Saturday, May 30, 2009

To Believe in America


"My Weekly Say"

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.
-- Declaration of Independence

Marriage Equality. Affordable Housing and Equal Citizenship for Katrina survivors. Equal Justice under the law – and Equal Access to the Bench.

I’m just going to deliver the punch line here: I believe in America, damn it. I do.

This was another in what has been a series of weeks – or consecutive news cycles – packed with significant political and historical moments. For many, the disappointments seemed to mount as the week progressed – or regressed.

And while many an eye was trained on domestic developments, debacles, and distortions, the world scene appeared to move in fast forward. Innocent civilians in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan struggled under the weight of suicide bombings, evacuations, street wars, “legitimate wars”, drug wars and (as yet) undeclared wars. And as many of that country’s civilians continued to suffer in dire poverty this week, North Korea’s leaders tested bombs with the strategic and political foresight of a teenager armed with M80 firecrackers.

Yet news coverage, and my unofficial poll at the barbershop, showed that America’s antipathy still begins, and generally stays, at home. My Facebook page demonstrated the same trend. That’s where I came across words from our Declaration of Independence this week. A friend, one of the most brilliant minds I know, thought it a good idea to toss out a little somethinsomethin’ from the founding fathers, who had a few good ideas about liberty and freedoms, despite their tragic confusion about the incompatibility of these ideas with the act slaveholding.

Many folks have been trying to pick up on a bit of that lofty liberty mojo recently. Last week, while defending his argument that torture is kinda un-American and just plain wrong, our President took a whack at reminding folks of the nation’s founding principles by planting himself in front of copy of the constitution at the National Archives.

(This was a relief, actually. I’d just assumed the previous administration had burned all of those.)

Apparently, he was trying to underscore this whole idea that such behavior is – wait for it – outside the bounds of our founding (and defining?) documents. Poor thing. It’s like he’s never read the Patriot Act.

And really, I’m not sure how successful he was. This week, my barber trimmed me up during a rather lively discussion on President Obama’s fair-to-middling transparency on such matters.

Her comments - and I quote: “I’m for torture. I am, if it will save the country. And if you don’t have the stomach for it, step aside, and I’ll handle it.”

For Torture? Seriously? Is this a new T-shirt slogan? (Please don’t answer that).

Don’t get me started on racial history, and black folks, and lynching, and Jim Crow, and torture. We just don’t have time this week.

But really: For Torture?

I know what you’re wondering. But no, Rahsul wasn’t at the shop. He still hasn’t gotten back to me on the math’matix for Malcolm and Lorraine.

But back to the point. This week made it a little harder than usual to believe in America.

The California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, continuing the ban on same-sex marriage in the state. Apparently, the Court found that a tyranny of the majority makes sense. Want to cast a vote to restrict the lives, privacy, and full citizenship of others?

That’s sensible, if you're not particularly hung up on the Bill of Rights.

Sort of how it would have made sense to let the people of Kansas vote on whether they liked the idea of school desegregation, rather than going through the whole hassle of Brown v. Board of Education.

True, many in the legal and activist communities predicted this outcome. Still, I'd hoped the Fourteenth Amendment would carry a little weight in the deliberations.

This was not a test America should have failed.

It was a stinging, timely reminder that the same hatred and silence that killed 15-year-old Sakia Gunn in an anti-gay hate crime still festers, even as we commemorated what would have been her 20th birthday.

We owe Sakia, and the many children like her, a better America than this one. But so far, we’re still missing the mark.

This week also brought news of the ejection of thousands from FEMA trailers in Louisiana. The substandard, formaldehyde laced, unreliably built structures have been the cause of illness and bizarre accidents for years now. Yet for many families, who battled fate and the elements for months before receiving the late-arriving monstrosities, FEMA trailers became homes. And as they filed paperwork, fought with insurance companies, and jumped the hoops of inadequate government programs, many began to realize the relief wasn’t coming. The reconstruction wasn’t happening. The insurance wasn’t paying. They weren’t getting their lives back.

And now, they can’t go even back to those damned trailers.

*Credits: C. Cole, Los Angeles Times;
LaTrice Dixon; Shawn Poynter.

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