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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Damn, Girl-Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson is the iconic LGBT activist. She's best known for playing an instrumental role Stonewall Riots, but Marsha's story extends beyond Stonewall. Throughout her lifetime, Marsha fought for the rights of African-American Transgender people, and provided food and shelter to transgender youth living on the streets.

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Marsha P. Johnson. When asked what the 'P' in her name
stood for, Marsha often replied that it stood for 'Pay it
no mind'.
Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Marsha moved to Greenwich Village in 1966. At the time, Greenwich Village was a hotbed of activism and liberal thinking. The Village hosted a large community of LGBT people, and provided places for them to gather without fear of violence or judgement.

Unfortunately, Marsha had a difficult time finding a stable source of income or accommodations in the Village, and often lived on the streets, and had to resort to prostitution to provide for herself. It was while working on the streets where she became a member of New York's large society of drag queens, and met lifelong friend and co-legend Sylvia Rivera.

Shortly after arriving in New York, Marsha began performing in drag shows and at drag balls. She was quite popular, and went on to tour the United States and the rest of the world with the popular drag group, the Hot Peaches.

In 1969 Marsha was having a drink at the Stonewall Inn, a popular drinking spot for transwomen, butch lesbians, male sex workers, and homeless LGBT youth. The police raided the inn, and Marsha famously threw a shot glass, and shouted 'I got my civil rights!', igniting the famous riot that would last for six days.

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Marsha was asked to pose for Andy Warhol's
'Ladies and Gentlemen' series, which was a
series of pop art portraits of transgender
individuals living in New York City.
Following Stonewall, Marsha, along with Sylvia Rivera, became a leading member of the Gay Liberation Front, and started actively lobbying for trans rights. Then, as now, much of the gay rights movement was centered around securing rights for white gay men. Marsha and Sylvia were both the loudest voices calling for inclusion of transgender people in the gay community.

To this end, Marsha and Sylvia created the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR)¹. STAR was devoted to providing food and shelter for homeless transgender youth, especially transgender youth of color. Though STAR was chronically underfunded, Marsha created a home for people pushed to the margins of society, and acted as a mother to the people she helped. Though STAR was forced to close down in the 1970s, the legacy of STAR is being carried on by the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.

In 1992, Marsha's body was pulled from the Hudson river. The NYPD detectives ruled her death a suicide, but her friends and family claim that she was not suicidal. It is much more likely that she was murdered, as she was seen being harassed by men earlier in the day.

Today Marsha is seen as one of the founders of the gay rights movement. She's an icon of resistance, and her memory is frequently invoked whenever resistance is needed. There has been a renewed interest in her life in the past decade, leading to several biographies being published, and multiple documentaries.


¹Just a note, the word 'Transvestite' while now considered a slur, was the common name for transgender people at the time of STAR.


Sources
The Unsung Heroines of Stonewall: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera
Marsha P. Johnson-Activist (1945-1992)
Marsha 'Pay It No Mind' Johnson
Power to the People: Exploring Marsha P. Johnson's Queer Liberation


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Iroquois League-Doing America Before America Was Cool

Known among themselves as the Haudenosaunee,¹ the Iroquois League (or Confederacy) is the world's oldest participatory democracy. Located in what is today central New York state, the Haudenosaunee controlled vast swathes of woodland all the way into today's Ontario. A combination of six tribes, they banded together in mutual defense and adopted common policy in regards to other tribes and white settlers. Because of this cooperation, they were able to keep their territorial lands longer than any other confederacy in the region.

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The Haudenosaunee are known for having invented the sport
of Lacrosse, and for being multiple time world champions.
The Haudenosaunee is comprised of six individual tribes--the Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Mohawk, and Tuscarora. Their individual languages are related, and most are mutually intelligible to the others. It is this shared language family which initially brought the Haudenosaunee together. Additionally, linguistic evidence suggests that the Haudenosaunee are immigrants to the New England area. It is thought that the original five tribes--all but the Tuscarora--emigrated from the southern United States², and it is definitely known that the Tuscarora emigrated from North Carolina.

Originally, these six tribes were separate people, and warred with each other the same way in which the confederation later warred with non-confederation people. There were frequent raids on rival tribes, and an 'eye for an eye' philosophy prevailed. If a member from one tribe was killed, the family of that person would kill a member of the tribe that killed their family member, starting a never ending cycle of bloodshed. Among the Haudenosaunee, this epoch is known as 'The Dark Times'.

