A Loss of Self-Identity: Blind Loyalty to Party Ideology and the Acceptance of Political Corruption

In “The Ceremony,” Emmanuel Dongala examines the progression of distorted perceptions of a proletariat worker in a post-colonial central African Marxist state. Through this viewpoint, Dongala narrates the day of the ceremony commemorating the new director of the manure factory, a position the worker at first claims to be his goal, after having worked tirelessly and loyally as a guard for ten years. The worker explains his initial confusion with the identity of being a true “Red,” proudly wearing and displaying the color before realizing its ideological meaning. As the worker narrates the progression in his life as a communist, he continuously offers praise to the Party and its leaders, vigorously rejecting any hypocrisy or criticism of the totalitarian state and supporting censorship, even when his own mind has its doubts.

During the ceremony, the protagonist emphasizes that he is one of the first people there, the first to clap for his glorified leader, and even bribes his boss so that he can adjust the microphone between speakers, a task he claims to be significant due to the presence of photographers. His continual praise for the leaders and the new director is a drastic shift from his earlier coveting of the job, and he even goes on to justify the ethnic preferences of the leader in regards to political appointments. His overly enthusiastic loyalty to the president causes him to become a political prisoner of the totalitarian regime; in the direct aftermath of an explosion likely aimed at killing the president, the protagonist jumps on top of the president with the intent of saving him and giving his body to the Revolution, only to end up being considered an accomplice in the act. However, this outcome only causes his loyalty to the Party to become stronger, offering to do anything for it in order to end his body’s torture. After having lost any sense of self-identity, all he knows or feels individually is physical pain.

Dongala’s story highlights the loss of self-identity via blind loyalty to party ideology and the acceptance of corruption among party officials, solely due to their idealized status. While narrating the story, the protagonist appears to be more of a cog in the machine of the regime rather than an individualized character, as his story could be that of any other worker, especially since he is never given a name. The protagonist’s account, unbeknownst to him, conveys the dehumanizing psychological effects on the citizens of a totalitarian regime, such as a loss of personal beliefs and values, a common experience in postcolonial Africa. The degradation of self-identity, as a result of intense loyalty to party ideology, leads to citizens’ casual acceptance of political corruption, further fueling the repressive abilities of the regime.

Through the protagonist’s characterization of himself and his obsession with party ideology, Dongala subtly reveals the loss of self-identity. The unnamed protagonist immediately identifies himself as a “militant” and a “citizen,” displaying the importance of the relationship to party and state, while ignoring personal connections and identities (Dongala and Thomas 67). He justifies his early arrival to the ceremony by characterizing himself as a “sincere militant, fulfilling (his) obligations to the Party,” again displaying his connection to the Party as his foremost commitment (Dongala and Thomas 67). He even admits to learning “so many things in so little time that it all gets a little mixed up in (his) head,” which demonstrates the serious use of propaganda and brainwashing methods. This brainwashing leads to his gradual obsession with “redness,” referring to the Marxist ideology of the ruling party. At one point when discussing his lack of qualifications to be factory manager, the protagonist explains, “redness was all that was missing,” cementing the idea that party ideology possesses a paramount position in the protagonist’s view of value in society (Dongala and Thomas 69). Subsequently, the protagonist explains that he cheated on his wife, not due to “debauchery or immorality” but as “sacrifice” to “advance the revolutionary cause and its redness” (Dongala and Thomas 70). Therefore, it becomes evident that the loyalty to party ideology takes complete precedence in the life of the worker, eroding the value of his personal relationships and his own identity. When explaining his decisions or beliefs, the ideology and loyalty to the party serve as the only justifications, with no considerations given to his own morals or beliefs. At one point, the protagonist somewhat admits his loss of self-identity, explaining “I can see now how one has to start by rendering one’s personality colorless, before one can successfully climb the arduous path to redness” (Dongala and Thomas 74). This psychological repression on the individual level allows the ruling party to maintain immense power since the oppressed are convinced that they are benefitting from the status quo.

Dongala’s demonstration of ideological obsession in the story provides an avenue to understanding the implications of similar instances in postcolonial African politics. In particular, the implications are quite relevant in relation to the ability of single-party states to remain in power for long periods of time. While the eagerness to begin state building somewhat justified continuing personal rule in postcolonial Africa, ruling parties took advantage of the situation and relied on enforcing an intense commitment to political ideology to remain in power. For example, the ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe has been in power since the country’s inception. Taking advantage of its initial popularity for freeing Zimbabweans from the rule of the “Rhodesian white settler regime,” the party “intended to institutionalize (its) control of the political sphere” (Dorman 163). Although opposition parties existed, the “ruling party was very much the controlling force in the political system” (Dorman 165). President Mugabe “incorporated those who had opposed the armed struggle for independence as well as white farmers, businessmen, and workers into the nation-building project” (Dorman 165). This process has parallels to “The Ceremony” in that the ruling party maintained power by attempting to convince and brainwash the people that all citizens were part of a greater ideological cause and that the ruling party must be in power for its goals to come to fruition. Sara Dorman argues, “by creating a wide umbrella party that incorporated not just the diverse factions but also many of their erstwhile opponents, Mugabe made it nearly impossible for anyone to “exit” the system and stand outside this hegemonic process.” This strategy highlights the importance of the perception the ruling party has in regards to the people. In “The Ceremony,” it is evident that the worker adores the Party and believes his nation to be benefitting from its rule. This adoration is a result of the Party using group identity to make personal ramifications irrelevant, just as Mugabe justified his power under the guise of unified patriotism after years of colonial oppression.

