Sunday, November 29, 2020

James Lovelock at 100: the Gaia saga continues by Tim Radford

It's always neat to learn from people with out-of-the-box thinking. Since this piece was published last year, scientist James Lovelock is now 101 years old.  As addressed in this piece below, Lovelock advanced the "Gaia Hypothesis" in 1972 to make the case that others have also made, that the Earth is a living organism that is self-regulating. NB: "Gaia" is ancient Greek for Earth.

This is a central epistemological standpoint for Native peoples, that is, that Earth, Mother Earth, is a sentient, living organism (also read: The Earth is a Sentient Living Organism), a not-so-radical notion the pandemic has 
perhaps made clear. Little different from viruses and bacterias that help constitute the building blocks of life as we know it, we are all a part of Earth and the cosmos and our evolution as homo sapiens is entwined with Her, with Gaia, and the cosmos. What a profound thing to contemplate. 

Lovelock is clearly a rock-star centenariangeophysiologist. Although he has very interesting potential solutions to climate warming, I am skeptical about his optimism in Artificial Intelligence (AI), particularly cyborgs' expected capacity to avert humans' species extinction. I would much rather that we pay attention for once to our Indigenous elders who still have the wisdom and knowledge for humans' self-preservation. 

For example, read this encouraging NPR piece out of  California in the wake of the state's devastating fires: California Teaming Up With Native American Tribes To Prevent Wildfires.

These measures of teaming up with Native peoples must be taken up everywhere globally and not in a way that appropriates Native knowledge, but in a way that humbly and respectfully includes them, in partnership, as full-fledged partners to the solutions of an Earth 
that is severely out of balance. 

Great food for thought on a Sunday morning.

-Angela Valenzuela

James Lovelock at 100: the Gaia saga continues

Tim Radford reassesses the independent scientist’s groundbreaking body of writing.


James Lovelock proposes that Earth will be saved by artificial intelligence.Credit: Tim Cuff/Alamy

James Lovelock will always be associated with one big idea: Gaia. The Oxford English Dictionary defines this as “the global ecosystem, understood to function in the manner of a vast self-regulating organism, in the context of which all living things collectively define and maintain the conditions conducive for life on earth”. It cites the independent scientist as the first to use the term (ancient Greek for Earth) in this way, in 1972.

On 26 July, Lovelock will be 100; his long career has sparkled with ideas. His first solo letter to Nature — on a new formula for the wax pencils used to mark Petri dishes — was published in 1945. But, unusually for a scientist, books are his medium of choice. He has written or co-authored around a dozen; the latest, Novacene, is published this month.

As that book’s preface notes, Lovelock’s nomination to the Royal Society in 1974 listed his work on “respiratory infections, air sterilisation, blood-clotting, the freezing of living cells, artificial insemination, gas chromatography and so on”. The “and so on” briefly referred to climate science, and to the possibility of extraterrestrial life. The story of Gaia began with a question posed by NASA scientists while Lovelock was a consultant at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. That is, how could you tell if a planet such as Mars harboured life?

With microbiologist Lynn Margulis, Lovelock published a series of papers on the subject. In 1974, they developed a view of Earth’s atmosphere as “a component part of the biosphere rather than as a mere environment for life” (J. E. Lovelock and L. Margulis Tellus 26, 2–10; 1974). Earth’s atmosphere contains oxygen and methane — reactive gases, constantly renewed. That disequilibrium radiates an infrared signal, which Lovelock later described as an “unceasing song of life” that is “audible to anyone with a receiver, even from outside the Solar System”. Thus, the answer to NASA’s question was already written in the static Martian atmosphere, composed almost entirely of non-reactive carbon dioxide.

That was the beginning of a sustained and developing argument, in the face of sometimes dismissive criticism, that recast Earth as, in effect, a superorganism. Lovelock’s Gaia theory states that, for much of the past 3.8 billion years, a holistic feedback system has played out in the biosphere, with life forms regulating temperature and proportions of gases in the atmosphere to life’s advantage. Earth system science is now firmly established as a valuable intellectual framework for understanding the only planet known to harbour life, and increasingly vulnerable to the unthinking actions of one species. Colleagues and co-authors acknowledge that the argument continues, but endorse the importance of Lovelock and Margulis.

Entwined evolution

“The insight that the oceans and the atmosphere are thoroughly entwined with the living biosphere, and must be understood as a coupled system, has been completely vindicated,” says marine and atmospheric scientist Andrew Watson of the University of Exeter, UK. Lee Kump goes further. “Lovelock also showed us that Darwin had it only half right,” says Kump, a geoscientist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. “Life evolves in response to environmental change, but the environment also evolves in response to biological change.” Despite severing formal links with universities decades ago, Lovelock has been showered with honorary degrees and awards from bodies as varied as NASA and the Geological Society of London.

