Just as the poor could simply decide to get a high paying job through hard work and chutzpah, the overweight need simply to avoid saturated fats and bad carbs. Lay off the fast food, brother, and the slings and arrows stop. Just get yourself some organic kale and run it through your Nutribullet. What’s that you say? You can afford neither organic produce nor antibiotic and hormone free organic free-range chicken? Well, it’s your own fault for taking those two minimum wage jobs after getting your MBA from Harvard. Who does that?
The HBO Documentary “The Weight of the Nation” looks at the connection between poverty and obesity. The rising level of obesity in this nation coincides in a synchronized level with the rising gaps in economic disparity. Ironically, obesity is a big money maker: medications for diseases linked with obesity like heart disease, diabetes and sleep apnea are cash cows for the pharmaceutical industry.
The link between obesity and poverty is inarguable. The causes, however, are what can be in dispute. There is a lack of availability for heathy food options in poorer areas. Farmer’s markets and produce stands find their homes in affluent areas; in our poorest areas, cheap and fatty foods dominate in the prominence of fast food restaurants and hot dog trucks. It comes down to the resources available to different pockets of the population.
Anthony Iton, Senior Vice President of Healthy Communities, The California Endowment, suggests that in analyzing the death certificates for patterns in the causes of death, “your zip code matters more than your genetic code.” In fact, the nine poorest states in the US rank within the ten highest in obesity. In short, we can’t address the problem of the rise in our overweight children and the fact that in some segments of the population, the upcoming generation will have a shorter life expectancy than the current generation for nearly the first time in nearly 200 years, without taking a serious look at the economy.
Yet, there is a roadblock when it comes to addressing this issue in any realistic fashion in part because of the collective attitude Americans have about personal responsibility. In these tight economic times, the programs for the poor are often the first things to go. Case in point, sequester cuts made to the FAA were quickly reversed when the impact was seen in flight delays and long waits. The unseen wounds made by the sequester cuts that will take time to manifest in ways we can measure are those made to the poorest among us, the social safety nets like funding for Head Start, public housing subsidies, unemployment insurance, veterans services, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
The way to alleviate any guilt for such blatant preference for economic support for those who need it the least is to either ignore it, or in a more sinister and manipulative way, to blame those in need. To take away the victimhood of the victim is not only good politics, but effective marketing. We can see it everywhere from the rants of right-wing talk show media to the status updates of listeners who pretend to outrage at welfare recipients who game the system, while in the same breath defend corporate corruption as smart capitalism. If it’s their own damn fault, I don’t have to feel bad about ignoring the solution. And I certainly don’t have to accept taking responsibility to contributing to the problem.
In this way, it’s encouraging to see Chris Christie take affirmative action on his weight issue. While the left makes derisive commentary on his figure and the right speculates about whether or not this will increase his chances for a Presidential nomination, I wonder if someone with the power of political office who understands and has experience with this problem can help bring attention to it. Whether the attention leads to jokes and the collective dismissive sweep of the hands or realistic discussion of solutions remains to be seen. In the meantime, I’ll be boycotting Abercrombie and Fitch.
(Not that I could fit into those jeans anyway.)
1) Chris Christie’s lap band and his weight before or after. I care more about what comes out of his mouth than what goes in it.
2) Where Tamerlan Tsarnaev is buried. I saw a group collecting money to ship him to Russia. Sorry childhood cancer, I’ve got more important things to donate to? Bury him in Boston. Piss on his grave if it makes you feel better. Or throw him in the Hah-Bah.
3) Hillary Clinton’s wardrobe and/or haircut.
4) Where the Obamas vacation.
5) Who Mark Sanford’s mistress is or where she lives or why he considers her his soulmate. How he got the majority of votes over Elizabeth Colbert Busch,however, interests me immensely.
6) Ariel Castro’s bad childhood, his drunk mother, his abusive father or whatever sympathetic tidbits the media dredge up.
7) What you think Thomas Jefferson would have thought about AR-15s.
8) What you think Jesus thought about homosexuality.
9) What she was wearing the night she was raped.
The disease of the liberal class is the specious, supposedly ‘professional’ insistence on objectivity. Before the rise of commercial newspapers, journals of opinion existed to influence public sentiment via arguments–not to stultify readers with lists of facts. Our oldest universities were formed to train ministers and inculcate into students the primacy of the common good. Labor unions had a vision of an egalitarian society that understood the inevitability of class struggle. Artists from Mark Twain to John Steinbeck sought not only to explain social, political, economic, and cultural reality, but also to use this understanding to fight for a social order based on justice. Movements that defied the power elite often started and sustained these liberal institutions, which were created as instruments of reform. One by one, these institutions succumbed to the temptation of money, the jargon of patriotism, belief in the need for permanent war, fear of internal and external enemies, and distrust of radicals, who had once kept the liberal class honest. And when it was over, the liberal class had nothing left to say.”
− from “Death of the Liberal Class” by Chris Hedges
The above is a cynical sentiment, if ever there was one, because it speaks to the failure of the liberal establishment in the past tense. In Death of the Liberal Class, Hedges reserves his venom for those who should know better: the liberal elite who, by design, are supposed to act as a buffer to the establishment; what Thoreau called “counter friction to stop the machine.” Instead, as a nation, we have submitted to the masters of the corporate state by handing them our thoughts. Even those who retain them–the liberal class of clergy, scholars and journalists Hedges speaks of–have either tempered or fully vanquished these thoughts for fear of systematic retribution, which is to say, loss of freedoms and livelihoods. Speaking out against corporate America or the government is to risk losing everything.
The indoctrination of an idea or of a complete ideology into the people of a nation happens in one of two ways. The first is by force. Noam Chomsky describes this authoritarian methodology of “consent without consent” as prescribed by the 19th century American sociologist Franklin Henry Giddings, who reasoned that an imperialist agenda–whereby a conquered nation is forced to adopt the ideological systems of the conqueror–could be a noble pursuit. According to Giddings, this validity of consent without consent is rationalized afterward when the conquered people “see and admit that the disputed relation was for the highest interest.” This was the imperialist rationale used in Southeast Asia and Latin America by the United States and in India by Britain. It’s nothing new.
But the world no longer buys in to American consent without consent. Our missions abroad have been too transparently imperialistic in the eyes of the world, which is why we are so routinely, yet cautiously, chastised by other nations. Selling wars that were waged abroad in the 20th century relied on this form of posthumous “consent” from people in nations we deigned to conquer. Obtaining consent at home proved far more difficult as Americans began to understand the specious, unconscionable motives behind our “democratic” efforts in Vietnam, in particular. But the rise of anti-war protests had less to do with American sentiment toward the people of Vietnam and more to do with conscription. The era of genuine protest ended with the discontinuation of the draft in 1973.
Undaunted, our belligerence has overcome the loss of faith entrusted in us by other nations after World War II and spurred America toward the “go it alone” philosophy adopted over the past few decades. This was best exhibited by George W. Bush’s “you’re either with us or against us” attitude in the months leading to our war in Iraq. Despite having the world’s sympathy after 9/11, America bullied other nations into a tepid alliance in support of our hostilities against Iraq–a country that simply had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and was ruled by a regime more repressive of Islamic militants than any Western nation in the alliance.
Yet bullying the world into complicity was one thing. Gaining support among Americans was a different matter altogether. Americans were not going to be forcibly cajoled into supporting an invasion in Iraq. Thus began an explosion of anti-Islam and pro-war propaganda within the United States concealed in the language of jingoism. “When the resources of violence are limited,” writes Chomsky, “the consent of the governed must be obtained by the devices called ‘manufacture of consent.’”
