Me Versus We
The politics of the past few weeks has reminded me of the poem I have peppered in below. It was written by German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller in 1946 as a form of contrition and caution. He, like many, stood by as fascists took control of his country and plunged the world into war. I hope it can resonate in you. Especially at this moment.
First they came for the Communists And I did not speak out Because I was not a Communist
Roe v. Wade & Me
The recent ruling striking down Roe v. Wade decision took a bit of time for me to absorb. Part of that was because we all had been given a warning that it was coming with the leak of the draft. The bigger thing was that as a straight, single, unattached, middle-aged man of color with no children, I felt far enough removed from the heart of the issue that it was easy to view it from the cheap seats.
When the ruling finally came down, I was so deep into the “don’t have to care” that it was easy to just keep the stay the “cheap” course mentality. Two things made me wake up to the reality of the trouble I am in: few conversations with women that I care about deeply and Clarence Thomas.
The first was more of a social reflex. Something big happened in society and I felt the need to talk to people who were more invested than me on both sides. These friends run the range of the reproductive spectrum. A young mother still nursing her first child. Young women with distant or no thoughts of children. Older women with and without children. Older women who were grandmothers and deliberately not. Both pro-choice and pro-life who span the religious and non-religious landscape. In fact, the issue stood central in the sermon last Sundays church service.
The central theme was they we upset. Very upset. Listening to the range of reasons they shared began to make me ashamed as a man for taking such a passive posture.
Last time I checked, women take up a pretty sizable chunk of my life. Brother to two great sisters. Nephew of four wonderful aunts. Pseudo godfather to several of my friends’ daughters. Grateful recipient of the love of far too many women I was not worthy of. First son of a woman who gave more than I will ever know to make the life I have. Some of them chose children while others didn’t. Both were conscious choices. And that’s the point.
I have lived much of my life taking them the kind of granted that allowed me to keep them at arm’s length emotionally. Only dealing with them on the terms that I felt necessary from my point of view.
I knew better but did not have to do better.
Now I have to because who am I if I don’t?
Then they came for the Socialists And I did not speak out Because I was not a Socialist
Freedom V. The Law of the Land
The issue. The point is simple. Freedom of choice. Self-determination. Anatomy of body, mind, and spirit. Individual liberty. Foundational principles that too many laud on their own terms which means they don’t care for them at all.
Our current supreme court has shown itself for what it is. A self-serving cabal based in religious fear and crony misogyny. Now, more than ever I have been woken up to this stark reality. It has been happening slowly before my eyes for years. I tried to address the voting part of it in my show “The Movement”, but now I see the sinister tapestry with even more clarity.
“The Voting Rights Act of 1965” was one of the most consequential pieces of legislation in the entire history of this country. More than the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments of the Constitution, it put protections in place that Blacks in America needed from the people who cared little for our constitutional rights. They used every dirty and immoral trick in the book to keep us from voting. Before that legislation the courts could not be depended on to protect what the law said we deserved as free and full citizens of this country.
Our ability to cast a ballot is the single more important expression of our national autonomy. For the last 12 years that right has been consistently under assault. On June 25th of 2013 the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of The Voting Rights Act. This was the heart of the law. It said that certain states had to get prior federal approval before they could make changes to their voting requirements. Places that happened to have a particularly bad history with disenfranchising the disenfranchised. The minute that section was nullified more than a dozen states rushed to change the rules. Some had been trying workarounds even before this ruling.
Original Intent V. Original Vision
This current assault on individual liberty can all be captured under the title of Constitutional “Originalism”. Put simply, all laws and constitutional amendments should be interpreted through the most narrow lens of what the founders meant when they wrote the words.
What is not brought up enough is that those “Original” people were all White, Christian, Educated, Land-owning. Sexist. Mostly slave-owning men. They thought that women did not have the faculties to make civic decisions. Even ones that pertained to them directly. They took slavery off the table for the sake of not breaking up the deal that would have given them autonomy from England. By the way, they also got to keep all the tax money England used to get. They didn’t mention the original inhabitants of the land because it would have been harder to justify national expansion and its necessary cruelty. The flavor of that irony would have been too hard to taste. The Declaration of Independence would have read like some sick joke given the way they painted the crown.