The procession of engaging books began in 1979 with Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Each volume made its case more forcefully than the last, exploring what was known first as the Gaia hypothesis, then simply as Gaia, and the hazards facing either the biosphere or humanity. The books include his endearing autobiography Homage to Gaia (2000), increasingly urgent warnings of climate devastation in The Revenge of Gaia (2006) and The Vanishing Face of Gaia (2009), and the less apocalyptic A Rough Ride to the Future (2014).

A black and white photo of James Lovelock standing in front of a row of bare trees.

James Lovelock pictured in 1989.Credit: Terry Smith/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty

Novacene picks up from that note of hope, and showcases another big idea. Gaia might, after all, be saved — by the singularity. This artificial-intelligence takeover, which so alarms many doomsayers, will be our redemption. Lovelock argues that increasingly self-engineering cyborgs with massive intellectual prowess and a telepathically shared consciousness will recognize that they, like organisms, are prey to climate change. They will understand that the planetary thermostat, the control system, is Gaia herself; and, in tandem with her, they will save the sum of remaining living tissue and themselves. The planet will enter the Novacene epoch: Lovelock’s coinage for the successor to the informally named Anthropocene.

Lovelock welcomes this. “Whatever harm we have done to the Earth, we have, just in time, redeemed ourselves by acting simultaneously as parents and midwives to the cyborgs,” he writes. He takes the long view on this rescue, however. Climate change is a real threat to humanity, but Earth will inevitably be overtaken by a ‘big heat’ in a few billion years, as the Sun slowly waxes more fierce.

Although co-authored with journalist Bryan Appleyard, Novacene reads like undiluted Lovelock. From the start of his writing life — no matter how tortuous the narrative or complex the argument — Lovelock has written persuasively. In his debut, Gaia, he sidestepped evolution’s first and biggest obstacle (how to get from organic chemistry to a living, devouring, excreting, replicating organism) in two sentences that seem to me models of clarity and brevity: “Life was thus an almost utterly improbable event with almost infinite opportunities of happening. So it did.”

In The Ages of Gaia (1988), a richer and more closely argued restatement, he answered the vexed question of how life contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. Life, he wrote, “has evolved with the Earth as a highly coupled system so as to favour survival. It is like a skilled accountant, never evading the payment of the required tax but also never missing a loophole.” This metaphoric brilliance is no rarity. A few pages on, he reminds us that Gaia is “a quarter as old as time itself. She is so old that her birth was in the region of time where ignorance is an ocean and the territory of knowledge is limited to small islands, whose possession gives a spurious sense of certainty.”

Lovelock’s Gaia theory is only one aspect of his nonconformism. His vigorous support for nuclear power annoys many environmentalists. Brought up as a Quaker, he registered as a conscientious objector in 1940, then changed his mind and prepared for military action in 1944 (the National Institute for Medical Research in London considered him more useful in the lab). Later, he became a consultant for the security services of Britain’s defence ministry. Among his inventions is an electron capture detector sensitive enough to identify vanishingly small traces of pollutants — such as the pesticides that spurred Rachel Carson to write the 1962 book Silent Spring — and chlorofluorocarbons, later implicated in damage to the ozone layer. In Novacene, he writes teasingly that he now sees himself as an engineer who values intuition above reason.

Lovelock to the last, he even has a kind word for the Anthropocene, marked by degradation of natural resources and the devastation of the wild things with which humanity evolved. He gives a “shout of joy, joy at the colossal expansion of our knowledge of the world and the cosmos”, and exults that the digital revolution ultimately “empowers evolution”. Is he right? Some of us might live to find out. In the meantime, if you want a sense of hyperintelligence in bipedal form, Novacene is a good place to start.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

‘Latinos’ and the Election,' by Dr. Armando Ibarra

To all of this I would add that the Republican party has been doing its homework and providing support and services to the Latino community in South Texas. As I had earlier blogged, this effort is called the "Libre Initiative," that in addition to points mentioned below, also led to their vote for Donald Trump. Despite this diversity in the Latino electorate, it's not like this trend is intractable in Texas or other places. The Democratic Party needs to begin investing in Texas as never before if they want this to change.

-Angela Valenzuela

‘Latinos’ and the Election

The term 'Latino' often obscures rather than clarifies the politics of specific ethnic or racial communities with growing class divisions.


Friday, November 27, 2020

Who Will Teach Ethnic Studies in California? By Colleen Flaherty | November 24, 2020

Scheduled to go into effect this coming Fall, 2021, this is the same question that every other state will be asking as they seek to implement Ethnic Studies as a requirement for graduation from the university.  The devil is always in the details with policy.  

