrote about the Iowa state legislature working to incorporate the anti-justice language and intent of the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year. The University of Iowa is being pressured by the state legislature to end diversity education for students and staff.

Then on March 23 we posted about the Idaho state legislature attempting to do the same. Then, just over a month later came the terrible update: they did. On April 29 the Idaho House approved legislation aimed at preventing public and charter schools and universities from teaching critical race theory, which examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.

And now? New Hampshire, whose House Bill HB544–“An Act relative to the propagation of divisive concepts”–is yet another move to make teaching Americans about racism illegal. As the Chronicle of Higher Education describes it, HB544

…would ban teaching or training students to “adopt or believe” a list of “divisive concepts,” including that the state or the nation is fundamentally racist or sexist. One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Keith Ammon, a Republican, told fellow lawmakers in February that it is meant to take on “critical race theory.” He likened diversity and inclusion trainers to “snake-oil salesmen.” They propose a cure to disease, he said, but the cure is “making it worse.”

Ammon’s reasoning is emblematic. Republican lawmakers across the country have declared war on an academic concept, and — according to scholars of the theory — reduced a dynamic school of thought to a poorly drawn caricature. They’ve introduced similar bills in at least a dozen states meant to curb what they see as the pernicious influence of critical race theory in public institutions.

Republican lawmakers have long been frustrated with higher ed’s liberal tilt and its supposed quashing of conservative viewpoints.

Now, they’re taking a new tack: Instead of resolutions and bills to protect the speech of visitors on the campus quad, the recent wave of legislation often steps into the classroom to restrict what can be taught. It’s part of a larger battle playing out in state houses, schools, and the media between dueling versions of American history. Over the past few months, lawmakers like Ammon have wielded references to the decades-old theory as they argue with their colleagues about whether racism persists and if it exists at all outside of the hearts and minds of individuals.

We’ve said so much about this in the posts linked above. Teaching people that racism exists, now, today, not just safely in the past where it’s no one’s fault today (sort of–white people still benefit from that past racism), is not, in itself, racism. It’s not a lie. Only a party that has removed its own members from seats of power for refusing to support the lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent–that Biden’s win was a lie–would dare to say that teaching Americans about racism should be made illegal because it’s just not (or is no longer) true.

This isn’t about belief. This is now about law. Teachers in the states that pass these laws will be criminally liable if they teach about racism in an accurate way. They could potentially face jail time. It would be illegal to teach our history.

This is just another version of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which we describe here:

We learn about the FSA when we learn about the Compromise of 1850, of which it was a part. To pacify proslavery forces who were angry that California was allowed to enter the Union as a free state, the Compromise allowed slaveholding and trading to continue in Washington, DC, and upheld the “rights” of slaveholders to their “property”—enslaved people—throughout the Union.

This meant that if you lived in, say, Wisconsin, and had voted to pass personal liberty laws in your state outlawing slavery, those laws were overturned. Slavery would be upheld in “free” states, because slaveholders were allowed to enter free states and reclaim escaped people, and even pick up black citizens who had never been enslaved—the word of the slaveholder was accepted over the word of the black citizen and even the white citizens of the state. Whites were forced by the law to help slave-catchers, they were fined and jailed for failing to do so, or for helping an escapee, and whites were forced to live with the rescinding of the personal liberty laws they had voted for on a state level. Thus, slavery was basically enforced in every state of the Union, and outrage over this was expressed by many Northerners who had previously been publicly neutral about slavery.

If the Fugitive Slave Act was all about enslaved blacks, asked Northerners, why was it fining, jailing, and threatening free whites? Why did it seem to focus just as much on attacking the liberties of northern white citizens as it did on preventing black Americans from gaining their liberty? It was just another example of the slave power perverting democracy and threatening free government.

Americans who want to teach our actual history are now coerced and threatened with jail time into teaching a fake history that is about validating white Americans, locating all racism in those whites who enslaved black Americans and created institutional racism after slavery was ended (i.e., white Americans in the past) and thus relegating racism to the past. In this way, they are forced to support racism.

The problem with this that we haven’t yet addressed in our many posts is that American history is already usually taught so badly, leaving out so much of the reality of slavery and racism in our nation, that laws like this are almost unnecessary. Here’s an article that lays this out quite well, from the New Hampshire Business Review. But these laws ensure that our history teaching and textbooks will get worse and worse, thus allowing racism today and in the future to flourish in a medium of complete denial of the fact that racism has been a primary cause of a great deal of legislation, settlement and housing patterns, industrial growth, wealth creation, and other “race-neutral” economic and socio-political actions that are taught in American history courses.

