1672: Women on 20s
This comic portrays a series of press conferences with a US Treasury spokesperson (different from Cueball in the first panel as he has a bit of hair). The panels after the first summarize and ridicule the recent controversy over the upcoming redesign of US currency. The dialog between the US Treasury and reporters is paraphrased for comedic effect, but the events depicted are otherwise factual (including the punchline).
American currency has only once had a woman as the primary portrait on paper currency (Martha Washington was on the $1 Silver Certificate in the 1880s and 1890s), which is widely seen as a real problem. A large-scale petition was organized which advocated replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with a woman, to be chosen by public voting. The Trail of Tears is a reference to the forced re-locations of Native American peoples that Andrew Jackson conducted during his presidency. This is now seen as a human rights violation on a massive scale and is presented as a reason why Andrew Jackson should not be honored on American currency.
The timing of the release of this new bill with a woman was to be scheduled with the 100-year anniversary of Women's suffrage in 2020 and should thus preferably also be on the $20 bill.
The voting process selected Harriet Tubman, a 19th century abolitionist and a major figure in the Underground Railroad system which freed American slaves. Cueball is seen to be clearly pleased and excited about this prospect in the first panel, where he votes for her first, among several other options.
The list shows that Cueball chooses Tubman first representing the generic everyman and thus represents the about one in five that choose her first. But he may select up to three out of the fifteen selected candidates.
- The other two women he chooses are:
- Eleanor Roosevelt, an American politician, diplomat, and activist. She was the longest-serving First Lady of the United States, holding the post from March 1933 to April 1945 during her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt's four terms in office. She became the runner-up in the vote.
- Rachel Carson, a pioneering environmentalist who is most famous for her book Silent Spring.
Since Carson was not one of the options for the final round, where only four were selected (the other two were Rosa Parks, 3rd; and Wilma Mankiller, 4th), it is clear that Cueball was already voting in the primary ballot, where Roosevelt actually came in first.
At this point, bureaucratic and political complications arise. The Treasury Department announces that, instead of replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, she would replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. The reason given is that the $10 bill was scheduled for redesign first. A reporter asks why they can't simply change the schedule, but doesn't get a clear answer.
There is a suggestion from "Steve" to put Martin Shkreli on the $5 bill. Shkreli is a pharmaceutical executive and hedge fund manager who provoked controversy when he acquired the rights to an anti-parasite drug and raised the price by over 5000%, making it unaffordable for many people. He became known as "the most hated man in America". Naturally, Steve's suggestion receives short shrift, not least of which because it's a violation of Treasury policy and US law (as Shkreli is still alive). This may be the same Steve who messed up both 809: Los Alamos and 1532: New Horizons.
The plan to replace Hamilton likely seemed like an uncontroversial decision at the time. He was not especially well known among the American public and few people had an emotional attachment to his legacy. However, this changed abruptly when a Broadway musical about his life came out and become massively popular. By total coincidence, this play creates a flood of interest in Hamilton right at the time the currency decisions are being made and makes replacing his portrait politically complicated. The spokesperson suggests putting both Hamilton and Tubman on the $10 bill, but the reporters are clearly unhappy with this solution, probably because it seems to dilute the recognition being given to Tubman.
Finally, the spokesperson announces that they will put Tubman on the $20 bill, but their schedule demands that they do the $10 bill first. They decide to put a "mural to women" on the new $10 bill to try and contain the tension until the new $20 bill is released. The reporters say that the Treasury has total control over the release of currency, so the simpler solution is just to change the schedule, but they apparently ignore that suggestion.
In the final panel, the spokesperson mentions that Jackson's portrait will still appear on the new $20 bill, seriously weakening the symbolism of replacing him and adding irony since Jackson was a slave owner. This is likely an effort to head off the complaints of traditionalists but is seen here as an unfortunate attempt to avoid taking a real stand.
In the title text Randall reiterates that this is a rare case in politics in which there's a clear and simple solution. The Treasury has the authority to redesign currency, and a petition to Congress could change the release schedule to fit their needs. That makes all the compromises and backtracking unnecessary: they could simply replace Jackson with Tubman and hypothetically release the new $20 bill whenever they choose. Randall appears frustrated with the artificial constraints that are holding back what should be a simple and straightforward process although he does acknowledge that it takes time to evaluate the security of a redesign's resistance to counterfeiting.
