Gotta’ hand it to the kids. Tens – hundreds – of thousands of them are marching for an end to gun violence in the US today. I was going to go to the Boston rally, but have been battling off a cold all week and decided to take it easy for a change. I’ve been following the action on social media. This is a big one, folks, and one that will definitely have an impact on public policy.
I’m really proud of these young people. They’re standing together and have that fire-in-the-belly vibe that makes me really, really happy. And they’re not just marching. They’re talking about specific policy changes they want Congress and the President to enact. They’re saying if they don’t get the protection and common-sense gun reform they need, the eligible ones will vote the naysayers out of office this November.
The young people are joined en mass by adults, many of whom have spent years banging their heads against a wall trying to get our government to do something – anything – to change our insane gun laws. Black Lives Matter was out in force and no wonder, given the black male death rate by guns. I also saw a sign that read “Docs Against Glocks.” Saw lots of folks from Everytown for Gun Safety, too.
Common sense seems to have finally arrived, at the hands of women (at the Women’s March last year) and children (at the March for our Lives). And why not? Weren’t they the first to get into the lifeboats as the Titanic sank, while the rich, white males stayed where they were and eventually drowned?
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
This is the entire statue of liberty poem, written by Emma Lazarus. It basically tells the rich to stay home and the poor, “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” to come here. Come to America. The poem was written by Emma Lazarus, as part of an overall effort to raise money for a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. the “mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name MOTHER OF EXILES.”
In those days, we stretched an open hand to immigrants, now we’ve turned that hand into a fist to exile our own people – the children of immigrants who came to the US as children and who grew up and thrived here. Now they’re people from “shithole” countries, according to the President, who’d prefer rich, white Europeans like Norwegians. They’ve shut down the government over it – leadership by a 5-year-old having a temper tantrum.
I cringe at Trump’s words, rage as his vacillation as he changes his mind from hour to hour, blowing up one bipartisan funding plan after another. First he says yes, I’ll sign a bill that protects dreamers if you give me funding for the wall. A few hours later, he says no, he doesn’t want more people from those shithole countries. What he really means is pretty obvious. I’ll take white people, but black and brown people can suck the air for all he cares. Racism. Our President is an open, hostile racist and the entire country is paying the price for his attitude and behavior.
I’m appalled by our current political situation, in ways that I haven’t been before. At the same time, I feel an obligation as an American citizen – the granddaughter of immigrants myself – to clean up the mess the President and his spineless and greedy Republican majority are making. Talk about shit. All they did this year was vote themselves a tax cut, all the while under-staffing critical government positions, packing the courts with right-wing judges, trying to rescind access to health care and blame our problems on illegal immigrants trying to make a living by picking our vegetables and taking the worst jobs at the lowest level of pay. And that’s just skimming the surface. I could list the damage the Republicans have done for another hour. And now we don’t have a government. And they’re blaming the Democrats (who are finally showing some spine, thank you very much) when the Republican party controls all three branches of government.
I feel very strongly about the dreamers, maybe because of my own immigrant background. These are folks who grew up in this country and who have little – or no – ties to the countries their parents came from. They’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. They grew up here. They fucking grew up here. Same as me. English is their native language, the US is their home. Some of them didn’t even know they were “illegal” until they tried to get a driver’s license or go to college. They’re in the military. They own businesses. And even if they don’t, even if they’re truck drivers or meat packers, they’re one of us and we take care of our own. Or we should. Maybe that’s a white, middle-class perspective. It doesn’t look to me like communities of color get the same treatment. Black Lives do Matter and don’t give me that crap about how all lives matter. Some lives seem to matter more than others and immigrant lives matter even less than that. I’m furious but I’m also in pain, because I happen to love this country – despite its faults. I am angry at the people who are, basically, taking a dump on it. We’re better than this. I am an American and we’re not that way. I’m not that way. I would have to deny everything that I am to be that way.
