The Soviet Union fell more than thirty years ago, but the Cold War continues—at least, here in New Hampshire.
Merrimack County Superior Court is the site of the latest battle. Andru Volinsky filed a lawsuit there Monday, calling for the restoration of a state historical marker remembering Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, also known as “The Rebel Girl.”
The marker had been placed in response to a public request, in accordance with established process. After a review for historical accuracy and relevance, and a final OK of the wording, molten aluminum was poured into a mold, giving the marker its final, familiar, and iconic shape. On May 1st, workers for the state’s Department of Transportation placed it atop a pole at the corner of Court and Montgomery streets in Concord.
Arnie Alpert and Mary Lee Sargent stand before the Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Historical Marker. Installed, in accordance with the law, at the corner of Court and Montgomery streets in Concord, near Flynn’s birthplace, on May 1, 2023, it was subsequently and irregularly removed a fortnight later to accommodate certain political figures. Photo by Barbara Keshen.
A freakout immediately ensued.
The Union Leader’s Kevin Landrigan reported on May 3rd, “Executive Councilors David Wheeler, R-Milford, and Joseph Kenney, R-Wakefield, said the decision to place a marker about the life of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn in Concord was an insult to all veterans, and state officials should have blocked it in the first instance.
“‘Every man and woman who served in uniform as a Cold War warrior and our sisters and brothers, we do not support at all that this particular person gets a historic marker,’ said Kenney, a Gulf War veteran.” *
According to a press release sent by the plaintiffs, “two days after the Flynn marker was installed [Executive Councilor Joe Kenney] demanded it be removed. Governor Sununu agreed, and the marker was taken away by the Department of Transportation on May 15th upon the order of Sarah Stewart, Commissioner of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources [DNCR], which includes the Division of Historical Resources.”
Wheeler, according to N.H. Public Radio, “called for the [Executive Council] to have final approval of all signs moving forward.” Carrying out such a power grab would presumably require passage of a bill in the legislature.
“The marker was illegally removed based on ideological considerations that fly in the face of the historical marker program’s purpose,” said Sargent, who taught American history for several decades at colleges and universities in the Midwest and in New Hampshire.
Further legal details were included in the press release, as follows:
“The case is filed at Merrimack County Superior Court as Case Number: 3127558.
“The Historical Marker Program was established under R.S.A. 236:40, which provides, ‘The commissioner of transportation may erect historic markers or signs within the right-of-way of any class I, II or III highway. He shall put up a marker upon the petition of 20 or more state citizens.’
“According to the lawsuit, the policies and guidelines which the DNCR uses to run the program are invalid because their adoption was not consistent with the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act.
“Neither were rules governing historical markers ratified by the State Historical Resources Council, as required by RSA 227:C5, the complaint said.
“Moreover, the complaint asserts, Commissioner Stewart did not even follow her own invalid guidelines, which require DNCR to consult with the State Historical Resources Council before markers are ‘retired.’
“Nor is there anything in the law or DNCR guidelines which provide for markers to be removed ‘on grounds of political or personal ideology,’ the complaint says.
“‘Commissioner Stewart herself told Councilor Kenney that the purpose of the marker program is to inform the public about New Hampshire history,’ said Alpert, a longtime New Hampshire activist.
“According to the complaint, Stewart’s response to Kenney on May 3rd was consistent with her department’s stated policy, which says the purpose of historical markers ‘is to educate the public about New Hampshire’s history, not to honor, memorialize, or commemorate persons, events, or places. Because Historical Highway Markers are not honorific in nature, they do not serve the same purpose as monuments, statues, memorial plaques, or war memorials.’
“Describing appropriate subjects for historical markers, the Division of Historical Resources policy statement also says, ‘The person, place, event, organization, or innovation to be marked had a significant impact on its times and has demonstrated historical significance.’
“‘There is no doubt that Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a significant historical figure,’ Alpert said.
“The complaint asked the court to declare the existing policies of the historical marker program invalid, to declare that Commissioner Stewart violated the plaintiffs’ rights, and order the Flynn marker to be reinstalled at its prior location.”
“Today is the 133rd anniversary of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s birth to Annie Gurley and Thomas Flynn, who at the time were living at 12 Montgomery Street in Concord.”
Thus endeth the press release, to which we would only add the following:
A Note on Objectivity in the News
Many people seem to think that newspapers should be “objective,” meaning they should steer an editorial course that is midway between the positions held by two opposing factions. That widespread assumption can create a dangerous situation. A power-hungry faction can ignore the truth and roll right over our supine media like Soviet tanks pouring through the infamous Fulda Gap.
So, pardon us for dispensing with polite fiction, but we believe that George Orwell would immediately recognize this attempt to un-person Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. The Flynn Historical Marker went through all the proper channels before it was created and installed. Powerful individuals in state government disregarded all that, and are, in effect, governing to suit their personal whims.
