Thursday, April 26, 2012

Take Your Child To Work

Grasp their hand tightly
As you enter the milling throng
Shunted into shiny metal boxes
Bereft of space and distance
Shuttled to the nondescript
Space that pays your bills
Show them the grandeur
Of your eight-by-eight ranch
Wrangle them into a chair
That fills precious volume
Let them see the sheaves
Of unkempt paper
Let them see the marks
Of hundreds of emails
Give them a tour of that
Lonely space within you
And burn it into their soft minds
To shun this life as they would
The thief or pirate
For here, too, life is stolen
Like so many coins
Deposited in a bank
The earns no interest
Let them know this is
Not what they want
Not what you wanted
When you, too, were
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed
And the world was full of
Endless possibility
Show them it all
That they might know the signs
Steering clear of the shoals
That would consign them
To the depths of despair

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Dead Without Redress

One person kills another. Or many others. Numbers are unimportant. What is important, is the taking of the life or lives. The act of killing is the lowering of the threshold of empathy and compassion and humanity, to the point where instinct derives its own twisted and vicious pleasure from the taking of life. For the average person, to take a life is a horror seldom mitigated, even where there is clear justification. For the soldier, who is the target of the enmity of their foe, to kill is to live another day and to ensure the survival of others in their care. For law enforcement, it is always the last resort.

Or, at least we would like to think so.

Loose among us are those who, for lack of a better referent, have subsumed killing as some type of "sport." They have defined their world such that, to kill another person, or group of people, is no more or less troubling than filing a tax return or stubbing a toe. The perceived or actual "injustices" they experience lead them to take out their rage on the objects of their envy, their spite, their hatred, in an orgasm of death that slakes their thirst for vengeance and leaves us fearful. We are fearful, because there is no sign, no tattoo, no marker that tells us who they are amongst the milling crowd.

And so, one person kills another. We hold our breath in anticipation. We wait. Wait. Wait.

Wait for justice.

We are told vociferously by many of our flag-waving brethren that we are a nation of law, and yet, too often a body is lain beneath cold soil and a murderer is untouched by the sword of justice. The admonition against killing another living, breathing person is as old as human code of behavior, found in many and varied cultures throughout our world. Thou shall not kill. That Christian Commandment leaves no margin for hesitation or error. To take the life of another is wrong, allowable in only the most extreme of circumstances. Human law is built to make that clear -- we don not settle our differences through murder, lest we pay the penalty for it.

Yet, it does not seem to work that way.

A man kills a child. Forget that George Zimmerman is a Hispanic man and Trayvon Martin was a black boy for a moment and ask yourself: stripped of race, stripped of publicity, stripped of racism, stripped of hyperbole and hypocrisy, was this right? Can it be considered acceptable in human society for a man, a self-appointed "guardian" of his neighborhood, to gun down a boy, through the provocation of his mere presence? Does that not sound ridiculous? The boy, unarmed, walking to his current residence, suddenly set upon by a strange man, perhaps even forced by circumstance to confront the man because he feared attack, is shot dead in the grass by that man, armed against all advice and counsel, violating the admonition to let the police handle it... and now layer their respective races and cultures upon that scenario and one wonders just what the law is waiting for!

If George Zimmerman were any kind of average person, the horror of the event, seeing the boy lying there dead, the gun hot in his hand, the report from the shot echoing from the surrounding buildings, the peering eyes from behind curtains, would have triggered some form of remorse at the taking of a life. The import of the event would have wound its way to the deeper recesses of his mind, would have triggered panic and guilt and remorse and the nagging dread that comes from knowing you have deprived a mother and father of their son by your own hand.

It did not.

Now he plays the victim, as if somehow Trayvon's presence or actions were enough to force him to pull that trigger. There is no shame. There is no guilt. There is not even an attempt at apology for his actions. No, there is only ringing silence, a long and growing absence of the actions a man troubled by what he did might take to assuage his guilty feelings, and the muddling around of a justice system that was built to handle events just such as this. While the roots of grass seek purchase in the soil that covers the late and lamented young boy, George Zimmerman sits and takes breath upon breath, in hiding from the actions that mark him as another symptom of the casual, anti-social bigotry that remains firmly rooted in our nation.

They who kill must stand in judgment before the law and justice must be allowed to take the day, no matter the circumstances. Where the court of law will not do its duty, the court of public opinion will take the lead, and the justice of an enraged and fearful citizenry will not be constrained by the letter of law or human decency. The clock is ticking, the torches are lit, and the low murmur of the mob grows as crickets on a Summer evening. Justice must be done.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It Is Not My Privilege

By the unfortunate accident of birth and genetics, I am ensconced atop the human social pyramid. As a white male, I am leavened with privilege to a degree I find uncomfortable and embarrassing. It puts me at odds with the world I want to see surrounding me, a world where the color of your skin is just that and nothing more, where the god or gods you worship, or those you don't, do not mark you as different, where your gender, from birth or through change, does not categorize you, where age is worshiped, and not resisted.

