Tag Archives: congress

Shut Down

by Matt McKinnon

About a month and a half ago, I agreed—as part of my job—to write a contribution for the BLS blog, due by October 6th, and to be published shortly thereafter.  I agreed to this based on my understanding of what my job is, what it entails, the compensation I receive as a BLS instructor, and my belief that a community only works when its members participate in just that: a “communio” or sharing, from the Latin “union with.”  I made this agreement in good faith and free from constraint.  And, though some might argue this point, I made it being in sound mind and body.

But the situation has changed.

broken

(The first image would be here if I were not shut down.)

I am not happy with the present way in which the elected officials of the State for whom I work have conducted business regarding the educational system within which I work.  In short, I disapprove of the massive cuts to higher education that the North Carolina State Legislature has made over the past several years.

Never mind that these folks have been duly elected by a legal process and have conducted this business in a manner consistent with the Constitutions of both the State and the Nation.

Never mind that “legal” does not necessarily mean “fair.”

Never mind that there are regular procedures in place to check the manner in which they do this business—that there is constitutional recourse to persuade, recall, impeach, or merely vote them out of office at the next election.

Never mind that what they have done is now “law”—and has become “law” in a legal and constitutional manner.

Never mind all of this because…well, I just do not agree with them or their “law.”

(The second image would be here if I was not shut down.)

(The second image would be here if I were not shut down.)

And while I adhere to the principle that writing a blog entry is part  of my job, and that I have a duty to myself, to my institution, and to my students to faithfully execute the duties of my job, I have another principle that outweighs all of these:

If I do not get what I want, then I shut down.

(The third image would be here if I was not shut down.)

(The third image would be here if I were not shut down.)

At this point, I am not even sure what would make me not shut down.  Or stop shutting down.  Or start back up.

At this point, I am not even sure what I hope to get out of shutting down.  Other than the shut down itself.

But none of that matters.

Because I have shut down.

So, until further notice—until an agreement can be reached that satisfies the righteousness of my indignation at the manner in which duly-elected officials representing the State by whom I am employed have conducted business in a lawful and constitutional and regular manner—until then, there will be no blog contribution.

I will not fulfill this part of my job.  I have deemed it “non-essential.”

There will be no witticisms or anecdotes about me, my classes, my life, or my family.

There will be no funny or interesting or bizarre pictures to punctuate my points.

There will be no weblinks to follow for more information—at least none supplied by me.

There will be none of this.

Because I am shut down.

(The fourth image would be here if I was not shut down.)

(The fourth image would be here if I were not shut down.)

Of course, by shutting down and writing about how I am shutting down, I am still, technically, fulfilling some of my responsibilities and thus doing my job.  Therefore, I will continue to be paid and will continue to accept and spend my paycheck.

After all, shutting down is hard work.

Congressional Redistricting: Where the Real Power Lies

By Claude Tate

We hear the names of those who sway influence in America every day. We are familiar with those who lead our federal government. The President and the Executive Branch obviously have a major impact, as do the members of Congress and the Supreme Court. We are also familiar with the leaders of our state and local governments. And of course the CEOs of our major corporations, banks, etc. are also powerful in terms of shaping our future.  We even hear about people who develop new technologies that impact our lives. But there are others who also impact our lives in major ways that are not in the news every day.  In fact, I would say that few of us even know they exist. They are the people who toil behind the scenes to shape the choices we have when we go to the polls. They are, according to an article by Robert Draper in the October issue of The Atlantic magazine, “The League of Dangerous Mapmakers”.

Tom Hofeller

Tom Hofeller

Draper’s article focuses on one of those mapmakers, Tom Hofeller.  As the article states in its opening paragraph, every ten years following just behind the census takers, “Tom Holfeller takes up anew his quest to destroy Democrats. He packs his bag and his laptop with its special Maptitude software, kisses his wife of 46 years, pats his West Highland white terrier, Kara, and departs his home in Alexandria, Virginia, for a United States that he will help carve into a jigsaw of disunity.”

As allowed by the Constitution, every 10 years following the census, the 435 congressional districts are redrawn (normally by the state legislatures) so they represent population increases, decreases, and shifts. The framers of the Constitution allowed this so as to “keep democracy’s electoral scales balanced”.  But from the beginning; redistricting has been a “blood sport” that has used to keep some in power and others out of power. As Draper notes, in 1788 Patrick Henry engineered the creation of a district in Virginia that he felt would prevent James Madison from winning a seat in Congress by putting him in the same district as James Monroe, who he felt would defeat Madison. Madison won anyway, penned the Bill of Rights, and became President.  And when Madison’s second vice president, Elbridge Gerry, was governor of Massachusetts, he helped create a district shaped like a salamander so as to benefit his party, thus the origin of the term, gerrymander.