A Trump-esque disregard for proper order is the thin edge of the fascist wedge. A restored marker would indicate a healthy political environment.
A Precursor in Soviet Graphic Arts?
U.S. Cold Warriors used to love mocking the Soviet practice of censoring photos so that Stalin’s former comrades who had fallen into disfavor would, as if by magic, disappear from the past. Here we see a classic example:
First we see Josef Stalin and Nikolai Yezhov beside the Volga-Don Canal, then we see only “Uncle Joe,” our WW II ally. Yezhov headed the NKVD during the Great Purge of 1936 – 1938. A special execution chamber was built to his specifications. In 1940, he was taken there and shot. Gone from the real world, and gone from the photographic record.
The recent removal of the Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Historical Marker by Governor Sununu and his Council cronies is, of course, in no way related to the ways the Soviets used the graphic arts.
Why is it any different, you ask? Isn’t it obvious? Nobody’s been shot yet. Beyond that, the distinction gets hazier. We’ve got a robust imagination; give us some time. Perhaps we can come up with another reason.
Cold War Trojan Horse Mourned
This right wing tizzy also reminds us somehow of Epsom’s Trojan horse. Erected during the Kennedy administration, this cobbled-together bit of folk art, assembled from scrap lumber, stood just north of Route Four. It stood as a proud warning to all who passed: beware the United Nations!
The splintery old nag was surrounded by small white crosses bearing the names of Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and all the other Captive Nations on the Wrong Side of the Iron Curtain. The gist of the ensemble being that continued deference to the UN would eventually result with the U.S. of A. getting a white cross of its own.
Somehow that never happened, at least, not yet. Tell that to today’s Republicans, though.
Back in those halcyon pre-Dolt #45 days, the Trojan Horse served as a Rorschach test of sorts. Some—perhaps a minority, but who knows?— took it exactly as intended: an altogether serious warning, ignored at our collective peril.
More, we suspect, may have seen it as we did—as a unique bit of folk art, truly representative of New Hampshire in all its goofy glory. We don’t recall, though, any left wing mobs demanding that it be removed from the roadside and expunged from memory.
The horse did go up in smoke, early one Sunday morning in 1987. UPI, which was still a thing in those days, covered the story.
“‘Firefighters found a gasoline can on the axle, which along with the wheels were all that remained of the horse,’ Police Chief Peter Burgess said.
“But Burgess said the fire was not directed at the anti-communist fervor of Barbara and Peter Frank Anderson, the couple who displayed the horse in front of their home.
“‘Politics had nothing to do with why it was burned,’ Burgess said. ‘It was vandalism, criminal mischief.’”
The Andersons weren’t about to let a couple of miscreants end their crusade, though. A replacement took the horse’s place.
In 2016, according to AP, a subsequent owner put it out to pasture in an obscure field in Chichester, fearful that its deteriorating condition might inspire some firebug to repeat the 1987 blaze.
The altogether splendid nao Trinidad, a reproduction of Ferdinand Magellan’s flagship, visited Portsmouth late last month as part of Sail Portsmouth. The successful circumferential voyage, though a heroic feat in its day, had negative consequences for many. Not least among them was Magellan himself. He was killed in the Philippines by natives who resented the suggestion that they ought to change their religion, and his body was kept as a trophy. Then there are those who died of unfamiliar diseases, or were forced into enslavement. But we digress. This sure is one boaty boat.
No Such Thing As Structural Racism, Eh?
The Center for Economic and Policy Research [CEPR] has released an important study which will, we fear, take the country by snores.
We can’t put our finger on it, but CNN and the New York Times just don’t seem to pay much attention to stories like the following. Maybe they just assume that it’s not news because, as Leonard Cohen put it: “Everybody knows the fight was fixed/The poor stay poor, the rich get rich.”
But enough of our jabber.
By investigating a variety of White-Black unemployment-rate comparisons, this report reveals that White people as a group always have better employment outcomes than similar Black people. Among veterans, people with disabilities, people who were formerly incarcerated, and the foreign-born, the data suggests that employers prefer White candidates over their Black peers. White people fare better in finding employment even when educational attainment, skills, and city of residence are the same.
From 2000 to 2022, in 14 out of 23 years, the overall Black unemployment rate was higher than the rate for White high school dropouts.
Across five different categories of college majors, the Black unemployment rates are double the respective White rates.
The Black teen unemployment rate is nearly double the White rate. Even when employers have little or no skill requirements, they still prefer White candidates.
The White-Black unemployment disparity is much larger within Chicago, New York, and the District of Columbia than in the nation overall.
