Following the 2018 Election, pt. 2 – Why Elections Matter

by Betty O’Shaughnessy and Dick Simpson, authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century

Let’s begin with a review of the results of the 2016 general election. About 139 million Americans, or 60.2 percent of the voting-eligible population voted, according to the U.S. Elections Project. That compares with 58.6 percent of eligible voters who turned out in 2012, but it’s below the 62.2 percent who turned out to help elect Obama for the first time in 2008.  Approximately 63 million voted for Donald Trump; 66 million voted for Hillary Clinton, winning her the popular vote, although she lost in the Electoral College and Trump became President.  She lost several key rust-belt, battle-ground states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

In Winning Elections in the 21st Century, we wrote that to have a chance at winning, campaigns needed to develop a strong campaign theme and message; raise sufficient funds; identify their voters, and get them to the polls.  How successful were the major candidates in carrying out these activities in the November 2016 election?

Results were mixed. As for messaging, Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Bernie Sanders’ “Political Revolution is Coming” slogans were more appealing to certain voters than Clinton’s vaguer “Hillary for America.” When it came to funding, Hillary outspent Trump by almost twice as much, $1,191M to $646.8M; but like Obama, Trump collected more money from small donations (less than $200) than did his opponent. As to finding supporters, Trump managed to reach his voters better than Clinton reached hers (as did Bernie Sanders). The most important aspect of the election was turnout. As described below, turnout from expected Clinton support groups were lower than Trump’s.

Breaking it down by voting groups, Trump won the white vote (57% t0 37% for Clinton), but won college-educated whites voters only by 48% to 45%. Many people felt disenfranchised by the Clinton campaign; and the anger of white Bernie Sanders voters showed up in states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, states whose Democrats had supported Sanders in the primaries but voted for Trump in the general elections. The majority of all minority groups voted for Clinton. While African-American turnout was lower than 2012, still 88% voted for Clinton.  Hispanic voting was up, but lower than other groups. It was not as heavily pro-Hillary as expected; while 65% voted for Clinton, while 71% had voted for Obama in 2012. More Hispanics voted for Trump than had for Mitt Romney four years earlier.

While 54% of all women voters chose Clinton, and women in all minority categories voted for Clinton, this did not hold true for white women, 54% of whom voted for Trump. The large turnout of women voters for Clinton upon which her campaign was counting did not happen. Clinton’s 12-point margin over Trump among women was only one percentage point higher than Obama claimed  in 2012.

Getting People Involved

Lately activists are emerging particularly from two groups: women and millennials. Beginning with women: while men vote for women candidates as often as they vote for men, and while women have long been activists, as a group they have been reluctant to run for office — currently making up only 20 percent of elected officials in the U.S.  Women tend to enter electoral politics at lower levels such as school boards, and once in office, are less likely to climb the political ladder for higher office. The gender gap increases with the level of elected office.  Men are 16% more likely to be recruited by political actors, or even encouraged to run by family and friends. Finally, women often see the qualities desired for candidates, such as ambitious or risk-taking, as not very feminine, and few see their spouses taking over household responsibilities if they were to run. Happily, as of the middle of February, 390 women are planning to run for the House of Representatives, as compared to 272 women who filed to run before state deadlines in 2016.

Getting more women to run is important on several levels. Men and women have different backgrounds and outlooks, meaning that equal representation will expand the character and content of legislative debate. Moreover, women’s presence in legislatures changes what issues get on the political agenda. Since studies have shown that most Republican women will vote with Democratic women on issues such as health care and education, having a critical mass of women in legislatures could change the legislative agenda to one that is more family-oriented and nurturing. Finally, with women voting together across the aisles, more women in office could encourage a thaw in the current political impasse between parties.

Millennial voters reflected the demographics of the general youth population.  According to Tuft University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Education and Learning (CIRCLE), millennials had a voter turnout of almost 50% in November 2016, although in eleven battleground states their turnout was closer to 55%.  As a group, more millennials consider themselves independents than the rest of the voting population, although they tend to vote more as progressives than as conservatives, with the exception of non-college educated white males: Clinton carried all millennials 55% to 37% percent,  but 52% of white millennial males voted for Trump.

