Friday, December 30, 2016

2017 and Counting

We are at a precipitous time in our lives and in the history of our country. A sense of dread hangs over my every thought and action. Maybe many of you feel as I do: depressed, angry, anxious, and fearful, with a sense that the world tilted on its axis and something is coming to an end.  The weird thing is both sides of the partisan aisle feel that way. The right feels it looking back over the last eight years, and the left feels it looking forward to the next four years as we witness an end to progress.
Ever since it became apparent that Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States, I have suffered anxiety and paralysis. I know this response is useless, and so is any display of anger at those who elected Trump, or those who worked behind the scenes, including Russian hackers, to sway the election, or those in our own country who worked to make voter access difficult for some populations. It is more important to take action as President Obama did with sanctions against Russia.
Along those lines, I thought I would list some possible New Year’s resolutions so we can try our damndest to right this runaway train before the inevitable crash occurs.
But I find myself feeling resolutions are not quite the right term for 2017.  They may seem like good intentions that don’t have to be fulfilled. Plus they cannot possibly fix all that is broken. They cannot possibly lift me or us from the depths of despair. They cannot possibly stop the train wreck.
Instead I will call them living commitments, and I am suggesting them for individuals and for the collective America we all call home, although not every single one will apply to every person (you’ll know which ones are which for your situation):
1.     Appreciate the people in your life who love you just as you are. Love them back just as unconditionally. Don’t just tell them you love them. Show them every day through kindness, compassion, attentiveness, and concern. And when life gets in the way and things feel dire, help, if you can, and if they accept your help, or sit and listen. Let them vent, and vent, and vent, until they feel better. One day you will need the same.
2.     Stay fit and work toward maintaining good health, but don’t get obsessed about it. Sometimes it is just as important to treat yourself and to have a good time. Everything in moderation isn’t such a bad adage.
3.     Stop believing your time and your life are worth more than others’. Especially stop believing your skin color or your religion makes you better.  The world isn’t as big as it used to seem and we are all in it together. We are all exactly the same at birth, imperfect and trying to survive, equal in every way, except our life circumstances and the cultural and ethnic beliefs in which we are raised and through which we view the world around us are different, so even the people you may think do not deserve equality are your equals. Treat others, as you would have them treat you.
4.     Speak up as often as necessary and do not let this Trump circus become normalized with excuses or pleas to “give him a chance.” He’s blown all his chances and then some, and he hasn’t even been sworn in yet. He is an egomaniacal, ignorant, bigoted, ethically challenged, sexually inappropriate, greedy, developmentally stunted, rich guy who will destroy our country and possibly the world. Remember what Maya Angelou said: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” Don’t be complacent.
5.     Read the real news from the free press: The New York Times, The Washington Post, or any of the big city newspapers, and your local paper so you know what is going on in your area. Learn which outlets are fake news outlets and don’t support them by reading or sharing their trash. Stop watching news entertainment channels like Fox News. They make money by making you view the world through fear, paranoia, and hatred.
6.     Get involved with your local politics. Be an informed voter, pass out flyers, help people register to vote, make phone calls, or think about running for office – we need people to run for office. At the very least, get out and vote in EVERY SINGLE ELECTION and write to your representatives at all levels so they know what their constituents are thinking. We need to get out there and get the word out that hate and insularity are not our mandates. Equality and quality of life for every single American are our mandates.
7.     Remember how small the world is now and how important it is that we engage in the global negotiations among countries, global human rights, and the global economy. We are a world power, though we may not be for long. Trump has it wrong, very wrong, and his ignorance and reliance on white supremacists and crazy, old, white generals who believe in conspiracy theories could very well stir up world unrest. It already has. World War III is now a possibility, and it won’t be like the other wars, which were horrible, devastating, and inhumane in their own right. This one could end it all, especially since Trump tweeted about a nuclear arms race and because there are other unstable, egotistical, world leaders like him. Do you really think they care about human life other than their own lives? You are delusional if you think they do.
8.     Speak up against discrimination of any kind. The worst you can do is nothing. It makes you complicit. Even if you don’t think it is your problem, it is, because it is our country’s problem. There are people who are oppressed socially, educationally, and economically because of the color of their skin, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or ableism.  Do you think it is okay when one group feels perfectly comfortable defining the worth of other people based on a single standard (white, male, heterosexual, able) and then treat others differently, indifferently, or even violently? If you don’t, then don’t be silent.
9.     The only reasonable response to the murder of unarmed black men and women is outrage.  Think of it as the new Jim Crow control of the black population through terrorization, akin to lynching prior to the Civil Rights movement. If you don’t feel outrage EVERY SINGLE TIME you see such murders on the news, ask yourself why. If the answer is racial bias, which it probably is, work hard and learn how to overcome it. It is important that we recognize, acknowledge, and question our biases. If we don’t, our country will NEVER overcome systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, classism, and ableism. We will never reach the ideal of equality. Our citizens are becoming browner and female.  Will we become majority minorities with a white male ruling class, or will we get this figured out so that every American is bestowed freedom equally, has a voice in the process of governing, and where we can truly govern our country for the greater good and not for the good of the few? Don’t just feel the outrage. Do something about it. Write to your representatives, the Attorney General, and the police departments that switched from protect and serve peace officers to militarized population control. And if you are thinking we should care as much about the police who occasionally get gunned down, I agree. But let’s get real: some people are going to snap when they fear walking down the street or having a broken taillight could result in death by police officer. Can you imagine living under that kind of stress? It feels unbearable, right? Until we retrain police to be peace officers who are invested in community policing and police departments reflect the ethnic makeup of communities they serve, that kind of over-the-top retaliation may still occur. So this is about the safety of all parties involved, and, yes, all lives matter, but we are focusing on black lives because those are the lives that appear to have no value in our society.
