Political mobilization often hinges on the idea of the creation of change and difference. Depending on the audience this change may be for the betterment of society or to its detriment. For progressive parties, there has been a long-standing tradition of promising legislation that addresses issues such as racial inequity, immigration, and wealth disparity. For conservative parties, there has been a long-standing tradition of promising legislation aimed at tax reduction, less government intervention, and "family values".
The general commonality between these vastly different areas of political content though is that there is no follow-through. For as much as things have changed in the last decades, many of the issues being run on are the same as they were in the late 20th century. The only major differences have been the methods by which these goals are pursued. Some parties may be said to have embraced "socialism" while others have embraced fascism and anarchy but generally the goals had remained unchanged.
This changed in 2022. Historically, a non-partisan body, the Supreme Court reversed decades of precedent and granted a GOP-fantasy of overturning Roe v. Wade through the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. While there is much that can be said about the egregious nature of the Supreme Court making this decision– not only in terms of immediate effect but the dangerous precedent established by the reversal of Roe in an extremely partisan move– there is also a concerning question for the other portions of the government to consider: What now?
While the overturning of Roe v. Wade has been a conservative wishlist item for decades, the particulars of what happens next have never been clear. Examining the national landscape at this point in time has established a concerning reality: no one is certain what to do or even if this was the right decision. For those arguing as a proponent of individual state rights, this was something that was a complete win; however, many states are now in tumultuous debates over what legislation even begins to describe their political landscape. As fifty sovereign states, there are fifty different governments that now must make decisions for how they want to exist.
Take for example the state of Kansas. Kansas is a state that has traditionally been a conservative stronghold. While many state legislators– and people around the country– assumed that the process of passing Kansas state legislation to ban abortion constitutionally through amendment would be a simple and quick process, voters turned out en masse and definitively rejected this move as written. While it may be possible that this is just due to the language of the amendment, I am of the belief that this is something more complex.
Imagine the typical genie conundrum that the media has depicted for decades. A genie grants three wishes, normally the first being used on something frivolous, the second something substantive and impactful, and the third used to fix everything that has changed and return reality to equilibrium. It is possible, and in fact feasible, to believe that people made a frivolous wish– perhaps supporting filling Supreme Court vacancies with individuals possessing a partisan lean, something common albeit not optimal– followed by an ill-thought-through wish, one with effects that reverberated profoundly and will likely have effects for decades.
We are all now participants in the process of wish number three. As members of a democracy, it is incumbent on all of us to act together in the process of restoring equilibrium. As mid-terms approach in the coming months, United States citizens must take into account what this reality looks like. Should the government have a role in the health decisions an individual makes? At what point does government involvement represent large government control? These are questions to ponder as we voyage into the next few months. Ultimately though, the only way to decide this is through a singular word…
In 1619, a small group of people began a spree of chaos that would span over the course of generations of people. They committed genocide, stole, plundered, enslaved, and more heinous acts, some legal and all immoral. However, through this process, they gave birth to a nation that was meant to be a melting pot– a pot heated through destruction but a melting pot nonetheless.
We are now over four centuries into the history of the United States, and the question we have circled for a large part of this is, do the ends justify the means? Were the original sins of the United States actions that should go without penalty today? Are we comfortable with the past? Is there hope for honoring those lost in the creation of a nation?
There are many words that get thrown around in the conversation of national healing, particularly in the conversation surrounding Black Americans and the institution of slavery. There is one specific word that has been used repeatedly for decades as the conversation is reframed and contextualized– often to be ignored once again for another electoral cycle. Reparations– let's talk about it.
In a series of blogs, I will be discussing reparations. This serves as a brief introduction to the topic that will be expanded on in a series of posts here. To start this exploration, I am going to start with a definition of reparations, as it will be considered in this piece.
To begin a reasonable conversation on the topic of reparations, we have to first understand what it is we are talking about. While there is a definition via the dictionary, the definition of reparations varies in the colloquial sense. Finding a common-sense definition of reparations– even through the history of the United States alone– is difficult. Ranging from monetary awards to simple acknowledgment, the term “reparations” has meant a variety of things for a range of groups that have been impacted by the United States.
Each group for whom reparations have been awarded or considered has been impacted by the United States in such a way that has caused severe damages, historically. These damages range from purely financial to health-based to property-based to even more egregious acts. In many instances, the disparities caused in the past continue to create inequities in the present. As such, the definition of reparations must also take into account the impacts that exist in the present and work to address these realities.
Based on the above, there is a need for reparations to be based on adhering to the model of crime and punishment and addressing adversities created by the actions of the past. As such for the sake of this piece, reparations can be defined as the following: a monetary value that has been awarded to individuals of a specific group as a sense of both penance for previous actions and an act to increase equity of those who have been disenfranchised by the United States government.
This definition may be contentious for some. There may be questions as to why there is a need to increase equity or why those of us living in the present should bear the responsibility of answering for actions of the past. These are questions that we will talk about in more detail in further exploring the topic; however, there are a few things that can be extrapolated from just the general contextual information that has been provided above.
Generally, crime begets punishment. The United States does have a justice system, and this is partially vested in the United States Department of Justice. This federal office has a mission of the following: "To enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law, to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic, to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime, to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior, and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans" (Section 1, Department of Justice Manual).
Based on this information, the United States federal government has a self-created responsibility to pursue punishment for unlawful behavior. When property has been stolen historically, the individual who possesses the stolen property has faced some form of punishment. While this is not generally in terms of jailing, it is sometimes in the form of financial compensation and/or the return of property. When a company has been found to have garnished the wages of their employees unfairly, there is a financial compensation awarded or a fee as a penalty. The information leads to the definition created above– for the sake of this piece– as a conglomeration of the pieces of legal precedent explained prior.
In the next post, I will be exploring the next logical question: why reparations for Black people?
Myles Maxie is a Middlebury College graduate. A Southern California native, Maxie works to positively influence the communities he finds himself in to instill hope and empower those around him to advocate for change.