If it's implemented uniformly as a General Education, lower-division requirement, then community college transfer students might not get to take Ethnic Studies courses unless it's also offered at the community colleges.  This sounds like a good idea anyway, but will require resources in order for the community colleges to hire new professors to teach Ethnic Studies.  

As I see it, these are good "problems" to have. 

Thanks to Dr. Nora Comstock for sharing.

-Angela Valenzuela


California State University will require students to take ethnic studies, but 

the faculty and system remain divided over how to put the new requirement 

into place.

November 24, 2020

Months after California State University’s new ethnic studies requirement was signed into law, the debate over it lingers. Instead of whether students should be required to take a class in ethnic studies, the system and the faculty now disagree over how the requirement will be adopted.

Ethnic studies advocates on the CSU faculty want students to complete the single-course requirement with trained ethnic studies professors, who generally teach within the system -- not at the community colleges from which more than one-third of Cal State undergraduates transfer. And because the curriculum is a primary domain of the faculty, system professors want leeway from campus to campus on how the requirement works.

The Cal State system, meanwhile, wants to make the new ethnic studies course a uniform, lower-division requirement that is part of the general education program. This means that transfer students will have to take ethnic studies before coming to the CSU. It also means community colleges will have to ramp up their ethnic studies instruction -- and probably their hiring -- to accommodate students who wish to transfer. And so the CSU ethnic studies faculty members who advocated for the new law, known as AB 1460, likely won’t ever engage with many transfer students.

This, they say, circumvents the spirit of the law, which was passed to help students across the system better understand the society in which they live.

From AB 1460: “It is the intent of the Legislature that students of the California State University acquire the knowledge and skills that will help them comprehend the diversity and social justice history of the United States and of the society in which they live to enable them to contribute to that society as responsible and constructive citizens.”

The law defines ethnic studies as Native American studies, African American studies, Asian American studies or Latinx studies. CSU campuses will have to have course offerings starting next year, so that all students graduating in 2024-25 can take at least one course.

Cal State faculty groups were hoping that the system’s Board of Trustees might listen to their concerns at a meeting last week. The systemwide faculty Council on Ethnic Studies’ views on the matter are well-known, and the system’s Academic Senate passed a resolution earlier this month advocating campus autonomy with respect to AB 1460’s adoption, including that it may be adopted as either a lower- or upper-division requirement.

The board was responsive to one long-standing faculty concern: that the required course be specific to ethnic studies, and not ethnic studies or social justice generally, as the board approved in an earlier policy iteration this summer.

On the lower-division, campus autonomy issue, however, the board accepted CSU’s position, said Melina Abdullah, a professor of pan-African studies at the system’s Los Angeles campus and a member of the Council on Ethnic Studies.

“This is an effort by the [system] chancellor’s office to push it down, and really, push it off, onto community colleges,” Abdullah said of the requirement. “They were the most vigorous and really the only opponent to AB 1460 in the first place, so it makes sense that they’d want to pass the weakest implementation plan possible.”

The CSU system has argued that a systemwide requirement needs a systemwide adoption framework.

“The biggest reason,” said Michael Uhlenkamp, a spokesperson for the chancellor’s office, “is to eliminate the possibility for any potential confusion for students and maintain consistency across the campuses. All incoming students would have a firm understanding of which courses to take, regardless of whether they are a first-year student at CSU Channel Islands or a transfer student to Sonoma State.”

Abdullah and others disagree that a campus-to-campus adoption plan would cause mass confusion, however, and argue that the system would never deign to tell professors in other fields how and when students should meet their requirements.

“Nobody would dispute that math faculty are best positioned to determine what math classes students should take, or biology faculty, or philosophy faculty,” she said. “And ethnic studies is the only discipline in which the vast majority of the faculty are people of color.”

Hollis Robbins, dean of arts and humanities at Sonoma State, said that "faculty trained in ethnic studies fields should be the key voices in implementing the requirement at the campus level." Sonoma State has long had a "robust" ethnic studies requirement of its own, fulfilled largely by courses in American multicultural studies, Chicano and Latino studies, and Native American studies, "and our faculty in these departments will play a critical role in the implementation process" for the new law.

Robbins added, "We have courses that may fulfill the requirement across the university, but ethnic studies faculty will be key to approving those classes."

Kenneth P. Monteiro, acting director of the César E. Chávez Institute at San Francisco State University’s College of Ethnic Studies and chair of the system’s Council on Ethnic Studies, said via email that the chancellor’s office “forced” on the system “the most administratively complex, expensive, intellectually unsound” requirement model. He also said that by making ethnic studies part of the general education curriculum instead of a free-standing requirement, pre-existing social science general education requirements -- including those that focus on diversity -- are likely to be weakened. This pits diversity “allies” against each other in a totally unnecessary way, he added.