Elbridge Gerry

So redistricting has had a long history in America. And it has been practiced by both parties. But today there is a difference. Thanks to people like Tom Holfeller the process has become far more precise. In the weeks leading up to the 2012 election, I saw a poll that concluded only about 50 or so seats out of 435 were even in contention. I saw other polls which put the number even smaller. In those other approximately 400 districts, they were going to go Democrat or Republican regardless of who was running.  What that means is that the candidates in those ‘safe’ districts do not have to listen to the other side. They do not even have to appeal to ‘the center’. So we are electing representatives who do not have to compromise once they get into office. In fact, in the recent elections, a number of veteran members of Congress lost because they had the gall to listen to the other side and compromise.  I recently saw a statement by a candidate, and I cannot recall off-hand who it was, who proudly stated he would never compromise. Our government cannot function without compromise.  It’s interesting how polls show an extreme dissatisfaction with Congress for this attitude which produces gridlock, yet we continue to elect the people who only represent the extremes. And that is due in large part to folks like Holfeller (he works for Republicans, but Democrats have their ‘Holfellers’ too).

“The Gerry-Mander”

The article caught my attention because it focused on the redrawing of districts in Texas and North Carolina. The new Republican legislature in North Carolina hired Holfeller to redraw our lines while Texas did not. Due to our past, both states must have their districts approved by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act to show the new districts are not discriminatory.  Texas has run into a number of problems. But in NC, while cases have been brought claiming discrimination, things are far more calm because Holfeller makes it a point to not get too greedy. There are still several ‘safe’ Democratic districts.  Mel Watt’s 12th district is safe, as is G.K. Butterfield’s 1st district.  David Price’s 4th district was also preserved as a safe Democratic district.  (Butterfield, Watt, and Price won re-election). But Price’s district was restructured dramatically so as to remove much of the Democratic base from Brad Miller’s 13th district.  With his prospects for re-election in the new 13th district dim, Brad Miller decided not to run. A Republican, George Holding, now represents the new 13th district.  Moderate (Blue Dog) Democrats such as Mike McIntyre (7th district) and Heath Shuler (11th district) were put in districts less favorable to re-election.  McIntyre chose to run in the new district. (As of this writing, with all precincts reporting, McIntyre was holding a 378 vote lead, but I’m sure there will be a recount.)  Heath Shuler’s district had included the entire southwest mountains.  While the majority of that area votes Republican, Asheville and the Swannanoa valley to Black Mountain normally votes Democratic, and were responsible in large part for Rep. Shuler’s two election victories.  Holfeller and the NC legislature took those Democratic leaning areas out of the mountains and put them into a district with Gastonia, Rutherfordton, Shelby, etc., which is solidly Republican. Asheville may have little in common with the communities in their new district, but that does not matter.  What matters is that a Republican will be guaranteed to represent the new 11th district. (Mark Meadows, a Republican, is the new Representative from the 11th district.)  And with Asheville and the Swannanoa valley now in the 10th district, Asheville’s power to impact congressional elections has been taken away. (Patrick McHenry, a Republican, won re-election in the new 10th.)  Another moderate Democrat, Larry Kissell (8th district), decided to run, but the environment is far less favorable to a Democrat in his new district.  (He was beaten by Republican Richard Hudson.)  Due to the work of Holfeller and the Republican-led legislature, our congressional delegation has shifted dramatically in favor of Republicans.  Before the 2012 election our delegation was composed of 7 Democrats and 6 Republicans. Now there are 4 Democrats (including McIntyre) and 9 Republicans. Holfeller did his job well.

NC Congressional Districts per S.L. 2011-403

And since the legislature also draws up the districts for the NC House of Representative and NC Senate, barring a major shift in population or a major event, the new districts that were drawn based on the 2010 census will ensure Republicans will maintain power in Raleigh, and in our congressional delegation, probably for the next decade.  And since the legislature is involved in the process in some form in the majority of the other states, the party that gained the majority in 2010 will likely shape their state and its congressional delegations for some time to come also.  And nowhere will they be looking at balancing the districts so both Republicans and Democrats will have an equal shot at winning office.

