It was never allowed to be our body in the centers of power that made America. Not really. Not for women, not for queer people, people of color or immigrants. It’s a fact we are reminded of everyday under this administration. Brown bodies in cages, protections for queer bodies not enforced, the reproductive capacities of our bodies strictly regulated.
This country wasn’t made for our bodies. The Electoral College’s whole purpose was to keep power in the hands of white male landowners. Historian and legal scholar Paul Finkelman explains that the Electoral College was based on the three-fifths compromise, which allowed for slaves to count for three-fifths of a white man for representation in the House. They counted for representation, but still weren’t allowed to vote. Had the three-fifths compromise not happened, the Electoral College would not exist. America is built on the denial of voices and the brutalization of bodies as much as it ever was on lofty ideals of freedom and justice for all.
As a result, power in America is not equal. White men make up only 31 percent of the population, yet the vast majority of our elected officials are white and male. The net effect of our bodies not being allowed in the centers of power is that our administration and our own GOP-led state push to restrict healthcare access for women, hurting queer and transgender people, people of color, poor people and people in rural areas. Each new restriction reinforces the message that the choice is not ours.
On August 14, Iowa congressman Steve King said, “What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled out anyone who was a product of rape or incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?” He was acknowledging that the entire conquest of our world has been built on our broken bodies, the pain of our bodies, the rape and murder of our bodies. King thinks that’s fine. That’s how it should be, but there is a better way.
Labor Day is an angry holiday. It was founded on the violent striking of workers who were tired of their bodies being broken and killed in the centers of industry that made America an economic powerhouse. Tired of being denied fair wages. Tired of being denied a seat at the bargaining table, they went on strike.
The Pullman Strike happened in Chicago, in the summer of 1894, after the Pullman Company exercised its power to lower wages without lowering rent and then when workers complained, George Pullman had them fired. It was during that strike that President Grover Cleveland declared Labor Day a national holiday for the worker.
It’s hard not to see the resonance to America today. The growing anger over representation, who is allowed in the rooms of power and who isn’t. In recent years, Millennials, the generation that came of age during the last recession have returned to the model of labor unions to take back control of their jobs, lives and bodies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2012 and 2017 too, the number of union members over the age of 35 dropped by 1,000. But over this same period, the number of union members under the age of 35 rose by 452,000.
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Additionally, more and more women and people of color are running for office. We deserve better representation, better access to the rooms and tables where the policies that dictate our bodies are decided. And with that change will come pushback. “Careful…” was the title of an email I received this week. The writer, a business owner in town, was sending me a warning that I had crossed a line. He was mad that I had pointed out problems of representation, which even in the “liberal media” still tilt in his favor. His warning isn’t happening in isolation.
This week, the Alabama GOP passed a resolution calling for Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s expulsion from congress. In an email from the White House responding to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call to end the Electoral College, the President reminded his supporters in clear language, “this is our country, not theirs.” A racist statement that sends a clear message about who is allowed to be an American. It’s another kind of “Careful…”
America was never about our bodies, not in the beginning. But now, more than ever it has to be.