06 December 2004

Through the Looking Glass

This event was brought to you by the numbers 39 (as in % of registered RSVPers who ‘turned out’) and 1209, letters G, O, P, Vegas, Baby, Vegas, and Hookah-Shisha.com. We started promptly at 10PM CST.

“…at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

`Who are you?' said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.'

`What do you mean by that?' said the Caterpillar sternly. `Explain yourself!'

`I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, sir' said Alice, `because I'm not myself, you see.'

`I don't see,' said the Caterpillar.

`I'm afraid I can't put it more clearly,' Alice replied very politely, `for I can't understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.'

`It isn't,' said the Caterpillar.

`Well, perhaps you haven't found it so yet,' said Alice; `but when you have to turn into a chrysalis--you will some day, you know--and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you'll feel it a little queer, won't you?'

`Not a bit,' said the Caterpillar.

`Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,' said Alice; `all I know is, it would feel very queer to me.'

`You!' said the Caterpillar contemptuously. `Who are you?'

Which brought them back again to the beginning of the conversation. Alice felt a little irritated at the Caterpillar's making such very short remarks, and she drew herself up and said, very gravely, `I think, you ought to tell me who you are, first.'

`Why?' said the Caterpillar.”

With apologies to Lewis Carroll…Tonight we watched a video, “A Legacy of Empowerment: African-Americans and the Republican Party,” and it, too, made very short remarks. The gist of those remarks was that the Party of Lincoln was the first to attempt to redress the discrimination and persecution Blacks have faced in the United States, and that the GOP’s views of self-reliance and morality were “infinity” with the Black community. It also argued that the Democrats are taking the Black vote for granted. The Caterpillar, however, never told Alice who he was – i.e., in its current stage of metamorphosis, what does the Caterpillar do to earn the Black vote? So, it was left to eminent MEETinDCers Kentaro, Parag, Liz, James, and Chris to examine this question in greater depth.

James met his own Caterpillar, which explains the origins of our humble event:

The day after the election James was walking in the L'Enfant metro station when he passed a middle-age Caucasian male with a "W'04" sticker prominently displayed on the side of his travel bag.

In an irreverent fashion seemingly unbeknownst to the gentleman, James quipped "Congratulations! You won!"

At which point the man engaged James and replied "Thank you. Which side did you vote for?"

"On the side of our country," James responded but unable to keep character confessed "I have to be honest with you. I just don't get Republican domestic policy."

A surreal moment presented itself and with an unanticipated yet eerily scripted gesture, the gentleman reached into his travel bag and handed James the tape “A Legacy of Empowerment: African-Americans and the Republican Party.” His name wasn't Robert Paulson but John L. Martin, a political appointee working for the Office of Personnel Management who had returned from Jacksonville, FL recruiting Southern Blacks for the GOP. Banter was exchanged, Mr. Martin gave James his business card and requested that James watch the video, email him with his thoughts and Mr. Martin parted saying "God bless you." Indeed, God blessed MEETin for the foundation was laid for this event.

Interesting facets of the video included the demure, saucy Katherine Harris engaging in a little Monday Morning Quarterbacking vis a vis the alleged improprieties of the Florida vote in 2000 (when Ms. Harris was both impartial FL Secretary of State, and state chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign). And the not unreasonable assertion that “Republicans are the nicest, warmest people I’ve met,” with accompanying footage of…Dick Cheney!

The video aside, more Blacks voted for George W. Bush this year (according to the CNN.com exit poll there was "a 6% increase in Black votes for Bush in 2004 compared to 2000"). What were the reasons for this? Is it even appropriate to speak of Blacks as a monolithic group? Needless to say our conversation ran the gamut, particularly so as the beer and margaritas flowed, the hookah haze descended, and BET was turned on around 3AM.

Chris suggested that one reason might have been the high profile of the issue of gay marriage, and the hubbub surrounding the anti-gay marriage referendums in 11 states. Many commentators have argued that the visibility of this issue led to a heavy turnout among socially conservative Americans. Given that many Blacks are rather conservative on social issues, perhaps the prominence of the gay marriage issue led to a great number aligning themselves with Bush. Here, Chris was merely mooting an idea he had heard before. When conversation died down, and he didn’t have access to the pipe, Chris could be heard murmuring, “Vegas, baby, Vegas!”

But what of morality? Is this limited solely to issues of individual behavior? What of societal problems such as entrenched poverty? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an individual adult (with no children) was only poor if he/she made under $9,393 per annum. That seems a rather low amount to get by on. Overall, 12.5% of the U.S. population fell below the ‘poverty’ threshold (which varies depending on household/family size) in 2003. The video took a bootstrap tack, considering the New Deal the beginning of handouts and, therefore, dependency in the Black community.

Another topic of interest was that of identity. Parag spoke about his experiences a decade hence, when he first arrived in the United States. He expected that, as a minority in this country, he would be considered a kindred spirit by Blacks. Parag did not find that to be the case, though. It seemed that the perspective of a newly arrival did not meet with the experiences of a minority group long entrenched in this country.

James put aside his catheter and commented further on this, looking at the Barack Obama phenomenon. The child of a Kenyan father and white American mother, Obama was raised in the U.S. by his mother. James questioned the wisdom of the media, and the Democratic Party, anointing this callow Senator-elect as our (and especially the Democrats’) “Great Black Hope.” Can one person, with a unique upbringing, really be counted on to represent a diverse group of people that increasingly includes immigrants and people of mixed race (in Obama’s case, he is invariably considered Black)? It seems a bit simplistic to assume as much.

Kentaro “Shisha” Yamamoto, in addition to expertly attending to the coals, mentioned that perhaps America is beginning to move away from political affiliation based on race, and towards class. As America’s upper echelons become more diverse, surely it behooves self-interested people at the top to vote for parties that will best address their economic priorities? As inequality acts increasingly through economic status, and less through the rubric of race, party affiliations will do likewise. Perhaps the 2004 result is a sign of this shift.

Yet, there are voters who confound self-interest, and even enlightened self-interest. While in Florida canvassing, Liz encountered many Americans who were entrenched in their voting choices, and largely because of one issue – be it abortion, gay marriage, foreign policy, etc.

As always, one can look to cable TV and movies to provide further answers on questions of politics and race relations. While enjoying the apple tobacco, we were treated to an eerily evocative treatment of foreign policy: “O Lord, bless this holy hand grenade, that with it Thou mayst blow Thine enemies into tiny bits, in Thy mercy.”

On CNN, while Bush’s own Project Mayhem continues to rout, or abet, chaos overseas, we learnt of a fallen anarchist. His name is R.P. …Roderick Paige.

Onwards to BET, where we listened to some beats laid down by Shisha, um Swisha, House and the Original Rude Bwoy, Mighty Casey. Casey waxed philosophical on racial harmony:

“Don’t tell Minister Farrakhan // He don’t want to know what’s goin’ on…”

Finally, as the clock struck 4, Evangelical Hour began on BET. Could this be the tipping point that is turning America’s youth (Vote or Die!) towards the GOP. His name is Robert Tilton!

Thanks to all who came. Thanks to James for bringing the hookah. Thanks to Dave C. for calling in after not making it. Thanks to Missy who tried gallantly to get a cab out to NE to join us. Suggestions for future hookah flavours, accompanying drinks, and surreal videos are encouraged. Next time, all!

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