Teaching all of these without mentioning racism will create a history of America that is so cartoonish it will effectively kill American history. Which is, we believe, the goal.

We do believe as well that not all Americans will accept this, and that the possibility of fighting it is real. But to have a bloody war created for us over race, once again, once again… it’s infuriating and the harm it causes from the level of the individual soul to the fate of the planet is breathtaking.

If you live in a state considering such legislation, take action. If your state has not yet introduced such legislation, investigate to make sure no one is planning to. If you’re a teacher, support your colleagues who stand against this legislation. As the NHBR article says, to be better than this we have to be brave.

Idaho bans diversity training, or, Trump is not gone

Here we are once again, forced to return to our short series examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site.

On March 18 we wrote about the Iowa state legislature working to incorporate the anti-justice language and intent of the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year. The University of Iowa is being pressured by the state legislature to end diversity education for students and staff.

Then on March 23 we posted about the Idaho state legislature attempting to do the same. Now, less than 2 months later, comes the terrible update: they did.

The Idaho House on Thursday approved legislation aimed at preventing public and charter schools and universities from teaching critical race theory, which examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.

…The measure, which passed with a 57-12 vote and no Democratic support, would prevent educators from making students “affirm, adopt or adhere to” belief systems claiming individuals of any race, sex, ethnicity, religion or national origin are responsible for past actions done by members of the same group. It also would prohibit teachers from forcing students onto belief systems that claim a group of people as defined by sex, race, ethnicity or religion are inferior or superior to another.

Republican Idaho lawmakers are concerned federal authorities could force belief systems on Idaho students through school curricula — calling the ideas often found in critical race theory “contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being” of the state.

Backers said the bill is an anti-discrimination measure intended to spell out expectations for Idaho schools and universities following an executive order by President Joe Biden issued in January titled Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities.

–We’ve written a lot already, in the posts linked above, about this abuse of language that calls a law designed to prevent people from talking about and acknowledging racism an “anti-discrimination” law. By locating racism or other prejudice safely and firmly in the past (people today are not “responsible for past actions done by members of [their] group”), the law makes discrimination against non-white Americans seem dead, a relic of the past, and something people today would only bring up in order to hurt innocent Americans, make the U.S. “seem” racist, and destroy the nation.

To say that addressing our problems is “contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being of the state” is openly weird. The “well-being of the state”? This sounds more like language from the Soviet Union, Animal Farm, or some Unabomber-type manifesto than language from a U.S. legislature.

The nation’s well-being springs from… actually being well. The U.S. is strong when we live up to the principle of liberty and justice for all. The U.S. is weak, and in danger, when we don’t. Dictating that the health of the nation is something floating in the ether that exists separately from our daily lives on the ground, what we do and say, how we treat everyone in our nation, the laws we pass and the people we elect, is contrary to the well-being of our state.

This quote from one Idaho lawmaker is frighteningly transparent about the real goals of this bill and its supporters:

Republican Rep. Lance Clow, chairman of the House Education Committee, supported the measure. …“I’m sure,” he continued, “minorities were feeling compelled to take certain beliefs and certain directions that now, on the flip side of that, you know, this white Anglo Saxon Christian feels like, well, maybe the tables have turned, and maybe we should have recognized there were problems in the past, and maybe we didn’t.”

…hearing this white man say he’s “sure” about what “minorities” have gone through, their being forced to “take” “certain” beliefs and “directions” is already bad. When he goes on to say that the “flip side” of this is “white Anglo Saxon Christians” “turning the tables” on other people–we presume “minorities”–it gets a lot worse.

Stay with us here, because the “logic” of the last part of his sentence is tortured: if we recognize that racism and other prejudice against non-“Anglo Saxon Christians” happened in the past, and we realize that was wrong, then we don’t want to make the mistake of allowing the prejudice that is taking place against “Anglo Saxon Christians” right now in the present go on any longer, lest we fail to learn from our past experience.

Anglo Saxon?? It’s astonishing and infuriating to see constant reminders that white supremacy has taken deep root in every part of our nation. What will these white supremacists do when, relatively soon, demographic trends will result in an America where white people are the “minorities”? We need only to look as far as the racial oligarchy in South Africa under apartheid for an answer.