It is obvious that there are problems with how we handle redistricting. But what is the solution? Some have suggested that bipartisan commissions be created to handle the process. Various models of bipartisan commissions are used in some states now. Five states use an ‘advisory commission’ to draw the state maps, which are then presented to the legislature.  Ohio and Rhode Island use an advisory commission for their congressional districts also.  However, in most cases, the legislature is not bound by their maps.  And some states use backup commissions who will draw the maps if the legislature fails to pass a plan. Seven states use ‘politician commissions’ where certain elected officials separate from the legislature are chosen to devise the maps. And six states use what is called ‘independent commissions’ that minimize the input of elected officials by forbidding both legislators and other elected officials from serving.  An explanation of the various models and how each state determines the legislative districts can be found at http://redistricting.lls.edu/who.php. But partisanship makes its way into each of those processes also. Those who make the decisions have their own political views, and the outside consultants they all utilize, even if they do not work for either a Republican or Democratic organization, also have their personal political views. Maybe we just need to hope that Holfeller is correct when he says the system will correct itself.

NC 12th Congressional District

So while the news may give attention to those traditional power brokers, keep in mind that the real power may indeed lie with those anonymous mapmakers like 69 year old Tom Holfeller who are major forces in shaping who gets elected to our state legislatures, and who in turn, shape who gets elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Pride and Prejudice

by Ann Millett-Gallant

From Wednesday, Sept 26 – Sunday, Sept 30, Durham hosted the 28th semi-annual Pride Weekend.  This festival, which began in 1981 and is the largest LGBT event in North Carolina, included a number of colorful performances, including music, dance, karaoke, DJs, and comedy (especially a headliner by Joan Rivers), parties and get-togethers, lunches and dinners, meetings over coffee, walk and runs, church services, vendors, and a lavish and lively parade.  According to their website, the mission of these events is:

  • to promote unity and visibility among lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgendered people
  • to promote a positive image through programs and public activities that foster an awareness of our past struggles
  • to be recognized as an important and talented sector of our diverse state.
  • to support and encourage HIV/AIDS education, breast cancer awareness and basic health education

Although I am in complete support of these missions and always love a good party, I have only attended the parade twice with a friend of mine who is a lesbian.  I was thrilled when my new friend, Jay O’Berski, invited me to be a part of the float hosted this year by his Durham-based theater company, The Little Green Pig.  We all wore t-shirts in support of Pussy Riot, a Russian, Feminist Punk collective who stage activist Guerilla performances all over Moscow and who were recently incarnated (for more information, see this interview).

This is a photo of me in my Pussy Riot t-shirt in the café of the Durham Whole Foods before the parade.  Unfortunately, pouring rain prevented me from marching, or “scooting” in the parade, so I modeled my shirt where other marchers were gathered.  Although the parade was inaccessible to me this year, the spirit of the event inspired me.

The Pussy Riot acts relate to Unit 6 of my course BLS 348: Representing Women, “Performance as Resistance,” and most specifically, the activist work of the Guerilla Girls.

The Guerilla Girls are a performance team whose work includes live actions as well as posters and printed projects to critique the masculine biases of art history. The assigned reading for this class, the Introduction and Conclusion to The Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art, presents a selection of their written projects, many of which engage irony, satire, and witty sense of humor. The Guerilla Girls call for change and invite others to partake in their protests.

In 1989, the Guerilla Girls challenged the Metropolitan Museum on their lack of representation of female artists. Almost 85% of the Mets’ nudes were female, compared with the only 5% of their collection of work by female artists.  This ad above appeared on New York City buses.

Representing Women also includes an assigned reading on homosexual artists:  Harmony Hammond, “Lesbian Artists,” in Amelia Jones, ed. The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader, 2nd edition (London, New York: Routledge, 2010), p. 128-129.

After the parade and conducting research for this blog, I became aware that one lesson might not be enough.  The Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program emphasizes diversity and the breadth and wealth of differing human experiences.

Jay Parr raised similar points in his blog post of 9/27/11.  In “The Significance of a Simple Ring,” he discussed his discomfort at seeing a non-married, homosexual man wearing a ring.  Parr analyzed his negative reaction, given his full support of and numerous friendships with the LGBT community.   In the specific context of UNCG, Parr stated: “The irony is that the training seminar I was attending was so that I could become a certified Safe Zone ally, so that I could advertise to the university that, hey, if you’re an LGBTQ member of our community and you need someone to talk with about that, I’m here for you.”

Parr then focused on the significance of the ring as a symbol of one’s commitment to their spouse, as well as of the legal and social status of marriage.  He advocated that all couples should have the right to the ring and all the significance and rights surrounding it.