It is important to make sure that this generation is included in the political process, but that does not always happen with the major party organizations. Many millennials felt ignored or bypassed by regular party activists during the November 2016 campaign.

Today we have a polarized country and voters are more reluctant to become involved in what they think is the dirty business of politics.

To change the direction of the country, the 2018 elections will have to get more people to participate than they did in the 2014 nonpresidential election when the vast majority of us stayed home.

Dick Simpson is professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the co-editor with Dennis Judd of The City, Revisited: Urban Theory from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York.

Betty O’Shaughnessy is a visiting lecturer in political science, University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of The Struggle for Power and Influence in Cities and States.

 

Max McCoy (Elevations; A Personal Exploration of the Arkansas River) Q & A

The upper Arkansas River courses through the heart of America from its headwaters near the Continental Divide above Leadville, Colorado, to Arkansas City, just above the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Max McCoy embarked on a trip of 742 miles in search of the rivers unique story. Part adventure and part reflection, steeped in the natural and cultural history of the Arkansas Valley, Elevations is McCoy’s account of that journey. The book will be released later this month.

When did you first have the idea to write Elevations?

Some years ago, my friend W.C. Jameson and I floated the Mulberry River in Arkansas. He suggested that someday we should undertake an adventure: kayaking the length of the Arkansas River—or at least the two-thirds that has water. Although we never got a chance, the idea stuck with me, and evolved. For a time, I was on the faculty of a writing workshop at Gunnison, Colorado, and the drive there from my home in eastern Kansas follows the river for several hundred miles—along Highway 50—from about Hutchinson to Salida. I would often stop at points along the river and think about all of the history at the water’s edge and ponder how the river had changed, and whenever I saw anybody in the river—a kayak, a canoe, a raft, just dipping their feet—that’s where I wanted to be, too.

Later, I took a job at Emporia State, where I’m a professor now, and when the time came that I could submit an application for a sabbatical, I proposed the river project. I was granted a one- semester sabbatical in Fall 2013 to start the project, and it took another three years of episodic trips to complete the research. There was too much material to put the entire length of the river in one book, so I stopped at the Oklahoma Line—742 miles from the headwaters along the Continental Divide above Leadville, Colorado. The project had also evolved into more of a personal narrative, rather than just history and nature and culture, and that’s why it’s called a “personal exploration” in the subtitle. It sounds glib, but I set out to find a river and ended up finding myself.

Can you describe your process of writing? How long did you spend working on the publication? How much time did you spend on the river.

I followed the Hemingway method, I wrote until I bled. Anybody who says that writing is easy must be lying, because I’ve found that any writing worth putting your name to is just the opposite. And, there’s no guarantee that you’ll produce anything to equal Hemingway—or, in this case, Strayed or Krakauer or McPhee. You just bleed and stick to your research and do your damned best to be honest with yourself and the reader. And then, just sometimes, certainly not often enough, you come up with something you’re okay with putting your name to. I’m still too close to the writing of Elevations to know whether it’s any good. That’s for others to decide now.

I came off the river the weekend before the General Election in November 2016, and then wrote steadily for the next few months. This was difficult because I was also working full time, so my days would be spent teaching journalism, and my nights spent writing. I got in the habit of writing late into the night during my days on daily newspapers, and not being a morning person, I’ve never been able to shake it. I already had perhaps 40,000 words written, but I ended up dropping some of that because of the structure that evolved for the book in the last six months or so of research. I finished the first draft at 3:12 p.m. Sunday, February 18, 2017 (I have a habit of recording these things). The draft was 120,000 words, which was somewhat longer than expected. Revisions, following peer review, also added another few thousand words.

Just thinking about the amount of time I spent on the river, or near it, is a bit surprising to me now. It was dozens of trips, each of which ranged in length from a few days to a couple of weeks. As I’ve said, it was episodic in nature, but I was on the water or near it in every season. The hardest for me was winter, and I spent Christmas Day in 2015 along the river, in the mountains, and just a few miles from the spot where the explorer Zebulon Pike had spent a near-disastrous holiday a couple of hundred years before. I had good equipment, and expert advice, but spending a cold 14-hour night in a tent, alone with my thoughts, is not something I’d like to repeat.

