Well, they'll stone ya when you're trying to be so good
They'll stone ya just a-like they said they would
They'll stone ya when you're tryin' to go home
Then they'll stone ya when you're there all alone
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned.
~ Rainy Day Women #12 and #35 by Bob Dylan
This song has been replaying in my head for the last week. It popped up when I read that Mitt Romney had selected Paul Ryan, a popular candidate with the Tea Party, as his running mate. Ryan’s budget plan includes not raising taxes on the wealthy and cutting social programs funding. He wants to turn Medicare into a partially privatized voucher system. He is of the camp that the wealthy are more deserving than the rest of us.
The song popped up when I read about the shooting at the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization that has spewed hatred about gays, calling them child molesters and suggesting that homosexuality be criminalized. FRC president Tony Perkins blamed the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for listing the FRC on its hate group watch list. He said, “And in those stories where it says the Family Research Council, it says they're a certified hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. We've seen that term used increasingly over the last two years and it marginalizes individuals and organizations, letting people feel free to go and do bodily harm to innocent people who are simply working and representing folks all across this country."
The SPLC responded that it had listed the FRC as a hate group since 2010 "because it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people -- not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage."
Their statement continued: “The FRC and its allies on the religious right are saying, in effect, that offering legitimate and fact-based criticism in a democratic society is tantamount to suggesting that the objects of criticism should be the targets of criminal violence."
It frustrates me that conservatives use inflammatory, hateful language and marginalize groups of people and individuals all the time. And there has been violence as a result of their rhetoric. But with one incident, they can turn around and blame a group that has tracked hate crimes for years, all hate crimes and all hate organizations, to benefit all of us. It’s the old do as I say, not as I do saw.
When I first saw the story, I wondered about the shooter. Most liberals carry signs, not guns. But perhaps the malignant language used by the president of the FRC when describing homosexuality was too much for Floyd Lee Corkins II, whose parents said he felt the FRC was unjust towards the gay and homosexual community. A strong and unwarranted response, but is anyone surprised? We are an armed society and shooting is an acceptable way of solving a problem or dispute. At least that is what many Americans believe, because they support the right to bear arms and minimal gun control.
Then I saw a story on the news a couple of days ago about the police shooting a mentally ill man on July 1st in Saginaw, MI. The song popped into my head again.
Milton Hall, a forty-nine-year-old African-American, was agitated, and he was wielding a knife. When he refused to put it down, the police opened fire and shot him over thirty times. Thirty times! He was a known mentally ill person to the police, having been picked up in the past on vagrancy charges. They still shot him thirty times! They couldn’t have tased him? They couldn’t have loosed the police dog on him? No, they shot him thirty times! Thirty times! See a video that a bystander took of the shooting. Warning: it is very graphic.
Can we talk about itchy trigger fingers? They are epidemic in America.
How many people have to be shot before we all rise up and say “no more?” It’s just getting crazier and crazier, and because it’s an election year, nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the middle of the map of the United States. Nor would the Republican dominated Congress pass any legislation concerning gun control. Do the conservatives and Tea Partiers realize that when you support the right to bear arms and also support minimal gun control that a lot of people who probably shouldn’t have guns are going to have them? That when a culture of gun ownership becomes more and more common, people from all walks of life are going to use guns more often and in more situations to resolve problems, differences, and disagreements? When you hope to operate above the law and common decency, others, people you think don’t deserve to, will follow you and act like you. And when you want the government to limit the rights of some but not others, like when you pass a constitutional amendment that says marriage is between a man and a woman, you will end up limiting your rights as well. We are either all equal or we are not. You can’t have it both ways.
Sometimes I feel I am witnessing the decline of a world power. Our country is disintegrating from the inside out. We’ve become more divisive than ever, and our politicians and corporate fat cats are feeding the frenzy. They are blatantly choosing business practices and passing legislation that favor the wealthy and leave the rest of us struggling. We are so far apart philosophically that I wonder if we will ever be able to reach a compromise.
It is the hatred and meanness behind the spewed rhetoric and lies. It is the way people wish ill of others because they don’t like them, are afraid of them, or judge them as less than, as in less equal or less worthy and deserving. I’m definitely more cynical at this age but I feel people are meaner, more self-serving, and that they value some lives over others. Whatever strides we made toward true equality, during the Civil Rights Era and because of the feminist movement, seem distant and tarnished in this era.
Then I remember Bob Dylan’s song. It’s meaning is layered. He could be talking about getting high, very popular in the sixties and apparently as popular today. That’s too simplistic in my mind. He was also talking about certain special, rare women in his life (#12 and #35) whose presence made him feel as if he’d been stoned.
But I also think he was talking about how everyone gets hit upside the head at one time or another when one least expects it. We are the same in that way: at some unexpected times in life, we will be stoned, in a moment of rare joy, love, and splendor or in a moment of tragedy, loss, and sadness.
It has nothing to do with who is more deserving or worthy. It happens to everyone, and trying to protect yourself with money, guns, and inflammatory, hateful language will not save you, because everybody must get stoned. It’s just a matter of how, when, and to what degree.
Wouldn’t it be better, knowing this, if we all shared compassion and empathy for one another and remembered that no one is more or less deserving? Let’s put away our weapons, harsh language, and lies. Let’s stop the violence. Let’s recognize and acknowledge that every person is equal, vulnerable, and imperfect. Everybody must get stoned.