Parr’s post predated passage of the marriage amendment to the state constitution in May 2012, which solidified the ban of same sex marriage in North Carolina “Defense of Marriage.”  I felt disappointed and defeated by this law, but maybe, at least, it will motivate those who are against such legislation to speak out.  Not long after this act, President Obama “came out” with his support of same sex marriage, bringing the discussion to nation attention.

Opponents of same sex marriage say it’s an affront to traditional marriage.  Yet, my husband and I, although we are heterosexual, do not have a traditional marriage: we lived together for 3 years before becoming engaged, I proposed to him, and we have no plans, nor desire to have children.  Further, I was born without fingers, so I literally can’t wear a ring.  Nonetheless, we were allowed to get married, and the minister I found online was, I’m pretty sure, a lesbian.  She was ordained, but would not have legally been able to marry a loving partner herself.  In my opinion, bans on same sex marriage are an affront to Civil Rights.  Interracial marriage was legalized in all states not until 1967, and 45 years later we are debating similar issues.  I hope that events like the Pride Parade and public support of same sex marriage will lead toward positive change.

I feel hopeful this Fall, as new television shows such as The New Normal and Couples have strong and openly homosexual characters, adding to the presence of happy, same sex couples on television, in examples such as Modern Family (winner of the most 2012 Emmy awards), Glee, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Grey’s Anatomy, as well as popular shows that ended in the past few years, like Ugly Betty and Brothers and Sisters.  While I hesitate to wish reality would mirror television in general, this is evidence that perhaps American culture is beginning to have more exposure to and familiarity with so-called “Alternative” lifestyles.

__________

Editor’s note: Ann Millett-Gallant will be giving a book talk about her book, The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art, on Tuesday, November 13, at 3:00 PM, in the Multicultural Resource Center, on the ground floor the Elliott University Center.

Tea for Two? Searching for Common Ground between the Tea Party and Occupier Movements

By Matt McKinnon

I want to briefly discuss the Tea Party.  No, not the new one, but rather the Original—the one from whom the current Tea Party got its name.

It strikes me that it can provide interesting if not entirely welcomed common ground between two polarities of contemporary American political activism—the Tea Party on the one hand and the Occupier Movement on the other.

Never mind that the original Tea Party was a wanton destruction of private property, or that, with white folks pretending to be Native Americans up to no good, it was the Colonial American version of “A black man did it” (Google Susan Smith and Charles Stuart if you’re confused).  Beyond all of that, this act of defiance and destruction did much to solidify Colonial resistance to the British Parliament, precipitated further demonstrations, led to the First Continental Congress, and ultimately to the Revolutionary War.

Now I don’t know about most of you, but when I was taught about the Boston Tea Party way back in grade school, the emphasis was on American anger at being taxed excessively by the British without fair representation.  In fact, the motto “No taxation without representation” sums up quite succinctly my initial take on the festivities.

Turns out, however, the facts are a little less neat, the slogan only partially correct, and the whole occasion more complicated than my fourth-grade teacher let on.

This is not to suggest that those original Tea Partiers were not opposed to what they considered unfair taxation without proper representation, for they were—and the Tea Party was in part a rejection of Parliament’s intrusion into local governance.

(This is obviously the point that our current Tea Partiers make in taking the Originals as their namesake, viz. staunch opposition to big and intrusive government.)
But there’s more to the story.  It turns out that the raison d’être behind the Tea Act that caused all the fuss was not just or even primarily asserting Parliament’s right to tax the Colonists.  More importantly, the point was to buttress the interests of the British East India Company—the 18th century version of a multinational corporation.

You see, the British government supported the company by granting it a monopoly in supplying all of the tea to the American colonies, though initially through tea merchants, or middlemen, who could only purchase the tea in London.  What the Tea Act did was threaten to remove these limitations and allow the East India Company to import tea directly to America.  The end game was an effort to shore up a financially troubled corporation by reducing its rather large surplus of tea.  (The origins of “too big to fail?”)  Oh yeah, and to maintain Parliament’s right to tax the Colonies.

What followed, as they say, is history: the American Colonists refused, revolted, left tea to rot, sent it back—and famously destroyed and defaced private property.  It was a major nose-thumbing aimed both at Parliament as well as the East India Company.

And that’s the point: the original Tea Party was just as much a revolt against excessive corporate interests and an uneven playing filed as it was against taxation without representation.  (This doesn’t make as good a slogan though.)

