Historian Jon Meacham points out we have only truly been a multi-racial democracy since 1965. Before then, so many of us were disenfranchised and unable to vote, even long after the enslavement of a huge portion of the populace ended, that we were something less than a democracy.
When the truth is told and proven in court, that our voting system worked brilliantly and the current president received seven million more votes than the former president, and that even the electoral college was Biden’s by 14%, the culture of the Big Lie will begin to fade into the past. It will become something we look back on, wonder about, and learn from.
In 2020 our votes counted, and most of us who wanted to or tried, were able to vote. But now there are states trying to make it more difficult to vote, especially for people of color. What is it about us that our history is roiled by waves of violent restrictions interspersed with moments of liberation and expanding freedoms?
In 1932 a campaign by WWI veterans to receive the wartime benefits they were promised, culminated in ten thousand former soldiers from across the country gathering in the nation’s capital. Interestingly, it was a racially integrated demonstration even though the soldiers had been segregated during the war. They built a small city of shacks and tents and demonstrated daily around the capital. They were poor and demanding something that was owed to them for their service during the first modern war of unique horrors. Some members of Congress and President Hoover tarred them with the label of the “red army” and castigated them as communists.
On July 28th Hoover sent the army to attack them. Led by Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, and Dwight Eisenhower a force of cavalry, tanks, and infantry burned the veteran’s belongings and violently dispersed them. Some died, others were injured. The nation was horrified and the action probably cost Hoover the election.
On May 16, 1933 when the veteran’s so-called “Bonus Army” had again gathered in Washington to demand their war-time bonus be given them, President Roosevelt sent Eleanor into the encampment rather than troops. Completely alone, without the knowledge of the Secret Service, Eleanor walked into the camp and through the mud. She spoke with the veterans, sang with them, ate with them, and reminisced about the war. The irony is that the President was not in favor of giving veterans benefits that the general public who were also poor wouldn’t get, but he listened to them through his wife instead of violently oppressing them. Ultimately a variety of compromises were achieved, and before he died Roosevelt even embraced what would become the GI Bill.
I don’t recall ever learning about the Bonus Army in American History classes. We need to know about Emit Till and American lynchings. We need to know about the true brutality and horror of slavery. We need to know about the 1896 strike by Italian laborers digging the sewers of Geneva, NY and caught in a brutal system making them essentially indentured. Facts and truth offer intervention into lies and denial, so we need to be well versed in the facts. The Geneva School Board and teachers need to make sure our young citizens are taught our true history, both its glories and its sorrows.