“We are profoundly disappointed, because he began his tenure with great promise but leaves while placing a thorn in our side,” Monteiro said of CSU chancellor Tim White.

California Community Colleges had no comment on trustees’ vote, but an administrator previously told EdSource that the change would cost some $45 million, mostly for hiring new professors to teach ethnic studies.

Read more by 

Colleen Flaherty

What Our Students Should Know About the Struggle for the Ballot — but Won’t Learn from Their Textbooks

I fully agree that the enfranchisement of our youth and communities must begin with the teaching and learning of the historic fight for voting rights that lead to the passage of the 15th Amendment, understanding as expressed below that textbooks are of little help. The role play exercise mentioned here provides great guidance for teachers desirous of bringing this history alive. 

There is a 40 percent-off sale in Rethinking Schools right now on curricula that helps to enfranchise our youth and communities.

Russian interference in our elections should not get taught without also teaching our own unfortunate history of voter suppression. And what better time than right now in the wake of this year's historic election and with the runoff in Georgia that will determine the balance of power in Washington?

-Angela Valenzuela

#votersuppression #2020Election #votingrights

Teaching Voting Rights in the Time of Coronavirus

What Our Students Should Know About the Struggle for the Ballot — but Won’t Learn from Their Textbooks

By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca

Illustrator: Boris Séméniako

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which promised “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Given the dizzying array of disruptions to our lives in this moment of pandemic, one could be forgiven for failing to register this anniversary. But the fight for voting rights enshrined in the 15th Amendment is still very much alive, and more critical now than ever — and needs to be taught to every student in this country.

The coronavirus pandemic makes in-person voting dangerous, literally a potential death sentence. Indeed, when Wisconsin failed to postpone in-person voting in early April, infected people voted and likely infected others. And the people most vulnerable to coronavirus are also the most likely to already face disproportionate obstacles to voting: Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, the elderly, the poor, the incarcerated. Voting rights activists are calling for immediate implementation of measures that are basic, long overdue, and which will protect the health of all voters: extension of early voting, online registration options, universal mail-in-ballots. But Republican legislatures across the country balk, citing logistical barriers and the dangers of “voter fraud.” Voter fraud, as all recent reputable studies agree, is very, very rare in the United States. A 2014 investigation published in the Washington Post found only 31 instances (out more than 1 billion ballots) of voter impersonation fraud. Recently, however, President Trump has dispensed with even the pretense of the fraud argument and made clear the Republican Party’s real concerns. As he told Fox News, implementation of vote-by-mail and other pro-democratic measures would create “levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” 

From voter ID laws to voter roll purges, gerrymandering to poll closures, on the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment, the right to vote is under attack and the stakes are high.

From voter ID laws to voter roll purges, gerrymandering to poll closures, on the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment, the right to vote is under attack and the stakes are high. It is critical that students learn about the fight for voting rights, past and present. Textbooks will be of little use. Though the book adopted by my school district outside of Portland, Oregon, to teach 10th- and 11th-grade U.S. history, National Geographic’s America Through the Lens (2019), mentions the 15th Amendment, adopted in 1870, the 19th Amendment, adopted in 1920, and the Voting Rights Act (VRA), passed 45 years later, the story ends there. The text offers the false impression that the history of voting rights in the United States is a hopeful tale of steady progress, culminating in 1965. It provides them no context to understand our current moment.

A good place to begin a study of today’s voting rights struggles is Reconstruction, a time when, as Adam Sanchez notes in an article in the Nation, “Black lives mattered.” Using a role play written by Rethinking Schools curriculum editor Bill Bigelow, students in my classroom imagine themselves newly freed in the months immediately following emancipation and wrestle with the key questions of freed people — how to access land, political power, safety, and education. There is disagreement among my 21st-century students — as there was among the real 19th-century freedpeople — about what should happen to Confederate leaders (execution? amnesty?) and about whether to grow cotton to appease Northern elites or permanently renounce a crop that one cannot eat and that is so closely connected with slavery. But about voting, students rarely disagree. Trying to imagine themselves as freedpeople, they see the vote as critical to all their other aspirations. In follow-up discussion of this activity, we reflect on what really happened during the Reconstruction Era. Students are outraged to learn that plantations were returned to Confederates rather than allocated to freedpeople. But they celebrate the 15th Amendment, which immediately extended the vote to nearly 500,000, mostly formerly enslaved, Black men across the South. Like freedpeople themselves, my students see the right to vote as fundamental to freedom.