What is one thing you were most surprised to learn while working on the book?

That the story was just as much about emotional distance as actual distance. I had this uncomfortable epiphany while spending Christmas Eve in the snow along the river in the mountains that I use work—researching and writing, lecturing and traveling—to create spaces between myself and those I love. Why? Because it’s easier to deal with emotions in the abstract than engage in the messy business of figuring out how you really feel about people and telling them.

The unsurprising and dismaying thing I learned though writing the book is that, as human beings, we tend to repeat the mistakes of the past: Racism, genocide, demonization of immigrants, public policy that grants access to natural resources to only the wealthiest among us, trashing the environment in favor of short-term profits, the ease at which our authority figures lie and violate the public trust—and the capacity of the American public to be deeply in denial about the way things really are.

Did your perspective of the relationship between the river and communities change at all?

Yes. There are so many places where human beings have wrecked the river, from the federal Superfund site at Leadville down to where the river vanishes in western Kansas, that I became pessimistic early on. Much of the worst of this is hidden from view – you have to get out of your car and actually walk the dry bed at Cimarron Crossing or elsewhere to know just how much we’ve lost. Many communities seem ashamed, and perhaps rightly so, of how they’ve treated the river; fences block the view and barricades prevent access, and just walking down to the river requires something that feels like trespassing. Other cities, however, make the river an integral part of the landscape. I’m thinking here of the whitewater park at Salida, or the Riverwalk at Pueblo.

The one place where we humans actually left things better than we found them was at Camp Amache near Granada, Colorado. Amache was a concentration camp for Japanese Americans during World War II, and the internees cared for the land without exploiting it. Imagine being illegally detained for the duration of the war, having your homes and businesses taken from you, and yet still feeling responsible for the land on which you’ve been imprisoned.

What surprised you the most along your journey?

How generous people were with their time and their expertise. Many people just immediately got what I was trying to do, but even those that didn’t were helpful and often kind. Sometimes I’d just approach a stranger and start asking questions, and they would open up. This happened, for example, at Pueblo, where a maintenance worker named Raymond who was watering the lawn dropped everything to give me a tour of Union Depot, including a glimpse inside the clock tower, with the city and the river stretching out below. Another example is Vince Marshall, a member of the Arkansas River Coalition at Wichita, who paddled many sections of the river with me, including my favorite part of the river in Kansas, below Great Bend. And, the whitewater guides I had in Colorado worked hard to keep me out of trouble. Both Brandon Slate and Reid Jackson saved my bacon more than a few times. And, they did it with grace and good humor.

Water levels in the west are at a critical low point. What do you see as the biggest challenge to the people living along the Arkansas River?

You’ve said it – water. Irrigation, compounded by public policy, threatens to make much of what was river in western Kansas into a desert. You would think we’d have learned the lesson about the importance of sustainable agriculture during the Dust Bowl, but apparently we did not. After World War II, advances in technology made it possible for us to pump water that had previously been too deep to reach. Agriculture boomed, and even better irrigation technology followed. For the middle decades of the Twentieth Century, it was thought this new source of water was inexhaustible. But, as we know now, that’s just not true – some areas of the High Plains aquifer, particularly in western Kansas, are dangerously low. The Kansas Geological Survey has excellent data on this, going back to the 1960s. We’re pumping the aquifer dry. There have been some coordinated attempts to reduce irrigation, with some success, but this is a case of delaying the inevitable. At the present rate of irrigation, agriculture in western Kansas is unsustainable. And the end game here is not far in the future… we’re talking decades.

A related topic is the fate of the Arkansas River in western Kansas. Most communities between Great Bend and Garden City haven’t seen regular water in the river bed since the late 1970s. This is the result of a series of issues, including irrigation, changing topography, the long-litigated water compact between Kansas and Colorado, the right of “first use,” and snowmelt patterns in the Rockies that have been disrupted by climate change. Even if we stopped all irrigation now, it would take a long time for the river to come back. So long, in fact, that most studies say none of us alive now would be around to see it – and perhaps not even our children, or their children.