We are all immigrants. Mine came from Poland. They came here for the same reasons immigrants have always come here, to step out of poverty and avoid the violence killing everybody else. I’m proud of my heritage, but I am an American. How would I feel if the government suddenly decided that I was illegal and had to leave? I don’t speak Polish, I’ve only been there once. It’s not my home and it’s not my culture. I carry threads of it throughout my life, particularly during holidays. I’m proud of my Polish heritage, but I am not Polish. I am an American. And so are the dreamers.
When you’re ready, we’ll still be here (Occupy Wall Street)
Another weekend, another march. Another recess, another packed auditorium. There are cracks in the wall and I hope they get big enough for reason to squeeze through.
The only silver lining I see in Trump’s election is that it has – finally – woken up the American electorate. Stay woke, folks. And don’t forget, this is the culmination of so much that came before.
Remember Occupy Wall Street? Ever wonder why it was shut down so quickly? No one batted an eyelash when the Tea Party was out in full force. But the Occupy movement, the one that burned around the world? You can blame the protesters for being disorganized all you want. That movement got shut down because it was real – a real movement and a real threat. The tents came down faster than you can say “threat to the government.”
All that energy had to go somewhere and it has – right here and right now. But Occupy Wall Street’s memory is not the only force behind the resistance. Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Tanisha Anderson. Tamir Rice. Just the tip of a monstrous iceberg that’s been gunning down people in communities of color for generations.
Of course, Black Lives Matter was the first thing in Trump’s line of fire. How insane. How obvious in its racism. Would you see the above picture during a drunken white student-break riot in Florida? No, I don’t think so. Music has followed this struggle, from hymns to rap. It’s been that long.
The more things change the more they stay the same. Death televised and no convictions. What’s wrong with this picture?
This video is from 1989. Actually, I thought about naming this installment of resistance music, “Fight the Power.” I first heard this song when I went to see Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” Good film, but I still felt like a white bystander. Watching videos of black men and women being killed in front of my eyes finally made it real. That and the cops dressed up like soldiers in Iraq. Like all good liberals, I’ve tried to understand and incorporate the notion of white privilege. I think Louis C.K. nailed it for me during one of his comedy routines. “I’m white, right? Yeah, it’s great! Are you kidding? I mean, c’mon!” In other words, no cop is going to arrest and then kill me for driving with a broken tail light. Are you kidding?
And native people. The bad guys in the John Wayne films and the heroic martyrs in more recent films. I’ve been getting a good look at a culture that was here for thousands of years before anyone else bumped into it. I’ve learned a lot in doing the research for this series. I guess the Dakota Access Pipeline was the final straw at the time it was also one of the first public stands against pipelines. Thank you for putting your bodies on the line and taking the beatings and arrests when they inevitably came. You did that for you, but you also did that for me. I didn’t have the courage you did.
“Who protects the people from the police?” Even US military veterans apologized for hundreds of years of repression, but the pipeline had to go in, didn’t it, Donnie? On their fucking land, what little we ceded to them.
Almost time to get off of my soapbox. I’m not crazy about rap or hip hop, but it seems to be a universal protest genre. I’ve heard it sung in cultures everywhere – rappers in Turkey, in Germany, in the Middle East.
But the group Donald-the-pussy-grabber brought out in droves and droves and droves? Women. Ladies, we’re leading this fight and no one’s going anywhere until it’s done.
I can’t keep quiet. No, no, no. I have to do this.
I’ll end on this one, in my own little baby boomer tradition. Who doesn’t love Aretha? Sing, woman!
It is in the shelter of each other that the people live (Irish Proverb)
Playing for Change is more than a band. It’s a musical movement that includes musicians from all over the world playing together with nothing more to guide them than a set of headphones. We all know the Rolling Stones famous Gimme Shelter – anti-war song and unfortunately movie theme. Their version of it is fantastic – great music, great musicians, just about everywhere on this little globe of ours.
I’ll be featuring more of their music in upcoming blog posts. I like organizations that use music to bring us together. I think things would be a lot easier if we all realize how much we all have in common.
I’ll end with this chestnut from John Lennon, a man of peace (eventually) who was taken from us before his work was done. Peace. Imagine that.
Thank you, John. And thank you, Playing for Change.