Corporate media fell in line almost immediately with the government narrative after 9/11. Spreading democracy became the euphemism for sacking regimes. Caskets containing the bodies of U.S. soldiers were shielded from public view. The field of battle became known as “theater.” Despite sending our troops into harm’s way for undemocratic purposes, the phrase “support our troops” became ubiquitous and was spoken without irony. Laws that stripped Americans of civil liberties and privacy were passed in the name of “Homeland Security,” which itself has become more than a cottage industry. To wit, the Homeland Security Research Corporation, a D.C.-based research firm, estimates that just the U.S. market alone will “grow from $74.5 billion in 2012 to $107.3 billion in 2020.”
Journalists who spoke out against the war, such as Chris Hedges, were smeared and tarred as unpatriotic. Artists who criticized the war, such as the Dixie Chicks, were ostracized and threatened. Americans were whipped into a frenzy by a government that warned of imminent destruction in the homeland by radical Islamists. Officials spoke with urgency about “weapons of mass destruction.” Before anyone could process what was happening, we were at war, overthrowing Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, 1,500 miles away from Afghanistan, where we were told the jihadists had planned 9/11—1,500 miles away from another war we already started and soon forgot. A war that would eventually become America’s longest engagement in “theater.”
In his book Crude World, Peter Maas, who was reporting from Baghdad at the time of our invasion, wrote, “President George W. Bush insisted before the invasion that it had nothing to do with oil, that it was about weapons of mass destruction and, to a lesser extent, democracy. He was not being honest.” Maas describes how “in Baghdad, the Ministry of Oil turned into the Ministry of Truth… While most government buildings, including the National Museum, were looted of everything from artwork to computers and light bulbs, after which the remains were often set alight, the Oil Ministry…was untouched.” He quotes a ministry official who told him, “The Americans will not steal the oil but they will control it; they will pull the strings.” And indeed we do; we have.
Manufactured consent is essentially the end result of propaganda; the conformity of thought that exhibits itself in a nationalistic dogma. It comes from the repetition of twisted logic delivered through mainstream media channels, logic that somehow turns our authentic subconscious into synthetic reality. Blood for oil under the pretense of spreading democracy. Tax cuts for the wealthy as a way of helping the poorest among us. Corporate campaign contributions protected as free speech. Less regulation as a way to stabilize the financial markets. Bollox, every bit of it.
Manufactured consent: backward logic and nonsensical ideas sold as pragmatic solutions to social ills and economic misfortune bought hook, line and sinker by a public pounded into submission by a relentless barrage of misinformation from seemingly credible sources. Robert McChesney, in his introduction to Noam Chomsky’s People Over Profit, observes that “proponents of neoliberalism sound as if they are doing poor people, the environment, and everybody else a tremendous service as they enact policies on behalf of the wealthy few.”
Maddeningly, we have so much of the right information at our fingertips. As much as the digital age has given malevolent propagandists the ability to more easily disseminate false information, the same holds true for quality. Unfortunately, great information and quality journalism tend to be crowded out on social media by “listicles,” memes and pictures of cats. The world is complex and therefore the great stories (and there are many) take time to produce and time to digest. And time is slipping away from all of us.]]>
Admittedly, I consider myself a liberal leaning lefty. Beyond alliteration, I align my political views with the social policies of the day: gay rights, women’s equality and the increasing misalignment of the socio-economic classes in this country. I’m anti-death penalty, pro-gay marriage, and have discussed at length my stance on gun control. But I’ve never written about abortion. I have my views and they fit neatly within the political party I identify with. They would surprise no one.
But I don’t talk about it. Because even if I support a woman’s right to choose, it’s ugly. And heartbreakingly sad. Yet, I believe that that right is necessary and that it is a personal choice to be made. The circumstances that lead to this choice vary in the myriad ways that people vary. We would be hard-pressed to find two identical stories, but we can connect with each other over the experiences we all share. The emotional toll on the abortion debate is high. For those who oppose it, it is nothing less than the murder of innocents. I don’t dismiss that view, even if I don’t concur.
Like the gun issue, I think it’s bigger, if there is something bigger than human life. I think to consider the issue, we need to incorporate lots of other issues, especially how we marginalize and discriminate against the poorest and darkest among us, about how the first things to go are the social safety nets and not the tax breaks, and about how if women are forced by people who are pro-life to have babies they cannot take care of, they are abandoned too by a country whose concern for them extends only as far as their gestation. Beyond that, they need to pull themselves up by their bootie-straps.
Violence abounds with this issue and voices lower to whispers among the like-minded. Yet, something gets lost when that happens. In Pennsylvania, so much was lost. For years, laws were broken, racism abounded in a dirty abortion clinic, and bureaucratic red tape was sidestepped because this issue is too political to get involved with. Pro-choice people, like myself, have stated our cases so strongly that abortion clinics in Pennsylvania stopped getting regulated. They moved on. And a monster of a man named Kermit Gosnell murdered fetuses and babies and women. He spread venereal diseases with filthy instruments, performed a grisly amount of illegal late-term abortions, delivered live babies he then murdered, and employed underaged, under-supervised, and under-trained people to administer medication. He pawned his black patients to that staff, and let his white girls see “the doctor.” Some of them died. And though several people alerted authorities over the years, the complaints weren’t followed up on. So many agencies dropped the ball. Might it be because the clientele was primarily non-white and poor?
This was isolated. His practice doesn’t represent a single other doctor, or human being, other than himself. But the lack of media coverage highlights something. The way that I heard the name Kermit Gosnell was in an article tweeted by the Atlantic with the details of the grand jury trial and the case being made for more media coverage. Conor Friedersdorf compared the coverage that Rush Limbaugh’s reaction to Sandra Fluke received in the media with the details of this case. It has all the gruesome makings for a front page, but it hasn’t been one. Not the way Limbaugh’s “slut” comment was.
We’ve all chosen our sides by now. We know where we stand and are ready to defend those positions from wherever we are: in the news, on social media, in coffee shops and bars. We drink in our news from the sources we trust, through the lens we feel comfortable with, amidst the people with whom we fit. Religion and politics have long since been discarded as subjects we don’t talk about in polite conversation at the dinner table. Polite conversations went out long ago with the dinner table. We’re informed and opinionated, but the middle ground has been sacrificed in the social civil war of a dialogue that pits us for or against each other.
Certain segments of the media has chosen sides as well. Was the underreporting of Gosnell a case of the liberal media not wanting to lose political points because abortion is one of the absolutes? Criticizing abortion has so much consequence that connecting something so heinous with something we support will undoubtedly bring fallout. Yet, the conservative media, mainly Breitbart News and The Heritage Foundation, are full of criticism of the lack of coverage, yet they hadn’t covered it either. Marco Rubio tweeted, “Media blackout of Kermit #Gosnell case is shameful but not surprising. Powerful example of msm bias in America today.” Rather than addressing the moral corruption of a story like Gosnell’s, the right is circumventing it in order to fry bigger fish: the left, who is now, with names like Anderson Cooper and vehicles like Salon, on the story. Turns out, Slate’s Double XX column has been covering it since 2011.
We’re looking for a demon, someone to blame in the face of an unimaginable crime born of ugly circumstance. That crime doesn’t fit the narrative of the liberal media. Yet, the conservative media, instead of focusing on the devil in front of us, is trying to win political points by blaming the left, when they should blame, rightfully, Kermit Gosnell.
I came to my political beliefs because I believe there was a moral imperative and a right side (on the left.) It is something supported by my conscience, a way to root for the little guy, the huddled masses, those traditionally discriminated against. It’s because I think as a country we are as strong as our weakest link and by supporting women’s right to choose, I can reconcile those beliefs. My support hasn’t changed, but my absoluteness has.
I have been afraid of a lot lately. Gunfire, mostly, since Newtown. Not for me, but for my kids. But I’ve also been afraid of being wrong. That fear often keeps me from considering what the other side has to say. It has me looking to dismiss impassioned arguments from those I disagree with.