From the very beginning, the river has been divvied up for profit. The gold miners blasted it apart at Leadville, it was diverted to make steel at Pueblo, it was pumped to grow crops in western Kansas, and for decades it was used as a dump for toxic chemicals in Wichita. We must instead recognize that the river belongs to all Kansans and Coloradans, that access to it is our birthright, and that we must treat it as the unique and irreplaceable resource that it is. If we don’t, we’re sure to lose it.

What was the most exciting portion of traveling the Arkansas River?

Browns Canyon. I flipped my kayak at a rapid called Zoom Flume and paid the price. It was the only time on the river that I was truly shaken. I’m not a great paddler, but I’m usually comfortable in the water, but that was one place where I thought there was a good chance I’d actually be hurt, or worse. The river swept me into a rather large rock, and I had bruises for weeks. It was my fault, of course, because after all, I was paddling my own boat—and my guide, Reid, had shown me how to run the rapid. I just screwed up and it’s a good thing he was there to help after. You could say I got the hubris beaten out of me.

If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

The next governor of Kansas. The river and the communities along it are snapshots of the problems the state faces today. To name a few examples: the Somali population at Garden City, the target of a bomb plot in November 2016 , should make us think about how we deal with immigration, refugees, and racism; the dry bed at Cimarron, representing the long stretch of the river in western Kansas where irrigation and public policy have pumped things dry and left the river dying, if not already dead; and the fact that the Arkansas is only one of three rivers in Kansas it is legal to paddle unless you get permission from all the landowners along the banks. Kansas has less public land, in terms of percentages, than any other state. Yet, we have this fantastic corridor that is designated as public, but in many areas is treated as a trash dump or a place to race your ATVs. For the areas that have water, access is a problem. More often than not, I found myself accessing the river in Kansas by dragging my kayak up or down many a filthy embankment beneath highway bridges. The best places to launch in Kansas, in my opinion, are in south Wichita and from the city park at Oxford.

What are you reading now?

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I’ve read this several times before, but I return to it when I need encouragement. Frankl was a psychiatrist who was sent to Auschwitz and lost his parents, brother, and pregnant wife to the death camps. Yet, he managed to survive. His book is a memoir of his time in the camps, and explains his philosophy –that while we cannot escape suffering, we can choose our response to it, and that the key to life is not pleasure, but purpose.


Max McCoy is professor of journalism and director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University. He has written a mystery series and works of historical fiction, three of which have won Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America.

On Naming and Remembering

by Daniel Cobb, author of Native Activism in Cold War America; The Struggle for Sovereignty

“Say Their Names” has become one of the most potent aspects of the ongoing struggles against racism, state violence, and sexual abuse in the United States and the world over. It has been deployed in opposition to police killings of African Americans, the violation of international human rights, and, most visibly of late, sexual predation.

“Say Their Names” is vitally important because it refuses erasure. By acknowledging the persistent presence of people who might otherwise be rendered invisible, it empowers the targets of disempowerment.

And as #MeToo continues to demonstrate naming emboldens others to shatter a pernicious silence that can only be sustained as long as people subjected to violence and abuse feel isolated, humiliated, guilty, and ashamed. We might hear in #MeToo, then, the words “Say My Name,” which encourage others to break their silence by conveying messages such as “It’s Not Your Fault” and “You Are Not Alone.”

In this way, naming demands that we not only recognize but also remember and, as a consequence of both, take responsibility.

As an historian, this strikes a resonant chord because the work of people in my field is really about memory, about remembering. Our scholarship plays a role in conveying to others a sense of whose lives matter, what events should be considered significant, and why. With this comes the responsibility that inheres in having made decisions about what stories to tell, how to tell them, and why they matter.

I grappled with these questions in writing my first book, Native Activism in Cold War America: The Struggle for Sovereignty, which I published with the University Press of Kansas in 2008.  The book focuses on the period between the late-1950s and late 1960s, and I defined it this way because I wanted to recover stories of American Indian activism during an era that had been overshadowed by the founding of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968, the occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969, the Trail of Broken Treaties and Bureau of Indian Affairs takeover in 1972, the confrontation at Wounded Knee in 1973, and the Longest Walk in 1978.