In short, I want a world where you are defined by who you are and not what you are.

It's hard to see the inequities of the world from my perch and realize that I cannot simply right them. Harder still, to know that I can never truly understand the unremitting stream of persecution, bigotry, and hatred so many are subject to day after day. Worse even than that, the knowledge that I cannot offer true solace to those who suffer, so detached am I from their plight.

I may not understand their pain, but I do know pain and suffering in my own degree, and I do know that a human life is reduced and degraded by the suffering of pain. If the pains of my life are relatively mild by comparison to those who suffer for their race or religion or sexual orientation or gender, I know intrinsically that if I cannot endure so easily the slights of my life, how can these people be so forced to endure what must be excruciating suffering? To know that there are people around them, who look at them with fear, loathing, and violence in their hearts... to fear that one day, they will be the victim of hideous and horrible crime, simply because of who they are. Who should have to carry that burden in this day-and-age?

To my fellow white brethren, I say this: you may feel no direct connections to the events that have transpired over human history to force these people into their daily bondage, but you and I bear the guilt nonetheless. Somewhere in our deeper past, our line intersects the lines of those who perpetrated the crimes that may not bear our name, but definitely bear the stain of our history as white people. Your hand may not have held the lash. Your hand may not have turned the knob on the gas chamber. Your hand may not have set the fire at the stake. But you and I descend from those hands that did those deeds in the name of sanctity and piety and superiority of race and religion and gender. Go back far enough, and we are connected to them, as surely as the furthest leaf from the ground on a thousand-year-old  redwood tree is connected to the deepest root beneath the earth.

If you cannot empathize, cannot sympathize, cannot see the plight of those groups who have spent the better part of thousands of generations under the heel of their tormentors, then it is time to remove the blinders privilege has placed over your eyes. For while that oppression may not be as overt as it was in darker times, it is still extant, especially where we dismiss or downplay the anger and frustration of those who have been oppressed. We cannot expect them to simply "play by the rules" when we continue to keep them at arms length, even though there is no reason to. To react in horror when they dare to contradict us or denigrate us is the acme of our privilege; we have no business denying their pain and anger simply because it offends us. If anything, that should be the signal that we need to stop dictating conditions and start listening to their stories.

A world based on true equality starts, not simply with raising up those who have been relegated for so long to the gutters, but in stepping down ourselves from the pedestals we have lived on for so long. True equality starts when we eschew the security our white race and our male gender hand us, and allow ourselves to be cast into the milieu that we held ourselves above for so long. It needs to start now, because to maintain the convenient fiction that it has always been thus, so it shall always be so, is the last conceit of the privileged before the gates are flung open, the walls are knocked down, and all is wreathed in flames. Let us not allow human society to burn, such that all that remains are charred ashes to be buried under the sediments of time.

Friday, April 6, 2012

If Not War, Then What Would You Call It?

It should come as no surprise that Reince Priebus -- Chairman of the Republican National Committee -- is fully unaware of the onslaught of attempts by Republican legislators in state legislatures and in Congress to limit and/or strip away the rights of women to make their own choices about what they do with their body. It turns out that in his eyes, the whole thing is a fabrication:

“If Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that the Republicans have a war on caterpillars then we would have problems with caterpillars.”

So... There you have it. The constant barrage of laws and policies designed to strip away already existing rights, marginalize others, and basically take women's complete liberty and freedom away from them is something the Democrats came up with.

Let's just see...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Promised Land

The man had a dream, a dream he did not live to see. This day, April 4th, 1968, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was laid low by an assassin's bullet. The man who had worked tirelessly to raise people of color up and out of the mud that white America continually forced them to wallow in, the light and fire of a people's righteous indignation, the scion of non-violent protest in the name of justice, was taken from us by the bigotry and racism he fought. No power on Earth could shield him from the determination of hatred to see him struck down.

The night before he died, he uttered the stirring and prophetic words that have since become iconic:

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"

One believes The Promised Land that Dr. King saw was that which he outlined in perhaps his most famous speech: a land in which people of all races and creeds could live in harmony. He had a vision of the future that -- to him -- was as palpable as the pressure of the collar of his shirt or the weight of a Bible in his hand. Somehow, some day, he knew it would come to pass. He was also sure he would probably not live to see it.

That this man saw the future so clearly is testament to the vision that some human beings, harnessing the native power of cerebral intellect, can will into existence in their own minds, laying aside the dark fears, incongruities, and instincts built up over millions of years in more primitive parts of the brain. Not given to fear or to hate or to prejudice, he extrapolated forward and saw the world that would come to pass, and saw his role in bringing that world into sharper focus. Fortified by the words of The Bible, girded for battle in a cloak on nonviolence, the man would will that world into existence, if he could. He laid out that vision, in the hope that others would recognize it, clutch it to their chests, incorporate it, make it their own, and help propel humanity forward.

