Lose the Labels

We in the United States are stuck in a word quagmire these days, a quicksand-like atmosphere where we can’t even slog along for all the mud on our boots. Everywhere you turn, people are talking, yelling actually, and yet what is actually being said? We slap a label on something and draw lines. Don’t you dare step on the other side. We have created otherness to the point that it’s like walking in a carnival funhouse, only without the fun.

And what about these labels? Where do you and I fit in? Are you a libtard or deplorable? Are you a nasty woman? Are you sexist, racist, and a xenophobe? Are you a poot, a faketriot, a conservative, a tea bagger? What exactly do these designations mean? What are they saying about us, both the speaker and the recipient of the label?

When we label someone, we don’t have to consider their ideas. We just summarily dismiss them. What about the kernel of truth in what the “other” is saying? You know there is one. By labeling and dismissing, we are missing out on a chance for dialogue and understanding. We can’t all know everything about the issues, and many of us don’t have time to delve deeply, so we respond off the cuff, reactionarily, to maintain our personal status quo. But who is that hurting?

Beyond the initial personal sting to the recipient, it’s hurting us as a country. It’s weakening our integrity. It’s the water in our joists that softens the stability, providing the perfect substrate for the ideological termites and divisive carpenter ants to eat away at it. One day soon we will look up to find the walls are caving in. Then will we stand back and try to figure out how to fix what we’ve destroyed?

This American experiment in democracy is a beautiful thing. We all have a chance to get involved, but we have to allow others their opinion and their right to vote. We must attempt to create understanding based on logic and empathy, not divide with fear, innuendo, and intimidation.

This election is nearly over. We are all dissatisfied. Can we at least agree on that? Let’s figure out why. We were given two candidates whose character has been called into question, affecting their ability to lead. We had other choices. Whether you agree with him or not, Bernie attracted a huge following, a groundswell of support from the people, similar to Donald Trump. Unlike Trump, however, his personal ethics were never called into question. His integrity was sound. This is the type of person we should look toward to lead us as a country. It’s too late for us this time, but we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We have work to do.

How can we help good leaders rise to the top? First, get big money out of politics. The mostly unseen influence of just a few voices has given us legislators who work for them, not us. Groups like Represent Us are fighting this corporate corruption at the ground level. Second, step back and consider what people are saying, from those at the top to your neighbors and family members. Each of us has issues that are really important to us. We might need to just agree to disagree on some things because what’s really happening is that while we, the people, are distracted by our infighting, someone at the top is bankrolling lobbyists and influencing politicians, creating a country that benefits him, but not necessarily us. How do you think that will affect our future conversations?

In addition, a separation of church and state would be nice, not just from a constitutional standpoint, but from the view of those who don’t toe the line with the conservative right. Some of us who have been silenced by our own faith-based organizations really believe in the tenets of Christianity, especially that of loving our neighbor as ourselves, even if that neighbor is gay or Muslim or fears for their child’s safety when they walk out the door in the morning. Sticking fingers into politics sullies the message and highlights any and all hypocrisy. Is that the light you mean to shine?

This is our country. We are fellow Americans. Our citizenship, our day to day struggles define who we are. We are not more or less American based on the number of flags we wave or whether we kneel during the national anthem in quiet protest. We can fight injustices without fighting each other.

Let’s unite these United States.

Are you with me?

Side note: My son just informed me that John Cena scored a 36 on his ACT. Wow!

Shut Up and Listen

Photo credit: Kitt O’Malley via Foter.com / CC BY

I’m walking through life with a heavy heart these days. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Terrorism. Brutality. Hate. Division. It’s hard not to think that this is the end – of tolerance, of brotherhood, of America, of humanity. The assassination of police officers in Dallas, Texas last night had me mourning from my rural Oregon hometown, but even before that, the video of the latest police shooting of Philando Castile yesterday left me heartbroken. Still, to watch officers hustle protesters to safety while they ran toward danger was something we needed to see. Most police officers are not bad cops.

White America, what they say is true. We cannot comprehend the extent of what is called white privilege. I grew up in this privilege. I lived in a relatively safe area. My dad grew up poor, but that didn’t stop him from entering the military or going to college. It didn’t dictate where he eventually lived or how accepted he would be by his neighbors. He was able to give us all of the things this experience offers. Safety. Accessibility to jobs and education. The ability to walk most areas without being questioned.

