Abenaki Condemn 9/11 Flag Removal Incident; Student Involved has History of Arrest

The flags vanished over a period of half an hour. But it took several hours longer before the Middlebury community learned where they had gone.

Four women and one man – one a Middlebury College student, one a member of the Haudenosaunee nation brought to campus by that student – plucked all 2977 of them from the grass around Mead Chapel in the middle of the afternoon, where they had been planted in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The group worked efficiently, assembling the flags in small piles and then dumped them into opaque black garbage bags.

Credit: Rachel Kogan

Credit: Rachel Kogan

Julia Madden ’14 was passing on the way to the gym when she realized that something was wrong. After first passing by the scene, she turned to accost the five. They informed her that the site was an “Abenaki burial ground” and that they were acting to counter “American colonialism.” Madden was struck by the disrespect of this action. “I should have gotten a little more aggressive,” she says. “I was just dumbfounded.” Continue reading

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The Greatest Nation

Traveling in Australia and New Zealand, you quickly realize that people here are incredibly interested, informed, and invested in the outcome of the American Presidential election. The result matters to them on several levels. Mostly, of course, it’s symbolic; there was little daylight between the foreign policy platforms of President Obama and the Republican nominee. But, fair or not, they tend to associate the Republican Party with the go-it-alone, “with-us-or-against-us” bluster of Bush and Reagan. These are not times that they fondly remember.

I found out the result of the election from the FM radio on a boat floating in a cove off the coast of Australia (rough life, I know). What struck me first was that the Australian news station reported the result at the top of their broadcast every hour. But mostly I was surprised by the way that they covered it: they didn’t focus on the horse race. They didn’t rattle off poll numbers or Electoral College scores.

But they did talk about Obama’s reelection in terms of issues mostly absent from the campaign trail. They talked about how America would now keep its health care law. They talked about their hope that the President would address issues of global warming—a topic that his opponent raised only as a punch line. They talked about how the government of the United States could expand policies to end discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, and how President Obama’s support for gay marriage had not hurt his electoral chances as it might have just a few years ago. They said—invoking a term usually reserved as an epithet in our own country—that America became a little more liberal that night.

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Casino America

Someone once said that there are two types of Americans: those who are rich, and those who plan on getting there someday.  Advertising and easy credit have left their mark on the American psyche and the American bank account; we’d rather have a BMW than spend time with our kids and we’d rather own an empty vacation home than have a job that actually allows the time to spend on vacation.  We measure the strength of our economy not in jobs nor in income equality, but in raw growth of Gross Domestic Product and in consumer confidence.  A dollar saved is “bad” for the economy; a dollar borrowed and spent is “healthy.”

Therein lies the problem with the platform of the Democratic party: it’s realistic, not aspirational.  Congress cuts taxes on the wealthy again and again without public outcry because so many people believe that, someday, despite all evidence to the contrary, those policies will benefit them.  The average voter doesn’t care much about welfare or food stamps or unemployment insurance because the average voter thinks they’ll never be poor, hungry, or unemployed.  We don’t care about health insurance because we don’t think we’ll ever get that sick.  We don’t care about endless wars and deployments of troops because we’re not a part of that other 1% that defends our freedoms.  And why would we?  We live in a society where these problems have all been reduced to unpleasant abstractions.  To many of us, the fate of the soldier from Dallas, Texas, her unemployed husband, and their uninsured neighbors have no more connection to our lives than the fate of a rare flower in the Indonesian rainforest.

Year after year, voters line up at the polls and vote Republican because they don’t want to face these uncomfortable truths.  They want to believe in an America where every person can truly pull themselves up by their bootstraps and break into the top bracket of society.  Never mind the recent study, cited by none other than Rick Santorum, which found this dream more plausible in such capitalist havens as France and Germany.  Despite a tax structure that coddles the mega rich and the stagnation of middle class wages, we’ve stayed silent, entranced by the millionaires on our televisions, as this dream has flown from our grasp.  Half a century ago, the American dream was to own a modest home with a white picket fence.  Now we all want to be Kardashians.

The Democratic Party has lost this narrative.  Instead of our hyper-individualistic ownership society where we prize the right to solitude above all else, we need to promote a new American dream; one where maybe the rewards of success aren’t as high—two houses instead of seven, or a share of a private plane instead of the plane itself—but also where the penalties of failure are not so horrific; where everyone can access the most advanced medical technology in the world, spend a few weeks of the year relaxing with their families, and get a useful education.  We’ve lost sight of this dream because the Republicans have successful framed the debate in terms of the “nanny” state versus freedom; we need to frame the debate instead in terms of risk.   An America run by the Republican Party is the national equivalent of a casino, where the lucky few gain all the rewards, and where the house always wins.  To believe their story, all we have to do to be successful is to work hard.  That’s insulting to the tens of millions of men and women who drag themselves out of bed every morning and work at menial jobs just to survive.  When they don’t miraculously become rich it’s not because they’re too stupid or too lazy.  Many of them work harder every day of their lives than you and I will in our most difficult week here at Middlebury.  Should we punish them politically and demean their existence just because they weren’t dealt the winning hand?

The Democratic Party is the party of inconvenient truths and uncomfortable realities. Until we succeed in deflating the Republican narrative that wealth is nothing more than the product of hard work by pointing to the victims of their policies and by connecting their stories to the median voter—until we link them and their ill-conceived rhetoric of “freedom” from government assistance to the children who don’t have a place to call home and the mothers who can’t pay their healthcare bills and the soldiers dead from wars of choice in this country—we will remain on the defense, the middle class will continue its descent into poverty, and the American Dream will remain more of a fantasy than an attainable goal for the vast majority of this nation’s people.