In addition to Zimbabwe, Sékou Touré in Guinea emphasized the importance of the party in order to promote and justify his dictatorial status within the country. In his speech, “The Role of the Party,” Touré claims, “no responsible political man whatever the authority he represents… could substitute himself for the Party. If he emanates from it, if he is the speaker, he can but act as a reflecting instrument, not of his own personality, but of the Party, which alone can express the will, the aspirations, the needs and the hopes of our people” (Emerson and Kilson 132). This excerpt precisely mirrors the self-distancing and party preeminence displayed in “the Ceremony.” Although the President of the Republic is revered in the story, it is out of his status as the leader of the party and revolution that he enjoys such reverence, not out of his personal qualities or abilities. Similarly, in his speech, Touré essentially justifies that anything he does is not a result of his decisions or beliefs, but those of the party. This allows him to rule the people without any personal consequence because they believe that he is not personally responsible for the outcomes.

Touré’s public distancing from his dictatorship also devalues the self-identity of the people. Since he states that responsible men should only express the will of the party, the brainwashed citizens believe that they should merely emanate from the party as well, not knowing that Touré is actually controlling the party’s beliefs and actions. The devious crafting of the perception of the party cements Touré’s power; by claiming that he is merely emanating from the party, he effectively establishes a perceived group identity and intense loyalty to ideology. Further deceiving the people into party loyalty, Touré’s party is named the Democratic Party of Guinea, presumably making the people feel as if their collective interests are represented, although the party never holds legitimate elections. By commanding that “the individual… must withdraw himself for the benefit of the political, human social personality of our people”, Touré is able to persuade his citizens to ignore their personal identities or considerations of well-being due to the preeminence of the benefit of the collective people (Emerson and Kilson 132). However, since individual citizens cannot evaluate the degree to which the people are benefitting in a dictatorial state, Touré is able to act as he wishes for the benefit of himself and fellow autocrats as long as the perception of his working for the people is maintained.

This concept is demonstrated from the citizen’s perspective in “the Ceremony.” When explaining why he makes sure to pose for a photograph with the President, the protagonist says, “I didn’t do it for myself, but rather in the interest of the Revolution, so that people could clearly see that our Comrade Secretary General… did not hesitate to mingle, converse, and live with the masses” (Dongala and Thomas 75). In fact, the protagonist is so brainwashed by party ideology that he not only believes the party leader to be doing a good service to him, but also attempts to convince other members of the proletariat to believe the same. Thus, it is evident, as in the case of Guinea, that in the aftermath of decolonization, political leaders took advantage of the people’s eagerness to build the state. They consequently used their initial popularity to promote deep-rooted party ideology to prevent political opposition by eroding self-identity and explaining that only loyalty to the party would benefit their newly founded state. Through this process, political leaders managed to rule unchecked and take advantage of their positions and their people, causing widespread political corruption on the continent.  

Deeply intertwined into the story’s deep progression of ideological obsession is the casual acceptance of political corruption, clearly a result of the aforementioned blind loyalty. These instances of corruption emphasize the obsessive loyalty since corruption is not hidden from the protagonist’s view. When recognizing corruption, he accepts or excuses its existence, even when it seems to harm the majority of the people, clearly a sign that his deep loyalty to the Party and its ideology has infiltrated his personal perception. The protagonist mentions the “convertible two-door Triumph… like the one the Comrade Minister for Propaganda and Ideology drove” (Dongala and Thomas 71). However, instead of allowing this gross inequality to bother him, he strives for that status and glorifies the ones who obtain it. Further, he mentions that all “members of our glorious Party’s Central Committee, had luxury air-conditioned cars… (and) celebrated with champagne” (Dongala and Thomas 73). Again he responds, “of course I wanted to be a part of it too” (Dongala and Thomas 73). The protagonist even goes so far as to create distinctions between two people that have the aforementioned luxuries, with the determining factor for justness being party membership. In turn, partisan and ideological loyalty infuses him so much that he begins justifying gross inequality that results from corruption on the basis of membership in the Party that stripped him of self-identity and practical perception in the first place. In fact, the protagonist fuels the corruption even in attempts to serve the Party. He mentions he “had to slip him a thousand-franc note, not to grease his palm, but quite simply to thank him for having taken up his time” when referring to the means in which he secured the duty to change the microphone height at the ceremony. In the justification itself, he decries the idea of bribery, displaying the utter corruption of his perception at the hands of partisan propaganda.

The analysis of corruption from the individual citizen’s perspective in the story helps explain the continued prevalence of political corruption in postcolonial Africa, even after the fall of single-party autocracies, such as the government demonstrated in the story. According to 2017 Afrobarometer results, only “54% (of survey takers) say ordinary citizens can make a difference in fighting corruption” (Afrobarometer Round 6, 14). These results demonstrate the quite common idea of accepting corruption, just as the protagonist in the story does. This is a dangerous precedent not only because it allows governments to take advantage of citizens, but also because corruption is occurring in democratic states where ordinary citizens have control over who is in power. The casual acceptance of continual corruption in democratic states poses a real threat to active citizenship and the rights of those people who are not in power. In these cases, deep partisan obsession as a result of a totalitarian state is not corrupting the opinions of the people; the citizenry simply feels powerless to change their own government. “55% of Africans say corruption has increased over the previous year,” and thus if citizens continue to accept corrupt governments, democracy may go backward as unaccountable leaders seize more power, ending up with a state similar to that in “The Ceremony” (Afrobarometer Round 6, 14). At that point, powerlessness will translate to blind loyalty, paving the grounds for the return of aristocratic rule in Africa, with dominant parties again infiltrating the minds of its citizens, stripping each one of their self-identity.