But worse than that, it has kept me quiet. In choosing staunch and irresolute sides, we lose the nuance of our beliefs. And in the case of Kermit Gosnell, we lose our humanity.]]>
Except, a lunatic with a knife differs pretty distinctly from a lunatic with a semi-automatic assault rifle. Where Newtown saw thirty children shot multiple times, funerals spanning a month, and a nation in perpetual mourning, in Houston, Texas every single victim lives. Two are in critical condition, the rest are stable. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, as is any human who has suffered the trauma of a physical attack.
Every attack on multiple people is different. Every one is isolated and born from unique reasons – the failure of the mental health structure here being the basis of some. To lump them together as an anecdotal instance to prove a political point is to compound that failure. No one wins here.
Yet, to dismiss the obvious point that a perpetrator with a knife is severely limited in the damage he can inflict does a disservice to the study of a problem we all want to solve. The real issue is the way we are trying to solve it. Gun rights activists – the purists, the ones who wave away any discussion of common sense restriction and the NRA who supports this kind of thought – attacks this problem with a pre-formed solution: the need for more guns. Then they back track through the circumstances to support that conclusion.
Let’s acknowledge right off the bat that gun control advocates are looking at an endgame as well. Some of us want to rid the country of guns. Period. But most of us don’t. Most of us want semi-automatic weapons out of the hands of non-military citizens. We want limits on the damage someone can inflict in minutes. But maybe we just don’t understand gun culture: the bravado, the righteousness, the patriotism and strength that comes at the hands of a gun. It’s a power I’ve never really considered.
And so I sought out to consider it.
We passed a scrawny kid, about twenty years old, before we even got inside the blue tent to pay our ten dollar admission to the gun show. “I have about a thousand rounds at home,” he told the girl next to him as they exited. I wasn’t sure how to take that – was it a lament? Only a thousand rounds? To do what with? Shoot up a target at a range, or a bison maybe, or enemies? Maybe it was a brag, like I have a thousand rounds of manhood back at my place, baby. The fact that I couldn’t interpret his intention probably says more about me and my lack of understanding of gun culture than anything else. But this is why I went to a gun show. To see for myself what it’s all about.
Still, I felt like an intruder as I made my way past the first booth – an NRA signup table full of literature and bumper stickers. I’ve been conditioned to think of them as the enemy and I wasn’t ready to face them head on, so we moved quickly on to a table full of hot sauce. I tried a wasabi green tea dip that had a great flavor, sweet, with a kick that came at the end. I made my first gun show purchase. (No background check required.)
And then, fifteen minutes in, I was spotted. A local guy, whose son plays on the same lacrosse team as my son, recognized us as we pored over hard carved switch-blades. “Hey!” he called out, and at first I couldn’t place him. On the field, I know him as the dad with the sweet kid who handed out cupcakes on the field on his birthday. At a gun show, I was seeing a lot of angry ink and camouflage. The lacrosse dad didn’t compute, and it took me a minute to recalibrate the friendly face and soft voice of this man with the wooden barrel of the rifle he caressed like a woman.
We shot the shit (not literally) for a few minutes before he moved on to the Bushmaster display and we to listen to a Paul Revere historian lecture us about the difference between subjects and citizens. As we turned away, he called over his shoulder, “I’m glad to see we’re on the same team!” My husband interpreted this to be 2nd grade lacrosse related, but I suspected differently. He meant 2nd Amendment related.
It turns out that the difference between a “subject” and a “citizen” is that subjects do what they are told and cannot affect change in their government. They have no say. They are slaves, which, according to this guy, is exactly what the Obama administration wants. He wants to rule over a constituency of slave-like subjects and it’s up to us, a gathering of about five people, to enact that change.
I saw tables of hand-carved handled rifles alongside more knives than I’d ever considered. There were pickaxes and holsters, wooden guns that held rubber bands for children. It was standing room only, slow moving through all that there was to see. Flags accented almost every square inch. There were more Confederate flags than I ever imagined existed this far North.
Live and learn, that’s what I was there for.
Displays were given to each seller, kind of like a craft fair, except the vendors were mostly older men, with exaggerated facial hair that seemed to make a statement of masculinity. I looked around for a clean shaven face and come up with only my own (and the woman selling the hot sauce.) That’s when I realized we were the only women in the place.
(So much for blending in).
The Bushmaster table had the good stuff and there was a three person deep perimeter to get to the assault weapons (which I would later be schooled do not exist.) Black, plastic looking, with more coordinating accessories than in my sister’s closet, AR-15s stood on tripods. They inspired awe among the people who crowded around me. “Beautiful!” a man next to me breathed, but all I saw were the dead children of Newtown. I calculated the mental health of those around me. I tried to judge who was sane and who was a maniac, who might take up arms and start a Paul Revere-like revolution, and who simply enjoyed the craftsmanship. But I couldn’t tell.
Could the vendors?
I perused a table of antiques from World War II, small green plastic soldiers that my son likes to play with. Metal tanks. GI Joe’s in the original packaging. Nazi paraphernalia. Swastika pins. SS badges. I asked the vendor if he sold a lot of the wooden boxes emblazoned with the Confederate flag, knives inside with Robert E. Lee’s picture hand-painted. He nodded. “People try to collect the whole set,” he told me.
A few children ran about, next to dads who looked through scopes with the gaiety of kids in candy shops. My husband held a rifle that reminded him of the one his grandfather had used, setting up soda cans in the backyard for him to shoot pellets at. My husband loves to shoot.
It wasn’t really possible to leave without rubbing up against the NRA table. “Why,” I asked the bearded (of course) man at the table, “would I become a member?”
He didn’t miss a beat. “To protect your rights.”
“From what exactly?”
He explained that there were ridiculous laws enacted that turned normal, gun-toting Americans into criminals. Because of Cuomo’s freshly printed laws about the clip limits that legal guns must now have, the guns that this man has in his closet are now illegal. “I haven’t shot anything,” he told me, “but now I’m a criminal.”
He didn’t look like a criminal.
“But surely you don’t think assault rifles should be owned by every day Americans?” I asked him.
He rubbed his hands together like he’d been waiting for this question. He savored his response like a good steak. “No such thing,” he told me.
He went on to explain that the term “assault” is a human construct, an action that can only be attributed to a person, not an inanimate object like a weapon. His parter next to him rolled up a copy of Guns and Ammo and swatted him on his thick arm. “See that?” he asked. “That was a fully loaded magazine used to assault me.” Never in all of his life, both as a civilian and in the service, had he witnessed a rife getting up and shooting someone all by itself.
This seemed like a long way to say, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” but I got his point. He then explained to me that automatic weapons – like machine guns – are outlawed, and should be. They spray bullets in quick succession and have no place in non-military society. But semi-automatic rifles? Those are fine, he said, because a person needs to pull the trigger for each separate shot. It requires a commitment to continue shooting. There is a pause between each bullet being released into the world. That pause is what? A second or two? But those seconds constitute what seemingly reasonable people deem the difference between auto- and semi-automatic, between acceptable and not, between having a rightful place in society and not.
Seconds enough to duck? To run? To return fire? To live?
He handed me a pamphlet that had a training session for women stapled on the back. Women are the untapped demographic that the NRA is targeting as purchasers. They’d had to add on a second one because the first had filled up quickly. “After I take you out and show you how to hold a gun and shoot it, you can decide if you’re still scared of it or if it’s the most fun you’ve had in your life,” he said.
I took the pamphlet, but I won’t be calling. His idea of fun and mine are probably different. The pamphlet, handed out by the S.A.F.E. organization (Sportsman’s Association for Firearms Education), was full of information to help convince me that the NRA was looking out for my best interests. It warned me that police chiefs who came out in support of gun control were pawns of big city officials who coerced them into positions they don’t really support. The towed the line for fear of losing their salaries and pensions. “This is why you see chiefs and their officers in the background when privileged officials posture against citizen firearm ownership and the Constitution by definition.” It went on to say that they have “decided to try to get in tune with the 20th century” by creating SAFE Twitter and Facebook accounts.