Which brings us to the current Tea Party and Occupier Movements.

Surely there is more that binds these two groups together than the larger public’s growing distaste for both.  I believe common ground exists and can be found for partygoers of both stripes: that common ground being the distrust by our nation’s Founders—both of big and intrusive government as well as big and intrusive corporate interests.

After all, then and now, aren’t they both still the same?

The Significance of a Simple Ring

By Jay Parr

A few months ago, I was at a training seminar when I observed that the main presenter was wearing a wedding ring. I didn’t think much about it, not consciously anyway, but I realized later that somewhere at a deeply subconscious, perhaps even unconscious level, I had made a whole set of assumptions about him based solely on that little piece of metal. I assumed he had a wife, of course. Given his age, I assumed the likelihood of children, probably in elementary school, or maybe in high school if they had gotten started young. I assumed all the trappings of the suburban middle-class academic’s life: A house with a mortgage and a lawn, a couple of modest but versatile cars, a household balancing the various pressures of work and home life, quiet evenings at home in front of the tube, subtle jokes about having become boring homebodies … sound familiar? Yeah, me too.

But then it came up later in the seminar that he was not married. Not legally, anyway. Not in North Carolina. He couldn’t have been, because he was in a committed relationship with another man.

I felt cheated. I felt as if he had violated some sort of social contract by wearing that ring. For that one visceral moment I felt as if he had committed some egregious act of deception. He had completely misrepresented himself to me, as if he were some meth-dealing pimp coached by his defense attorney to cut his hair and wear a suit, glasses, and a wedding ring to court so he could beat that drug-related murder rap. Liar!

Extreme? Yes, it was. But for that one fraction of a second, that’s exactly how I felt. And I literally felt it. In my gut. Much as I had felt it when my oldest brother’s telephone-filtered voice told me that our father had died. My reaction was that strong, and that visceral.

The irony is that the training seminar I was attending was so that I could become a certified Safe Zone ally, so that I could advertise to the university that, hey, if you’re an LGBTQ member of our community and you need someone to talk with about that, I’m here for you. You see, I’ve been an “ally” since back before the queer community had such a concise word for us odd, friendly breeders. Back when I was in high school during the AIDS crisis, something like two-thirds of my closest friends were gay or lesbian. The parties I went to were mostly gay folks. The nightspots I went to were mostly gay hangouts. Any girl I was currently crushing on, the odds were about two-to-one she didn’t bat for my team. I didn’t think about it a lot; it was just the way things were. As often as one of my friends disappointed me with “no, she’s gay,” one of them was disappointing someone else about me with “no, he’s straight.” The joys and the dramas of the relationships in my circle didn’t seem to be much affected by the genders or orientations of the people in them. People hooked up. They fell in love. They had relationships. Sometimes those relationships were glorious. Sometimes they were quietly successful. Sometimes they needed work, and sometimes they just didn’t work out. Once in a while, someone would throw us all a curve-ball and jump the fence. Sometimes it was a momentary experiment. Sometimes it was the beginning of a twenty-year relationship. Gay, straight, male, female, or anywhere in the liminal spaces in between, it didn’t really have a significant impact on the overall pattern. Love was love, in all its inspiring, insane, messy, and complicated glory.

I’ve also had a strongly egalitarian mindset for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure of the source of that mindset. Maybe it comes from growing up in a little farming town where folks were just folks, whether they were the mayor or the town drunk. Maybe it comes from identifying strongly with my mother in a still-misogynistic rural culture. Maybe it comes from spending my tween years as the poor white kid in a professional black neighborhood. Maybe it comes from seeing the crap my gay high-school friends caught just for being gay. Regardless, I have long been of the opinion that everyone deserves the same rights I enjoy as a straight, white, native-born American male. For decades, that has included the belief that committed same-sex couples deserve all the legal rights and recognitions of their heterosexual counterparts. It took me a while to come around about the word “marriage,” but that was largely because I felt it was a hot-button word that was more likely to incite a knee-jerk reaction from the conservative religious right, and that toning down the semantics (“civil union” or “domestic partnership”) would be a little more pragmatic in terms of getting it through the legislature.

So why did I, with that background, have such a gut-level reaction to one man’s ring? Especially given the context of the setting, and of my own professed open-mindedness, I was disturbed by my reaction, and I had to take some time to reflect on it. In the end, I could only come up with one thing: We as a culture implicitly associate the wearing of a wedding ring not just with the social status of being in a committed relationship, but also with the legal status of licensed marriage. And no such legal status exists between a man and another man in the state of North Carolina.