Fundamental, but not secure. In the years following the passage of the 15th Amendment, myriad forms of racism — violence, devious new voting qualifications, economic exploitation, denial of education — combined to undermine the 15th Amendment and disenfranchise millions of Black people. By the middle of the 20th century, less than 7 percent of eligible African Americans in Mississippi were registered to vote. Though white supremacists succeeded in their campaign of disenfranchisement, Black people and their allies never stopped demanding the franchise, through legal action, civil disobedience, and mass politics.

Though my textbook makes little connection between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement — indeed they are separated by hundreds of pages in its relentlessly chronological march through history — it was the unceasing activism of Black people, and others, that led to the passage of the VRA and finally secured the promises of the 15th Amendment for millions of voters. In the voting rights mixer lesson I wrote for the Zinn Education Project, students appreciate this full-circle moment. Through role play, students encounter dozens of stories, across centuries, about the fight for voting rights. They learn about the achievements of the Reconstruction Era when they “meet” figures like Frances Harper, Frederick Douglass, and William T. Combash — and how Reconstruction promises were restored, renewed, and reinvigorated by later activists like Fannie Lou Hamer, Lawrence Aaron Nixon, and Lamar Smith. From Elzie McGill, an activist from Lowndes County, Alabama, students learn that by outlawing many of the voting qualifications used to deny Black people their 15th Amendment rights, as well as requiring strong federal oversight of state and local elections, the VRA was one of the most effective pieces of legislation in U.S. history. It resulted in the immediate registration of hundreds of thousands of new Black voters. 

In a typical U.S. history textbook, the struggle for voting rights ends in 1965. Textbooks describe the VRA — rightly — as a major victory for democracy and the Civil Rights Movement. My students’ textbook, America Through the Lens, was published in 2019, and even covers the 2016 election, but it does not mention the fight for voting rights — or the rise of new forms of voter suppression — since 1965. A number of other textbooks I consulted end their coverage of voting rights at the VRA too, with a couple mentioning the passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971. 

Though our students’ textbooks suggest otherwise, the fight to vote is very much alive, which is why the lesson I described above also includes more than a dozen examples of recent voter suppression and activism, presented alongside those of earlier eras. When students encounter side-by-side stories of 19th-century property requirements, 20th-century poll taxes, and 21st-century voter ID requirements, the lesson is clear: Antidemocratic measures that keep the vote out of the hands of the poor are not bygones of a less enlightened era, but recurring motifs in the U.S. story. Why, students wonder, is voting suppression back in vogue?

Over the last decade, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the right-wing group that develops “model” legislation, has sought to transform U.S. politics at the state level, including through voter suppression. ALEC crafts cookie-cutter versions of proposed laws that are brought to states to realize a conservative utopia of deregulation, tax breaks, and massive disinvestment from public spending. In 2011, ALEC made voting qualifications one of its priorities, and 33 states introduced so-called “voter ID laws” in that year alone. These laws require burdensome forms of identification to vote — forms of identification that are less common among poor and nonwhite voters. The calculus is as obvious as it is abhorrent. Poor, Black, and Brown voters are the least likely to support ALEC’s legislative agenda and the most likely to be blocked from voting by these new laws. 

As students participating in the voting rights mixer learn from people like Aracely Calderon and Maggie Coleman, ALEC’s agenda of disenfranchisement got a boost from the Supreme Court in 2013 in Shelby County v. Holder, when it ruled that a critical piece of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. Since 1965, the VRA required that locales with an established history of voter suppression or discrimination get permission — “preclearance” — from the federal government before changing voting rules or registration qualifications. State and local governments had to prove to regulators that the new policies had no discriminatory intent toward nor disparate impact upon historically disenfranchised groups — before making any changes. By doing away with preclearance, Shelby gave states the power to pass new legislation related to voting with no oversight. 

The lethal combination of conservative activists like ALEC and the hands-off approach signaled by the Supreme Court means voter suppression is on the rise. According to the Brennan Center, 25 states have enacted new voting restrictions since 2010.

Seemingly each day brings a new example. Georgia purged voter rolls. North Dakota refused to allow Native Americans to use their tribal identification to vote. In spite of the overwhelming decision of Floridians to reinstate voting rights of convicted felons, the Republican-controlled Legislature enacted a modern-day poll tax to block them. Although my textbook mentions Russian interference in the 2016 election, it is completely silent on this other kind of “interference” in the democratic process. 

The assault on voting rights is fierce, but so is the resistance.

