Whose mug shot on the currency?

Realizing that it will be impossible to drag out the Reagan funeral ceremonies until Election Day, the new PR ploy the Republicans came up with is to put him on our currency. On Madison Avenue this is called “subliminal selling.”

The symbolism of putting him on the dime, now adorned with FDR’s visage, is a little too heavy-handed. FDR was put on the coin because of his leadership during World War II, but also because it was under him that we got some of the safety nets that Reagan and his followers proceeded to dismantle. Ousting FDR to put Reagan in his place would thus be, in a sense, appropriate – trash his policies, oust his image – but it might make people think about these things. We can’t have that, now can we?

Somebody said Alexander Hamilton should be kicked off the $10 bill and Reagan substituted. But now they’re talking about ousting Andrew Jackson from the $20 to make room for Ronnie.

Jackson was a Democrat, the first U.S. president to identify himself as such. I don’t remember how he got on the $20 bill in the first place. Jackson was arrogant, violent tempered and pro-slavery. His detractors called him “King Andrew I.” Hamilton was killed in a duel, but Jackson has the distinction of being the only U.S. president who killed someone else in a duel (before he became president). But the worst national memory of Jackson is his brutal expulsion of the “Five Civilized Tribes” from their homeland in the southeastern U.S., a traumatic migration in which thousands died from exhaustion, exposure and hunger. These tribes – the Cherokee, Muskogee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole – had done nothing to merit this rough treatment except that they possessed land which some white people, Jackson’s people, wanted. So Jackson drove them out, clean over to Oklahoma. When the Supreme Court declared the State of Georgia’s initial expulsion of the Cherokees to be unconstitutional, Jackson shouted “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!” Then he used his federal authority to kick out all five tribes. So in my opinion, ousting Jackson from the $20 bill is a good idea.

But replacing him with Iran-Contra Ronnie? With the “spinach is a vegetable” Gipper? No way. Notice that on our major currency, there are no women or minorities represented, except for Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea on not-often-seen coins. This is not because we only put “dead presidents” on the money – Hamilton and Franklin are on currency, and they were never presidents. It is because rich white males rule here.

I say, oust Jackson from the $20 and replace him with a minority and/or a woman – one who fought for justice. Poetic justice would be to replace him with Tecumseh, the Shawnee war leader who tried, but failed, to warn the southeastern tribes that people like Jackson would be their ruin.

Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King or Cesar Chavez would be good candidates.

And why stop with the currency? It is a rotten shame that the city of Gary, Ind., bears the name of the hanging judge from the Haymarket Trial. Re-name it as Du Bois or Robeson, Ind., and perhaps its fortunes will have an up-tick. In Evanston, north of Chicago, there is a Custer Street, which should be changed to Sitting Bull Street.

Look around your hometown and you will see that the symbolism of naming things is linked to the way power is held and exercised in society. Though most things are named for white males, you will have to search hard to find a Eugene V. Debs Federal Building or a John Reed Avenue or a William Z. Foster Branch Public Library. The symbolic code reflects the material reality, and is designed to convince the average person that the social order is natural and immutable. By fighting to change the symbolic code, we undermine, in some small way, this mystified version of reality. Let’s do it!



Emile Schepers is a frequent contributor from Chicago. He can be reached at pww@pww.org.