The implicit statement made by that lack of legal status, though it may not be intentional, is that no relationship between members of the same gender could ever be stable enough, or legitimate enough, to “deserve” a ring. It says that my marriage with my wife, which is just past the three-year mark, is somehow more legitimate than my friend G’s relationship with his partner of over thirty years. More insidiously, it means that anyone who wants to exclude him from visiting his partner in the hospital, or who wants to withhold information about his partner’s medical condition, is free to do so without recourse, because he is not legally a family member. It means that in order for him to make medical decisions on his partner’s behalf, he is required to produce a legal document, signed and notarized, granting him medical power of attorney. It adds layers of legal complexity to the holding of any joint property, such as real estate, cars, and bank accounts, and it means that when one of them dies, the surviving partner is not automatically guaranteed the right of survivorship in the disposition of those assets, as would be the case in my relatively brief, but state-sanctioned marriage. It means that without a ream of legal documentation, a belligerent  and homophobic sibling who has not seen the deceased partner in decades could, literally, step in as next of kin and deny the surviving partner any access to the deceased partner’s assets or end-of-life decisions.

In a very literal, legal sense, the lack of legal recognition of committed same-sex relationships relegates the partners in those relationships to the status of second-class citizens. They have almost none of the legal rights that their legally-married, heterosexual counterparts take for granted. To make matters worse, the North Carolina legislature has recently approved a referendum on a “Defense of Marriage” constitutional amendment stating that “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State” (PDF). That amendment will go to a popular vote in the May primary election, when historically only a small portion of the population bothers to vote. When that happens, it is entirely possible that a small minority of North Carolina voters could etch those definitions into the legal bedrock of our state constitution. I think it’s pretty obvious how I feel about that possibility.

We in the Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program try to look at the world from as many various points of view as we can reasonably accommodate. The literature course I most frequently teach looks at the world through the eyes of various socioeconomic classes, of immigrants of various stripes, of disenfranchised minorities and comfortable socialites, of poor rural and middle-class urban African-Americans, of drafted soldiers and reservation-dwelling Native Americans. One of the readings in that class follows a middle-class youth coming to terms with his own homosexuality. Many other classes in the BLS Program have much the same emphasis on the variety of human experience. I am tempted to fall back on a tired metaphor of life as a sculpture, and not a painting, as something that can look very different from different points of view, and that cannot be fully appreciated without taking in as many angles as possible. The truth is that if any of us only views the world from within our own, limited, point of view, we are missing out on the wonderful variety and diversity of the human experience.

When it comes right down to it, for all I know some of my assumptions about that man with his ring are probably correct. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that he and his partner do have a house with a mortgage and a lawn, a couple of modest but versatile cars, a household balancing the various pressures of work and home life, quiet evenings at home in front of the tube, and subtle jokes about having become boring homebodies. Sound familiar? Yeah. Me too.

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If you want to read further, here’s the history of the “Defense of Marriage” bill in North Carolina’s 2011-2012 legislative session (primary sources):

 

The Things We Don’t Know

By Marc Williams

According to a recent Marist poll, only 58% of Americans know that the United States declared its independence in 1776.  Respondents were slightly better at identifying England as the country from which the United States sought independence; 76% responded correctly.

Revolutionary War Reenactment, Photo by Michael Warner

Similar polls are conducted year-round, demonstrating an often surprising lack of awareness of seemingly important issues.  For example, in November 2010, following the mid-term elections, a Pew Research Center poll revealed that most Americans knew that Republicans gained power in Congress but didn’t realize that Democrats maintained control of the Senate.

Far fewer are familiar with the specifics relating to the GOP’s victories. Fewer than half (46%) know that the Republicans will have a majority only in the House of Representatives when the new Congress convenes in January, while 38% can identify John Boehner as the incoming House speaker (Pew Research Center).

Polls like the one above from Pew Research Center are always surprising on some level.  This is perhaps because media outlets enjoy summarizing the results, highlighting only the most troubling findings. This particular poll examined American awareness on a variety of current events and the respondents did pretty well when asked about the BP oil spill and their general sense of federal budget deficit was accurate.  With that in mind, I wonder if the results really are so troubling after all.

Is this just sensationalism or should we really be concerned?    In the BLS program at UNCG, we examine big ideas about the human experience.  But what about names, dates, and other factoids acquired by rote?  Who is responsible for this information?  Is it really important in the first place?  What, exactly, should we all be expected to know?