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Moving On: Election 2012 and Some Lessons

A column by Winona LaDuke about the 2012 election.

We just saw some $6 billion spent on the most expensive election in history. It’s a couple of weeks later, and I think I’ve recovered from the drama and excitement. Here in the North Country, we are rather saturated with Fox News, and lack, frankly, discussion of what is going on outside of our lakes and woods. And, we are a conservative bunch, generally, perhaps, except the Native community.

So, I thought that I’d take this time to share some thoughts on this past election. After all, I certainly know what losing a national election is like. Maybe Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan might be interested in my opinion.

What have we learned?

We learned that people want to be heard. Florida, that very contentious state, with hanging chads and rumored to have cost Al Gore the 2000 election (often blamed on Ralph Nader and myself) is still having problems. People stood in line for up to seven hours to vote. It seems that it was harder to vote if you were dark. In fact, according to the Hart Research Project, and the AFL-CIO, voting lines were twice as long for African Americans in general than for white voters. And, in general 15 percent of Obama supporters spent over a half hour waiting to vote, while only 9 percent of Romney supporters had to wait.

Here on White Earth reservation, voting was not the easiest. Rural folks either drove into the county seat, or voted absentee. This becomes a problem when there is no car. But thankfully, we still have some rural post offices!

In the past couple of elections the poll booths were placed in the tribal community centers (Pine Point School) and this was true in White Earth village this past time, but Pine Point residents and Rice Lake residents instead went to Carsonville Fire Hall and LaPrairie township hall, a bit more challenging. I voted in town. On Bois Forte reservation, the polling booths were almost a half hour away from the villages, and the tribal council let people off work, and offered a bus service.

Voting restrictions are not popular

In Minnesota, the measure to require additional voter identification was defeated. In general, tribal members in Minnesota voted No on this measure ten points higher than the non-Native population. In one precinct with a very high native population, 86 percent of the voters rejected the Voter ID amendment. LaPrairie Township on White Earth (Rice Lake) voted two thirds against voter ID, Twin Lakes (including Naytauwash), almost three fourths. In townships with lower Native turn out, the measure passed (Carsonville, Callaway), indicating a big political difference, between Native and non-Native voters. Overall, similar voter registration laws in Alaska, Florida, Michigan, South Dakota and Wisconsin were defeated.

Race Matters

Mitt Romney won the white male vote. But, it turns out that they are not the only vote in this country. Slightly more women voted democratic than men, some 93 percent of African Americans, 73 percent of Asian Americans and 71 percent of Latinos voted for Obama, with similar statistics following in the Native vote, a sampling from the village of Naytauwash, in the heart of the White Earth reservation, Obama won resoundingly. Romney won Carsonville Township (Pine Point) by four votes, so voter turn out does matter. And, if anyone’s interested, some 60 percent of the youth voted for Obama, and some 69 percent of the Jewish community voted for Obama. Collectively, this is definitely the majority population, not just “ minorities."

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Money Can’t Buy You Love: Pretty Much

It was a $6 billion election, the most expensive in history. Now all of this was legal, because, the Supreme Court decided in the 2010 Citizens United versus the FEC (Federal Elections Committee) that the first amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. This makes things interesting. So, there was a lot of money in the election.

Massachusetts: Scott Brown spent around $27 million, and lost to Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor and consumer advocate. In some controversy, Elizabeth Warren has claimed Cherokee ancestry during her academic career, (she checked a box) but thus far, no Cherokee tribe had accepted her. Now that she’s Senator, maybe she will bring this Cherokee ancestry to her politic, and maybe some Cherokees will adopt her.

Montana: It was the most expensive race in the history of the state. And in this case, Jon Tester acknowledged that the Native vote was key to his election. And, he spoke to Native people. Heidi Heitkamp took the Senate Seat in North Dakota. Her net vote gain in counties with large Native communities was high: 4,282 votes. Seems that the Native vote, and some moderate politics carried the election.

Minnesota: There was at least one place where money can buy you votes- or love. That’s Minnesota, where Representative Michelle Bachmann held onto her seat by a narrow margin. She also spent twelve times more than her opponent Jim Graves.

Moving On: Mitt Romney and the Republican party were dealt a resounding defeat, despite huge expenditures of money and a good deal of posturing; people of color and women did not vote Republican. MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow referred to this as a “shellacking," since many conservatives lost their seats including those who opposed a woman’s freedom of choice. On this issue, two very outspoken candidates who called themselves pro life, lost. Richard Mourdock (Indiana) declared during a debate that he was against abortion, even in the case of rape, and Missouri Representative Todd Akin told the press that pregnancy as a result of “legitimate rape” is rare because the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” Both candidates lost.

Marijuana was legalized in a couple of states (Colorado and Washington). Which , along with industrial hemp, may open a doorway for tribal governments to move towards at least hemp and medical marijuana, as a number of tribes (Oglala Sioux and Navajo) have tried in the past decade.

I did like Maddow’s comments that perhaps the lessons learned by the Republicans and Tea Party may make for a better America. What has been categorized as a very right wing politic, of “trade wars with China,” cutting student loans, cutting social services, outlawing gay marriage, and banning abortion, may not be the heart of America. I do believe it’s time to have good conversations about real issues, like where this country is going, where the economy is going, if we can drink the water, and “how we live here for another thousand years,” as Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins challenges us.

From my perspective in the heart of White Earth reservation, post election time is the best opportunity to challenge ourselves to be better people, and consider that the American politic needs to be defined by the diversity that is America, not by those who may have the most money, or the loudest advertising.

Winona LaDuke is an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg who lives and works on the White Earth Reservations, and is the mother of three children. She is also the Executive Director of Honor the Earth, where she works on a national level to advocate, raise public support, and create funding for frontline native environmental groups.