States’ Wrongs

You like state control of health care, Gov Romney? Wanna debate the issue with the Father of the U.S. Constitution?

“The mutability of the laws of the States is found to be a serious evil. The injustice of them has been so frequent and so flagrant as to alarm the most steadfast friends of Republicanism. I am persuaded I do not err in saying that the evils issuing from these sources contributed more to that uneasiness which produced the Convention, and prepared the public mind for a general reform…”

-James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Regarding voter suppression

Ordinary people forget, or they didn’t pay attention in their high school civics classes:

“Governments…deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of their ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it….”  –Declaration of Independence

In other words, citizens are being denied a basic right by the very institutions they’ve created, and by the leaders to whom they’ve given certain rights and the privilege of representing them. Wake up people: Government is your creation and serves at your pleasure. Politicians are your servants. Go into your polling places. Overturn their tables. Shove aside their lackeys. You decide, not them! Vote the beggars out!

The revenge of The American People

Have you noticed how politicians today are always telling us what The American People want, care about, believe in? (It’s curious that Republicans and Democrats often hear opposing beliefs from the very same American People, but that’s probably just a glitch in the satellite transmission.)

They make it sound like The American People are needy pod people who require politicians to both speak for them and to know what’s best for them.

Really, does that description match the people you know? Maybe The American People, as defined by our politicians, are a convenient fiction. And maybe the pols’ hot air has lulled real American People into forgetting who they are.

Have a look in my book and meet the (future) real Americans. Here they are arriving on these shores in the 1700s.

Even after the difficult crossing (slimy water and half a rat for dinner), don’t they seem more like the people you’re familiar with than the cardboard cutouts described by politicians?

If we zoom in to get a closer look at these new Americans, we discover that they, like us, are mainly governed by self-interest. About the only time most people think about national issues is when it becomes personal.

During the Revolutionary War, George Washington had to convince Americans to set aside their personal prejudices and march together. And they did. The American People united in common cause against bad King George.

They held on to their ideals, and won their independence against the most powerful country in the world. Then they made sure the Founding Fathers guaranteed them the liberties they’d fought for.

So a reassuring picture emerges. At a critical moment, The American People stood up for what was right, protected each other’s backs, and fought for real change.

If the American Revolution is any  guide, once The American People realize they are being used by their so-called leaders, they will set aside their differences, join together, and toss the bums out. Our politicians should keep the following picture in mind.


Tom Paine, propagandist

I was at NBM’s booth at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con promoting my Taxes, The Tea Party… book. I was also on two panels, one called Progressive Political Cartooning hosted by journalist and critic Douglas Wolk, the other on Comics and Journalism in a New Era put together by Calvin Reid of Publishers Weekly. Both panels featured young cartoonists (much younger than me) working as political reporters taking on serious topics and, in some cases, being advocates for the causes they’re covering. As they spoke, I reflected on the different uses of comics journalism.

I thought back to my time as a weekly cartoonist-reporter for the Village Voice. First, I had to overcome the expectation that if you worked in panels you were supposed to be funny. True, my early topics were more lighthearted, but more and more, I covered newsworthy events.

For example, look at one of my comic strips from 1989. Squatters in New York’s East Village have gathered to decide whether a homeless couple, Beth and Pete, should be accepted into the building. Beth and Pete wait outside the door. I was inside.

I was biased toward the squatters (some of whom were my friends), who were fighting the good fight, challenging the city and real estate interests by occupying abandoned buildings in a low-income neighborhood. They were protesting the displacement of the poor and the gentrification of the neighborhood. But, as in all movements, there was dissension in the ranks. Some saw the humanity of Beth and Pete’s situation, others acted like members of a co-op board from the Upper East Side.

My comics coverage was the only consistent inside view of the lives of these activists. Most of the media showed up on riot day. Some of the squatters would get pissed off when my strips didn’t toe the party line. But i wasn’t trying to be a propagandist for the movement—not that there isn’t a fine tradition of journalistic provocation in this country.

That point reminded me of Tom Paine as he appears in my book.

Paine was a brilliant and passionate writer whose work actually did something many pundits and advocates must fantasize about: His words changed people’s minds, and inspired them to get off their bottoms and take action. That has got to be a propagandist’s dream. But it wasn’t mine. I was trying to be a good reporter.