I married into a Mexican family and was shocked at the treatment of my relatives and continue to be shocked at the racism and xenophobia even some of my acquaintances thoughtlessly throw out on social media. Don’t they understand that when they spout racist comments, they land on my children, who incidentally are friends of their children, where they burn like acid rain?

My husband also grew up poor. He came to the US and got permanent residency. He worked his way up, and I mean worked. He learned the language. He learned business skills. He never took government assistance and always gives to those in need. He coached soccer for our son’s team and was loved by the other parents for his kind heart and egalitarian spirit. Yet he is still discriminated against because he’s Mexican. One time we called the sheriff because someone had thrown a rock through our car window, and the sheriff asked him for his social security number. Really? I can honestly say that’s not happened to me before.

To be white in America gives us an instant in. We don’t have to prove ourselves, at least not with other whites.

Part of my life experience was going to college in Portland. I went to a mostly white school, but I was friends with a couple of African-American students there, one of whom became one of my best friends. (Cliche, but true in my case.) We had countless late night conversations about our experiences and worldviews. I was welcomed into their homes and their neighborhoods. I was respected as a friend and not looked at with suspicion, yet if you’ve ever been the standout white person in a non-white world, it’s an otherworldly experience. I gained insight into how my friends might have felt, the inability to blend in or fly under the radar in the group. What if that group didn’t respect you? What if you were looked at with suspicion? My mind began to be opened because I was willing to listen.

I saw, through my friend, many instances of discrimination and the reaction of white people, the dismissal of the feelings of inadequacy that accompanied it. Oh, people aren’t really racist anymore. You’re just imagining it. Yet the fact that she and I could go places together and have very different experiences was telling. It opened my eyes. Yes, racism still exists in America. Yes, we still need to fight together to combat it.

My husband continues to plow forward with his stellar attitude, treating people with kindness and winning some over in the process, but I see him when he comes home. It’s exhausting. It’s like being a missionary to the masses. He’s selling his heritage, his culture, to people who want to send it all back and build a wall to keep it out. He’s the person who makes white Americans think that maybe Mexicans aren’t so bad after all. Ask yourself why he has to convert them in the first place.

Are there people who genuinely accept my husband or anyone in his family as part of the human race without labeling them as part of the Mexican race? Sure, but they are few and far between. It’s a sad reality, but it’s our reality, and so we soldier on. What else can we do?

I think it’s really important for white America to be quiet for a moment and listen. Mothers are telling us that they have to teach their sons to walk on eggshells or they might be killed by police. Killed. By the people who are charged with protecting us from one another. I cannot even imagine having to go there with my three boys.

But I hear them.

When my eldest moved out on his own, he was a darker skinned (Latino genes) young American man driving a beat up old van. He was stopped by the police a number of times, but because we live in a relatively quiet place that’s all it was, a routine stop. However, because he had these experiences, it’s not a stretch for me to extrapolate and imagine how it might go down for an African American male in a beat-up car, or on the street, or walking in the dark, to be stopped and questioned, and when you stop and question someone, doesn’t that imply that the suspicion is already there? And when you are suspicious, doesn’t that heighten your state of alert?

Police are human. They have a dangerous job. They never know what they might encounter when they walk up to that car door, whether it will be a gun-toting, anti-authority sovereign citizen, a drug dealer, a meth-impaired driver, or a law-abiding citizen like you or me. I wouldn’t want their job, never knowing what I was up against. I don’t think holding them all accountable for the quick trigger finger of a few is the answer. Assassinating them certainly isn’t. Police are human beings, and as such are like anyone else in any other job. There are some really good, dedicated public servants, and there are some jerks, who unfortunately are reflecting on the whole system at this moment.

So, let’s all take a moment to really listen to one another. Only then can we come up with solutions.

Don’t let darkness win.

My heart goes out to all of the victims and their families on both sides. Thank you to the many, many LEOs who truly make a positive difference in our world.

Three Percent is NOT a Democracy

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Are we still a democracy?