The assault on voting rights is fierce, but so is the resistance. Organizations like the ACLU and the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund have been active on the legal front, challenging each new law, appealing each bad ruling. At the heart of these cases are would-be, should-be voters who will not go quietly. Voters like Ms. Rosanell Eaton, a 94-year-old Black North Carolinian, who made 10 trips to the Division of Motor Vehicles and drove more than 200 miles to get a required form of voter identification because the name on her driver’s license did not exactly match her voter registration. Or voters like Gladys Harris, whom students meet in the mixer, a 66-year-old Black woman with disabilities from Wisconsin whose three forms of identification did not satisfy the state’s strict voter ID requirements. 

Activists are, as always, critical to the organizing against voter suppression. In North Dakota, the Lakota People’s Law Project raises funds for and organizes volunteers to distribute free identification with street addresses to thousands of Native Americans who would otherwise be turned away at the polls for lack of a proper ID. All over the country, activists use their own cars, often taking unpaid time off of work, to ferry elderly relatives or community members to faraway polling stations or to obtain the new forms of identification required for voting. My textbook details the dueling platforms of the two main-party candidates in the 2016 presidential election, but says nothing about their positions on voter ID laws or the Shelby case. 

As I write this article in April 2020, I am sitting in my 2nd-floor office (read: bedroom), with the murmurs of my husband videoconferencing with his middle school science students in the next room, and the tinny sound of my child’s Zoom violin lesson on the floor below. It is hard to recall that there was a time before the coronavirus shutdown of schools, a time when the curriculum calendar showed April as the month in which my U.S. history students would — in our brick- and-mortar classroom — read Fannie Lou Hamer, watch Eyes on the Prize, and learn about the fight for voting rights, past and present. 

But here we are. And though I am uncertain exactly how I will carry forward my voting rights curriculum during this period of school closure and emergency online education, it is urgent that I do so. 

The 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870 thanks to 19th-century anti-racist visionaries and activists. The Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965 thanks to 20th-century visionaries and activists. It will be left to 21st-century visionaries and activists to demand a renewal of our government’s commitment to voting rights. For educators, we need to nurture those visionaries and activists in our classrooms, whether online or in person. One way to start is to push back against textbooks’ erasure of the modern fight for the vote at the same time we teach lessons that bring those struggles to life.

The Zinn Education Project has partnered with Color of Change on a campaign ( to mark the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment. The campaign offers “Who Gets to Vote? Teaching About the Struggle for Voting Rights in the United States” (, a classroom unit with three lessons, and “A Toolkit for Voting Rights Advocates” by Color of Change (

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

There has been one successful coup in the United States. It foreshadowed the rise of Donald Trump

Put this important history on your reading list. White Supremacy dies hard. Why am I just learning of this horrible history for the first time? What we might call "Trumpism" is woven into the very fabric of this country. Yet again, another reminder of it from U.S. history.

Thanks to Dr. Barbara Flores for sharing.

-Angela Valenzuela 

#EndWhiteSupremacy #BlackLivesMatter #BLM #WhiteSupremacy

There has been one successful coup in the United States. It foreshadowed the rise of Donald Trump

In his failed efforts to overturn the 2020 election result, Donald Trump has been accused of attempting to subvert the will of the American people by instigating a coup d'etatan act of overthrowing or usurping lawful government powers by employing unlawful or illegal means.

What many Americans may not realize is that Trump’s motives and actions, and those of the Republican Party enabling him had their genesis in a far earlier, successful coup executed over 120 years ago. Then, white citizens conspired against a municipal government in Wilmington, North Carolina.

It’s one of the primary reasons Republicans like Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and his ilk are so vehemently angry about re-examinations of American history from a racial perspective. Cotton’s war on the devastating analysis contained within The New York Times’  praised and influential “1619 Project,” for example is not simply about what such fresh looks at “established” history reveal about the pervasiveness and longevity of racism in this country. Instead, their rage is fueled by what deeper looks at racism—and the nation’s long history of it—reveal about the character and motivations of the perpetrators themselves. Since race-based bigotry is impossible to defend from any rational standpoint, stories and myths to mask it are the only strategy.

As for those motivations, it can be deceptively easy to assume that racism is rooted simply in discrimination on the basis of skin color. At its most basic level, that is certainly what it is—it provides an explanation even a child can understand: Others are “bad” because they “look different.”

But “looking different” is just a foundational element for racism. It’s what comes next that matters, when the implications of looking different are weighed and contemplated within the lizard brain of those so predisposed. These same types of people have continually, through the centuries, made up a huge cross-section of America. From the nineteenth-century southern inheritors of the beaten Confederacy, known then as the Democrats, to what they swiftly transformed themselves into a century later during the Civil Rights era—the same people we now know as the modern Republican Party. Today’s Republicans are simply the latest heirs to the same racist legacy post-Reconstruction that brought us Black CodesJim Crow, and “Separate but Equal”: It’s a legacy that now manifests itself in the coordinated effort to restrict voting among Black people and anyone who isn’t white that is voter suppression.