The popular and scholarly fixation on these later events contributed to AIM and Alcatraz being defined as the “beginning” of American Indian activism and to the perception that the 1970s were the 1960s in Native America. During an interview I conducted with him in October 2001, Standing Rock Sioux scholar Vine Deloria, Jr., put it this way:  “What you’re talking about really is moving everything that happened in the Seventies into the Sixties and pretending that it happened then.”

By concluding with the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, I chose to end where most histories of twentieth-century Indian activism begin. It did so to decenter (without diminishing the significance of) the more familiar stories mentioned above. In so doing, I hoped that it might restore the presence of at least some people, places, and events that had been all but erased.

Reinterpreting this critical period in American Indian history did other memory work, as well. Native Activism intended to challenge conventional narratives about the Sixties in the context of United States and global history, which I consider incomplete if Indigenous experiences are designated as peripheral or marginal.

Indeed, I came to realize that the individuals, ideas, events, and issues in Indian Country were at once shaped by and gave shape to the other histories of which they were a part—from the struggle for black equality and the War on Poverty to the youth movement and decolonization. They were at once distinct and inseparable.

Since the publication of Native Activism, I have continued exploring this theme. In Say We Are Nations, a primary document collection, I illustrate how, from the late nineteenth century to the opening decades of the twenty-first century, American Indians, Kanaka Maoli, and citizens of First Nations have rhetorically and literally connected perennial concerns over treaty rights, land, and sovereignty to other domestic and international concerns, events, ideas, and movements—a strategy Vine Deloria, Jr., described to me as “talking the language of the larger world.”

I have come to see all of the individuals featured in both of these books as part of a much older, vastly more expansive, and ongoing Indigenous political and intellectual tradition of countering colonialism—of demanding not only recognition but also remembrance and, as a consequence of both, the taking of responsibility. By speaking to the persistence of individuals, communities, and nations that might otherwise be rendered invisible, they empower the targets of disempowerment. If settler colonialism, to paraphrase anthropologist Patrick Wolfe, seeks to destroy to replace, these voices refuse such erasure.

Given that we are now moving into the final years of a decade marking their fiftieth anniversary (and because of the profound sense of déjà vu inspired by our present moment), there could be no better time to remember the 1960s. There could be no better time to say the names of people whose lives defined the Sixties and to reflect on what meanings they hold not only in the context of their time but in the context of our own.

For my part, I’d like to share the names of some of people that I wrote about in Native Activism in Cold War America, knowing only too well how many more could be included and deserve recognition.

And so to D’Arcy McNickle, Helen Peterson, Clarence Wesley, and Joe Garry

To Georgeann Robinson, Lacy Maynor, William Rickard, and Ed Dozier

To Bob Thomas, Mel Thom, Browning Pipestem, and Clyde Warrior

To Herb Blatchford, Sandy Osawa, Billy Frank, and Bruce Wilkie

To Angela Russell, Frank Dukepoo, Jeri Redcorn, and Fran Thom

To Gloria Emerson, Shirley Hill Witt, Dorothy Davids, and Della Warrior

To Francis McKinley, Phillip Martin, Forrest Gerard, and Helen Scheirbeck

To Vine Deloria, Walter Wetzel, Wendell Chino, and Jim Wilson

To Bob Satiacum, Roger Jourdain, Ronnie Lupe, and Cato Valandra

To Tillie Walker, Mattie Grinnell, Martha Grass, and Rose Crow Flies High

To Charlie Cambridge, Kathryn Redcorn, Gerald Brown, and Hank Adams

To Victor Charlo, LaDonna Harris, Iola Hayden, and Phyllis Howard

To Esther Ross, Patty Baker, Al Bridges, and Sam English

To Janet McCloud, Andrew Dreadfulwater, Bob Dumont, and Jack Forbes

To the few I have named and the many I have not

To those gone and with us still

As we remember the fiftieth anniversary of the 1960s

I remember you.

Daniel M. Cobb is an Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Fulbright Bicentennial Chair in North American Studies, University of Helsinki, 2017-2018