Thursday, August 19, 2010

Living at the Edge of New

I have been a political junkie since, well, since I can remember. It probably has a lot to do with coming of age with the civil rights movement; even though I grew up in New York City all our family was in South Carolina. So the dogs, firehouses, church bombings, segregated everything weren't abstracts for me. Every home in our Harlem neighborhood had Jet magazine with the photos of Emmett Till's funeral. He was fourteen when he was murdered. I was seven. As a grandchild of a Baptist minister I spent what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time in excruciatingly long church services. (Man those Baptists can talk.) Until one Sunday in 1963. Until the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. I walked away from church, and for a long time, from God. I could not reconcile a church that did not rise up as one to not just condemn with words but throw it's not insignificant weight to disown those whose hate led to such cowardice. Instead thousands and thousands of churches urged their members to "go slow, don't push too hard, too fast. These things take time." Other churches fanned the flames with fiery rhetoric and exhorted their members to stand fast, "God was on their side."

It was beyond my understanding how anyone could do such horrific things to other human beings. I could not fathom a God that would allow it.

Growing into adulthood as feminism hit its stride had a tremendous impact upon me. My first jobs before finding my path in the theater put me at the cusp of that period when the Mad Men were coming to grips with a changing America. One where women were no longer content to remain relegated to the typing pool. (Wow, technology has done away with that, huh!) It was a time where the age old expectation that a woman would go from the house of her father to that of her husband was ending. Out with the white gloves, stockings, matching purses and shoes, Sunday hats and girdles (Spanx anyone?) and in with college, our own bank accounts, a leased apartment in our own name, and careers versus a job.

The backlash against feminism was ugly, nasty, harsh, often vulgar and filled with a vitriol that I wish I could say was unfamiliar. But the absolute power of patriarchy was being challenged at hearth and home and it would not go down without a fight.

There were many lessons I absorbed from that period, lessons that I fear are lost on the generations who have followed; Freedom isn't free, someone always pays for the privileges others are able to enjoy. And democracy is not a spectator sport. My politics have been informed by seeing some of the worse that human beings can do to each other, the lengths that people and government will go to deny people basic human rights, to deny people's humanity in the process. (For example, the US Supreme Court decided that Native Americans were in fact human beings somewhere around 1888 or so. Seriously. Those highly evolved, highly educated, enlightened men couldn't recognize another human being until the nine of them got their heads together. If there isn't something wrong, a whole lot wrong with that picture, then we are in greater trouble than I thought! Two year old's grasp this concept without any help.)

It is not to give a history lesson that causes me to write this post. Rather it is an attempt to struggle to articulate something that has been gnawing at me. Our country is going through a period of incredible upheaval. It plays out in things like the uproar about a proposed Muslim center to be built in NYC near ground zero. You see it in other communities who, too, are mounting opposition to building mosques in their communities. (Right here in Georgia in fact.) It is manifested in our response around immigration of Spanish speaking peoples, primarily those from Mexico.

What this roiled up fear manifesting as the Tea Party, and other crap masquerading as free speech, what it calls up in me are echoes of voices from that other period when the status quo was being challenged. "I wasn't born back then, when those poor civil rights workers were killed. Why do I have to pay for something that has nothing to do with me?" Or, "Don't let the acts of a few filled with hatred and fear paint all of us with the same brush. We are are not all racists." And one of my favorites, "My (fill in the blank_____) marched with Dr. King and gave money to support____. Not all of us were like those others."

Conceding that they may have a point, and following that thinking to its logical extension, if we should not attribute the acts of a few extremists as representatives of the entire group, then why are we up in arms about Muslims seeking to build houses of worship in their communities?

Taken to its logical extension, the acts of some good God-fearing Christians in the 1950s under the guise of the KKK, aided and abetted by other good God-fearing Christians who did not want to rock the boat, and then in the abortion battles of the 1980s, 90s, and well into the first decade of the new millennium when a doctor who performs a perfectly legal medical procedure is gunned down in his church, then all of us have reason to mount serious opposition to the building of Christian churches. Anywhere. Period.

You cannot have it both ways. And yes, September 11th was a horrific event, a heinous act, performed by nineteen fanatics who were Muslim. And yes, slavery, and the subjugation of women, and the destruction of the African continent, the genocide against millions and millions of Africans in the Middle Passage, and the genocidal acts conducted against millions of Native Americans to take their lands and subdue their people, were all done with the blessing and support of Christian churches.

Shall we condemn Christianity the same way some condemn Islams and Muslims? That would be the only logical outcome if we are being completely truthful and intellectually honest. (Ooh, intellectual honesty and consistency in thinking? Scary stuff.)

In order to get beyond this madness and pull back from the edge of disaster, we must begin to have open and honest dialogue about the fear of the other that is at the heart of this hour of our discontent. We must call out and name as agitators, liars, shit disturbers and war mongers, those whose business it is to foment war: Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Rupert Murdoch, Fox No-news Here, and feel free to add to the list. These people care nothing for America or Americans, only those who think as they think, believe as they believe, and make them ever richer, more notorious, give them more legitimacy, credibility and power. They are more like a modern day Taliban than anything else. They are bullies. We know how to handle bullies, if you don't handle them they've been given permission to run buck wild and they will.

Although I am still a political junkie, I find that modern news media does nothing but make me go straight to crazy. They do not seek to inform, educate, or enlighten just sell ad time and fill space. Now I depend more than ever on my first love to quench my never ending thirst to learn. (Yea for books!)

I still have issues with organized religion; it too often plays to the smallness in us rather than calling upon our highest expression of the divine. (Isn't it a contradiction in terms to claim to be enlightened, spiritual, imbued with the spirit of Christ and still think George Bush and Dick Cheney were the second coming? Just saying.)