While demonstrating the interplay of loyalty to party ideology and the acceptance of corruption in an extreme and almost comical fashion, “The Ceremony” provides an exploration of the themes’ relationship from the perspective of a single citizen. Combining this narrative focus with the overall concepts demonstrated in contemporary African politics allows for a greater understanding of how dominating parties and their ideologies are able to coerce support, even without the use of outward oppression. The psychological oppression alone can help justify the continued victories of dominant political parties even in countries with free and fair multiparty elections. The dominant parties’ abilities to ingrain their ideologies into the fabric of society provides them with the utmost power to continue their rule. Widespread corruption becomes viewed as irrelevant and is accepted because the ruling party has already defeated the opposition from within their own minds.

 

Bibliography:

Afrobarometer Round 6. Report. Afrobarometer, 2017. Afrobarometer.

Dongala, Emmanuel, and Dominic Thomas. “The Ceremony.” Jazz and Palm Wine. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017.

Dorman, Sara Rich. “The End of the Mugabe Era in Zimbabwe.” Current History, May 2018, 163-68. Accessed September 13, 2018.

Emerson, Rupert, and Martin Kilson. “The Role of the Party.” The Political Awakening of Africa. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1965.

He Who Owns Us

The following short story is dedicated to the American Conservation Coalition, an organization advocating for a greater respect of nature and supporting market-based initiatives to unleash technological innovation to power the green movement for a cleaner and safer planet we call home.

Learn more at acc.eco

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He Who Owns Us

Rural Montana

Summer 1952

Dust kicked up behind the line of four station wagons, their headlights giving off bouncing beams across the plains. Pulling into the cul-de-sac in front of the ranch house rented for the week, the four families tiredly exited the vehicles, able to see only due to the glimmering fluorescence of the moon. Suitcases, hunting gear, and rifles were placed on the cold, wet ground while the mothers began to unlock the ranch house. The odor of jerky and ammunition pervaded the summer Montana night.

The expansive hallways lined with decades-old animal heads from previous hunts contained occasional drafts of wind that rattled the locks on the doors. At night, the various rocking chairs atop the large porch swayed back and forth in the wind, creaking the wood panels in harmonic rhythm.

All thirteen children filed into a large room with seven beds, each marked by an elk or bison head above it, while the four couples occupied a larger bedroom upstairs, absent of the everpresent displays of dead animals, but lined with rifle safes and racks for hunting packs, elk whistles, and all other contraptions needed to eventually add to the collection downstairs.

The first night, the wind was cool and calm, and the moonlight flickered throughout the house. A soft rain came against the shingles like the sounds of elk strolling through tall, yellow grasses. The children slept peacefully until the sounds of boots and odors of lit cigarettes awoke them in the early morning hours. The four men were preparing to embark on their first hunt, eagerly grabbing their rifles, kissing their wives goodbye for the day, and heading off in a tractor-pulled wagon.

As the hunters disappeared into the horizon of flowing, yellow grasses, the children excitedly rushed to the kitchen for breakfast at the scent of smoked venison. The sudden rush of the children shook the delicately furnished room, causing elk heads to tilt on the walls.

The children discussed their ideas for exploring the outdoors surrounding the ranch house, quickly coming to a consensus that they would play “Cowboys and Indians” with their brand-new toy guns. The children playfully ran around, taking turns at “shooting” each other, with hardly a sense of violence; they were simply innocent kids mimicking their favorite actors in the Westerns on television.

The return of the hunters brought a stench of death; the children were indifferent to it since their fathers had hunted all their lives. That night, as the hunters pulled a trailer weighed down by the addition of three elk carcasses through the tall grasses, the children decided to play hide and seek inside the house before dinner.

Annie, the youngest child on the ranch at five years old, meandered through the downstairs, searching for a spot only she could fit in. Eventually stumbling on a shaft once used for laundry, she squeezed her way high enough into it as to not be seen through the opening. The chamber was dark, occasionally lit up by a flickering candle in the hallway. In a brief moment of candlelight, Annie saw a small red marking on the wall. Squinting, she attempted to decipher its resemblance. She heard her brother coming down the hall, eagerly searching for his first victim of hide and seek. She shut the panel of the chamber. Darkness. The footsteps got louder, but Annie didn’t panic. Her senses were animalistic, like those of prey being hunted by men.

Three of the children hid under their beds in the large room, unable to seek better shelter in time. They were found within three minutes. They were motionless and unresponsive to their capture, each lying perfectly straight under the mattresses, heads directly under those of the animals on the wall. As the one brother discovered them, three distinct episodes of bleating rang from the direction of the hunting grounds. Suddenly, all three awoke, each immediately gasping for air as if being drowned. Pulling them from under the beds, the brother noticed a small, red marking under each of their left eyes, appearing to resemble antlers.

