Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Burris will be seated

According to a report at Salon about 20 minutes ago, Roland Burris will be seated. Alex Koppelman writes:

"No more information than that is available so far. First impression, though, is that this news just reinforces the impression that the Democratic leadership handled this really, really badly. If they were going to let him in as of Wednesday, why not seat him Tuesday? Why allow the embarrassing spectacle of Burris walking out in the rain after being turned away? Not a good way to start the new Congress." (emphasis mine)

Yes, the Democratic leadership, and I use that word very loosely, handled this "really, really, really badly" - for all the world to see.

The questions are legitimate. But of course, I cannot speak for them. I do believe however, the very simple answers lay in the questions themselves: "let - allow - embarrassing spectacle." The selection of Barack Obama notwithstanding, America's white supremacist capitalist patriarchy believes it is, and always has been, up to them - and them alone - who does what, when and even how in this country, as evidenced by Sen. Reid's statements in the video at my "The Emperor Strikes Back" post. He reminded us, emphatically and repeatedly, "We are the ones that determine" (Read: "Nobody, not even the law of the land, will tell us what to do." - at least that's how I read it.) He went on to say, "So there's clearly, legal authority for us to do whatever we want to and this goes back for generations." (emphasis mine) And therein lies the problem. The "we," of whom he speaks, has been all-white from the birth of the nation up until Reconstruction when Hiram Rhodes Revels (R-MS) was elected to the senate in 1870 - that's 94 years! Here's an ironic piece (as we kick around "barring" and "citizenship" issues this election) from the United States Senate site, Arts & History section:
February 25, 1870 First African American Senator On February 25, 1870,visitors in the Senate galleries burst into applause as Mississippi senator-elect Hiram Revels of Mississippi entered the chamber to take his oath of office. Those present knew that they were witnessing an event of great historical significance. Revels was about to become the first African American to serve in the Senate. Born 42 years earlier to free black parents in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Revels became an educator and minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. During the Civil War, he helped form regiments of African American soldiers and established schools for freed slaves. After the war, Revels moved to Mississippi, where he won election to the state senate. In recognition of his hard work and leadership skills, his legislative colleagues elected him to one of Mississippi's vacant U.S.Senate seats as that state prepared to rejoin the Union.

Revels' credentials arrived in the Senate on February 23, 1870, and were immediately blocked by a few members who had no desire to see a black man serve in Congress. Masking their racist views, they argued that Revels had not been a U.S. citizen for the nine years required of all senators. In their distorted interpretation, black Americans had only become citizens with the passage of the 1866 Civil Rights Act, just four years earlier. Revels' supporters dismissed that statement, pointing out that he had been a voter many years earlier in Ohio and was therefore certainly a citizen.

Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner brought the debate to an end with a stirring speech. "The time has passed for argument. Nothing more need be said. For a long time it has been clear that colored persons must be senators." Then, by an overwhelming margin, the Senate voted 48 to 8 to seat Revels.

Three weeks later, the Senate galleries again filled to capacity as Hiram Revels rose to make his first formal speech. Seeing himself as a representative of African American interests throughout the nation, he spoke—unsuccessfully as it turned out—against a provision included in legislation readmitting Georgia to the Union. He correctly predicted that the provision would be used to prohibit blacks from holding office in that state.

When Hiram Revels' brief term ended on March 3, 1871, he returned to Mississippi, where he later became president of Alcorn College.

Though Sen. Revels was the first Black to serve, he was not the first to serve a full term. That distinction goes to this equally interesting guy, Sen. Blanche Kelso Bruce, another Republican representing Mississippi from 1875 - 1881. The son of a white Virginia plantation owner and a Black house slave, he was (and will forever be) the only freed slave ever to preside over the U.S. Senate in 1879 (for the day, Dad was a stand-up guy). I live two miles from his residence in DC, declared a National Historic Landmark in 1975 (Hm-m-m wonder who lives there now? Think I'll drive by there tomorrow. I'll post a pic. Also going to find this book about him, "The Senator and the Socialite." Can't critically think and form intelligent opinions without a well-rounded perspective right?)

It would be another 86 years ( somebody check me, I hate Math!) before Blacks would have another successful go at a Senate seat. But in 1966, yet another Republican - this time from the North - Sen. Edward William Brooke, III (R-MA) was elected. In 1993, he was followed by Sen. Carol Mosley Braun (D-IL), the first Black Senator from the Democrats and through some strategic maneuvering, Barack Obama (D-IL) in 2005.

That's it people. Only five Black Senators in the almost 233 years this country has been a country - only five (now I have to go back and and check the stats for my Latino, Asian and Native-American brothers and sisters! - ea, got anything?). Sen. Reid was right. Doing "whatever they want" does go back for generations. But, he is incorrect that there is "legal authority" for them to turn the brother away in the rain.

Today, despite Gov. Blagojevich or because of him, the Senate will have to consider what the law and somebody else wants. Now that's "Change We Can Believe In!" - and it had nothing to do with the President-select who supported the barring in the first place.

(Blagojevich - 4/Democratic leadership - 0)

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