Most ministers make me itch. But some time ago I realized that God has nothing to do with this craziness; this stuff, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, fanatical religious expression, some all but believing that the earth is flat and that people inhabited the earth the same time as dinosaurs, it's all on us. Once we own up to it, then we can fix it. Not one second sooner. That's what I call Living at the Edge of New where we balance at the precipice of darkness or light, balance at the edge of a New World or retreating to our own not too distant dark ages. It is up to us.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

And Your People Came From Where?

American's seem to be going crazy these days. It feels like folks are letting all the madness, all the anger and rage, all the fear, letting all their angst just hang out with a if you've got it flaunt it feeling. The level of vitriol and sheer craziness is like that of someone who has been contained in an emotional strait jacket and has now managed to shred it to bits, is reveling in the freedom to spew all that had been held in. I mean spewing bile like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, heads doing a 360, faces plastered with a wild grin because hot damn it all to hell if it isn't feeling like this is their moment! Maybe it feels like their patience and single minded pursuit to destroy any sense of comity between white, black, and brown, between left and right, between the poor and each other is paying off. Touched off by the election of Barack Obama and a country that has never dealt honestly with its demons, they now look backward for inspiration to a more blatant period, a more openly racist environment like the 1950s, one that encouraged xenophobia and all of this hate and irrational fear is now being fueled by a 24/7 news cycle and a cowardly media.

The downside of the 24/7 news cycle plays is that coupled with the net, it is like the wild wild west, shoot first and think later. Oh, wait, wait, no, don't think, heaven forbid, no thinking encouraged here! A populace unwilling to exercise their brains coupled with a manifest destiny media plays a huge role fomenting and fermenting all this madness. Nature abhors a vacuum and the net and cable news has rushed in to fill the gap. Egged on by No-News Here Fox, and their compatriot these days Craven Clueless News aka CNN, the pot is stirred to just under a boil in order to keep their licenses. And the Andrew Breitbart's of the world know just how to take advantage of the situation.

So here we sit at the end of summer 2010 on the manic side of bipolarism being edged ever closer to the cliffs dead ahead. There are forces at work in our country, (The Bully Idiot Beck, The Would Be Dictator O'Reilly, the bad Bobbsy Twins Bachman and Palin, and the man without a heartbeat Cheney come to mind. Seriously, to keep him alive Cheney no longer has a heartbeat but then I doubted he had a heart, so I guess I was partially wrong.) that are willing to heighten the contradiction and if that means pushing millions over the cliff, then so be it. If it means painting Mexican immigrants as the other, the new N*#@^^$S, sorry about that but there are millions of folks who are good with that.

So we find ourselves at this curious place where delusional American's have forgotten their family history, let alone their US history. Seriously. All of these folks carrying signs and signing petitions, and supporting legislation to "Send Immigrants back where they came from," must think that their ancestors came over on the Mayflower, or the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. And even those who can claim that their ancestors were on the Mayflower, they too were immigrants. As the old folks would say, t'ain't nary non a them was Native Americans. (For those who need a translation, not one of them were native either!)

This great wounded seriously bipolar nation of ours is a nation of immigrants. That is a fact, not interpretation, not speculation, not revisionist history, just a bare plain fact. Either by choice or in chains, every single man jack or jacqueline with the exception of American Indians, came here from another country, from Ireland, Spain, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Poland, Portugal, France, Jamaica and the Caribbean, Sweden, Norway, the list goes and on and on. This is our adopted by-force country. Period. End of discussion.

There have been periods when America threw the doors wide open and invited folks to, "Come on in, we've gotten rid of those pesky natives, take this land out here, it's yours, for free! Yeah, there were some folks living here already but, hey, what you gonna do?" And they came, the immigrants flowed or flew in waves and waves and were not treated to parades or welcome mats at every door. Hence WOP (With Out Papers) entered the lexicon along with the Italians, and there was wetback and a slew of other epithets that all meant the same thing, "Go back where you came from." Each wave of immigrants caught on to the idea of telling those coming behind them, "Get back, go back, you're not wanted. This is for me and mine only." (From one perspective one could even say we are all an occupying force in sovereign land. Deeds, title, and broken treaties aside, the contradictions at the heart of our nation will haunt us until we confront it.)

But the opportunity back then to chart a new destiny, to create a new future for them and their families in this land of seemingly endless possibilities proved irresistible. And it does still. Sure, I hear the stupid comments, "They are taking our jobs." Really. Is that right? Well, hell if it is a job you want, then that can be remedied. Get out there with them then, show up at dawn to get in on that back breaking work, working the fields, tearing down buildings, gardening and roofing! Apparently all the work these angry American's are looking for is available for the taking except those damn people keep crossing the border, keep getting up earlier, are willing to be paid less.

It is maddening to hear relatively sane people say things like "They should speak English." Well, I can tell you growing up in New York City in the 1960s, first stop for millions of immigrants, I heard more languages being spoken than you could shake the proverbial stick at, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Polish, Yiddish, Chinese and the list goes on. Today you are as likely to hear a dozen different Middle Eastern, Asian, or Africa languages in major urban areas as not. A nation of immigrants should remember that first generation immigrants rarely make the language transition. It is the second and third generations who strive so hard to fit in, who are embarrassed by their elders who after forty, fifty, sixty years or more in the US, still can't speak English. That's just the way it is. And quite frankly many of times I've come across Americans, especially here in the South, who speak a close facsimile of English, close, but no cigar. It's a case of Pot, meet Kettle!

All of these issues can be worked out, and will be over time. If we don't lose our collective damn minds and go backwards down the rabbit hole. And if those who are relatively sane and brave are willing to confront the madness where we see it, when we hear it then we will weather this storm; we must take our country back.