I might suggest that they try to get with the 21st century by acknowledging the very real dangers of gun violence. I might suggest that instead of selling the public on the idea that semi-automatic rifles are not assault weapons in a Laurel and Hardy rehearsed routine, they take stock of who the enemies really are. They are not those in power who are answering the voices who shout for the bloodshed to end. They are not those who ask questions that go deeper than a badly written propaganda piece stapled to shooting lessons. The enemies are those who seek to quiet the questions, to quiet the voices who disagree, and to urge us all to suspend critical thinking in lieu of easy answers.
I’ll acknowledge this, though. Something about the presence of big men standing protection made me feel safer, thinking that if I ever needed protection, I might have guys like this “on my team.”
Protection from whom? Well, that seems to be the question.]]>
No, they love grandma’s house because you live there and they love you. It’s safe and it’s warm. It’s non-judgmental and silly. Sure, there are rules, but only to be broken. Like French toast for dinner – our secret meal when I was just a boy and daddy worked late in the city. A little bending of the rules never hurt anyone. In fact, it makes anything seem possible. Breakfast for dinner? Preposterous. And delicious.
There’s a stretch of time between leaving the nest and building one’s own when a young person forgets what adolescence was like. A solid decade thinking little of what your parents did for you and caring even less about what’s happening in their lives. Parents, you see, don’t really become people until you have a child of your own. They’re walking, talking ATM’s, co-signers on loans or perhaps landlords. They’re advice-givers when solicited, droning nags when not.
Amazingly, parents learn all sorts of new things when their children enter adulthood, because they clearly knew nothing beforehand. Even if they claim to possess knowledge of a subject, it’s likely incomplete, outdated or flat out wrong. Just ask us.
Then when your baby has a baby, something happens. Parents become people again. Mind you, it doesn’t happen right away, it takes a few sleepless months for this revelation to settle in. It happens late at night when the world is still and the only light in the room as you hold your newborn daughter peeks in from the moon. Feeding her and rocking her gently your thoughts are consumed with what her life will be like. You whisper your hopes in her ear, blow gently on the top of her head and beg Father Time to slow his hands so this moment can last forever. And as she coos and stares unblinkingly up at you with her tiny hand exploring your face it hits you.
I was once a baby too. Rocking gently in your arms washed only by the light from many, many moons ago.
As the years passed, we rolled all over this Island, bombing around in Betsy singing 70’s country songs at the top of our lungs. “You could be a professional singer, mommy,” I would say. “You can do anything my baby boy, pride and joy,” you would say back. In the evenings I would yammer away in the backseat until we were minutes from home then magically fall “asleep” so daddy would have to carry me upstairs and you would have to tuck me in. I was sure you were fooled. Now I know that you weren’t, because my girls do the same thing.
In the morning I would dilly-dally. Sitting on the bed in just my underwear you would tell me to lie down so you could shimmy my pants on and get me ready for school. At this, I would shoot upright and giggle when you pushed me back down. Over and over again until we laughed so hard it hurt. I remember this well because I play the same game with my girls.
They’re at the age now when my wife and I have begun shuttling back and forth to practices and parties, play-dates and rehearsals. In the car we sing at the top of our lungs and they tell me I could be a professional singer. And I tell them they can do anything.
Sometimes they’re quiet, especially in the morning on the way to school. Occasionally, I tilt the rearview mirror down and watch them silently stare out the window, fixing their gazes alternately between their own reflections and life’s passing parade; wondering what they are wondering and winking slyly when their eyes catch mine. Just like ours did when I was their age. The years have changed but the eyes are the same.
In these moments I question what exactly they will remember. Will they remember all that we do for them and ever know how much we break inside over every scratch and every tear? Will they remember how little we slept and how much we did and does it matter so long as they are healthy and loved?
What will they remember?
They’re too young to realize just how much their mother and I love them above all else in the world. Too young to possibly comprehend how much sacrifice and dedication goes into building them piece by piece, moment by moment, in the hopes of cementing a masterpiece hard enough to take on the world and beautiful enough to get it to notice them. And yet I know it’s the tough stuff that will remove the innocence from their eyes like a sculptor who pulls back the cover from his art for all to see, come what may.
Every year we speak on the anniversary of that day in September my cover was pulled. The day we found out you were ill. It was the beginning of doctors with needles, black liquid, and pills – leeches and wigs, indignity and tears. So many tears. Infections and reactions, weight loss and then bloating. These are my memories from high school. I remember the day you welcomed me off the bus at the back door like you always did. Stooped over in your pink robe, cold but sweating. Bald. Too tired that day to lift your battered arms to cover your head. That was the day I said goodbye to you in my mind. That was twenty-four years ago.
When I was seventeen I left you for college. I remember how you didn’t make the trip. Couldn’t make the trip. And as I watched daddy’s car wind down the road from the hill where my freshman dormitory was, waving long after he disappeared, I wept at the poignancy of my life beginning while yours was coming to an end. That was twenty-two years ago.
Shortly after my graduation, you had your graduation. The bachelor’s degree you never got because college wasn’t a possibility for a poor working girl from Brantford. Nineteen years ago. And then a master’s degree in Victorian literature, the first in the family to get such an advanced degree. Seventeen years ago.
Through love and through heartbreak, you were the touchstone I could always return to. And when the time was finally right, when I had met the woman I would spend the rest of my life with, you knew before me. That was fifteen years ago. When we had our first child ten years ago, you were there and the center of the universe became visible to us all. And when the heavens opened once again and delivered our second daughter, seven years ago, you were there.
Three years ago, the doctor’s aide told daddy and me that it had been a “good run” and asked if we needed to pray. We declined to do so because you declined to go, quietly, stoically as always. There are graduations to attend and weddings to plan. Girls who will be women. Girls who will need a place to retreat; a place where anything goes.
Though illness continues to haunt you, no one would ever know. That’s not your way. All of your efforts and all of your attention are reserved for your family. Today, nearly a quarter of a century has passed since I first said goodbye to you, a Canadian goodbye if ever there was one.
Would I have such an appreciation for life had I not grieved for the one who gave life to me? Would I be grateful for each passing day had you not redefined the concept of borrowed time? Would I possess such deep optimism that quiet determination bests unfortunate circumstances had you not proven it with such grace and humility? I should think not, on all counts.
You are my great and powerful Oz, the human miracle worker who reveals what already exists by allowing us all to be and believe. You gave me a heart that allows me to feel and pumps blood to the brain that allows me to write. My courage comes from witnessing yours. And you are, and have always been, home.
When I asked you what you would like for your birthday this year, you said “just one kindness” and left it at that.
I’ve though a lot about it. Why is it the simplest requests are the hardest to fulfill? How could one simple kindness be enough? Perplexed, I marshaled my heart, brain and courage and sat down to write as I frequently do when faced with a problem. And, as always, it has produced the answer. The above is prologue to my gift, my way of explaining the “one kindness” you should know.
I remember. I remember it all.]]>
No mother thinks she is raising a rapist. And while I can watch from the bleachers and judge these other parents, I know that I do so from the comfort of distance, as my children are still elementary school small, and these issues are years away from the reality I might one day face. They are still ignorant to the mechanics of baby-making; my son still squeals “Ew!” at the notion of kissing a girl.
My daughter doesn’t.
I remember from my childhood the always present crush on a boy, the tingle of a thrill when the boy I’d set my sights on looked my way. Hearts on a notebook, fervent wishes made in journals. The longing – for what? Attention? Love? At that age? What is it that makes girls chase boys from the earliest days of Kindergarten, while boys play sports and get filthy and build things, oblivious to our charms?