As recently as 30 years ago, people who tried to bring up “reverse racism”–the allegedly widespread racism against white people that was robbing them of opportunity–would be laughed out of the room. Times have changed, and that 30-year timing is relevant, as it was the Reagan administration in the 1980s that began the drastic backlash against civil rights that resulted in, among other things, the growth of the religious political right and anti-democratic hate masquerading as protecting “real” Americans and the “real” America–with “real”, of course, meaning “white”. It used to be that people had to say “real” as a code for “white” because they would get in trouble if they paraded their racism. Again, times have changed, to the point where this legislator can openly refer to “Anglo Saxons”.

The 2020 Census data is being parsed right now, and it is, as predicted, being used to re-apportion and shift political representation in Congress. It’s no secret that these anti-American, racist bills are being written and passed by Republican-majority legislatures. There’s a long road ahead of every American who believes in democracy to fight and overturn these laws, before standing up for democracy is “controversial”:

Democratic Rep. Steve Berch said the legislation would have the opposite effect. “What this bill winds up doing in practical terms is intimidation,” he said. “This bill, not necessarily intended, but for sure there are people who will use this bill to intimidate teachers, school administrators, school clerks to make sure they don’t do anything that might in any way be considered controversial.”

Go watch Rutherford Falls

We have a simple message to all HP readers! Watch the new series Rutherford Falls.

Created by Michael Schur (who brought us The Good Place, Parks and Rec, and Brooklyn 99) and Sierra Teller Ornelas (who brought us Superstore), and actor Ed Helms, RF has all the amazing characteristics of these shows: deeply engaging with very difficult and complex intellectual and spiritual topics with humor and ease.

We particularly think of The Good Place, which engaged fundamental moral questions, including what it means to be “good”, what will and intention have to do with morality, the purpose of an afterlife, how to make valid moral judgments, and moral relativism, while definitively solving (at least for one member of the HP) The Trolley Problem. All while being very funny, very humble, not preachy, and very brave. Few prime-time sitcoms would dare to question the validity of the Christian afterlife; fewer still (none?) would dare to conclude that it is so deeply flawed as to be immoral in itself.

Rutherford Falls takes on the big, big topic of American history. Just to write that is pretty mind-blowing. Nathan Rutherford, played by Ed Helms, is the 12th-generation descendant of Lawrence Rutherford, a puritan colonial settler who founded the town through a “fair and honest” deal with the Minishonka people who lived on and tended the land. The location is deliberately blurred, but seems to be western Connecticut. We won’t give away the plot, which unfolds very quickly, but Nathan is depicted as a great guy who is passionate about his family’s history and proud of “his” town. Nathan’s best friend from childhood is Reagan Wells, a Minishonka woman who, as Nathan says, “gets it.” His nemeses are Terry Thomas, a Minishonka man and CEO of the Minishonka casino, and mayor Deirdre Chisenhall, the first black and first female mayor of “Nathan’s” town.

The unbelievably good writing moves immediately into extremely complex issues: whose history is told and preserved; whose history is buried or left untold or deliberately destroyed; what native people are “supposed to be like”/what is “authentically” native; and, importantly, how seemingly good, nice people can hold beliefs that are extremely harmful and hateful.

When does unknowing ignorance–the unquestioning acceptance of white-washed histories–cross over into deliberate ignorance–refusal to listen to those who tell the truth? How are those who suffer at the hands of that ignorance made to feel like it’s “not nice” to challenge it? Why do we let myths about the past dictate our actions? The show artfully illustrates how short a walk it is from “good person who doesn’t know the whole truth–what’s the harm in letting him believe what he believes?” to “person who, confronted with unpleasant truths they really have no excuse for not knowing about, fights to preserve the myth.”

Making public history–acts that impacted hundreds, and eventually thousands and millions of people living in what became America–the untouchable private property of individuals/descendants who get to control the narrative that perpetuates inequality is an action that goes on everywhere in America. Nathan’s passionate desire to honor “his family” makes any attack on their bad actions an attack on him–a nice guy. This is the trap set for those who seek to reclaim history from the victors.

We won’t spoil the plot–go watch it! The majority-native cast is a relief, it’s funny, and it’s the most powerful education in the history of this continent that you could ever get.

(And then start reading Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War, by Abenaki scholar Lisa Brooks.)