Some of these outcomes can be attributed to overt anti-Black attitudes, while others to the more covert form of discrimination that results from hiring within White social networks. To address these trends, the U.S. needs stronger anti-discrimination enforcement, a Federal Reserve committed to achieving maximum employment, and a national, subsidized employment program targeted to high-unemployment communities. None of these policy solutions can stand alone, but rather can work alongside one another to close the White-Black unemployment gap.
To go beyond the Executive Summary, visit: https://cepr.net/report/the-continuing-power-of-white-preferences-in-employment/
When Confederate Monuments Went Up, Black Voting Went Down
by Alexander N. Taylor
Confederate monuments burst into public consciousness in 2015 when a shooting at a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, instigated the first broad calls for their removal. The shooter intended to start a race war and had posed with Confederate imagery in photos posted online.
Monument removal efforts grew in 2017 after a counterprotester was killed at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacist groups defended the preservation of Confederate monuments. Removal movements saw widespread success in 2020 following George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police.
These events linked Confederate monuments to modern racist beliefs and acts. But whether monuments carry inherent racism or are merely misinterpreted requires further exploration.
Research by economist Jhacova A. Williams has shown that Black Americans who live in areas that have a relatively higher number of streets named after prominent Confederate generals “are less likely to be employed, are more likely to be employed in low-status occupations, and have lower wages compared to Whites.”
I study economic and political history and have researched the effects of Confederate monuments in the post-Civil War South. I found that these symbols helped solidify the Jim Crow era, which established segregation across the South and lasted from the 1880s until the 1960s. These symbols were accompanied by increases in the vote share of the Democratic Party—the racist party that had supported slavery and, after the Civil War, supported segregation for another century. The building of these monuments was also accompanied by reductions in voter turnout. Further research I conducted shows that these political effects disproportionately occurred in areas with a larger share of Black residents.
In other words, as these monuments were erected, the vote increased for members of the then-racist Democratic Party, and people turned out to vote in lower numbers in predominantly Black areas.
These findings demonstrate that a connection existed between racism and these monuments from their inception—and provide context for modern monument debates.
The South saw almost no monument dedications during the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865. Monuments first appeared during the Reconstruction era—1865 to 1877—when Southern states were occupied by the North and integrated back into the Union.
Reconstruction-era monuments in general did not glorify the Confederacy. These monuments largely honored the dead and were placed in cemeteries and spaces distant from daily life. They compartmentalized the trauma of the war, commemorating lives but not placing the Confederacy at the center of Southern identity.
As Reconstruction neared its end in 1875, a Stonewall Jackson monument erected in Richmond, Virginia, foreshadowed the different monuments to come.
The monument’s dedication drew 50,000 spectators and included a military-style parade. The potential presence of a local all-Black militia proved to be controversial. To avoid accusations of race mixing, organizers planned to place the militia and any other Black participants in the back of the parade.
The militia did not attend, likely in anticipation of the controversy, and the only Black Southerners present in the parade were formerly enslaved people who had served in the Confederacy’s Stonewall Brigade. This stark picture of Southern race relations served as a preview of political developments to come.
This trend continued after Reconstruction, which ended with the Compromise of 1877. This compromise settled the disputed 1876 presidential election, giving Republicans the presidency and Democrats, then a pro-segregation party, full political control of the South. Democrats subsequently established what would become known as Jim Crow laws across the South, an array of restrictive and discriminatory laws that disenfranchised Black Southerners and made them second-class citizens.
Monuments played a cultural role in establishing the Jim Crow South. Unlike Reconstruction monuments, post-Reconstruction monuments were erected in prominent public spaces, and their focus shifted toward the portrayal and glorification of famous Confederates. Monument dedication ceremonies were particularly popular around the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, peaking in 1911.
Additional Confederate monuments have been dedicated since that period, but those numbers pale in comparison to the monument-building spree of 1878 to 1912.
My research investigates the political effects of Confederate monuments in the Reconstruction and early post-Reconstruction—1877-1912—eras, namely their effects on Democratic Party vote share and voter turnout.
I expected monuments’ potential effects to be directly related to their centrality to everyday life and glorification of the Confederacy. This is the primary difference between soldier-memorializing Reconstruction and Confederate-glorifying post-Reconstruction monuments.
I expected to find little political effect from soldier-memorializing Reconstruction monuments, but some pro-Jim Crow effects from Confederate-glorifying post-Reconstruction monuments. As monuments moved from cemeteries into central public spaces such as parks and squares, I expected them to affect voters’ decisions.
That is precisely what I found.
During Reconstruction, counties that dedicated Confederate monuments saw no change in voter turnout or Democratic Party vote share in biennial congressional elections. These symbols were soldier-memorializing and physically separate from public life and did not influence voter decision-making.
However, when monuments began to glorify the Confederacy and shifted into public life, political effects emerged.