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Map of Haudenosaunee lands
Enter Deganawida. Deganawida is a religious man, and has been told by the Great Spirit to make peace between the people. Problem was, Deganawida had a stutter, and needed a mouthpiece. To this end, he found Hiawatha. At the time, Hiawatha was a simple cannibal, doing his cannibal thing. However, one day while cooking his latest victim Hiawatha saw his reflection in his cooking pot, and realized that someone as beautiful as himself should not be eating people. While discarding of the corpse he no longer intended to eat, he met Deganawida, who named Hiawatha as his mouthpiece. Together Deganawida and Hiawatha set about uniting the five tribes--the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, and Oneida.³

The Haudenosaunee confederacy was built upon a system of participatory democracy. Each tribe had one vote, and the chiefs of each clan,⁴ known as Sachems, helped each nation come to an agreement on how they would vote. The Confederacy established an inter-confederacy peace treaty, and a pact of mutual defense. Additionally, Confederacy members were able to move freely between the different nations. The Confederacy had very few laws, mostly focusing on foreign relations, but they immediately outlawed cannibalism. For any decision to be made on the behalf of the entire confederacy a unanimous vote had to be reached. Should complete agreement not be met, each tribe was free to proceed as they saw fit. This would eventually lead to the nations fighting on different sides during the American Revolution.

Together, the Haudenosaunee were a formidable foe. They regularly raided their Algonquin neighbors, and colonial settlements, gaining European goods despite having no formal trade agreements with white men. They also established a system of currency, based of of Wampum, and had a massive agricultural system, growing corn, beans, and squash.

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The Haudenosaunee lived in Longhouses--wooden dwellings
which housed multiple families. Longhouses could be anywhere
between 50 to 150 feet long
When it came to colonial clashes, the Haudenosaunee preferred to remain neutral. During the French and Indian War many of the Haudenosaunee refused to take sides. They attempted to do the same during the American Revolution, but were unable. The Haudenosaunee saw the wars between the colonists as civil wars that were none of their business, but the English insisted that the Haudenosaunee honor their treaty of mutual defense with the English.

This divided the tribes into rival factions. Due to pressure from the English, most of the tribes sided with the English, but some tribes, most notably the Oneida and Tuscarora, sided with the Americans. This division nearly killed the confederacy, as tribes began to raid the villages of confederacy members. Despite this, the confederacy remained intact, if fragile, at the end of the Revolution.⁵

The Confederacy's form of government would become a major influence on the creation of the United States Constitution. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom were well acquainted with the Haudenosaunee, were inspired by the fact that each member nation had an equal say in the policy of the group.

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Haudenosaunee Flag
Today the Haudenosaunee Confederacy is as strong as ever. They are recognized as their own nation, and have sent delegates to the United Nations, and issue their own passports.⁶ The nations have banded together multiple times in mutual defense when development and industrial projects threaten native lands, and lobby together for the return of cultural artifacts and human remains.



¹Meaning 'People of the Longhouse', based on the longhouses that the Haudenosaunee lived in. The name 'Iroquois' is a francosized version of the Algonquin word 'Irinakhoiw'. 'Iroquois' roughly translated, means 'real adders'. Like many colonial names for Native Americans, this is a pejorative. In this article I will refer to this group of people by the name they chose form themselves--Haudenosaunee.
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Haudenosaunee passport
²This conclusion was reached by comparison to other Native American languages. the Haudenosaunee languages are very closely related to the Cherokee language--a nation which originated in the southern United States. Additionally, non Haudenosaunee tribes in the New York area speak languages from the Algonquin group. This difference suggests that the Haudenosaunee were once related to, or acquainted with the Cherokee.
³The canny reader may be wondering about the Tuscarora. The Tuscarora Nation was added to the Haudenosaunee confederacy in the early 1700s when they were driven out of North Carolina by English Colonists.
⁴A tribe is comprised of a group of clans. Clans are matrilinial, and are headed by the eldest woman in each clan. There were eight major clans in the confederation, and intermarriage inside a clan was discouraged.
⁵Following the Revolution the young American government placed sanctions on all members of the confederacy, including the ones that supported them against the English. This united the confederacy against the Americans as they were forced off their lands and onto reservations in New York and Canada.
⁶Though the Iroquois passport was largely recognized in the United States traveling on an Iroquois passport after the events of September 11, 2001 became largely impossible. Additionally, many nations do not recognize Iroquois passports, and refuse entry to holders if they do not also have an American or Canadian passport.


