Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Today is a day to remember
And you stand there
Before the cool stone monument
And pictures form unbidden in your mind
Of explosions
Of bodies
The faces of friends
Alive and dead
And the lonely notes begin to fill the air
Your eyes sting
Your heart stiffens
Each note brings it back
And you remember why you fought
What you shared with comrades
Before you picked up your weapons
And entered the fray
And as the last plaintive notes
Of that soul-wrenching tune
Waft through the air
You give thanks for having known them
You give thanks for having survived
And you hope
That no one else need suffer and die
In the defense of freedom

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Newest Challenge to Civil Rights

While the glow from Barack Obama's victory continues to wash over the nation, and pundits begin rhapsodic waxing about its significance, or deliver postmortem reflections on why the McCain-Palin ticket lost, the day brought to a head another issue that has been flying under the political radar this election cycle: gay marriage.

It was not a significant issue during the Presidential race and other than a few notices in the news about Proposition 8 in California, there was little play. Even some of the most prominent homosexual people in California did not seem to start taking it seriously until the very end, as the date of the referendum drew nearer. The hew and cry that one would have expected turned out to be a petulant whisper. In the end, 52% of Californians who voted decided that it was best to amend the state's Constitution to keep same-sex couples from having a basic and primary right that all people should be able to share.

This has led the other 48% who voted against the measure, and a good portion of the rest of the nation, scratching their heads. How could this happen? In California of all places? And with a black man set to become President?

It came about because as causes go, this one has not been high on anyone's list. There is a lackadaisical feeling in California -- perhaps it's due to the sunny weather, the presence of Hollywood, the liberal tinge to the air, or just because it's California. Whatever the reason, that feeling tends to make it hard to drive them to the necessary level of histrionics required to get people to pay attention, and makes it a breeding ground for groups who can succeed in showing the necessary fire to get their message across.

And so, the fundamentalists of California worked harder, for longer, and with bigger war chests, and convinced a majority of the population that this was a good idea. And 52% bought it. And so, 18,000 couples, so happy just a few short months ago at being able to consummate their love with holy matrimony, now sit nervously and wonder what this all means for them.

Let me start by saying it was execrable amendment. Though couched in gentle terms, the effect was quite clear: to keep homosexuals from "sullying" the institution of marriage. How can a man and a man or a woman and a woman actually love each other? Don't they understand how unnatural that is? Don't they see that God hates them, and they should not be allowed to make an abomination by being joined in marriage?

Such thought is, without a doubt, putrid and malfeasant. It is the same level of rationality that allowed the Salem Witch Trials to be held, and innocent women and men convicted of witchcraft by the most nonexistent evidence imaginable. It is the same thread that allowed white men to enslave black men and women. It is in the same vein as the ideas of euthanasia and racial purity. It is the foulest breath of bigotry, for it exists as nothing tangible except naked fear of the unknown. And while slaves have been freed and women emancipated, the homosexual person has always been alone, "in the closet." Feared. Loathed. Misunderstood. Homosexuality is still treated as some ephemeral disease that a cough or a touch may transfer.

And it is in that scope that the forces in favor of Proposition 8 worked, making sure that people knew that if homosexuals were allowed to marry, it would be the social equivalent of the "Coming of Days." Unreasonableness and fear were allowed to run loose, unchecked and unchallenged, until it was too late.

Now there is much hand-wringing and recrimination. How could this happen? Why didn't more get done? Where were people who cared about this?

First, it is time to put this shameful event in the past. It is done, and no amount of wishing can undo the voting. Second, it is time to analyze the failure. The simple fact is: the fundamentalists wanted it more. They worked harder. They worked everywhere. They raised more funds and spoke louder and longer to people. The did everything that the Obama-Biden campaign did, but to more sinister ends. Third, it is time to look ahead. So, it has become a law. But laws can be made, and they can be unmade. An amendment to a Constitution can be repealed. Laws can be challenged on merit and on civil grounds. Forces can be aligned to repair the damage. What bigotry and idolatry can do, reason and righteousness can undo.

So now it is time to organize. It is time for the forces that should have been aligned against Proposition 8 before now to come together, to work together, and to build the machinery necessary to challenge this unconscionable violation of the civil rights of homosexuals. This must be elevated in people's eyes, so that they see exactly what is being condemned: couples, human beings, who love and are devoted to each other, who want to foster that love and to provide love to others. People, being denied a basic right, because it offends the sensibilities of zealots. Let this fight begin anew. Let the words rise up from the valleys and soar over the peaks. Let this be the last time any group in this country faces such blatant hostility and discrimination. Let the 21st Century in America be known as the Century of Enlightenment and Decency, rather than as a decent into madness.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Day After

Not unlike the plot of the post-nuclear war movie, yesterday saw an attack on Republicanism of mammoth proportions that swept over the country from coast to coast and laid waste to an electoral map that was all but set in stone in the two previous Presidential elections. It came out of the cool Autumn sky and thundered down around those who had for eight years thought themselves immune to the vagaries of American politics, upsetting apple carts and devastating bastions of conservatism. By the wee hours of the next morning, all that remained was rubble, shattered dreams, dashed hopes, and a leader capitulating from his desert stronghold.

So, what now?

The leader of the attack, the man who promised change, and brought it last night, said it best:

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.

