Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Nov 18, 2020 in Government, Stuff You Should Know, United States

McBride Makes History

In 2018, Danica Roem became the first openly transgender person to serve in a state legislature. This year, that ceiling was further broken by Sarah McBride, who has just become the first openly transgender state senator. This makes McBride the highest-ranking transgender person to hold political office in the United States.

McBride, who is 30 years old and an activist, worked in the White House during the Obama administration, and then served as press secretary to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBTQ advocacy group. She was also the first openly transgender person to address a major party convention when she spoke at the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. McBride’s platform was largely about expanding health care access, increasing the minimum wage in the state, and reforming the criminal justice system.

The 2020 election was an historic night for the LGBTQ community for other reasons as well. In New York, Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres became the first openly gay men of color ever elected to Congress. Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, Mauree Turner became the first gender non-binary congressperson. In Vermont, Taylor Small became the nation’s second transgender congressperson, and in Kansas, Stephanie Byers is now the first transgender person of color to be elected to a state legislature.

Dig Deeper What were some other firsts in this election season?

The New Magnolia

The state flag of Mississippi has long faced controversy because it includes a Confederate flag in its upper left corner. Protests and public demonstrations have been held against the flag’s design since the 1970s. In 2001, Mississippi put the issue on the ballot, but voters chose to keep the flag as it was. Even so, many places chose not to fly the state flag, which is considered by many to symbolize the discriminatory and racist history of the state’s Confederate past. As of this summer, Mississippi was the last state to retain Confederate symbolism on its flag. But that changed in July. A new call to retire the flag was approved by Mississippi state legislators.

Over 3,000 artists submitted designs for the new flag. A nine-person commission, chaired by Reuben Anderson, the first African American person to serve on the Mississippi Supreme Court, chose the winning design. On November 3rd, the new flag design was put on the ballot. Sixty-eight percent of Mississippians voted in favor of it. The new flag, designed by graphic artist Rocky Vaughan, is called the “New Magnolia.” It has a blue center with yellow and red stripes on each side. In the center of the flag is a white magnolia blossom. Above the flower are twenty white stars, symbolizing the fact that Mississippi was the twentieth state to enter the Union. One larger gold star honors the state’s indigenous Native Americans. Below the blossom, written in white, are the words, “In God We Trust.”

Dig Deeper What is the story of your state’s flag?

Honoring Native American Veterans

When you think of the monuments on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., you may first think of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Now, there is a new monument to add to your list of places to visit: the National Native American Veterans Memorial, which opened on November 11, 2020, to honor Native American veterans and their families.

National Museum of the American Indian, located in the National Mall Washington, D.C.,
The newest memorial on the National Mall, honoring Native American veterans, is beside the National Museum of the American Indian. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-DIG-highsm-12698]

The memorial is located on the grounds of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall. It is called the “Warriors’ Circle of Honor” and was designed by Harvey Pratt, a Cheyenne and Arapaho artist and veteran of the Vietnam War. A committee of eight Native American and non-Native American judges chose the design from more than 120 submissions. The memorial consists of a carved stone drum with a large, upright, elevated stainless-steel circle balanced in the center of it. Surrounding this is a circular walkway carved with the five military seals. It also includes water features for ceremonies, benches, and four lances where visitors can tie cloths for healing. Pratt says that he designed the memorial this way so that it wouldn’t just be a work of art or sculpture for people to look at, but rather an interactive and inclusive space for visitors.

According to the 2010 census, there are more than 150,000 Native American veterans. Currently, more than 20,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives are active duty service members.

What Do You Think? Pratt says that from the memorial, visitors will have a clear view of the dome of the U.S. Capitol building. Thinking symbolically, why do you suppose this might be important?

Voting for Puerto Rican Statehood

Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1917. But what does that mean, exactly? Being a U.S. territory means that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and can move freely between Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland. But because Puerto Rico isn’t officially a state, they have no voting representatives in Congress. Last Tuesday, however, Puerto Ricans voted to become the 51st state by a narrow margin: 52 percent for statehood, and 47 percent against. Those who support statehood say that the way things are now makes Puerto Rico more a colony than a territory, because Puerto Ricans don’t have a vote in Congress and can’t vote for president. But other residents would prefer that Puerto Rico separate from the U.S. entirely and become an independent nation.

However, experts say that little is likely to change as a result of this latest vote. Puerto Ricans have voted on the issue of statehood five times before. Twice–in 2012 and 2017–the vote went in favor of statehood. But the final decision on granting the island statehood rests with the U.S. Congress. So far, members of Congress have been unwilling to put the issue up for debate. Only half of Puerto Rico’s eligible voters turned out for the recent election, so it’s hard to judge from that whether or not the idea of statehood really enjoys widespread support.

Dig Deeper Recently, the House of Representatives introduced a new bill called the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act 2020. Use Internet resources to learn more about this bill, and what it would mean for Puerto Rican statehood. Write a short paragraph about what you find