Out of the many acts of terroristic violence perpetrated against African Americans since active hostilities concluded in the Civil War, what occurred in Wilmington over a few days in November 1898 was not unique in its lethal character. Some 60 (probably more) Black citizens were massacred at the hands of an angry mob of white supremacists. Similar incidents of racist violence had peppered the South for decades, fueling the inception of such domestic terrorist groups as the Ku Klux Klan. But the parallels with the modern goals of the Republican Party—specifically the political reasons for the massacre, coupled with what sparked the event itself—echo today in the strategy and motives underlying the Trump campaign’s efforts to delegitimize the 2020 election.

What motivated that 1898 Wilmington coup, known as the Wilmington Insurrection—or its longtime whitewashed historical descriptor, the “Wilmington Race Riot”—were the same things that motivate Trump and the GOP today: white power, white insecurity, and white fear. All of those put together led to a sustained campaign of voter intimidation that directly prefigures the GOP’s modern-day voter suppression script.

David W. Blight is Sterling professor of American History at Yale University. Writing for the New York Review of Books, Blight, in reviewing David Zucchino’s recent book, Wilmington’s Lie, explains what happened in Wilmington at the conclusion of the nineteenth century, and why it happened. In fact, it was this country’s only successful coup d’etat, an unlawful and violent revolt by white Americans seeking to usurp power through intimidating and suppressing the black vote and thereby eliminating its impact in “a multi-racial government in the South’s most progressive Black-majority city.”

It’s an ugly story, but parts of it will seem very ... familiar.

That month there was a concerted, carefully planned, and successful effort to violently suppress the black vote, eliminate Black elected officials, and restore white control of the city of Wilmington, as well as the entire state, to the Democrats for the cause of white supremacy. Leaders of the coup employed tactics ranging from vicious newspaper propaganda and economic intimidation to arson and lynching. Dozens of African-Americans were killed and Black political life in the area was snuffed out in a matter of days: 126,000 Black men were on the voter rolls of North Carolina in 1896; by 1902, only 6,100 remained.

As Blight emphasizes, “The Democrats of 1898 in North Carolina had the same aims, and some of the same methods, as today’s Republican vote suppressors, scheming and spending millions of dollars to thwart the right to vote with specious claims about “voter fraud.”

Despite the North’s victory in the Civil War and despite Emancipation, North Carolina, like other Southern states in the years immediately following the war, began implementing Black Codes, which in essence reverted Blacks to near-slave status, and refused to ratify the 14th Amendment—granting African Americans citizenship and equal protection under the law. Those circumstances changed, at least on paper, when the state held a constitutional convention in 1868 under Reconstruction, granting blacks the right to vote. As Blight notes, from that day forward, Blacks were viewed by the state’s white supremacists as an existential menace, a “contagion to be wiped out.” The supremacist-dominated “Democrats” quickly regained the governorship, and began systematically imposing legal and procedural “ruses,” all with the specific intent of disqualifying Black voters.

Despite these efforts, Black citizens continued to assert and increase their political participation and power in North Carolina, particularly in the second Congressional district, which encompassed Wilmington, which had elected several Black aldermen and employed several Black policemen. The district itself also voted in its first Black representative, George H. White.

As Blight explains, this situation was unheard of and intolerable to many highly placed and powerful North Carolinians, including the owner-editor of the Raleigh News and Observer, the chair of the Democratic Party, and Alfred Waddell, another avowed white supremacist, propagandist “orator” and congressman. Waddell would, through his fiery speeches, evoke racist sentiments “that had working-class white men on their feet with their Winchester rifles held high.” 

At a rally before eight thousand people on November 7, Waddell called them to arms: “Go to the polls tomorrow,” he shouted, “and if you find the Negro out voting, tell him to leave the polls. And if he refuses, kill him! Shoot him down in his tracks!” The campaign ran training sessions on how to stuff ballot boxes and met with employers to make sure white men had the day off to vote.

Waddell had help from a homegrown base of gun-toting racists who wore specific garb to identify themselves. They called themselves the “Red Shirts,” recognizable by their clothing, which was specifically intended to make the united racists both visible and intimidating.

With the help of thousands of “Red Shirts”—bands of heavily armed men adept at intimidation and ready to kill—they sought the liquidation of Black men from political life and the overthrow of the state of North Carolina. With arsenals of guns, big and small, the campaign declared its aims overtly; ... “We must either outcheat, outcount or outshoot them!” They accomplished all three ambitions.