Sources
Iroquois Confederacy- American Indian Confederation
Iroquois League: The Ancient and Powerful Union of Six Nations
Iroquois Confederacy
The League of the Iroquois
The Six Nations: Oldest Living Participatory Democracy on Earth
The Six Nations Confederacy During the American Revolution

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Damn, Girl-Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa

It's 1896, and things are looking bleak for the Ashanti confederacy. King Prempeh I and his entire government have been exiled to the Seychelles, and the British have control of the capital city of Kumasi. English soldiers have been plundering the treasures of the Ashanti, and now their governor, Frederick Hodgson is demanding the Golden Stool¹, the symbol of Ashanti kingship. The men of the Ashanti are defeated, and ready to give in.

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Yaa Asantewaa
However, Yaa was no man. She was the Queen mother of the Ejisu, and the grandmother to the exiled king. She was outspoken and fearless, and had been ruling Ejisu for years. Most importantly, Yaa hadn't given up. Her grandson was hundreds of miles away, her land had been ravaged, but she wasn't ready to give in. When all the men were talking about giving the British what she wanted, she stood up and told them that rather than give the British the Golden Stool, essentially admitting defeat, she and the Ashanti women would fight the English to her last breath.

Yaa was a powerful woman. Born in the village of Ejisu, she had ruled alongside her brother until his death. She was a skilled farmer and her years of fighting for the empowerment of Ashanti women had earned her respect. Though the men of the Ashanti hesitated to join her, the women did not.

In order to encourage their men to war, Yaa encouraged the women to refuse marital relations to their husbands until they agreed to rise up. Additionally, Yaa led the women of the Ashanti in victory marches and rituals around Ejisu on a near daily basis.

After the men had been browbeaten into joining her, Yaa set her warriors about building stockades and traps for the English. She also encouraged her soldiers in the use of psychological warfare via drum beats. She used these 'talking drums' to send signals to the English. One beat meant 'prepare to die' and three meant 'cut off the head'. This was a very effective tactic, and the sound of Ashanti drums instilled terror in the English.

In addition to drums and stockades, Yaa broke with tradition, and appeared on the battlefield herself. She dashed about the battlefield with a gun, fighting the same as the men under her command. Under her leadership, the Ashanti managed to reconquer Kumasi, as well as drive back the English.

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Map of the Kingdoms of West Africa. The Ashante (or Asante)
Kingdom occupied the same area as modern Ghana.
Unfortunately, her success didn't last. The British brought in foreign soldiers from their vast empire, and they pushed the Ashanti back to the village of Offinso.

During the course of the war Yaa and her advisers were captured. Like her grandson, Yaa was deported to the Seychelles Islands. Yaa died there in 1921, and her remains were later brought back to Ashanti lands.

Today Yaa is remembered as one of the great heroes of the Ashanti empire. Her uprising against the English was the last major African uprising lead by a woman. There are schools named after her, and every year a prize in her name is awarded to an extraordinary Ghanaian woman. Many Ghanaians and people of Ghanaian descent name their daughters after her. Though the Ashanti Confederation may be no more, Yaa's fearlessness and bravery lives on.



¹The Golden Stool is, essentially, the Ashanti equivalent of the Stone of Destiny. It signified that the possessor was fit to rule, and surrendering it to the English would have been a sign of assenting to British rule.

Sources
Yaa Asantewaa or the Ashanti Cry for Freedom
Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa: 1840-1921
Yaa Asantewaa: Ghana's Queen Mother and Fearless African Warrior
Yaa Asantewaa-Queen Mother of the Ashanti Confederation
Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa of West Africa's Ashanti Empire

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

William Tell-the Man, the Myth, the Apple

William Tell is the great Swiss hero you kinda know about (unless you're Swiss). He is most famous for having shot an apple off his son's head, and for most people, that is the end of their William Tell knowledge. However, William Tell is also a sign of resistance, liberty, and independence. He is one of the most renowned people in Swiss history, and he may not have been real.

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William Tell depicted on a 1970 postage stamp
To understand why William Tell is such a big deal, you have to understand Swiss history. In the early 13th century several groups of Celtic, Germanic, and French people living in the Alps decided that they didn't have much in common with the surrounding countries, so they banded together to form one country.

