Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I don't have a dream, I have a demand...

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. That historic march, organized by legendary activist Bayard Rustin, and at which Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech, was a landmark occasion in the history of civil rights in the United States. And while I certainly don't want to understate the importance of the event, many people use the March on Washington, and the ensuing passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, as evidence that we've "made it" with regard to racial equality.
But they're wrong. We've stagnated in our race relations. In fact, with the recent Supreme Court decision striking down section 5 of the voting Rights Act, and the current and inevitable future efforts of many to restrict the right to vote for many poor and minority citizens, we're actually moving backward. Those with ill intentions continue to play on racial fears and ignorance to push forward their agendas of white supremacy and economic monopolization. We still see gross differences between the opportunities of those born into affluent families versus those born into poor families; statistics show that little has changed when it comes to economic opportunity. There are gross disparities in education and access to vocational skill-building. And while many of these issues are tied to economic disparities, in many places in American society economic inequality has been intrinsically tied to racial inequality.
It is impossible to deny that there is a problem, when black people are hugely disproportionately represented in the ranks of those in poverty, those incarcerated, those as victims of violence, and many other metrics. We need to be honest about where we are in terms of the civil rights movement. We were moving forward in the 60s. We began slowing down in the 70s. We basically stopped in the 80s. We started arguing about the gains in the 90s. We regressed and pretended that inequality didn't exist in the 00s. And now we're moving backward in the 10s.
To turn things around will take honesty, openness, and effort. It can't be only black people that push for continued progress in the civil rights movement. We need equality for all people in this country and this world; immigrants, women, LBGTQ people, the poor, the sick, those from small towns and big cities, and everyone in between. Everyone is naturally equal; it is only because of ignorance, hate, and opportunism that our society has been twisted into believing that there are differences. Those who care need to keep caring and keep moving. Things will only happen if we make them happen.

Friday, August 16, 2013

We made it...

There is a scene at the end of the movie "The Graduate" that has always stuck with me - almost haunted me. In the scene, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has just interrupted the wedding of his former girlfriend Elain (Katharine Ross) - whose mother he had an affair with - and they've escaped the angry mob in the church to hop on a bus toward "freedom". Both Ben and Elaine are gibby upon escaping the scene, but as they sit down and take even an initial stock of the situation they realize what a huge mistake they've made. Their faces move between forced smiles, awkard glances, and worried frowns.
This is what has always haunted me about that part. I've always been a "love will conquer all"-type romantic. I've always disregarded statistics and anecdotes about couples that have been in the same or similar situations as I have and failed. I just figured that "falling for" someone meant that you were perfect for each other and that things would inevitably work out in the end. But then along comes "The Graduate" and throws a wrench into that whole line of thinking. They had overcome a major obstacle in the fact that Ben had had an affair with Elaine's mother, but they were "in love" enough to believe in the moment that running off together would actually make them happy. And what happens immediately after the excitement of escape has subsided and the first tinge of reality breaks through, they immediately realize the error of their ways.
I certainly don't live my life by the lessons learned from a movie, but I will say that this particular scene has resonated with me. That's not to say I've changed my actions, even if I've changed my opinions. I still find myself falling to hard to fast for women that I should probably recognize right away will not be with me for the long term. I don't know if that's human nature, or just my nature. Maybe I'm a jump in head first type of person; so instead of weighing the pros and cons of being in the pool, I just want to know how the water feels.
There are certainly negatives associated with being too tentative in relationships as well, or being afraid of committing to someone, but I guess we've all got our baggage to haul. I guess all of this is to say that I think that scene, and specifically the look on Hoffman's face when they are sitting on that bus, is perfect metaphor for the reality of relationships throughout my life. Risk - excitement - reality. Risk - excitement - reality. Maybe one day reality will be a smile, not a frown.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Voting "rights"...

Do we live in a democracy? It's hard to know anymore. It's hard to know if we ever did. The definition of democracy is "a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system." Other definitions include terms like equality and rights. But it doesn't seem like the United States has lived up to any definition.
"In the beginning"...of this enterprise we call the United States, land-owning white men were the only people with any rights; and therefore the only people that could vote. This eventually changed to include all men. Then eventually it included land-owning former slaves. Then eventually it included women. Then eventually, with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it included EVERYONE. Well, in theory it included everyone.
Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, there has been a major effort made in several parts of the country to slowly deconstruct the bill. States have passed laws challenging the Voting Rights Act in an effort to limit the voting of racial and ethnic minorities, women, and immigrants. In addition, they attempted to discriminate against the poor, the elderly, and the infirmed. Basically, what some people in this country are trying to do is take us back to 1840 when only wealthy white men could vote.
What baffles me about this is not so much that politicians would support this; because unfortunately politicians don't seen the country (or the world) through the lens of humanity, but instead through he lens of politics. Therefore, if a politician in Alabama would benefit from the disenfranchisement of poor and minority citizens in their state, they're probably going to support it, regardless of the societal repercussions of that decision. It's not necessarily true that the individual is discriminatory (though it's not necessarily true that they're not, either), they're just opportunistic. But what they fail to realize is that their opportunism has real societal consequences that will live on much longer than their political careers. A mistrust or outright disgust for the electoral system is a consequence of that opportunism. And this is especially true among minorities and the poor.
While politicians may benefit from this narrowing of the political class, in the long run you're creating a society that hates politics and politicians, and could possibly (and will probably) one day rebel. Their attempts to keep white men on top will prove fruitless in the long run, because the reality is that old white men are dying every single day. And as the old guard of opportunistic politicians die out, we see the rise of younger politicians who, though they may still be opportunistic or even discriminatory, have to be much more pragmatic in a changing world.
Which brings us to the Supreme Courts decision to strike down section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This specific provision basically makes mandatory a review of any changes to election laws made by states that have a history of discrimination in voting laws. Congress extended section 5 in both 1970 and 1975, and again in 1982, and lastly in 2006.
Therefore, despite antipathy among members of Congress, they were willing to uphold a piece of legislation that they determined was the bedrock of equality in voting. The Supreme Court decided otherwise. The problem with this decision is that even before the SCOTUS struck down section 5, we've seen an unrelenting effort (mostly by Republicans) to disenfranchise any and all people (or rather groups) they felt would vote Democrat. There have been requirements to buy government issued IDs (essentially a poll tax), limiting of voting times, closing of voting locations, confusing ballots, etc. All of these efforts are having the desired effect of those pushing them. They're creating confusion that leads to frustration, and eventually apathy toward the electoral process.
But we can't give in this easily. If we continue to be frustrated and allow those that would disenfranchise people to win, things are only going to get worse. We're going to see more than just voting rights go out the window; but rather our civil rights as well. It's time to get mad. It's time for people who don't agree with the direction we're heading to stand in front of the tank (so to speak), to set themselves on fire (so to speak), to chain themselves to the tree (so to speak), to refuse to leave the lunch counter (so to speak). Because right now we're playing right into the game of those that want to take away rights. They want us frustrated. They want us apathetic. They want us averse to the electoral and political process. It makes it a whole lot easier for wealthy white men to dominate if no one else wants to be part of the process.
So get angry. Protest. Start a march. Write your congressman and tell them to re-pass section 5 of the voting rights act with updated numbers of voter discrimination. It's time to act. Because it's better to change things now than to wait until the change will not be what anyone expects and will have the potential to create instability.