In America today, who speaks for the many?

(PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

(PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Human history traces one simple question, “Who speaks for the many?”

 Centuries show examples of brute leaders, disjointed committees and fragile democracies. Populist gadflies become heroes or villains. Hungry people rise to greatness, then fade into the mist.

On the Mesabi Iron Range, the smart and powerful bought the land, but the workers paid the price. Then one day the workers rose up. And again. And again.

One-hundred years ago, in 1916, more than 10,000 miners affiliated with the International Workers of the World started one of the region’s most historically significant labor strikes. Though it ended unsuccessfully, the Mesabi Strike of 1916 sufficiently intimidated the mining companies. Enough so that they strove to avoid future strikes by offering improved wages and working conditions. In time, the bosses would even deal with the unions.

If you’d like to know more about that, the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm will unveil its new temporary exhibit “Enough! The Mesabi Strike of 1916” this Thursday, Nov. 10 at a reception from 6-8 p.m. The exhibit will be up until July 2017.

But the question remains. Who speaks for the many?

Who are “the many” today? You need only observe the people of our community as they go about their business, picking up something quick at the Wal-Mart or dropping off someone important at the school. Some are miners, but most are not. Who speaks for them? I doubt they’d agree.

Here I must mention that an election approaches in just 48 scant hours. Oh, how we have waited for this day! Uncertainty rules supreme. So many answers are sought in the imagined election returns of Tuesday night. For how long the candidates have told us how they, and only they, have spoken for the many.

But do they know who the many really are?

In an Oct. 4 New York Times Magazine story, Binyamin Appelbaum asks “Why are politicians so obsessed with manufacturing?

It’s not that manufacturing is unimportant. But traditional blue collar workers epitomized in the 1950s still hold disproportionate sway in presidential politics, despite a very different modern economy.

Here in Northern Minnesota, we are rightly concerned with mining. It remains our biggest industry, even as its workforce shrinks dramatically. But that leaves a question that I’ve asked in this column before. If there are fewer miners than any time since most Iron Range towns were founded, where do most people today work?

They work in service sectors, health care, child care. Most of them make much less money than miners. These are the many now.

Appelbaum points this out:

“Many home health aides live close to the poverty line: Average annual wages were just $22,870 last year. If both parties are willing to meddle with the marketplace in order to help one sector, why not do the same for jobs that currently exist?”

Insurance premiums are skyrocketing for certain parts of the middle class. Some blame Democrats for creating insurance exchanges, while others blame Republicans for not being willing to make reforms to those exchanges. But why don’t we pay our health care providers directly? Could we not subsidize them, and not insurance companies? Why is that not, at minimum, part of the discussion?

Why is early childhood and support for young families not a unifying issue the way military spending is?

Again we argue about programs like Social Security, Medicare, welfare and student loans. It’s so unfair that THOSE people get money and I NEVER DO. Partisans point fingers in different directions. So why aren’t we exploring guaranteed minimum income, a flat benefit for all, the way center-right parties in Europe are now?

Nope, we missed our chance to talk about those ideas, and dozens of other issues. Because we were distracted. We were fixated on the pathos of American politics, forgetting that this is a country only works when voters and leaders alike stick to their values, not their prideful emotion.

We must consider a very real danger. It is entirely possible that Tuesday’s election result will not relieve those most burdened by the injustices of life on Earth. Certainly not by the midterms. It’s hard to imagine that this ugly rift cut into America’s hide will heal so quickly.

But the question remains. Who speaks for the many?

Only the many, in their many voices joined as one. If not this year, then the next. Or the next.

Only time.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


  1. No mention of Obamacare in your skyrocketing health insurance premium comments. Now that’s curious!

    • Obamacare is a government-backed exchange of private insurance plans designed to encourage access to health care. The insurance companies set the premiums. There’s more to it, sure, but I was talking about the problem, not the political buzzword.

      • Obamacare IS the problem. Yes Aaron, insurance companies set the premiums but the premiums are based on requirements. And Obamacare set the requirements….and as your buddies Dayton and Clinton said recently – Obamacare is “no longer affordable” and “the craziest thing in the world”.

        Obamacare is not some political buzzword, it’s the law. And I’m still waiting for my $2,500 check Obama promised me when it was passed.

  2. David Gray says

    Given that we appear likely to elect someone who is a real danger to take us to either a large war or many small wars perhaps we’ll have something else to discuss.

  3. You certainly predicted that one, David…a perfect picture of the president -elect.

  4. No, I was fairly surprised.

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