The mention of the "weird pyramid eye thing" is a reference to the Eye of Providence, which is an old and that appears on the US $1 bill. Randall seems to be using this as an example of the outdated and frankly strange design of American currency, the implication that using that on all US dollar bills would constitute giving up on ever having a design relevant to the modern world. Also by replacing all portraits with this image, there would no longer be any gender controversy.
As of 2020, progress on updating both the $10 and the $20 has stalled, with the Treasury stating that no new changes will be unveiled until 2026.
- [Cueball is sitting at his laptop. Above him is the text he reads on the screen, then he speaks, and below that text is the list of women from his computer showing his three picks, each with a gray "drop-down menu" triangle to the right of the names. Below this, is his final spoken line. At the top of the panel is a small frame breaking the top left border with a caption:]
- Website: Petition: Replace Andrew "Trail of Tears" Jackson with a woman on the $20 for the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in 2020.
- Cueball: Hey, good idea!
- Vote for your three picks:
- 1 Harriet Tubman
- 2 Eleanor Roosevelt
- 3 Rachel Carson
- Cueball: Tubman for #1, definitely.
- [An executive from the department of treasury, with a wee bit of hair on his head, stands behind a lectern. On the front of the lectern the top part of the image inside the seal for the department of treasury is visible inside a circle, showing the scales and the tip of the triangular band beneath it. The rest of this image is hidden below the panel frame. There is text written above this image. At the top of the panel is a small frame breaking the top left border with a caption:]
- Treasury Executive: After a flood of public interest, the Treasury has decided to feature a woman on our money!
- Offscreen voice 1: Yay!
- Treasury Executive: She will replace Hamilton on the $10.
- Offscreen voice 1: Yay-- wait, what? Why not the $20?
- Offscreen voice 2: Are we mad at Hamilton?
- Text above the seal: Treasury
- [The executive with a hand on the lectern is seen from the side.]
- Treasury Executive: The $10 was scheduled for the next redesign by a board made up of-
- Offscreen voice 3: Can't you just do the $20 next?
- Treasury Executive: We will review the...
- Offscreen voice 3: *Sigh*
- Offscreen voice 4 (Steve): Put Martin Shkreli on the $5!
- Offscreen voice 5: Shut up, Steve.
- [The executive lifts both hands, the one over the lectern points a finger up. Again seen from the side. At the top of the panel is a small frame breaking the top left border with a caption:]
- Later in 2015...
- Treasury Executive: Wow, some musical came out, and now suddenly Hamilton has tons of fans.
- Offscreen voice 6: So do the $20 next. Problem solved!
- Treasury Executive: Maybe he and a woman can share the $10!
- Offscreen voice 6: Are you serious.
- [The executive, again with a hand on the lectern, is seen from the side. At the top of the panel is a small frame breaking the top left border with a caption:]
- Treasury Executive: We've decided to put Harriet Tubman on the $20.
- Offscreen voice 7: Perfect! Happy ending.
- Treasury Executive: -After we do the new $10.
- Offscreen voice 7: What?
- [The executive again from the front behind the lectern. On the front of the lectern, only the text and the very top of the circle around the image can be seen.]
- Treasury Executive: We'll put a mural to women on the back of the $10. Hopefully, that will tide you over until we get to the $20?
- Offscreen voice 8: Seriously? How is this so complicated? Just say "We're putting Harriet Tubman on the $20," then do it.
- Text above the seal: Treasury
- [The executive with hands down behind the lectern is seen from the side.]
- Treasury Executive: We'll do the $20 ASAP, but we can't change the-
- Offscreen voice 9: C'mon, your hands aren't tied here. You're the freaking Treasury. This is the one thing you're definitely in charge of.
- [The executive lifting a hand above the lectern is seen from the side.]
- Treasury Executive: Oh, and we're putting Andrew Jackson on the back.
- Three offscreen voices: What.
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