When called to serve the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Midland, I was pleased to be moving to the City of Modern Explorers. I envisioned living someplace known for innovation, forward thinking and progress. People I spoke with talked proudly of Midland’s notoriety as a wonderful place to raise a family, a small city filled with the amenities of a larger metropolitan area.
I grew up watching The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and the original Star Trek television series. Alternative universe stories fascinated me. Contemplating different realities helps me appreciate the challenges we face in this life, at this time.
So, I invite you to the dimension of imagination, to experience the awe and mystery of a strange new world. Imagine a frontier Mid-Michigan just after the Civil War. Timber drives the local economy, but this resource will soon run low. Along comes a free Negro named Dow who invests everything he has in a dream. And his dream pays off.
Dow builds what will eventually become a major international corporation … in Saginaw. The nearest port, Bay City, thrives. And the village of Midland struggles to make lumber stretch as long as possible.
Former slaves stream to Saginaw by the thousands, building a thriving metropolis. When the Depression hits, Saginaw and Bay City ride the storm. Midland, however, loses many of its struggling businesses, and only the poor remain to hold the pieces together.
Through the 1950s and 1960s, Saginaw blossoms. The city builds riverfront condos, major retailers grow downtown, and a stadium attracts a AAA baseball team. Locally-owned businesses flourish as the average income rises. Saginaw becomes the first American city to adopt full civil rights for all citizens and a guaranteed minimum wage higher than any other in the nation. Property values soar, public schools prosper, unemployment disappears and crime remains low.
Midland, on the other hand, struggles to keep schools going. The mostly white residents rent dilapidated houses and apartments and cannot find full-time jobs that pay more than subsistence wages. Drugs and violence are rampant among the vacant lots, and the mostly black police cannot keep pace with crime. After years of annual deficits and cuts to public services, the state installs an emergency manager, and the elected officials lose their authority. Residents of Saginaw driving to their summer cabins avoid Midland whenever possible. They wonder why the residents of Midland cannot do what it takes to clean up their city and get off the public welfare rolls.
One day, a white boy plays in the pavilion of Plymouth Park with a toy gun. He is alone with little to do because there are no playgrounds, no after school programs, and his family cannot afford clothes and food, let alone game systems, computers or cable television. A fearful neighbor calls 911 and two black police officers arrive on the scene. The younger officer — previously rejected by the better police force in Saginaw — jumps from the car shooting. In seconds, the boy lies dead on the ground.
In the ensuing days, the white residents of Midland explode in anger. They feel the weight of decades of economic injustice, feelings of shame and guilt because their kids lack the opportunities available to those in Saginaw, and outrage at the brutal murder of a child. They take to the streets, rioting against the hopelessness of this unfair system. They march down Main Street past the vacant store fronts and bars. Occasionally, someone throws a rock and one liquor store burns. Across the country, the news shows white Midlanders running and looting, and reports that the boy’s shooting was justified.
Pat Robertson leads a largely-ignored march in Washington, D.C., with the families of the slain boy, and of other white men gunned down by black police officers across the country. But the media call him an opportunist. The lone white commentator on Fox News opines about how welfare keeps the white people unmotivated and poor. A black sports writer in Saginaw pens an editorial calling on all people to simply engage in hard work; commitment and perseverance; effort, energy and sacrifice; respect for others; serving others; helping others. And a black Unitarian Universalist minister in Saginaw responds, calling the sports writer’s piece racist and an example of privilege.
Is this scenario difficult to imagine? Perhaps. This alternative reality might be especially difficult to imagine if you were born privileged and cannot dream of such patent unfairness. If you were born white, understanding institutionalized racism is challenging. If you were born male, the economic impossibilities facing poor, single mothers are unfathomable. If you were born financially comfortable, you think that anyone who works hard enough can accomplish whatever they want in life. And if you were born straight, you might simply assume that heterosexuality is the norm for all people and disapprove of the gay “lifestyle.”