I generalize of course. While I am lucky enough to not know first hand the trauma of sexual assault, I do remember the pain that inevitably came at the hands of a boy. At some point, a note would be passed, a declaration made. A question: do you like me? Circle Y or N.
There are a lot of things I forget about my school days: my teachers’ names, books I’d read, math. But the sting that came with my first love’s rejection comes back with such clarity that I can feel it in my thirty-something year old body, sharp enough to draw a deep inhale of breath. The boy elbowing his friends, a cruel smile, a taunt, a jeer. The unmistakable circling of the letter “N.” The finality. The hurt.
While my daughter plays with her Kindergarten friend Olivia, giggling in her room and getting my makeup in her rug, my son is buried in his iPod, fingers gliding over a touch screen, pigs killed by enraged birds. He doesn’t notice the adoring eyes of my daughter’s friend. He is deaf to her nervous giggle, getting closer and closer, until she is compelled to bop him on the head, just to make him look up in annoyance, just for the thrill of a half-second of attention. That might be enough, I hear her think, to get him to notice me.
But he won’t. Not for years. I could pull her aside and talk to her about high school, about the time when circumstances reverse, and the boys awaken one morning suddenly conscious of the beauty of teenage girls. That’s when they bump into you by your locker. Just to get you to notice them.
But it isn’t my place to talk to Olivia. It won’t make a difference now. High school is so far away, a reality so distant that it doesn’t feel like one. High school problems and lessons too far off to have any impact on us now.
In the here and now, I pull my son aside, and ask him to remove his earbuds. I tell him about a time when I loved a boy in second grade. I tell him about a note I’d passed, about the hope in my heart, the excitement, the nerves. Then I tell him about what that boy said when he opened my note. I tell him about the hurt I experienced when he said, “Ew!” and pointed at me.
I tell him that a boy has a power over a girl who holds a crush on him in her heart. That he has the power to hurt her. That he doesn’t have to love her back, or even like her. But that he does have to be careful of her feelings.
And because he doesn’t have the capacity to love a girl like Olivia, but he does have an enormous reserve for his mother that won’t be diminished for years to come, he understands. He acts with kindness. In the years that are too quickly approaching, we’ll have another talk about vulnerability and the power to hurt. We’ll talk about bullying and kids who are smaller or weaker than he is. We’ll talk about girls who drink at parties.
And I’ll hope that the seeds we plant today will take root and that the power to hurt won’t be abused by my son or my daughter.
I’ll hope that it isn’t hubris to believe that empathy can be taught.]]>
With that said, let’s begin.
A cursory review of prison statistics illustrates the nightmare that is African Americans’ experience with our criminal “justice” system. There are currently more than 7 million Americans caught up at some point in the prison system between probation, incarceration and parole. Incredibly, 40 percent of our prisoners are black even though African Americans comprise only 13 percent of the total U.S. population. I live in a state where that number is closer to 50 percent. All told, America has 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population despite only having 5 percent of the world’s population. This makes the sheer number of blacks in the prison system today even more overwhelming.
If you think there’s something wrong with this picture, continue reading, as there’s something that you can do about it. If you think this is because black people commit crime at a higher rate than white people do, then there’s a special place for you in hell or, worse, Congress.
Half of the prisoners in the United States are serving time for non-violent drug-related charges and 80 percent of those charges are for possession. Advocates and activists throughout the nation are attempting to reverse this trend, as the mass incarceration of black men specifically has become an epidemic. Despite the best efforts of groups such as the NAACP and the ACLU to reverse the trend, the problem persists unabated with most feeling helpless to change the system in a meaningful way.
But something can be done. By understanding your rights as a citizen to participate in the legal system, change can occur. Simply performing a civic obligation and reporting for jury duty gives every American the ability to weigh in on this issue.
Few people who are arrested on drug possession charges ever make it to trial for two reasons. One is that most cases are settled with a plea deal that a defendant often learns of for the first time while standing in front of a judge. The court-appointed attorney is basically there just to explain the plea to the defendant. The second reason is that plea deals are often considerably more attractive than the potential of losing in a trial and being sentenced by a judge, who is obligated to hand down sentences in strict accordance with the law. In states with mandatory minimum sentencing requirements, the risks are enormous.
But for those rare cases that do make it to trial, most people would be surprised to know that the most powerful person in the room is not an attorney or even the judge, for that matter. It’s the juror. One dissenting juror has the ability to decide whether or not a defendant should be set free no matter how the facts are presented. If a juror believes a defendant is guilty of breaking the law, but believes also that the law itself is not just, she has the right to vote with her conscience and not with the law.
Whether or not a judge has an obligation to inform a jury of this right has been battled over for two and a half centuries. As it stands now, judges are not required to inform a jury of their right to nullify a verdict; therefore, most do not.
Intrigued? Incredulous? Inspired? If you are brave enough to defy injustice and provide the last line of sane defense in an insane world, it’s best to arm yourself with an understanding of how we arrived at this point in history and your constitutional right to turn the tide.
The Modern “Middle Passage”
In order to properly describe the extent to which our criminal justice system is inherently and overwhelmingly racist, we must learn to speak about it with a new language. The current language, inculcated into the population by the government and corporate media over several decades, includes phrases such as “tough on crime,” “zero tolerance,” and “three strikes.” This type of rhetoric has been delivered repeatedly and enthusiastically since President Ronald Reagan declared the official start to the War on Drugs in 1982. Thirty years and a billion episodes of Law & Order later, we are all fluent in the language of narcotics.
Unfortunately, most of us have turned a blind eye to the mass incarceration of young black men in America during this time. Most of us shrugged it off. Most of us have failed to comprehend the rise of the prison industrial complex. Most of us, but not all of us.
In her book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander speaks to both the sociological and institutional aspects of racism in the American legal system. Since its publication in 2010, her book has been gradually galvanizing members of the black community around the concept of incarceration as a new form of slavery. And because of the efforts of outspoken leaders such as Dr. Cornel West, tireless advocacy from grassroots drug and prison reform groups and the comprehensive analysis provided by Alexander, the nation is beginning to speak about incarceration with a new language.
Rev. Roger Williams, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Glen Cove, N.Y., and president of the local NAACP chapter, says the reaction in the black community has been “multifaceted.” He says Alexander’s book has certainly inspired debate, with some putting “all of the onus on the black community,” others who have a “balanced understanding,” and “then you have those who feel like white folks are coming for you.” In every case, says Williams, “it’s almost like shoveling smoke trying to get a consensus, but it’s certainly stirring leadership.”
Fred Brewington, a prominent New York attorney and activist, has lectured frequently on this issue and even given sermons on The New Jim Crow, as he lives it every day in the criminal justice system.
“Unfortunately, the system has become the norm,” says Brewington. He shares Williams’ view that the book hasn’t necessarily filtered through the black community, but it has started to take root. “It’s not as though everyone is waking up and saying, ‘Where are all our African American men?’” But he calls Alexander’s book a “wonderful compilation of information that is there for the use of front-line advocates.”
Alexander’s book boldly equates the effects of today’s punitive drug laws to those of the Jim Crow laws that legalized segregation and unequal treatment under the law with respect to race. Specifically, she addresses the mass incarceration of black men in America under draconian drug statutes. For those who believe her analogy is a stretch, Alexander has a powerful weapon at her disposal: statistics.
Our modern journey to enslavement begins in 1972 in the years immediately following stark gains made during the Civil Rights movement. The prison population was around 350,000 as compared to 2.2 million people today. In 1972, violent crime had already peaked and was on the decline in the United States. The reason for the peak during the prior years was arguably the result of the Baby Boomers being between 18 and 25 years old—the prime adolescent years of criminal agitation—mixed with civil unrest and protests during the Vietnam era.