Hey, wait a minute. We were never a true democracy, but rather a representative republic.

Okay. Are we still a Representative Republic? Or a Representative Democracy? Or any form of government dedicated to the will of the people?

At the time of this writing, we have a group of armed men who have staged a takeover of a wildlife refuge in my state. They have guns and have told us all that they are willing to use them. What they have done is illegal and intimidating. You can throw in other words if you like – treason and sedition come to my mind.

But wait a minute. They are just like Rosa Parks. They are just peacefully standing up for their rights.

They are not Rosa Parks. What did Mrs. Parks do? Let’s review the history. She refused to relinquish her appointed place on the bus for a more privileged person, setting off a boycott of a service that catered to the underprivileged community that needed that service, a peaceful protest to gain basic human rights of equality under the law. The NAACP was able to galvanize a movement behind her small act because she was a hard-working, stellar member of the community who had done nothing wrong. She was following the unjust law of the day and still she was victimized. I don’t know that I would have had the courage.

The Malheur occupiers are squatters and invaders, nothing more. In their states’ rights view, I wish the Oregon National Guard would go in and arrest them as invaders. Can they do that?

Oh, come on. They are just protesting federal overreach. This is a just cause. Besides, nobody has been hurt.

Well, thank goodness! The fact that nobody has been hurt is due to restraint by law enforcement. These guys have made goodbye videos to their families. What does that tell you about their intentions? They have made threats to the sheriff and have brought an arsenal that they intend to use.

It’s a lose-lose for law enforcement, really. If they do what they should do and enforce the law, the militia groups will shout, “See? We told you the Feds are tyrannical.” If they don’t go in and do what they should do, the militias feel powerful and will do this again and again and again. I vote for the former.

Hey, over here. You know the real reason that law enforcement hasn’t gone in because they are white, right? If this was Ferguson, they would have been there in armored vehicles, guns blazing, tear gas flying.

Well, there’s probably some truth to that, but this is a different situation, and a similar situation to others that have ended badly in the past. Do you know about the militia movement in America? Or are you like me, who has a superficial knowledge that they are out there, but not really what they represent, nor what they are planning on doing with all of their training? And yes, they have been training. Just to give you a quick reminder, Timothy McVeigh, one of our own, the worst domestic terrorist in my time, was a part of this movement.

The Oklahoma Federal Building bombing killed 168 Americans (who live under the same flag that these people have appropriated as theirs), including 19 children, and injured another 600. Seven hundred sixty-eight civilian victims, including children. I remember at the time of the bombing we as a country looked outward. Surely this was a Muslim extremist, a terrorist like the ones who tried to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993 and had previously hijacked and brought down airplanes full of innocents. Who else would want to cause such destruction? Who else would give America such a punch to the gut? When it was discovered that it was one of our own, a military veteran, no less, there was a collective gasp. What the hell was happening to our country?

Timothy McVeigh was just a small part of a larger movement to destroy our country from within, to take shots at the federal government, the backbone that keeps us all together. He lashed out in a planned attack, terrorizing a nation and killing and maiming civilians whose only “crime” was to be employed by the federal government. His motive? He hoped to instigate widespread revolt against the federal government for the Waco Siege and Ruby Ridge. Like the terrorists in the Middle East, his victims were civilians.

The movement is still there, and still ready to strike. They have appropriated the Constitution. They have appropriated the flag. They think this gives them the right to terrorize the rest of us who also hold the Constitution and the flag as our own. This is why law enforcement is proceeding with caution. You can’t reason with these people. After Bundy’s father staged his own standoff with the federal government over his refusal to pay grazing fees on public lands, two followers of the militia movement were galvanized, not to march peacefully or walk to work, but to shoot two law enforcement officials who were eating pizza.

I ask you, what type of people have this much resentment toward law enforcement? Hmm…. lawbreakers?

But getting back to my original question, are we still a democracy? One of the militia groups is called the Three Percent, based on the premise that only 3 percent of colonists took up arms against the British in the Revolutionary War. (Still wondering about their motives?) If you have three percent of the people making decisions for the other 97 percent, is that a democracy? I think you know the answer.

Welcome to our own version of the Taliban.