Blight explains that the instigators of this concerted backlash against Black participation in democracy propagated a belief system that permeated much of the attitudes of the post-Civil War generation—that their (supposed) birthright had been threatened by freed slaves, who they believed had further “degenerated” by becoming “aggressive” toward white women. Everyone knows there has never been an excuse quite as handy and self-serving for white supremacists as defending the honor—and so-called chastity—of “their” white women. According to Blight, quoting historian Joel Williamson, “These lethal concoctions of race and sex in the minds of radical racists formed a ‘psychic core’... of a new, violent redemption.”

As Blight notes, such an association “drove political organization and white frenzy more than some [modern] readers may grasp.” Because It meant that Black men who were permitted the privilege of voting—or worse, governing—could compete for white women’s affections, a prospect which drove these insecure men into a frothing, uncontrollable rage. It was a rage that white supremacist demagogues played up to the hilt.  

In Wilmington, the spark that ignited this teeming mass of ginned-up anger was a man named Alexander Lightfoot Manly. The mixed race and well-educated grandson of a former North Carolina governor and one of his enslaved women, Manly nonetheless identified as Black. He founded the City of Wilmington’s only Black daily, and in 1895 published a column challenging the prevailing idea that any sexual union between white women and Black men could only be classified as “rape.” In the summer of 1898, responding to pro-lynching rant by the wife of another white supremacist congressman, he published a fateful editorial.

As described by D.G. Martin, in a piece written for the local CBS Radio affiliate, WCHL:

In response to a widely circulated assertion that the only solution to Black aggression against white women was lynching, Manly wrote, “Every Negro lynched is called a ‘big, burly Black brute,’ when in fact, many of those who have been dealt with had white men for their fathers and were not only ‘not Black and burly’ but were sufficiently attractive for white girls of culture and refinement to fall in love with them, as is very well known to all.”

As noted by Blight, Manly also embellished his language with a taunt, writing that racist whites shouldn’t expect their daughters to “remain pure” while the white men around them continued “debauching” Black women.

This type of “insolent” attitude, coming from a Black man, was absolutely stupefying to white supremacists. Quoting Zucchino, Blight emphasizes that “A Black man had mocked the myths that had sustained whites for generations, piercing the buried insecurities of Southern white men.”  Responding to a frenzied push among the white population to lynch Manly and destroy his newspaper, the white supremacists who had been egging on anger against Blacks convinced white voters to express their fury on Election Day: Nov. 8, 1898.

And they did just that, establishing a template for what we now know as systematic, intimidating voter suppression.

Black men in Wilmington risked their lives to vote on November 8; only about half of those registered actually cast their ballots. Democrats stuffed ballot boxes in gerrymandered black precincts and destroyed Republican ballots while white men, as Zucchino puts it, “accosted Blacks at gunpoint in some wards, forcing them to turn back as they tried to reach polling stations.” In white neighborhoods, rumors spread of Black violence—rumors that Zucchino states were “pure fiction”: “Virtually all the armed men who remained on the streets throughout the night were white, not Black.”

One local white woman who kept a diary during the election noted that the whole effort was designed to intimidate Black (men) into “never vot[ing] again.” As a result, the white supremacist-inspired effort succeeded in winning the Democrats the election, and its instigators immediately instituted measures to force out the current government. The state’s media immediately praised the remarkable election results—lauding the coup and praising its leaders, while ignoring the concerted suppression and intimidation that caused it all.

Two days later, on Nov. 10, 500 white men gathered at the town’s armory and began their rampage, killing Blacks indiscriminately and destroying Black homes and Black-owned businesses. Their initial target was Alexander Manly. Upon being informed that Manly had escaped, they set fire to his newspaper office, posing for the picture that is at the top of this post. Blacks were shot in the back, many killed on their knees or in other humiliating positions. Many of the remaining Black residents fled into surrounding woods or swamps. No one was punished or prosecuted for these murders. The police chief, board of aldermen and mayor of Wilmington were summarily removed, essentially at gunpoint, and replaced by white supremacists, including Waddell—who was declared the new mayor.

As Blight notes, the impact of the Wilmington Massacre (he calls it a “pogrom”) was felt statewide, and determined the fate of North Carolina for decades to come. The coup leaders in Wilmington immediately began propagating the false story that Blacks had instigated the violence; those responsible for the actual violence went on to prominent political careers. In the state capital of Raleigh, Blight writes, “a wave of disfranchisement and other Jim Crow laws flowed from the state legislature,” and it would be decades before the state began to “unlearn” the lessons of that massacre.

And as the years passed, the mythology of a “virtuous” white supremacy and the “unworthiness” of the Black vote continued to be passed down from generation to generation, sometimes blatant, sometimes hidden, but always present, like a shadow, waiting patiently for yet another cynical demagogue to awaken and tap into the fears, grievances, and insecurities of another willing audience of pathetic, small-minded white men.