But by the mid to late ’70s, conscription had formally ended, the Boomers were more worried about getting jobs than getting high and violent crime was precipitously declining. As Alexander notes in The New Jim Crow, the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals recommended as early as 1973, “no new institutions for adults should be built and existing institutions for juveniles should be closed.”
Sociologists and criminologists had come to realize that punitive punishments and long-term sentences had little to no positive impact on crime statistics and that rehabilitation and treatment were more appropriate measures for all but the most violent criminals. Plus, the numbers were on their side. Despite a difficult economy, violent crime was falling—not only in the United States, but also around the globe. Given these circumstances, it was somewhat surprising that President Reagan declared an official “War on Drugs” in 1982, only two years into his first term. Surprising also because America didn’t really have a drug problem in 1982.
Ask enough people from a black neighborhood where “crack” came from, and it won’t take long for someone to tell you it was the CIA. This point has been hotly debated for years. But the fact remains that the period during which cocaine first began flooding the streets of American cities coincides precisely with the start of CIA operations in Central America, specifically Nicaragua. In the early 1980s guerrilla fighters in Nicaragua were suddenly flush with cash from American drug dealers—cash used to purchase American weapons in their fight against the Sandinistas, the Marxist government that aligned itself with Cuba.
In 1982, the U.S. Attorney General drafted a Memorandum of Understanding to the CIA establishing the United States’ interest in overthrowing the Sandinista government in Nicaragua; the same year the Reagan administration declared the War on Drugs. But crack cocaine had yet to reach the streets. It would take another three years for crack to begin appearing in the black neighborhoods; crack derived from cocaine funneled from Nicaragua. Call it a conspiracy or an incredible coincidence, but the timing is irrefutable. In the meantime, however, the Reagan administration didn’t sit idly by and wait for crack to become an epidemic. It had laws to change and a paradigm to shift. It didn’t take long.
Despite the downward trend of violent crime and no evidence yet of a rampant drug problem, the Reagan administration increased anti-drug funding for the FBI, Department of Defense and the Drug Enforcement Administration tenfold between 1980 and 1984; almost the exact size of the funding decrease to federal drug treatment, rehabilitation and education programs. Cocaine funneled from Central America hit the streets in 1985 in the form of crack and was deemed an epidemic by the media by 1986. By the end of 1986 the country had already adopted mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for drug-related felonies.
In less than five years a crisis had been fully manufactured in our cities and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were given incentives in the form of military arsenals and cash to increase the number of arrests. Police departments were suddenly competing for cash grants, assault weapons and air power. The government’s sudden change of course and willingness to fund anything related to drug crimes also created an opportunity for private industry, which was only too anxious to jump into the fray.
In 1983, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the first privately held prison corporation, was formed. Despite the historically low prison population, the government’s drug war prompted private industry to suddenly jump into the incarceration game. Today, CCA is a nearly $2 billion (and growing) corporation with more than 90,000 “beds” under its control.
Allowing for privatization of our prisons is one of the more egregious examples of how divorced our policymakers are from common sense in this country. The goal of a private penal corporation is to profit from high and extended rates of “occupancy.” (CCA literally speaks in these terms as though it was part of the hospitality industry.) The private prison lobby in America has pressured lawmakers over the years to maintain harsh minimum sentencing requirements as corporations have little financial incentive to encourage rehabilitation of prisoners. As far as the private prison industry is concerned, the only useful felon is one who is incarcerated, not reformed.
Reagan’s “war” saw a clean population getting hooked on drugs. During this “war,” rehabilitation was replaced with recidivism. Treatment was abandoned in favor of solitary confinement. Education was upended by “stop and frisk.” Prevention was sacrificed in the name of incarceration. The result? Half of all inmates today are in prison for drug-related crimes, of which 80 percent are related to possession of marijuana. To say the black community bore the brunt of this war is an understatement. To wit, more black American men are in the prison system today than there were slaves just prior to the Civil War. Present the statistics any way you please. There’s no pretty picture to paint. Black America is once again in chains.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of “stop-and-frisk” acts are performed in black neighborhoods. They are rarely, if ever, conducted in white neighborhoods, office complexes or college campuses. Nevertheless, politicians point to the success of “stop and frisk” in the absolute number of people arrested for carrying drugs instead of the miniscule percentage of people found carrying drugs who were searched. I’m no mathematician, but logic would dictate that if you only stop and search people in black neighborhoods, then when you find drugs on someone the chances are that person is going to be black.
The reasoning behind “stop and frisk” is so specious and the process itself so unconstitutional it defies logic. And yet, it’s generally upheld in court. In 2012, 533,000 people were subjected to “stop and frisk” by the NYPD, according to the NY Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU). Once again, even though blacks comprise 25 percent of the city’s population, they made up 55 percent of those who were stopped and frisked.
Many officers are unhappy with the “stop-and-frisk” protocol but are caught up in the nightmare due to pressure that comes from the top. Recently, the New York Daily News reported on a case where NYPD Officer Pedro Serrano testified against the department after taping his supervisor, Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack, telling him to target “male blacks. And I told you at roll call, and I have no problem [to] tell you this, male blacks 14 to 21.” These kinds of orders are not unique. They stem from quotas that are often handed down from the police brass. And officers such as Serrano who speak out against these practices are often shunned by their colleagues.
But wrestling with one’s conscience and struggling to maintain police quotas is nothing compared to the hell that awaits a young black man swept up into the web of “stop and frisk.” Once in court, the odds are stacked against him. In a recent conversation, Brewington described the harrowing the process of being caught by the police and ushered through the “system.”
Those with a prior arrest who are brought in on possession charges may meet an attorney such as Brewington in the holding cell. They’re actually one of the lucky ones, as a staggering number of accused felons make it all the way to sentencing in front of a judge without ever having spoken to an attorney. A far cry from what happens on TV. Brewington describes the encounter as something less than a conversation, as he advises his client to answer simply “yes” or “no” because everyone around him has an incentive to use his words against him in their own plea deal.
Time is of the essence, as he is typically carrying an offer from the D.A. that is set to expire quickly. Whether they want to go free is not a question he will raise. They’re in the system now. The only question is, how long? Risking an appearance in front of a jury means risking a much longer sentence.
“The fear is that you’re going to get a jury that’s really not of your peers,” says Brewington, who is loath to advise a jury trial. He says many of the young men he encounters “have not acquired the requisite skills to appear sympathetic” in front of a jury “that looks at you as though you must have done something wrong.”
The confusing whirlwind of circumstances between being frisked by law enforcement officials and accepting a plea deal is just the start, a piece of the legacy from Reagan’s “War on Drugs.”
But if Ronald Reagan was responsible for putting so many black people behind bars, it was Bill Clinton who was most responsible for keeping them there. In an effort to make Democrats appear “tough on crime,” the Clinton administration institutionalized punitive measures outside of the system, such as lifetime bans on some forms of welfare including access to food stamps, government jobs and public housing. Parolees, now branded as felons for life, were suddenly unable to leave their district while being forbidden from returning home, accessing food and gaining employment in the public sector.
“If the initiative is to eradicate the drug trade,” says Williams, the opposite occurred. “What you’re doing is inducing the necessary anger on the inside that will be accentuated when they come back. And the only thing that will accept them back is the game.”
Throughout the ’90s, recidivism spiked and parolees came face to face with President Clinton’s most punitive anti-crime measures—the “Three Strikes” rule and mandatory minimums. Under Clinton, life sentences were mandated for any third-time felon, or felon convicted of multiple counts, regardless of the nature or severity of the crime. Mandatory minimum sentences for even the lowest level drug offenders were implemented as outrage finally began to creep into American consciousness. Black churches and organizations were up in arms. Some judges resigned. Alexander even recounts the story of a notoriously harsh judge who wept when forced to hand down a 10-year sentence “for what appeared to be a minor mistake in judgment in having given a ride to a drug dealer for a meeting with an undercover agent.”