This wasn't really a problem with the rest of Europe, because at the time the rest of Europe didn't really know or care about Switzerland. High up in their mountains, the Swiss were essentially a group of farmers who didn't even speak the same language. However, all that changed in the mid 1200s, when a bridge across the St. Gotthard's pass was constructed, connecting Switzerland and Italy via land.

A convenient land route between Northern Europe and Italy was a pretty big deal. The Italians had some pretty dope stuff, and everyone wanted to do business with them. However, because of the Alps and the Apennines, Italy was very difficult to get to via land. Sure, you could take a boat, but hiring a ship was expensive, especially if you lived in a landlocked country. In addition to being costly, shipping was risky and time consuming. It was much safer and easier to spend three days trekking through the Uri Canton of Switzerland than it was to spend weeks on a boat.

After construction of the bridge, the people of the Uri canton were doing very well. Travelers had to pay locals for food and shelter, as well as to rent mules to carry their goods through the pass. However, as time went on there began to be some civil unrest. By 1257 the Uri people thought it best to appeal to their nearest nobleman--Rudolph von Hapsburg--to settle their internal issues. Rudolph agreed most readily.

In late 1257 Rudolph marched his armies into Switzerland, and just sorta stayed. The Swiss had, effectively, invited a wolf to a sheep's dinner party, and the wolf was taking full advantage of this. As expected, the Swiss were none too pleased with this, and began to act out.

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William Tell shooting the apple off of his son's head
Skip ahead to 1291--or 1307 depending on the account. In the town of Altdorf a pro-Hapsburg sheriff--Gessler has placed a Hapsburg hat on a pole in the middle of the square. All people passing it are required to bow to it to show their respect for the Hapsburg family.

Enter William Tell. A simple farmer and expert marksman from Burglen, William doesn't particularly care for the Hapsburgs, and he doesn't care who knows it. He doesn't bow to the hat, and this makes Gessler angry.

So, in his fit of rage, Gessler does what any reasonable officer of the law would do in that situation--he forces Tell to endanger the life of his son. Gessler informs Tell that he must shoot an apple off of his son's head. Should Tell miss the apple, both he and his son will be executed.

Tell is, of course, reluctant to shoot an armor piercing projectile at many kilometers per hour at his son, no matter how good of a marksman he may be. However, his son encourages him to make the shot, so William does. And, because he is so amazing, William splits the apple in half, and it falls off of his son's head. Gessler congratulates Tell on his amazing shot, but stops to ask him a question. Before taking the shot Gessler saw William conceal a second arrow in his jacket. What was that about?

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The remains of Kussnacht-renamed Gessler--Castle. Like Many
Hapsburg era castles, Gessler Castle was torn down during
the effort to drive the Hapsburgs out of Switzerland.
Never one to stop pushing his luck, Tell informs Gessler that, had he missed and killed his child, the second arrow would have been for Gessler. This makes Gessler angry, and he orders his cronies to slap William in irons, and put him on a boat bound for the dungeon at Kussnacht castle.

While on the boat a big storm blows up on the lake. Gessler releases William from his chains, because in addition to being an excellent marksman, and the king of sass, William is also an excellent sailor. Living up to his reputation, William guides the boat to safety in an outcropping of rocks. However, when the boat touches the rocks, William leaps out, and pushes the boat back into the sea.

Coming to the conclusion that Gessler and his men would probably survive, William finds them after they land, and ambushes the sheriff's party, killing them all. Then, with three other friends, William swears a pact to rid Switzerland of the Hapsburg troops, and free them from their oppression. This is, essentially, the start of the Swiss War for Independence.

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William Tell Monument in Altdorf
Now, as with many heroic figures from this time period, it is difficult to ascertain if they actually lived or not. The tale of William Tell wasn't put to paper until centuries after the events that supposedly occurred, and sources disagree about the year in which it occurred. Additionally, there are no parish records of a William Tell living in that time. However, while it may be difficult to prove the actual physical existence of a 13th (or 14th) century man named William Tell, there is no need to prove how big of an impact Tell has had on Swiss culture.

William Tell is, essentially, the Swiss national hero. He's a symbol of Swiss bravery and ingenuity. His iconography is famous--he appears on coins, there are statues of him around the country, and his crossbow appears on every item exported by the Swiss. Every time the Swiss are threatened with war or invasion, his myth comes alive again, fueling the fires of Swiss nationalism. While he may not have lived, his influence is undeniable.

Sources
In Search of William Tell
William Tell--Swiss Hero
Who Was William Tell?
The Legend of William Tell