Open your eyes. Nothing is as simple as the pundits want you to believe. Our problems do not derive from poor people believing they are entitled. Our problems derive from privileged people — people who did nothing to earn their privilege but be born that way — doing everything possible to skew social systems and maintain their own sense of entitlement.
At the end of the episode titled “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” Rod Serling stated: “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs, and explosions, and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, ideas, prejudices. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy. A thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own for the children and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is, these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.”
In this reality, Black Lives Matter.
Every day, we hear the mantra of the conservative extremists crying for less government, a plea that I share. We should have less government spending on the military industrial complex. We should have less government intrusion into our individual reproductive choices. Government should not be discriminating against people based on who they love. And our government should decriminalize nonviolent, victimless crimes and reduce our ridiculously high prison population.
Of course, these are not the freedoms that neo-conservatives want. They want illusory freedoms — impossible dreams born out of misguided delusion and just enough privilege to support the status quo. They want the freedom to buy any weapon unimpeded under the delusion that more guns means more security. They want so-called economic freedom under the delusion that every American has a equal and realistic shot at success. They want religious freedom, not out of any sense of loving one’s neighbor, but so they can sit in judgment of their neighbor.
Neo-conservatives want to return to the “good old days” — not the good old 1950’s, but the 1350’s. They advocate for a return of a monarchy of the wealthy elite, imagining that the entities like the Heritage Foundation, the NRA and the American Family Association actually care about them. By voting for intellectual midgets who mouth the right platitudes, they imagine that their precious little freedoms will be protected. By electing bigots and scientific illiterates, they imagine that the government will protect them from terrorists, Muslims, atheists and gay people.
But what we really get is government by those who can afford to buy it. We get endless war because Halliburton needs higher quarterly returns. We get exploding oil trains and leaking pipes because Exxon has no interest in pursuing alternatives to fossil fuels. We get genetically-modified foods because Monsanto wants every private farmer driven out of business. We get epidemics of addiction because Budweiser shows us how horses and dogs can love each other. We get colossal rates of domestic violence and sexual abuse because pharmaceutical companies make more money by telling women they are not beautiful and pumping men full of sexual enhancement drugs.
So while you work your entire life and enjoy your rare time away from work, American nobility profits from your fears and your endless quest to be better off than your neighbor. Even more ironic, the feudal lords of corporate America convince you that by helping them stay wealthy, you are helping yourself. They feed you the delusion that you work and consume products in a “free” market while shipping your job to China, busting your union and fixing prices on many commodities.
Your enemy is not your Middle Eastern neighbors, or your gay neighbors, neighbors who use food stamps or your neighbors that don’t go to your church. Your enemy is a small group of ultra wealthy people who did little or nothing to earn their riches and who have no intention of ever letting any of it trickle down to you. Your enemy is not the flesh and blood people who live where you live, but the corporate “persons” who are buying your government and shipping profits overseas. Your enemy is not the person who supports a woman’s right to determine when she will have a child, the man who loves another man or the person who uses a different name for god. Your real enemy is America’s feudal lords who swear allegiance to nothing but money, who love nothing but money and who worship nothing but money.
Let’s be honest — America has a problem with sex. On one hand, we prudishly dance around the subject and never really share our innermost feelings and desires with our partners. We freak out over public breast feeding. We blame rape victims for provoking their attackers because of what they wore or how much they drank. Bold men are considered forceful and strong. Bold women are seen as pushy and brash.
On the other hand, we surround ourselves with objectified images of women. The media defines feminine beauty as being young and thin, submissive yet sexy, revealing just enough to titillate, but hiding reality under make-up, hair products, tight clothes and high heels. From winged Victoria Secret models to breast-enhanced pseudo celebrities on so-called reality shows, women get identified as angel or whore and not as human beings.