The room began to shake in sporadic increments as if heavy footsteps were coming closer. A few hunting plaques on the walls fell rapidly to the ground, while the heads above the beds loosened, rattled, and squeaked due to the scraping of wood against tattering wallpaper. The three mounts above the beds being used for hiding tumbled to the ground, shattering the antlers across the floor. The three marked children grabbed pieces of the antlers, placed them in their pockets, and walked out of the room single file, the wind of their exit extinguishing the candle nearest the door.  

***

The second night, the wind was sporadically gusty, causing one of the rocking chairs on the porch to fall over. The noise startled the four couples, hurrying to seal the windows shut to prevent any further disruption. Downstairs, the children twisted and turned, recklessly trying to find comfort amidst occasional racket. Three of them, those with the antler pieces, lay perfectly flat, heads facing the ceiling, eyes wide open, almost forgetting to blink.

***

“The wind knocked o’er some mounts down ‘ere Helen,” one of the hunters shouted upstairs as he checked on the children the following morning.   

“I’ll get a broom, I’ll get a broom, darlin’,” replied his wife. “Don’t ya worry ‘bout the pieces. Ya better get out to the huntin’ grounds before sunrise.”

The three children rose soon after the hunters left for the day, proceeding in the same direction, ignoring the tilted, rusted signs that read in chipped red paint, “WARNING” followed by “Entering Hunting Area.”

At breakfast, the mothers assumed the three children had gone out to watch the sunrise in the field, neglecting to ask the ten others to confirm the assumption.

Returning to their game of “Cowboys and Indians,” the ten children scurried around the premises of the ranch for hours on end, only heading inside to savagely gulp water from a decades-old spigot.

In the late hours of the afternoon, Annie tripped on a jutting root, face planting into the unevenly damp dirt. Her brothers carried her in like a wounded animal, her tears fueling the humid heat.

Still treating Annie’s various wounds and exhausted from hours of reenacting Custer’s Last Stand using guns with orange tips, the ten children took out a decades-old box of Monopoly. The kitchen table was empty at the time, the mothers preoccupied with sweeping up the aftermath of the previous night’s gusts and consequently, failing to recognize the lengthy absence of the three other children.

***

Later that evening, the ten children yawned over occasional sips of pink lemonade, Monopoly money scattered around. As Annie dominated the board, her thimble gracing her own property with pride, the three other children, the marked ones, entered the house through the screeching storm door. Yet somehow, they drew no attention to themselves at first. They walked single file down the hall lined with decades-old animal heads, their draft extinguishing the candle as they entered the bedroom. Only one of the children, the oldest brother, briefly peered up from his handful of pink and yellow paper bills, before refocusing on his Atlantic Avenue strategy.

Within the next thirty minutes, Annie controlled the board, and the ten children went off to sleep in the bedroom, finding the other three laying flat on their beds, the remnants of the elk mounts gone from the previous night’s incident, except that Lakota writing, “wapiti,” had been etched into the hardwood, with a hint of white, where the pieces of antlers once were. Too tired to think anything of the increasingly strange occurrences, the ten children dozed off to sleep: the youngest eight, including the jittery, celebratory Annie, onto the four beds marked by bison heads; the two oldest on the cold wood floor, with a few pillows and blankets that seemed decades-old.

The third night, the wind was violent.

Without warning or initial rattling loose, the four bison heads slammed to the floor, leaving scrapes and dents, the ten children gasping for air as if being drowned, while the three others rose quietly, left the room in single file, and headed for the back porch, where the rocking chairs fought with the wind.

Upstairs the adults struggled to barricade their windows, the trembling of the wind knocking the housewives to the floor, while the fathers cursed in the name of God Almighty, flexing their muscles to fight nature’s wrath.

Downstairs in the bedroom, the oldest brothers, flying out of their scant blankets, rushed to Annie, noticing her wounds had taken the shape of symmetrical horns, bleeding profusely into the off-white sheets. Annie’s shrieks only became worse when one of the other children kicked over a green gas lamp, decades-old, causing the sheets to go up in vibrant flames. The newly arrived light, by way of fire, displayed the bleeding arms of the eight children previously sleeping in the beds. Two distinct lines of blood flowed out, curving in perfect symmetry, on their left arms. The second-oldest brother quickly extinguished the flames with a rusty red fire extinguisher, before attempting to use what was left of the sheets as tourniquets.

On the porch, the three children grabbed the four rifles, kept outside to dry, laying in a scattered stack, almost vanishing due to the wind. They marched inside, past the busts in the hallway and into the room, single file, rifles on shoulders as if in a parade. Reaching out their right arms, and for one of them both arms, they bellowed, “wapiti.” The scars on the pale white skin under their eyes signaled four of the bleeding children, including Annie who miraculously ceased crying, to clasp the rifles and proceed into the hallway, single file.     

Just before slamming the windows shut, grunts intertwined with roaring trampling hissed through the pane. Then, the rumbling knocked the window off kilter, causing a tumultuous rush of wind and the scent of the wild to storm through.

CRASH. The ranch house shook violently, knocking down every animal bust, picture frame, and even the Monopoly box, scattering the colorful palate of worthless paper onto the floor.

CRASH. The ranch nearly collapsed at the second hit, grunting noticeably audible from below. Two of the men rushed downstairs, failing to glance down the first floor hallway to their armed children, and out onto the porch where they were met face-to-face with bulky, brown bison that seemed to have struck the ranch house violently upon arrival. The bison blinked. Large black eyes ready to attack. They charged.

The steps creaked aggressively at the movement, but it didn’t last long. Speared on the horns, the two men bled profusely onto the cold wood of the porch.

