WHEN I wandered away from my desk for a few weeks this summer to contemplate my navel and throw a few words at my novel (in that order), I figured the most significant change upon my return would be that my pet orchid died.
Instead, that plucky phalaenopsis grew a waxy new leaf and America has turned completely upside down.
In less than a month, the empty pageantry and mouth-breathing apathy I left up on my browser seems to have refreshed itself into something that kind of looks like ... momentum.
First off, I could not have predicted that when I rose from my chillaxed coma that topping the presidential polls would be an eccentric billionaire and a bonafide Socialist (even though Bernie Sanders’ campaign takes great pains to define the “Democratic” qualifier on the label, many find it more dramatic to leave it out. It makes for more exciting punditry, and some people enjoy watching their grandparents get all apoplectic.)
Bernie may be the rumpled dark prince of economic populism, but his platform got a fierce flogging when Black Lives Matter activists disrupted his political rally in Seattle to call him out on his tepid attention to issues of racial injustice. He and his supporters seemed surprised that BLM would choose to question the respected senator who’s literally carried the banner for bleeding heart liberals all by himself for decades.
Frankly, I think the bigger shock is that Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford were allowed to speak at the mic at all instead of being dragged offstage, pepper-sprayed, tased, shot and/or carted off to jail where they might have been mysteriously made dead. (Yeah, going there. #JusticeForSandra.)
Sure, there are some who argued that it’s rude to interrupt one’s elders. I have to agree, especially the elder I get—unless there’s a fire or someone is bleeding. When it comes to the entrenched disenfranchisement and harassment that people of color experience in this country, the building is a flaming inferno and blood is pouring out the windows.
Black lives matter, and black votes count. That shouldn’t have to be a damn revelation, but if it takes storming the stage to remind us, so be it. (To his credit, Bernie got the message real quick and within days hired criminal reform activist Symone Sanders as his press secretary.)
There were other small drags towards meaningful change this summer: Mass incarceration is finally being examined with a “let’s fix it” lens, as is the problem of post-prison unemployability. Endorsed by Bernie, Hillary Clinton, 25 U.S. senators and countless business and social groups, Ban the Box is a nationwide campaign to end discrimination towards people who have served time by removing the “Have you ever been convicted?” checkbox on job applications.
Here in Chatham County, where 67 percent of the jail population consists of African American men under 30, that small reform could give a whole lot of people a better chance at getting and keeping a job—which, unless I’m mistaken, is the most important issue at stake regardless of what political party you’re taking to the dance.
As the sandspur of race continues to lodge in our tender feet, any tiptoeing around gayness seems to be over. While I was sleeping, Boy Scouts of America president Robert Gates announced that the BSA has abolished its ban on openly gay scout leaders and paid administrators, two years after it began allowing gay scouts.
It’s not like Gates is some kind of crazy liberal: An Eagle Scout from way back, he’s a former director of the CIA and served as defense secretary under George W. Bush and President Obama.
But he and other BSA leaders recognize that discrimination of any kind is no longer sustainable in this country, and that the best action for the non-profit now is “to seize control of our own future” rather than let the courts do it for them.
Noted Gates in his address to the national organization back in May, “The country is changing.”
Dude, you’re telling me! Ain’t it great?
I mean, I woke up from a dream about flying cats to find the American flag flying over Cuba! I wish my jazz piano-playing, Democratic Socialist (or woulda been, except McCarthy) grandfather could have lived to see it. He would have loved Bernie.
Speaking of flags, there are many Southern folks who will always claim the stars and bars as their cultural icon of choice. Several people have championed to me that it’s about heritage, and I can respect that. Separating the rebel from the cause and all that, fine.
I also think it’s important to know that in these times, waving the Confederate banner from a public place, or say, on the cover of a magazine, announces a narrow understanding of an America that serves very few. At best, it reveals a tone deafness to the tremendous work that still needs to be done to ensure liberty and justice for all.
We live in a city, a South and a country in dire need of positive change. We must remind each other that we all have more in common than the labels and parties that divide us. I’m too confused and narcoleptic to ever run for office, but do I hold the strong belief that prioritizing civility, tolerance and inclusion is only the way forward.
Mostly, I’ve emerged from my summer slumber to things on key.
Last Sunday, our 15 year-old son, who declared himself a proud gay man earlier this year, opened the Sand Gnats game with the national anthem. It was a teary moment for this cheerleading outlier and self-proclaimed weirdo to witness his confidence that he is accepted and adored in this community, and it gives me marvelous hope for the future.
While my kid’s rendition resonated like a clear baritone bell, it still made me think of Roseanne Barr, who famously butchered the Star-Spangled Banner in 1990. The Youtube video is as screechy and crass as it ever was, but it reminds us of the millions of possible permutations of what it means to stand up for this country.
“I represent a certain part of America that probably no one else represents,” defended Barr of her blue collar bawdiness. “I came out of someplace, and got someplace, and I’ve got a right to sing the song.”
Democracy rarely has perfect pitch, and yes, sometimes it can be hard to listen to. It takes courage to respect the rights of others, especially if you don’t agree with them.
As we clear the crust from our eyes and gear up for a year of elections great and small, the most important thing we’ve got to remember is we’ve all got the right to sing the song.
Even if we march to different beat.