The common thread among all of these attributes is a fundamental disrespect of women. Our society routinely discriminates against women by paying them less than men, constantly attacking their rights and access to medical care, and minimizing their personhood. Almost a century after earning the right to vote, women still struggle for equal treatment in the workplace, the halls of government, the media and our schools.
In a few days, we celebrate the national holiday of women’s oppression in this country — Valentine’s Day. For too many people, this becomes the day that reveals our worth as a partner, as a spouse, as a lover. We reduce our emotions to the amount of cash spent on commodities — products conveniently highlighted in our stores just for the occasion. Candy and card makers give us a wide variety of inexpensive ways to display our affection. Florists tell us that only roses will show her that we really love her. Jewelers tell us that only diamonds demonstrate a true sense of commitment. Girls are conditioned to believe that buying such gifts is how boys should show affection. Boys are conditioned to believe that girls want these things as proof of their devotion.
How did we allow ourselves to become so manipulated? History reveals millennia of repression of women. From Eve to Mary Magdalene, women have been reduced to weaker versions of men incapable of anything but betrayal, fickleness and irrationality. History writers routinely ignore the accomplishments of women, often writing women’s names from the narrative entirely.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in our religious history. Women still cannot be priests despite the fact that the Christian church in Rome was founded by a woman. Unless you are a midwife, prostitute or property of a man, women are hard pressed to find their way into our sacred texts. Even in the essential unique role as child bearer and nurturer, women have been methodically reduced from the Goddess from whom all life derives to something to be feared and controlled by men. Over the years, men have converted the deities of fertility, peace and love to the supporting cast of male dominance and violence.
We have made much progress in recent centuries, but we still have a long way to go. Going further will require than men take up the responsibility of being strong allies for women’s equality. A simple first opportunity is Valentine’s Day.
Don’t measure your love for someone by how much money you spend. Don’t try to purchase affection or sexual gratification through chocolate, flowers or bracelets. Ask the women in your lives what they want. Many women don’t want sparkly trinkets — they want real commitment to their dreams and well being. They want to be heard. They want their accomplishments acknowledged. They want to know that you consider them special and important in your life.
You won’t find love at the mall. Give the person you love a long message. Cook their favorite meal and watch their favorite movie. Write them a letter and bare your soul. Look deep into their eyes and say “I love you.”
That simple “I love you” means more than any store-bought present. And you don’t need the excuse of a manufactured holiday to share that gift. You can give that gift every single day of the year.
Last Sunday, the Midland Daily News published an editorial titled “Our View: Aid, scholarships already available for community college.” An adequate response mandates that the falsehoods in each sentence be addressed.
“Community college should be affordable and doable for everyone who wants to take advantage of it. We agree, without a doubt.”
Obviously, the Midland Daily News does not agree with this statement because there are many people who cannot afford community college and this opinion piece opposes a proposal to eliminate those costs. The average student at Delta College taking two classes in one term pays $707 in tuition and fees. Add on the cost of books, gas, childcare and all of the other related expenses, and the total easily exceeds $1,000 per term. If the student is working 40 hours per week at minimum wage jobs, that is 3 1/2 week’s worth of salary.
“However, we believe in most cases there are many opportunities for people to attend community college at no expense or nearly no expense to them.”
No data support this claim. Last year, Delta College awarded $1,077,142 in scholarships to 15,000 students. That equates to a whopping $72 per student — not even the cost of one credit hour.
“Community college has always been an affordable and potentially debt-free way for people to start their path toward a four-year degree and beyond.”
Virtually no one attends college today without incurring massive loan debt. According to the Wall Street Journal, the class of 2014 was the most indebted ever. The average 2014 graduate is burdened with student-loan debt of $33,000, nearly double the amount for students 20 years ago after adjusting for inflation.
“Tuition is lower than four-year universities and most traditional students are able to continue living at home, forgoing the expense of living on campus or off-campus.”