Screams could be heard from upstairs as one of the housewives slipped out of the blown open window, falling tens of feet to her death.

CRASH. CRASH. Two more bison slammed into the side of the ranch house. An upstairs bookcase, decades-old, immediately smothered a housewife. Only her slippers were visible from underneath the debris.

One of the remaining couples rushed downstairs to escape the increasingly dangerous bedroom, indicative of a war zone that reminded one father of his times in Okinawa years before. They were overcome by the trampling of four bison.

The remaining wife, managing to evade the moving bison, headed for the downstairs bedroom, wishing to find her children unharmed, but instead finding four rifles aimed at her chest, before dropping to the ground at the sound, in perfect harmonic unison, of the gunpowder exploding.

The father, deeply confused at everything he was hearing—rumbling footsteps, occasional shrieks, thumps of bodies, and snaps of gunshotssprinted down the stairs and out the door, grabbing a set of keys to a station wagon that hung gently on a bulletin board near the ranch entrance. With no regard for the safety of his children, especially his youngest Annie, he ran. He ran. It was the longest thirty yards, over the dark mud, that he ever ran.

Inside the downstairs bedroom, the two oldest children were too busy treating the bleeding of the other younger ones to even comprehend the shooting that just took place. Blood was everywhere.

The station wagon wouldn’t start. Brrrrt. Brrrrt. The engine tried hard, especially under pressure from the adrenaline pumping father, but it didn’t turn over. He managed to turn the battery on, awakening the radio and the headlights, immediately revealing an odd sight in front of him. It was not the four sprinting bison he diligently managed to evade in desperation, but the slow, quiet approach of his youngest daughter carrying his prized hunting rifle. The confident manner in which she held it surpassed the strength, intelligence, and determination norms of a five-year-old.

“Honey. Honey. Oh my sweet Annie what are you doing with that?” he asked in a confused, yet pleading voice, through the windshield.

Raising the rifle, Annie’s wounds again opened up, trickling blood from her arm to the rifle.

“He owns us. He owns this land, not you,” Annie announced fervently.

“Who owns this? Who owns this land, Annie? Annie put that down. Annie! Who owns this?” he shouted desperately.

“Tatanka,” she whispered.

The shot shattered the windshield, leaving a single bullet wound in her father’s forehead, blood trickling down on two sides, in the shape of a horn.

Annie dropped the rifle into the dirt and slowly wandered toward the hunting ground, disappearing into the night.

The car battery began to falter as she left the premises of the ranch.

***

A few hours later, chirps of birds rang out in harmonic unison, and scurrying sounds of animals’ footsteps steadily set to their own tempo echoed for miles over the horizon of flowing, yellow grasses, a continuation of the natural beauty that had once been, until recent decades, untouched for thousands of years.

The rugged cul-de-sac, deteriorating under moonlight, sat poised with the occasional beating of flag grommets against a metal pole, tossed around helplessly in the wind. It was dark. The only light emanated from the short-circuiting, dim yellow flickering of a station wagon headlight. The sound diminished as the sporadic clicks blended with the muffled voice of Tony Bennett on the static radio.

Over the Years: A Brief Summary of My Political Journey

My first political memory was of the 2004 presidential election, and from that point on, politics became my obsession. I remember asking my fellow preschoolers whether their parents were supporting Bush or Kerry. By 2008, after reading articles about different issues and how elections worked, I had a slightly better sense of where I leaned politically, but not enough to have legitimate conversations about them.

In 2010, Massachusetts had a US Senate election; I wanted to see what it was like from the grassroots, so I begged my mom to bring me to the Scott Brown’s campaign office in Framingham. When we got there, I was enamored by all the big signs, phones, and optimism that gave the office a unique charisma.

2012 was the first national election that I followed religiously. I remember talking with my friends at school, which taught me firsthand that most kids don’t care about or understand politics. I learned more every day by reading and talking to adults, two activities crucial to my understanding today.

Governor Charlie Baker’s victory in 2014 cemented my desire to understand and be involved in the political world. He embodies collaboration and compromise, and I respect how well and effectively he manages the state government. During his governance, I have become involved in state politics. I’m able to understand why certain Democrats chose him over their own party’s nominee, and why many conservative Republicans didn’t vote for him at all. I know which towns lean one way and which towns swing. I’ve learned how to navigate the vibrant emotions of election season when I interact with voters.

Today, I’m involved with elections, legislation, activism, and engagement. I’ve learned how to address certain crowds of people depending on their beliefs and how to effectively testify for a bipartisan bill I support. I’ve learned how to encourage youth to play more active roles in their communities. Combining all the small “talents” I’ve picked up along the way creates the talent of being a successful political activist. That’s my greatest talent, and I’m still just getting started.

Put the Phones Down

After placing our usual order of half parmesan garlic and half medium buffalo wings, my friend reaches down to grab his phone, pauses, and looks up at me. He says, “I’m not forgetting about the no phone policy, I just have to text my dad real quick.” I laugh and say, “no worries.” My friends like to joke that I sound like their mothers when I essentially call them out for using phones while we’re out to eat, but they’ve come to understand its importance and appreciate its effect. While checking Instagram is fun and looking through sports scores can be intriguing, it’s always bothered me when it happens in the presence of others and in a place meant for human interaction.