If they wanted to include women, people of color and sovereignty of native peoples, they could have. I think it’s safe to say those things would have blown the deal to pieces.
What they did do was add a way for a more enlightened. Less selfish. Less sexist. More humane society to “amend” the rules. This is what those so-called constitutional originalists actively overlook. I believe that this theory is a direct push back on self determination which is inherent in our founding documents. Those White, Christian, Educated, Land-owning. Sexist. Mostly slave-owning men wrote it that way purposely. They saw beyond themselves with better vision than many of the jurists currently sitting. Right now, I will focus on one in particular.
Then they came for the trade unionists And I did not speak out Because I was not a trade unionist
Fear V. Love
When Clarence Thomas let fly his conservative fever dream of “revisiting” earlier rulings now that they have smacked down Roe, he revealed the angry, petty, mole-like vision and its glaring flaws of his judicial logic.
Rolling back individual rights to reflect the original people who wrote the first draft has been the plan. Now the march towards “the good old days” is in full stride. Women’s rights. LGBTQ Rights. Health Rights are just the beginning. Has he not thought about the fact that interracial marriages, like the one he is in, was also not a thing the funders would have stomached?
In his book “The 400 Year Holocaust”, Dante King goes deep into the kinds of laws that were in place to punish any white woman who would have contemplated sex with a black person, let alone marriage. She, herself, could end up a slave had she chosen to love across the color line. The laws never applied to white men cause sometimes a man just needs to get a little “rape-y”.
This new conservative super majority court has been long in its construction. It has been laser focused on its objectives. And now it’s on! The objective was to put people on the court that are religious. That and a race of sex-based views could be packaged in such a way to make them seem ideological rather than what they really are. They could /cannot say these things openly because they would have disqualified themselves from the lifetime appointments that now give them cover.
Then they came for the Jews And I did not speak out Because I was not a Jew
For jurist like Thomas and Amy Coney-Barrett there seems to be little thought to the fact that they may be now reaping the rewards of their ultra-bias views, but they are setting up their children to live in some perverse world that is a mix “Get Out” and “A Handmaid's Tale” where individual freedom and the right to vote can be seen through an “originalist” lens.
Conservative V. Demagogue
I am not against conservatives. I believe that the court should reflect a balance of the body of the country ideologically. We can argue and debate how close we are to that, but the reality of many of their decisions in the last two weeks speaks to a judicial inconsistency that has been called out by judicial scholars on both sides of the spectrum. I do not believe this is conservatism. I believe it is a judiciary laying the groundwork for a more fascist way of thinking and living.
It is incredibly hard for me to see how people with such academic power can be so intellectually and emotionally stunted.
But if anyone should know better and do better it is folks like them.
This country cannot function if extreme views are not put in check. It does not matter if they are religious, race, class, gender or whatever “my way or the highway” you wish to add to the pot. And by the way, it shouldn’t be. Not here.
Your religion is not everyone else’s. That’s why we have an Establishment Clause. Your gender as well as so many other elements of your life are not everyone else’s. That’s why we kept adding protections rather than taking them away for over 200 years. Now we are at a very clear point of push back on individual autonomy.
Our country is a social evolution. We must never lose sight of that. If we do then maybe one day some of you may not be White, Christian, Educated, Land-owning. Sexist “enough” for someone else’s narrow view of the country. And yes, there will be those Like Thomas and Coney-Barrett who reflect the very rights some wish to take away.
Me V. We
I know more than ever that protecting women’s rights is protecting my own rights.
That’s why I am going to set a goal for myself. I am going to do all I can to see that the next amendment to our constitution is the Equal Rights Amendment.
In December of 1923 Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman introduced the first Equal Rights Amendment. It evolved over time and came close to passage in the 70’s. Now is the time. I want to see its passage no later than December of 2023. I can think of no better way to do my part to honor all those women and all others than codifying them into the constitution. If I do not, then who knows if there will be anyone to stand for me when I need them most.
Then they came for me And there was no one left To speak out for me by Pastor Martin Niemöller
And after that terrible time has come and gone. When all that smoke and destruction and death have cleared, I wonder who will write the next poem.