Thursday, March 03, 2005


Kansas is the 19th century, dragged willy-nilly into the 21st. It was born from the passions of the greatest and most passionate struggle of a century when struggle was expressed in novels and poetry and grand crusades, before trenches and aerial bombing and mass media took over. There were sober men of principle from Massachussetts, building settlements to win Kansas territory for the "free north" by the ballot box, and there were wild, poorer men from Missouri, doing the political bidding of wealthy slaveholders though they themselves never owned a slave, raiding and burning. And most of all there was John Brown, called by God in the noble cause of abolition to pull five men of proslavery sympathies out of their beds one night along the river and behead them with a sword. In the state capitol building of Kansas, there is a massive mural of John Brown, his beard and gun in hand and mouth open, his figure towering over all, proclaiming such a passion.

Minneapolis is snow and hope and danger. The late, great Paul Wellstone beat an incumbent Republican with little more than pluck and brains and a working-class program, served two terms as the conscience of the Senate and then was killed in a plane crash in a storm. Several weeks ago, the centerpiece of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion monologue was the lesson he learned growing up in Minnesota: winter is no time for caution; winter is for danger and for taking risks.

Detroit is a trap. Detroit has the highest percentage of single-nuclear-family homes in the nation, a product of the UAW bringing the auto industry's workers to the middle class, at least for a few decades. In the so called "Truce of Detroit," after World War II, the UAW led the way for the industrial unions of the CIO, in exchange for high wages and little houses for each of their members, to abandon the broad working-class-and-civil-rights social movement they had been at the center of in the 1930s, as if the immigrants and radicals and African-Americans and women who built the CIO fought heroic battles against uneven odds, built interracial unions in the Jim Crow south, took over factories, and died at the points of policemen's guns, for no greater dream than a little house in the suburbs, locked away with their husband or wife watching TV, heartache hiding behind each door.

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