Human beings are social creatures. Through time, eating has been a chance for humans to share stories and laugh about whatever they desire. But over the past decade, this tradition has slowly faded, much to my dismay. It bothers me deeply, in a way that I can’t completely explain in words, because words, like texts, can only convey so much emotion compared to the physical communication with another human being. Looking over at a friend and sharing laughs fuels me in an indescribable way. So every time I order some wings, I know it’ll come with an hour with my friend to fully enjoy what makes humans truly happy: the presence and interaction of another without the interruption of technology.  

Politics: Misconstrued and Underdiscussed

Sounds of excited students awaiting Christmas vacation rang throughout the lobby as my friends and I were debating the future role of the U.S. in Afghanistan, health care reform, the role of government in general, and even how young people would affect the presidential election just eleven months away.

Suddenly an idea popped into my head. “This should be a club that has an actual classroom and set topics.” Not only would founding PolitiX Club provide a better space to engage in political discourse, but it would also educate less politically aware students. The election was always a hot topic, but when it came to discussing actual policy, many students were unexposed to the current facts and proposals from various sides of the political spectrum.

As club president, I was torn between topics week to week. Some easy topics were sure to attract many more students, those that were certainly popular in the halls of a high school: gun control, abortion, and marijuana legalization. But what about the role of the US in a foreign genocide, the ramifications of net neutrality, and the intricate details of the tax code? “That’s too boring,” many would say when I announced one of these topics on a Monday afternoon. I believe what made these topics “boring” was that they were underdiscussed, nuanced, complicated, and required deep exploration of detailed facts to discover where one stands on the particular issue.

While club attendance was lower when we broke down tax rates and deductions, it was this type of underdiscussed topic that created productive and insightful discussion. Coming in with a fresh mind, unable to pick a verbal fight, allowed students to form their own opinions and have meaningful discussions. But, outside the walls of our club’s classroom, these crucial discussions were rare.

It’s always seemed counterproductive to me that at school, a supposed center for academic learning, real world awakening, and productive discussion, politics is suppressed. It’s like an evil spirit that lingers among minds and builds barriers of distrust and separation. It causes fists to clench and mouths to seal shut as verbal opinions stick to the tips of tongues. The unwritten rules and taboos dominate in the spirit’s presence, often overpowering it and keeping it away, creating an ignorant fantasy that the tension doesn’t exist.

Political conversations are not easy. It’s safer to bring up football scores or tell childhood stories over Thanksgiving dinner. But how productive and necessary are those conversations compared to politics? The foundation of our American republic relies on openly discussed political ideas. Our system exists to promote the rights and will of the people, but the people often choose communicative security over freedom and progress. Our own representatives in Congress often choose to only promote bills in line with their own party ideologies in order to pass easy and quick “solutions” because they’re terrified of admitting they’re wrong, and terrified of bipartisan dialogue and compromise.

Progress cannot occur without widespread and productive discussion. Politics has the ability to save and improve lives; it affects every single one of us, and ignoring it only allows others to dictate our lives and futures. It’s my mission to empower my generation to become active citizens and to enlighten young people of the immense capabilities we have to progress if we simply discuss politics openly and collaboratively.

I created PolitiX Club at my school to provide students with a firsthand, positive experience of discussing issues affecting our generation. From creating our own gun-related bills to discussing possible compromises on health care reform, PolitiX Club has boldly lived true to its mission. Empowering the youth and encouraging political activism is my passion because I firmly believe that my generation has the capacity to become a leader of progress in the world. Bringing this passion to my own school community and eventually college will help inspire my peers to learn, understand, and engage in a way that cannot be taught in a traditional classroom.

Contacto europeo y la psicología de (des)igualdad

The following essay is an investigation into the psychology and historical context behind how the natives’ perception of the Spanish determined the outcome of the encounters rather than the physical capabilities of the Spanish.

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Aunque los conquistadores de España tenían armas más avanzadas y educaciones más formales que los indios que querían conquistar, el resultado de la conquista dependía más de la conciencia de los indios que las capacidades de los españoles. Las primeras impresiones de las españoles eran más importantes para el éxito de los indios. Si los indios hubieran visto a los españoles como si hubieran sido iguales, los indios habrían tenido una mayor probabilidad de victoria. El estado psicológico con respecto a la igualdad daba a los indios una confianza necesaria para controlar su destino. Pero, si los indios hubieran creído que los españoles eran dioses y eran de una clase inexplicablemente superior, los españoles los habían conquistado con inmensa fuerza y brutalidad.