Beyond the practical hindrances a felon faces in attempting to re-enter society, there’s an emotional burden and stigma that is carried forever; a burden that extends to the family as well. Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, president of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, runs programs to counsel children of incarcerated parents. While their parents are on the inside, the kids “suffer guilt, shame and isolation,” says Reynolds, adding, “Seventy percent of kids of incarcerated parents, without intervention, wind up incarcerated themselves.” But he speaks to the effectiveness of intervention, saying, “None of our kids have been incarcerated. With a little bit of help and a little bit of energy, it makes a huge difference.”
Even those who are released carry with them the shame of having been on the inside and the painful memories that accompany incarceration. Horrifically, more than 70,000 prisoners are raped every year. Additionally, tens of thousands of prisoners are locked in solitary confinement at any given time in the United States, a punishment usually employed by totalitarian regimes that was all but outlawed in the United States prior to Reagan’s War on Drugs and the emergence of the modern prison industrial complex.
Nullification is a “Juror’s Prerogative”
“Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?”
—Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
You don’t have to agree that the “War on Drugs” was an intentional war on the poor, disenfranchised people of color in this country to understand that this was the result. Thinking, feeling people know these laws must be changed. And while we, as citizens, must indeed protest, engage in civil disobedience and write to Congress, there is more that can be done and it begins with understanding your rights.
In a New York Times op-ed last year, Alexander floated a question raised to her by a woman named Susan Burton. Her question was simple, but brilliant: What if there was a movement to convince “thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people charged with crimes to refuse to play the game, to refuse to plea out?” Her supposition was that this would theoretically crash the criminal justice system. She’s right. But the risk would be enormous given the potential and very legal retribution the system provides for.
But if the black community is examining this option and weighing the risks of such a strategy, it is incumbent upon the white liberal community to do the same on the opposite side of the equation. In this scenario, African Americans have everything to lose and white people have nothing to lose. So to possess this knowledge, have nothing to lose and still refuse to be an “upstander” is to be silently complicit in modern-day slavery.
Most white Americans have only a casual relationship with our legal system. Their understanding of what is just and what is legal generally comes from watching television crime shows and movies. This is why most people have the impression that the sole responsibility of a juror is to deliver a verdict based upon legal facts and that his or her personal feelings of fairness and justice cannot be considered.
This is patently false.
If you manage to get by “voir dire,” the process of questioning jurors to sit for a particular trial, and are fortunate enough to be selected, you can participate in a revolutionary movement. You can hang a jury without ever having to explain why. Jurors such as this are referred to as “stealth jurors.” Quiet activists who are guided by conscience not convention, or as Fred Brewington says, “The jury becomes the advocate for society.”
But first, you have to be in the position to do so. The key to getting through voir dire is to answer honestly without revealing anything ideologically. There is a science to voir dire and cases are often determined by how adroit an attorney is at selecting a jury. So remember these simple facts:
1) Less is more: You cannot misrepresent yourself by exercising restraint during voir dire.
2) You are not the one on trial.
3) Your goal is to get on that jury.
Serving on a jury is tedious, time-consuming and may even be financially detrimental. There is nothing romantic about the inner-workings of our legal system, no matter how glorified it is on television. Moreover, only a handful of Americans will actually be selected for a trial that involves drug possession charges for the reasons I stated in the opening of this piece. The goal here is to make enough people aware that the reason our system was designed to have trials decided by a “jury of one’s peers” was to prevent unjust laws from unfairly condemning citizens to incarceration or any form of punishment.
Like I said, the chance of being picked for a jury that involves drug possession charges is extremely remote. But our ability to disseminate a simple message of civil obedience to encourage defiance in the face of injustice has never been greater. If millions of Americans know who Joseph Kony is and know how to dance “Gangnam-Style” then they can at least understand their legal right and moral obligation to hang a jury in the case of drug possession charges.
Twitter. Facebook. Smoke signals. Whatever your preferred method of communication, it’s time to spread the word and find the “one in twelve” willing to hang the jury.
This article is an excerpt from Jed Morey’s forthcoming book titled The Great American Disconnect: Five Fundamental Threats to our Republic
“America in Chains” Illustration by Jon Moreno
“Dissenting Juror” Illustration by Jon Sasala
“Hang The Jury” Video by Rashed Mian
www.hangthejury.com created by Michael Conforti
In high school, we held assemblies in the auditorium and painted posters around the school to bring to the forefront what it meant to be tolerant. Tolerance was the term of the nineties and the platform from which the politically correct language would spring. We were actively taught in our liberal arts-led public brainwashing education, that in order to heal society, we had to tolerate people who seemed different than us. But tolerance as a term never sat quite right with me. I never wanted to be in the company of someone who was taught to merely tolerate my existence. But we had to start somewhere, right? And that start was with the accepted vernacular.
Civil Rights comes in waves in this country: in 1920 white women won the right to vote and later, “African-Americans” were awarded the same; progress was made in the way we looked at and treated the handicapped among us. And the word “gay” was maligned as a derogatory expression when we used it to mean “stupid” or “weak.” This week, marriage equality is rearing its head as the Supreme Court examines Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.
When I started ninth grade, AIDS was a full-blown threat with some high profile public figures falling ill. We learned that Elton John was homosexual, and that our suspicions about Boy George were spot on. Four years after I left high school, Matthew Shepard was slaughtered by someone who was decidedly intolerant.
Something Maya Angelou once said has always resonated with me. She spoke about how we demonize the people around us, to call murderers or pedophiles, “monsters.” Not people. The words serve to separate and to alienate us from each other. We can’t call people like that “people” because that’s what we are. But no person is a monster, she said. If one human could complete a heinous act, it is within the realm of possibility for each of us. The Latin phrase she quoted was, “Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto.” I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.’
In a similar vein, she continued, we have within us the possibilities to accomplish what the greatest among us have: “If a human being dreams a great dream, dares to love somebody; if a human being dares to be Martin King, or Mahatma Gandhi, or Mother Theresa, or Malcolm X; if a human being dares to be bigger than the condition into which she or he was born—it means so can you.” All of us, each of us, human.
No matter what the courts decide, marriage equality is on its way, just as the times before them had come to cast aside our base judgements and remember the humanity that makes us hold more in common than we oftentimes like to believe. In time, “gay marriage” will simply be called “marriage.”
Beyond that, can we graduate from tolerating our differences to something else? I don’t mean love. I don’t believe we could love everyone we bump into. Respect? No, I think I could learn to love all human beings around me before I could commit to offering indiscriminate and undeserved respect. Coexist brings me to a bumper sticker on a hunter green Subaru, the paint peeling and rust flaking from the bumper. Coexist sounds like tolerate to me – a life lived next to someone else. It’s better than annihilating that neighbor, but I think we can do better. Celebrating our differences is way more than we can ever hope to realistically expect.
I watched a documentary about Matthew Shepard in my first psychology course in college, undoubtedly meant to foster awareness of others, their conditions, and how we react to them. In this psychology course, I learned about transference, a term that meant hating the part of someone else that was something you perceived to be a deep-seated trait of your own. Sort of like how I can’t stand judgmental people. I remembered that Matthew Shepard’s killer was discovered to have been homosexual. That he butchered another human, calling him “fag” while he did it, not because he was intolerant of that boy, but because he hated that part of himself. He couldn’t bear to see it displayed so blatantly by another.
As I watched Rob Portman change his views of marriage equality after he’d discovered that his own son was homosexual, I thought about ownership. How if we could all own the things we don’t like in ourselves, we could stand up to our parties, our peers, and ourselves and voice our collective humanity in words that seek not to alienate, but to connect.