It is sad to say that we seem no closer to The Promised Land now than we were that day in Memphis. The election of President Obama, which might have been seen in another light as a true representation of our progress, only served to highlight how much work still remains. His election awakened the ghosts of April 4th, and let them loose to vex us once more. Our nation is now locked in a desperate struggle against the forces of intolerance and bigotry once more, and these enemies of all that is human are even more entrenched and brazen. The hangman's noose has been replaced by the 9-mm automatic. The poll tax has been replaced by voter identification requirements. Slavery has been replaced by the prison cell. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to pick up the baton that fell on that horrible day. It is time to show that Dr. King's faith in humanity was not misplaced. It is time for us -- each and every one -- to lead the way to The Promised Land.

Monday, April 2, 2012

If It Means What It Says

It becomes increasingly clear, that there are forces within the United States who are bent on the reversion of our nation to a state of puritanical and parochial existence, such that none may have the inherent, inalienable rights one is born with, save at their whim. At every juncture, at every turn, they seek to tear at the fabric of open, honest liberty with medieval precision, purveying fear, giving in to greed, and fed by self-righteous fury at those who would dare speak against them, as if they come wreathed in unquestionable Solomonic wisdom. They warp the meaning of the hallowed documents that form our nation, to build up their own "patriotic" facade, even as they make  shambles of them, all in the name of American "exceptionalism."

There is nothing exceptional in hypocrisy and being holier-than-thou.

Even now, states across our country seek to limit the rights of women, seek to deny the LGBT community their rights as citizens, and seek to place the imprimatur of Christianity on a nation founded on the precept of division of Church and State. They stand against anything that works toward the benefit of the whole nation, where they would be asked to sacrifice something of theirs to provide for others, a very Christian notion in and of itself. They look down upon anyone who does not work, and then look down upon them again when they do. They are prepared to take what everyone has worked so hard for and flush it away in an orgy of self-congratulatory fiscal prudence.

It is madness.

Our nation is caught up in a torrent of bigotry, racism, sexism, narcissism, homophobia, ignorance, and blind hatred the likes of which could be seen during the Dark Ages. A nation founded on individual freedom and liberty, steeped in the expansive leanings of The Enlightenment, built to give its citizens full power and faith in their government, is being wrecked, internally, by covetous, pandering, fear mongers who are determined to drag the bulk of the citizenry before their version of God and pass sentence, denying us our legal rights and trampling on the precepts of democracy in the process, all in a vainglorious attempt to prove their piety.

This iteration of our nation is nothing that Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, Washington, or any of the Founders would recognize as a product of their handiwork. The trappings would seem familiar, but the atmosphere in the halls of Congress would lead them to believe that bedlam had replaced discourse, and that the "united" in "United States" was being paid lip service in the name of partisanship and self-righteousness. Even among the many, varied, and sometimes divisive opinions held by the Founding Fathers, consensus could be reached for the good of the whole nation, or it would not even exist.

If the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States mean what they say, that we are a nation conceived in liberty, that the general welfare is paramount, and that the rights of the individual are inviolate save where the greater good of all citizens is involved, then the current wave of right-wing attacks on individual liberty and freedom goes contrary to what this nation is supposed to be. We recognize that each of us has the right to be who we are, and make decisions for ourselves, save where there are larger considerations. Our nation cannot become slave to narrow-minded thinking, to muddled intellect, to religious fervor, to absolutism, like so many other nations have. Our flexibility, our diversity, our strength of purpose, are our greatest assets; where we fail as a nation is in denying them.

No woman should be told what she can and cannot do with her body by another person. No two people -- where the government says it holds the right to so legislate -- should be told they cannot seal eternal love for one another in matrimony. No black person should have to walk down the street in fear that they will die for no greater offense than to have been born with their skin. No immigrant to this nation -- here legally or not -- should be treated as less than a human being solely for the desire to provide a life for their family. No person, of any stripe, should be told that because of who they are, they may not take full advantage of all the rights and privileges of American citizenship. No American citizen should be denied the right to vote, merely because they cannot produce an ID card.

If the words that were written in support of our nation mean what they do, then it is time to stop the witch hunt, time to bring down the prejudices, time to rectify the injustices suffered by so many in our nation, as opposed to furthering and deepening them. America cannot support and defend the cussedness of intemperate and backward thinking any longer. For the nation to grow, we must move forward, ever forward, not remain mired in the past. Stagnation leads to death, and so noble an experiment as America was conceived to be, should not be killed by the very people who benefit from its existence. The hypocrisy must end. Our nation must rise to become the nation it was always meant to be.