10. Stop pretending our economy and the middle class are reliant on manufacturing jobs. Technology has changed manufacturing, and those jobs, as well as coal mining jobs, are gone, not necessarily shipped out. Our economy is energy, technology, consumer, and service based. Pay a living wage and allot full time status to those jobs that were traditionally reserved for high school students. Let unions negotiate pay, benefits, and workers’ rights and safety again. We need unions and the strength of their membership numbers to make working conditions better for everyone. A rising tide lifts all boats, no matter their size.
11. Fight against privatization of government functions. The government doesn’t have to make a profit. Running the government like a business is a terrible mistake. Private companies do and want to make money, lots of it, through methods that put the bottom line above all else, like quality and affordability of service. Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, the US Post Office, and the Internal Revenue Service are government functions that are almost wholly self-sustaining.  Prisons should also be a government function – a privatized prison system is only cost effective when the prison is full beyond capacity, which means ridiculous sentences for petty crime. Health care should be a government function – a single payer system that can negotiate drug and health service pricing, focus on preventative health care, include dental care, and take the burden of providing health insurance to employees from corporations that complain the cost is too much (it is expensive, for both the corporation and the employee, who is saddled with expensive premiums and high deductibles). Then corporations could spend more on jobs. Don’t let rich (mostly) white men, hoping to get richer, take over such functions. They will be more interested in making money than in serving the interests of the public, and services will not be equitably distributed. Furthermore, the middle class is filled with government workers. Privatize those jobs and the middle class will shrink even more.
12. Public education should remain public education. Vouchers are just a way to ensure wealthy people can send their children to private schools using public school funds instead of their own money. Their advantage will disadvantage our children. It will never be equitable and the same goes for the privatization of public schools.
13. Stop feeling like you worked harder than other people to get where you are. Realize most Americans work hard, and being punitive about pay and benefits is a horrible way to treat fellow Americans. Assigning more worth to one job over another is wrong – we need all kinds of jobs to make our country function, so all jobs deserve a living wage. Many people benefitted from systemic and institutional racism and sexism to get where they are, so they are not better or harder workers, but privileged. Most people want to work, and there should be jobs for them that pay a living wage. Place a cap on executive pay, so that it is not more than ten times the lowest paid employee of the company (right now it is 300 – 400 times higher). For those who can’t work, provide living wage assistance.
14. Stop being punitive to poor people. Most of them are poor due to systemic classism or racism. Poor, white people (many of whom live in rural areas) outnumber poor black people because blacks make up only 12% of the total population (an amazing statistic when you consider the number of Africans who were taken from their homeland and sold into slavery. At one time there were many more slaves than white people, particularly in the South. Are you inquisitive enough to wonder why that is? The conditions of slavery, Jim Crow, policing, and systemic racism have caused a stark decline in the population of American blacks. Genocide in our country is not new or unique. Ask the one 1% of Native Americans.) – racial bias makes most people believe blacks make up the majority of poor people. We can help all poor people by making sure they have access to education, jobs, health care, housing, and food.  Not a single child in America should go hungry or without a warm bed or a safe place to live and attend school. Our tax dollars should support safety nets and access to the inherent rights listed above. Relying on churches and charities is wrong because they do not have enough to help all the needy and sometimes they are subjective about whom they serve. Think of your tax dollars as tithing. Such a small amount of tax dollars cover safety nets (the majority of tax dollars are spent on defense), so taxpayers should not feel they are helping freeloaders, who are a definite minority amongst the poor.
15. Remember patriotism is not just blind allegiance to our country. It is the active participation and contributions one makes as a citizen that is true patriotism. If you are in support of the Confederate flag, you are not a patriot, and you are guilty of treason. White supremacy is a myth and your support of it, or your support of a supremacist president and his supremacist cronies, goes against the best ideals of this country and is a damaging testimony in regard to your character.
16.  Equality doesn’t take away from some to give to others. It simply ensures equal access and opportunity to reach one’s God-given potential. No one will take your jobs, your guns (except maybe assault weapons which have no business being used by anyone not in the military), or your religion from you. That is the lie you’ve been told so you will vote for the wealthy to get even richer. In fact, equality will ensure you have the freedom to live, work, socialize, and worship as you choose, and it ensures it for every person. Realize that if a person decides to marry someone of the same sex, for example, that decision in no way impacts your religious rights. If you decide your religion prevents you from assisting such a reunion, then please don’t run for the position of city clerk or have a business which daily puts you in conflict with your religious beliefs. That is something you must personally decide upon while not imposing your will on others.
17. Remember this country has enough room and resources for everyone here, including illegal immigrants (and their children) who were brought here by large corporations, like Trump’s businesses, so they could pay them lower wages and not provide benefits. Our diversity is our strength. That’s what true democracy is: the cacophony of many ideas and perspectives in order to find the best path to serve the greater good.
Happy New Year, dear readers! We will get through this time in our history just as we struggled, fought for, and won progressive change in the past. We will head toward the righteous and progressive path and be on the right side of history, even as other forces try to turn us backward. Let’s turn our anxiety and despair into action. America is already great, and together we can make a difference and make it even greater.