What would this country look like if we could learn acceptance?
ca.pit.al.ism (noun): an economic system derived from theory uncovered in the book of Genesis whereby God created the free market (the earth), labor to exploit (Adam and Eve) and the corporation (serpent). Discovered by Adam Smith, perfected by Milton Friedman.
ca.pit.al.ism (noun): (1) a term originally defined by socialists at the turn of the Twentieth Century to define an economic system whereby ownership of private property is the basis for wealth and investment. (2) an efficient economic model that when stripped of a rigorous regulatory framework can go terribly, terribly wrong.
cli.mate change (noun): (1) a hoax of epic proportion invented by Al Gore (shortly after he created the Internet) that is designed to infringe upon the God-given right of a corporation (see: person) to determine acceptable levels of pollution in the name of progress at any cost. (2) a naturally occurring phenomenon that rids the earth of weak-brained creatures such as dinosaurs (source needed – existence unclear) and liberals, neither of which possess the ingenuity to adapt. (3) a cost of doing business.
cli.mate change (noun): a manmade phenomenon whereby industrial pollution, in addition to creating a public health emergency, simultaneously strips away layers of the ozone while trapping greenhouse gases thereby forcing an unnatural rise in the earth’s temperature with disastrous consequences.
debt cei.ling (noun): (1) a legislative limit to the amount of funds the United States government is allowed to borrow set by responsible Republicans concerned with future generations. (2) a figure that must be set in stone during a Democratic administration, yet flexible during that of a Republican.
debt cei.ling (noun): something Republicans only talk about when a Democrat is in office.
en.ti.tle.ments (noun): a sense whereby liberals raise taxes on hard-working patriots to pay for lazy people who don’t work, roughly 47% of the US population. See also: welfare state.
en.ti.tle.ments (noun): legal term for programs citizens have paid into such as Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance. Said citizens cannot reap benefits without having contributed to the programs. See also: 401K packages. Unrelated to (noun) entitlement; sense of.
fa.mi.ly val.ues (noun): cherished ideals such as marriage between a man and a woman, in a predominantly white society that lives abundantly as set forth by our Creator and delivered by Jesus Christ, an unmarried, brown-skinned homeless man who told others to give away their earthly possessions.
fa.mi.ly val.ues (noun): stuff Jesus actually talked about.
gun con.trol (noun): measure whereby liberals seek to circumvent the second amendment rights given to us by our Creator and the Founding Fathers, to bear and keep arms, any arms, in unlimited amount, by whomever, and to use them against imminent threats to be decided and interpreted by the bearer, as a means to restrict government’s continued infringements against our freedom. See also: Hitler, “Stand Your Ground” law.
gun con.trol (noun): common sense reform includes limiting access to high capacity magazines, military-type semi-automatic weapons, and mandatory background checks for gun buyers/sellers to be cross-referenced nationally.
imm.i.gra.tion (noun): a dangerous process by which terrorists and colored people who speak in foreign tongues attempt to infiltrate the United States and make babies while stealing jobs from white people and living off welfare.
imm.i.gra.tion (noun): the process by which every citizen came to reside in the United States with the exception of American Indians.
job cre.at.ors (noun): blessed and noble people who should pay little to no income taxes for they are the engines of Capitalism.
job cre.at.ors (noun): the Chinese government
marr.i.age e.qual.i.ty (noun): the notion of marriage for any heterosexual person as given by God and maintained in the Constitution. Does not include: marriage for the gays, human to animal, polygamy, or redneck to a firearm (with certain exceptions as defined by Mississippi State law.)
marr.i.age e.qual.i.ty (noun): the union of two individuals determined to share equally in both the joy and misery of an institution established when the average life expectancy of a human was thirty-five.
o.ba.ma.care (noun): the notion that taxpayers should use their hard-earned money to pay the doctor bills of those who can but do not work, the forcing of small businesses to pay for the health insurance of employees at the expense of their profitability, forcing them to cut worker’s hours, the forced financing by Catholics to pay for the recreational abortions of the morally corrupt. Much different than its origins in Massachusetts as a means for the state to intervene to force responsibility for health care on her citizenry, by mandating health insurance. See also: socialism.
o.ba.ma.care (noun): (1) middle of the road compromise between a “single payer” healthcare system that seems to work everywhere else on the planet and the most expensive, least productive system we currently have. (2) meh.
pa.tri.ot (noun): (1) a white citizen, born in the United States, forged in steel and armed to the teeth. (2) someone who defends his or her (but really his) constitutional rights against terrorism and tyranny by never questioning the government. See: Charlton Heston. See also: Ronald Reagan.
pa.tri.ot (noun): a man or a woman who exercises his or her constitutional rights to fight for a more just and righteous system of government for every person, even if that constitutional right is to question said government.
pro.life (adjective): (1) stance of the morally righteous, anti-baby killing, including but not limited to, made-up claims of “rape” or “incest;” and the honoring God’s will. The overriding of human rights by the fetus over the rights of the “host,” including but not limited to risking the life of said host. (2) anti-taxpayer funded murder. See also: pro gun, pro war, pro death penalty.
pro.life (adjective): anti-choice; stance made by men overriding a woman’s dominion over her own body; the forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. See also: conservative stance against social programs for the poor, including but not limited to welfare, nutrition, and health care for the children they fight for the births of, ie. bottomfeeders.
rape (verb): divided into several subcategories: “Legitimate Rape” – an action whereby a man forces sex on a woman who is not willing to engage in sexual behavior and communicates this by wearing conservative clothing and acting in an appropriate manner, ie. not consuming alcohol and/or “roofies” or by not entering a celibate religious order. “Forceable Rape” – a legitimate type, as opposed to “Spousal Rape,” “Statutory Rape,” and/or “Prison Rape.”
rape (verb): to force someone to have sex against his or her will. Period.
re.new.a.ble en.er.gy (noun): (1) oil. (2) natural gas. (3) coal. (4) nuclear.
re.new.a.ble en.er.gy (noun): (1) energy derived from naturally occurring sources such as the sun and the wind that are replenished continuously (2) the thing we will all someday wish we figured out how to use more of when houses in Ohio are waterfront property on the Atlantic.
se.quest.er (noun): (1) the culmination of President Obama’s ineptness, sly manipulation to make drastic cuts in defense, self-imposed punishment of the people to exacerbate divisiveness and to weaken America. (2) a means for Obama to try to raise more taxes to fund entitlements. Not at all the across the board spending cuts that John McCain and Mitt Romney proposed.
se.quest.er (noun): bi-partisan shit-show of an indiscriminate ten percent cut to domestic and defense spending set up to force Congress’ hands into creating a workable budget.
so.cial.ism (noun): It’s not really clear, but it’s definitely bad and President Obama loves it. See also: Communism, Fascism, Satanism, Liberalism, Pansyism
so.cial.ism (noun): an economic system that advocates for social ownership of the means of distribution. Socialist motto: “To each according to his contribution,” meaning that economic rewards are based upon positive contribution to society. Seen in the United States’ public school system, which offers schooling to all children and is funded by property taxes and supplemented, based on need, by state and federal funding. Competition arises in the private school sector, which is a separately funded alternative to public schools.
tor.ture (noun): (1) the process by which information is safely and lawfully extracted from evil-doers in the name of national security (2) slang for rendition
tor.ture (noun): (1) illegal (2) knowing that millions of people listen to Rush Limbaugh and think he’s terrific (3) the Fox and Friends morning show.
war (noun): the left’s continuation of restriction of liberty of, including but not limited to: Christmas, religion, guns, marriage, and family, but definitely not on women.
war (noun): armed conflict declared by Congress, within the confines of world law and United Nations sovereignty. Continuations of Republican-led battles on such wide-ranging subjects as drugs and terror. Non-pre-emptive. See also: Guantanamo, drones, surge.