This morning on Mackinac Island, Michigan the temperature was a beautiful 68 degrees. Wild daisies held tightly to the last of their summer glory and the leaves of maple trees were slowly turning colors in anticipation of fall. A freshwater breeze was in the air. All was right with the world, this weekend, as Republicans attended the 28th Biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference.
Beautiful and serene Mackinac Island has a rich history in more than one respect. Originally inhabited by the Anishinaabe-Ojibwe tribe the island served as a gathering place where elders would meet and discuss events and plans. The area was rich in fish, fur and natural resources. Inevitably, this attracted early European settlers who kept the name Mackinac, after the Objibwe word Michilimackinac, (meaning the Great Turtle) and along with it- they kept the island too. Natives to the island were driven out, leaving only the new white Anglo-Saxon tenants.
Soon the island became a pleasant place to escape native America’s growing pains. The french built missions designed to convert and “save” the local Indian tribes. It was a refuge from violent French-Indian battles. Both french and British settlers also came to Mackinac for the lucrative fur trade, dealing in Indian-trapped beaver, muskrat, otter, and fox pelts. Money was to be had from the area and entrepreneurs abounded.
Mackinac Island also played a role in the American Revolution. In 1754 the British believed that a fort on the island would prove a defensible location; remote and surrounded by bluffs. Though many battles took place on the island the British held their fort until the war of 1812, when they were forced to relinquish it to Americans.
It’s important to know and understand the history of Mackinac, not because of it’s popular tourist appeal or because of Michigan’s influence on our nation and economy. It’s important to learn about Mackinac Island because the area’s history is a direct reflection of what Republicans attempted to do at their conference this weekend, take, escape and avoid.
During and soon after the Civil War, the island quickly became a popular resort destination and Mackinac’s business switched to tourism. The healthy environment and beautiful scenery attracted white visitors weary of war and eager for relaxing vacations. How nice for our Republican leaders of today to escape and avoid the dull and disgusting issues and realities of a collapsing economy and crumbling union in nautical themed hotel rooms at an average cost of $240 per night.
The median annual household income of the 523 actual residents on Mackinac Island is $50,536. Surely it was nice for Republican politicians to dine on fish and attend seminars like “The Press: How to Handle and Survive” while far away from Michigan’s largest city, Detroit, with a whopping median household income of $28,069. How nice it must have been to sit around one of the historic mansions or hotels, while in that largest city, 300 miles away, the average house costs $18.000. How relaxing to be away from things like reality, racial diversity (the island is 75.72% white and 0% black), and poverty.
Mackinac Island also has a long-standing history of anti-Semitism. How interesting that people who represent and encourage those who call our nation’s leader a Nazi and wield posters of him depicted as Hitler are gathering on an Island that did not allow Jews to visit until the late fifties. Jews were told they need not apply for even the lowest paying serving positions at Island clubs with signs reading “Gentiles Only Please.” Noted fascists and anti-Semites frequently spent leisure time at Mackinac Island hotels, including but not limited to Henry Ford Sr. and Father Charles Coughlin. The place was a refuge indeed.
Everyone deserves an opportunity to get away, from the minimum wage worker to the President to anyone in between. It’s curious, though, when the Republican party seeks out a place with Mackinac’s history for their retreat and rejuvenation. It seems the “party of no” is also the party of “no clue” and “no perspective”.
Today was the last day of the conferance. Attendees enjoyed a lovely brunch and of course a “non-denominational” church service. Wonder how many shaloms could be heard.
SARA MANN is a Chicago-based flight attendant for a major airline and lives in her hometown of Rockford, Il. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org