It is not enough that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, for that does not automatically absolve us of the sins of slavery, bigotry, and Jim Crow. It is not enough that he cut across party lines and forced states long thought to be Republican fortresses to yield to the force of his convictions. It is not enough that he is strong, forbearing, patient, and magnanimous. For what was done yesterday was not the start of something new, but the unleashing of something inevitable, the release of the titanic forces of pent up frustration and desire that had been written into the Declaration of Independence with the following statement:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

That simple statement, which launched this great nation, reverberated and echoed in every vote cast on November 4th, 2008. The governed, having determined that it was time for a change, brought about that change, and in this case, the ballot was mightier than the sword, for no shots needed to be fired to bring about this new revolution.

And still, it is not enough.

For having secured this victory, this statement that we can and will fix things, we must now accomplish change. And we cannot do it as fragments, pools of Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, black, white, Hispanic, Jew, agnostic, et. al. -- we must do it as one. As President-Elect Obama so eloquently put it:

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

And so now, the true task of change begins. Our support for Obama must spread forth, to encompass all those around us, of every race, every station, every persuasion. We must lean down, look those who lost in the eye, reach out a hand, and ask them to come with us and help us. If they refuse, so be it, but we must extend the olive branch. We must mend fences. We must stand shoulder to shoulder, if change is what we truly seek. There is no reason why all of us cannot benefit from what is to come, from the Wall Street investor able to make all the money they want, to the victim of foreclosure being put back on their feet and given an opportunity to start over. From the illegal immigrant given an opportunity to make a living here as a legal resident, to the abortion foe who can be secure in the knowledge that fewer unwanted babies are being born. No matter what part of life in America we come from, there is no reason that we cannot all have the peace, prosperity, and happiness that our Constitution provides us.

It will require hard work. It will require vigilance. It will require lowering our mutual suspicion and hostility. It will mean admitting we are wrong, that we have made mistakes, that we have misjudged each other. It will mean being a bigger person than some, and tolerating outright hostility.

It will not be easy.

From this moment forward, we pay for this election with a commitment to ensuring that we participate fully in the great experiment that is Democracy, whether it is voting in every election, writing our Congressmen, asking hard questions of our President, or simply giving what we can to others who are in need. The cost of this victory is high, but the reward is higher, as long as we do not stop, do not take a rest, do not stand on our laurels. Celebrate now, and embrace this truly historic moment... then realize that tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, and every day thereafter will require even more work, time, and sacrifice. Do not stop paying. Do not stop participating. Do not let the winds of change fall still.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Longest Day

This is the day before the most historic election of our time. Tomorrow, those who have not already voted, will pour into polling places and cast ballots, in what will no doubt turn into a knock-down, drag-out race that we will not know the winner of until Wednesday morning. With that in mind, it reminds me of the night before Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Europe in June 1944. On the one hand, you had the German forces, vigilant, awaiting an invasion that was inevitable, but not knowing where it would be or when. And the Allies, men by the tens of thousands crammed onto ships of every type and in airplanes overhead, keyed up, nervous, trained to a fine edge, ready to hit the beach and begin the end of Hitler's reign of terror over Europe.

No one knew what the morrow would bring. Could thousands upon thousands of men and their tons of supplies be brought safely onto a French beachhead, and could that wave of men and material make it off the beach and in-land? Could the Germans hold the Allies on the beach long enough to bring up armor support and destroy the invaders piecemeal? What would the casualties be like? Who would live and who would die?

We face that uncertainty now. For all the preparation, all the phone calls, all the voters registered, all the signs, placards, and rallies, what will happen tomorrow? Will voting machines break? Be tampered with? Will people vote who should not? Will people not be allowed to vote who should? Will the floods of people seeking to vote lead to hours-long lines? How long will the counting take? Which states will be the true battlegrounds?

No amount of preparation and rehearsal could prepare the men who hit the beach of D-Day for what happened. Some things went right, some went horribly wrong. In places the Germans were well prepared; in others, they fired hardly a shot. Masses of men were felled, dying without so much as bring their rifle off their shoulder. Landing craft were blown apart. Tanks sank in the English Channel or were torn apart on the beach. Organization melted away, and men had to dig in and take control in ones and twos, often with no one to lead them. By the end of that day, the Allies had their foothold, one they would not relinquish.

And so it will go tomorrow. There will be skirmishes. There will be fights. There will be broken machines and choked polling places, and paper ballots. And then, slowly, the crowds will clear, the polls will close, and the votes will be tallied.

Tomorrow, our country will be different, no matter the outcome, for this campaign has cast that difference in stark relief. A great portion of our nation is prepared to move forward, step away from the nation we have been the last 225 years and take us forward into a new age. Many are unsure. Some are scornful. A few, closet anarchists, unhappy with any outcome which forces them to confront their true "beliefs." There will be joy. There will be sorrow. There will be anger. But there will be change.

And so, like those men 64 years ago, we wait. We wait, secure in the knowledge that we have done everything we could as individuals and as a nation to prepare. That when the ramp drops, we will surge into the teeth of the maelstrom, brandishing our votes as we cross the beach and struggle toward the high ground. And when the day is done, and the shock of the day has worn off, we will be able to lean back and know that we accomplished something, a great something, something that will forever change our destiny.