Es muy impresionante y extraño que Hernán Cortés y sus 500 hombres fueran capaces de derrotar a un imperio con una civilización sofisticada y una fuerza militar. Esta hazaña provoca una investigación sobre cómo los españoles ganaron. Cuando los españoles llegaron por primera vez a Veracruz, el rey Azteca, Moctezuma, envió a Cortés un manto religioso del dios Quetzalcoatl. Porque Cortés pensaba que el manto era un regalo, se lo puso. Sin embargo, los aztecas creían que el portador del manto era el dios y por lo tanto, Moctezuma y los aztecas creían que Cortés era un dios. Además, los aztecas no estaban familiarizados con el impresionante arsenal de las armas y los barcos españoles. Los aztecas creían que la tecnología superior tenía que ser de los dioses (Our Worldviews). La creencia inmediata de clases diferentes causaba que los aztecas actuaran sumisamente. Además, los miedos de los ciudades estado les causaban aliarse con los españoles. Estos ciudades estado odiaban a los aztecas y por lo tanto, ellos ayudaban a los españoles debido a un objetivo común de derrota también (Our Worldviews). Si algunos ciudades estado no quisieran juntar con los españoles, Cortés mataría a los líderes y demostraría su potencia de fuego. Por lo tanto, la creencia de los españoles como dioses proporcionaba a los españoles una multitud de aliados. Eventualmente, Moctezuma permitía que Cortés visitara Tenochtitlan para una reunión. Moctezuma proporcionaba lujosos alojamientos y trataba a Cortés con tremendo respeto (Our Worldviews). Moctezuma físicamente tenía el poder para matar Cortés y sus hombres, pero su estado psicológico le daba a Cortés la ventaja. Cortés era consciente de su reputación. Él sabía que los aztecas creían que era un dios. Por lo tanto, Cortés aprovechaba las falacias psicológicas de los aztecas y capturó Moctezuma. Para terminar la conquista, Cortés regresó a Tenochtitlan con sus aliados Tlaxcalan y Texcoco (Our Worldviews). Si los nativos hubieran reconocido inmediatamente la amenaza que los españoles planteaban a todos los nativos, los nativos habrían prevenido las alianzas que ayudaban a los españoles a continuar su conquista. Además, si Moctezuma se hubiera dado cuenta que Cortés era un invasor y un humano, habría matado fácilmente a Cortés y sus hombres para acabar la conquista y preserva el imperio azteca. El estado psicológico de la desigualdad determinaba definitivamente el resultado de la conquista. Los aztecas no estaban en desventaja, pero ellos pensaban que estaban en desventaja y por lo tanto, los españoles podían brutalmente conquistar a los aztecas con solamente 500 hombres españoles.

En Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias, Bartolomé de Las Casas describe la brutalidad y la conquista violenta de los indios en las Indias. ¿Tienen los indios verdaderamente la desventaja o sus impresiones iniciales y miedos psicológicos impulsan a los españoles a la victoria? Los españoles descubren las Indias en el año 1492. Las Casas describe a los indios como “naturales gentes” que implica que los indios no son ni sofisticados ni educados. También, este es el primer viaje europeo al nuevo mundo y por lo tanto, los indios no son conscientes de la identidad de los españoles. Las Casas describe a los indios como los “más humildes, más pacientes, más pacíficas y quietas, sin rencillas ni bollicios, no rijosos, no querulosos, sin rancores, sin odios, sin desear venganzas” y esta descripción demuestra que los indios no asumen que los españoles son una amenaza (Las Casas, 12-13). Porque los indios no tienen contacto previo con los españoles, su estado psicológico es pasivo. De hecho, los indios creen que los españoles son dioses porque Las Casas dice, “los tuvieron por venidos del cielo,” (83). Esta creencia no disuade a los indios de luchar contra los invasores como en la situación de los aztecas, sino la creencia causa a los indios asumir que los españoles no quieren hacerles daño. Por esto, los “españoles, por su crueldades y nefandas obras, han despoblado y asolado y que están hoy desiertas.” (Las Casas, 54-55) Los españoles no tienen resistencia porque los indios no pueden comprender que los españoles son humanos y invasores crueles. Si los indios reconocieran inmediatamente que los españoles quieran hacer daño, los indios serían capaces de dar alguna nivel de resistencia. Pero, esta situación es otro ejemplo de un estado psicológico de desigualdad e ignorancia que provoca una brutal derrota para los indios.

En la mayoría de los encuentros entre los españoles y los nativos, los indios no tenían conciencia de la meta de los españoles y no estaban preparados para defenderse. Pero, hay algunos ejemplos notables cuando los indios ganaban. Después de colonizar Puerto Rico, Juan Ponce de León llegaba en Florida. La tribu predominante en la área era los calusa (Indian Country). Willie Johns, un historiador para la tribu seminole de Florida, dice “They were civilized, really.” Profesor Jerald Milanich dice, “Ponce de León twice encountered indigenous people on the east coast, where he likely took captives to serve as guides and to get information.” Los encuentros anteriores daba a los indios un presentimiento de la meta de Ponde de León. Porque los indios eran civilizados, ellos podían comunicar los presentimientos anteriores a toda la tribu. En esencia, los calusa eran preparados para contacto futuro. Milanich dice, “The calusa proved to be a match for the Spaniards. They refused to cooperate.” Por eso, “early attempts at nearby settlements flopped.” (Milanich) Aylsa Landry, la autora del artículo, dice “The tribe had a chief, a complex government and a warrior class, and it thwarted Ponce de Leon’s efforts to infiltrate.” Estos hechos demuestran que la consciencia colectiva de los calusa en relación con la meta de los españoles les permitían defender su tierra. Claramente, los calusa no pensaban que los españoles fueran dioses. Ellos estaban dispuestos y preparados a combatir los españoles. Ocho años después, Ponce de León devolví a Florida y de nuevo encontraba los calusa. Los calusa acataron los españoles rápidamente y le dio a Ponce de León un flechazo mortal (Indian Country). Este encuentro fortalecía la victoria de los calusa sobre los españoles y demuestra que el conocimiento colectivo de los calusa permite que una tribu con armas inferiores venza a un imperio con armas mejores.