Counties that dedicated monuments in the early post-Reconstruction period saw, on average, a 5.5 percentage point increase in Democratic Party vote share and a 2.2 percentage point decrease in voter turnout compared with other counties.
As monuments changed, so did their effect on the public. Glorifying public monuments communicated to the public that the Confederacy was worth preserving, thus strengthening Democratic majorities and lowering participation in the political process.
Larger Democratic majorities alongside lower voter turnout already suggests Black Southerners, who almost exclusively voted for Republicans at that time, were voting less in areas with monuments. I conducted further exploration and found that these political effects disproportionately occurred in counties with larger Black populations. This suggests that Black voters were more responsive to Confederate monuments, which suppressed their political activity by signaling they were not accepted by the local community.
The effects of post-Reconstruction monuments suggest that they played a role in continued racism throughout the South into the early 20th century.
Their controversy today demonstrates the values still conveyed by their presence in society. Recent research has demonstrated the long-run effects of the spread of Southern white culture and prejudices across the United States post-Civil War, connecting it to higher levels of modern-day Republican Party voting and conservative values.
It is thus no wonder Confederate monuments, as prominent symbols of pro-Confederate, Southern white culture, continue to be—and are likely to remain—cultural flashpoints.
Alexander N. Taylor is a PhD Candidate in Economics at George Mason University. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Ohio Voters Reject GOP ‘Power Grab’ Aimed at Thwarting Abortion Rights Amendment
by Jake Johnson
Ohio voters on Tuesday decisively rejected a Republican-authored measure that would have made it more difficult to amend the state constitution through the ballot initiative process, a billionaire-funded effort aimed at preempting a November vote on abortion rights.
If approved by voters, the measure known as Issue 1 would have raised the threshold for passage of a constitutional amendment from a simple majority to 60 percent. The measure also would have imposed more stringent signature requirements for Ohio ballot initiatives.
The GOP proposal—which was the only item on the ballot in Tuesday’s special election—failed by a vote of 43 percent to 57 percent, according to the Ohio secretary of state’s office.
“Issue 1 was a blatant attempt by its supporters to control both the policy agenda and the process of direct democracy,” said Rachael Belz, the CEO of Ohio Citizen Action, one of the groups that mobilized in opposition to the proposal. “When they forced Issue 1 onto the ballot, they awakened a sleeping giant and unleashed a movement. And that movement isn’t going away tomorrow. It will continue to build and grow and to carry us through to victories in November and beyond.”
The Republican push for Issue 1 drew national attention given the implications for both the democratic process and reproductive rights in Ohio, where abortion is currently legal through 22 weeks of pregnancy—though the state GOP is working to change that.
A proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in November would codify the right to abortion access in the Ohio constitution, stating that “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion.”
Frank LaRose, Ohio’s Republican secretary of state and a U.S. Senate hopeful, said in June that Issue 1 was “ 100 percent about” preventing passage of the abortion rights amendment.
Recent polling indicates that around 58 percent of Ohioans back the proposed amendment—a level of support that would have been insufficient had Issue 1 succeeded.
“From defeating Issue 1 tonight to submitting nearly twice the amount of signatures needed to get a measure protecting abortion access on the ballot in November, Ohio voters have made clear that they will settle for nothing less than reproductive freedom for all,” Mini Timmaraju, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement late Tuesday.
“Republicans should be ashamed of their efforts to subvert the will of voters,” Timmaraju added. “Seeing this measure defeated is a victory for our fundamental rights and our democracy. We’re grateful to our partners on the ground for their tireless efforts to secure abortion rights and access. We look forward to fighting by their side to lock this fundamental freedom into law in November.”
The Republican attack on the ballot initiative process in Ohio is part of a nationwide GOP effort to limit direct democracy as the party—emboldened by the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court—continues its effort to roll back abortion rights and other freedoms.
According to a March tally by election analyst Stephen Wolf, Republicans have recently tried to make it harder to pass citizen-led ballot initiatives in at least 10 states, including Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas.
“In the many states where the GOP has refused to take action, activists have used ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid, raise the minimum wage, secure abortion rights, protect the right to vote, curb gerrymandering, legalize marijuana, promote gun safety, and more,” Wolf wrote. “How have Republicans reacted to this? By trying to make it harder to pass initiatives in the first place.”
Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, said Tuesday that “since 1912, Ohioans have had the right to collect signatures and bring proposed constitutional amendments directly to voters.”
“This is an important check on the state legislature, hyperpartisan politicians, and special interests who did everything they could to take away that right,” Turcer added. “It was the hard work and resilience of Ohioans of all parties that prevented the destruction of a foundational right we’ve held for 110+ years.”
“Tonight’s results,” Turcer said, “are a resounding victory for Ohio voters who helped stop this power grab by the state legislature and Secretary of State Frank LaRose.”
Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
“Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one.”
– A.J. Liebling