Después de la expedición fallida de Ponce de León, Pánfilo de Narváez llegó en la costa oeste de Florida con 300 hombres. Los indios en el área eran hostiles y por eso los españoles viajaban al norte. Eventualmente, ellos encontraron el territorio de los indios apalachee (Wikipedia). Esta decisión demuestra que los indios apalachee sabían la meta violenta de los españoles porque los españoles habían atacado la Florida en el pasado. Narváez se cansaba de la expedición porque los españoles no descubrían el oro y fueron atacados por los indios. Los españoles construían balsas para volverse al mar vía el interior. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, el segundo a cargo, dirigía una de ellas. Esta balsa se separaba de las otras y cuando llegaba en la costa, la historia de primera mano de Núñez de Vaca empieza (Wikipedia). Núñez de Vaca describe, “íbamos desnudos, y el frío que hacía era muy grande,” (Núñez de Vaca, 13-14). Esta descripción revela la humanidad de los españoles porque están sufriendo. El sufrimiento indica que los españoles no son dioses y no proponen una amenaza a los indios. De hecho, los indios exhiben compasión humana. Núñez de Vaca relata, “Los indios, de ver el desastre que nos había venido y el desastre en que estábamos, con tanta desventura y miseria se sentaron entre nosotros, y con gran dolor y lástima que hubieron de vernos en tanta fortuna comenzaron todos a llorar recio.” (Núñez de Vaca, 36-39) Aunque los indios no tienen información anterior de los españoles como los indios en Florida, el reconocimiento de los indios que los españoles son humanos permite una victoria en esencia para los indios. Ellos no combaten los españoles, pero mantienen su territorio y aun cuidan por los españoles como resultado de compasión humana. Los indios tienen un estado psicológico de igualdad desde el principio, y por eso esta tribu permanece en contacto antes del contacto europeo.

Los enfrentamientos entre los indio y los españoles tienen muchas semejanzas con la guerra asimétrica entre el talibán y los Estados Unidos en la guerra contra el terror. El talibán claramente tenía una desventaja tácticamente, pero ellos creían que pertenecían a una religión superior y que estaban cumpliendo​ ​la voluntad de Alá. Por lo tanto, el talibán tenía un estado psicológico que eran personas superiores aunque el ejército estadounidense era superior militarmente. El talibán tenía una motivación radical y este estado psicológico le daba algunas victorias sobre una superpotencia mundial al igual que los indios.

 

Article: Students push for education about government

Excited to get behind House Bill 2016! Here is the link to the article.

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While I firmly believe that our generation has the capacity to become a leader of progress in the political world, students must be aided by civics education and engagement. Without an apt knowledge and understanding regarding how our political system works, it will be very difficult to make the changes needed for progress and cooperation in the years to come.

Written Testimony in Support of Massachusetts House Bill 1582

Proud to have publicly testified in support of this legislation. Below is a transcript of the written testimony.

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Joint Committee on Revenue

Testimony in support of H.1582, An Act establishing a college tuition tax deduction

Chairperson Michael Brady, Chairperson Jay Kaufman, and members of the committee,

The Teenage Republicans of Massachusetts and the Youth Conservatives of Massachusetts strongly encourage the approval of H.1582, an Act establishing a college tuition tax deduction.

House Bill 1582 establishes a college tuition tax deduction that allows the individual (whether it be student or guardian) paying the tuition to deduct 50% of the cost of in-state public college tuition from their income.

As we high school students gear up for college, affordability and possible debt linger on our minds. We all value our education and seek to extend it to the college level, but many students our age across the Commonwealth simply cannot afford to attain that high level of education. We believe that government should strive to make a public college education cheaper through a bipartisan approach of tax deductions, not free tuition.

At the core, House Bill 1582 is a reward for students who choose to invest in their education and future. Students that choose to attend the public institutions in Massachusetts should be rewarded because they are generating more revenue for the state by staying here. While this tax deduction does not dramatically lower the cost of higher education, it still has a positive impact. For example, the current in-state tuition at UMass Amherst is $15,411 per year. As a result of this tax deduction, the individual paying tuition would save $392.98 per academic year, which would total $1571.92 over four years if there are no changes in tuition costs.

This tax deduction can be a deciding factor in choosing a public school versus a private school meaning there is a possibility that it would bring more revenue to the state. This bill incentivizes students to stay in-state for higher education, thus further pushing Massachusetts’ education system higher than it currently is (ie. makes it more competitive and successful).

Another positive effect of this bill is that the money that is saved by the students will either be put in the bank or reinvested in the economy while providing the students or guardians with more monetary flexibility without reducing any funding going toward the school directly.

Ideally we would support the 20% college tuition tax credit (S. 1590) to further enhance economic flexibility and college affordability, but we understand that in the budget’s current situation this credit would result in too much lost revenue for the state.

Ultimately, this bill serves as a bipartisan compromise that can appeal to those who want to provide relief from college costs as well as those who want to lower taxes.

Today more than yesterday, and yesterday more than the day before, students and their families are burdened with student debt. It is often reflected in our friends, our families, our neighbors, and our communities. Student debt has become a fundamental component of society, and therefore these struggling families ask you as legislators to aid them in a reasonable manner.

This bill incentivizes use of our public schools, allowing maintenance and growth, keeping Massachusetts at the forefront of education. As our schools continue to collect the unaffected cost of tuition, they will be able to further invest in on-campus developments.

This bill drives achievement, and achievement is bipartisan. We kindly ask for support of this bill regardless of political affiliation so that we can deliver common sense higher education reform to the people of the Commonwealth.

Sincerely, Mike Brodo, Brandon Fontaine and Samuel Leone