One-third of the students at Delta College are 25 years old or older. One can hardly imagine that many of them are still living in their parent’s home. Another third are 20 to 24 years old, making this a grossly classist point. Just because people with financial resources can afford to pay for their kids to live on campus is no excuse for expecting poorer kids to continue living at home.
“Making these educations more affordable — and in a lot of cases at no cost to students — are federal financial aid packages based on income as well as scholarships, which often go unclaimed at some community colleges because they’re not sought after by students.”
According to Peterson’s, the definitive expert publisher of college guides, this claim is an utter myth. “This one has been around since the word ‘scholarship’ was invented… (colleges) seldom have university scholarships that aren’t awarded, and if they do, it’s usually because of timing or highly restrictive eligibility requirements.”
“Presumably, President Obama’s proposal for a free community college education for everyone is targeted at those who can’t afford the cost. “A quality education should not be a privilege that is reserved for a few,” he said in a recent speech at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville. However, we believe the costs associated with a community college education, because of federal aid and scholarships already available as well as the earnings from jobs most full-time students have, are affordable. Even older adults seeking to change careers or get back into the workforce can take advantage of federal financial aid and scholarships.”
This is an offensive and elitist statement that exhibits an intentional blindness to the state of the underclass in America today. In FY 2012, the average federal student aid awarded per student totaled $11,073, of which $6,654 (60 percent) consisted of loans. Students then typically make up the difference with additional loans from private sources. To claim that federal grants and scholarships are even remotely sufficient to meet the current need is absurd.
In addition, bringing the earnings of the average community college student into the equation is laughable. Two-thirds of the students at Delta College are 24 years old or younger. It is safe to say, therefore, that many are working at minimum wage jobs and and likely earning less than $10/hour. And since few of these students can find actual “full-time” jobs (where the employer provides benefits), many are forced to work two or more jobs to attain “full-time” employment status. And, by the way, according to the American Association of Community Colleges, only 41 percent of part-time students are employed full-time and only 22 percent of full-time students have full-time employment.
So, let’s calculate “affordable.” A student works 40 hours per week making $10/hour — just enough to be above the poverty level and not qualify for any government assistance. So, they make roughly $20,800 before taxes. If they take two courses per term for three terms at Delta College, the total cost will amount to roughly $2,500, or 12 percent of their total gross income. After rent, food, gas, car insurance, utilities, childcare, medical and dental expenses, and other necessities, what is left?
“The money is there for those who need help paying for community college, but the financial aid and scholarships need to be applied for first in order to be awarded. Really, what needs to become more affordable are the college costs that come after the community college degree. Those are the costs that are crippling people.”
No. What really needs to happen is for arrogant people of means to stop erecting even more roadblocks to honest, hard-working people trying to get out of the grip of institutionalized poverty in this nation. What we really need are fewer political hacks so intent on disagreeing with anything this president might suggest, that they are willing to throw the more than seven million community college students under the bus. What we really need are editorial writers who make at least a cursory effort to look into facts before parroting outworn prejudices and unsubstantiated myths.
Every struggling student attending Delta College deserves an apology for this opinion piece and I encourage readers to share your experiences in the comments if you have been a community college student.
We live in a society intolerant of difference, of error, of being less than whole. And yet, our society is populated by human beings, who are by definition imperfect, frequently wrong, and broken.
Many organized religions attribute this circumstance to our separation from the sacred center of the universe or whatever name for the oversoul one prefers. A strictly scientific view simply recognizes the biological reality that organisms suffer from natural diseases, mutations, and variations within ecosystems filled with challenges to our survival. A third view is that our historic ancestors angered god who subsequently punished us with imperfection for our failures.
Sadly, humanity has killed itself by the millions arguing over whose story is correct, rather than focusing on fixing the brokenness. Whether we are broken because we lack enlightenment, good enough science, or strong enough faith, the fact is that these are not mutually exclusive concerns. A Buddhist can still agree that scientific research has great value reducing human suffering and that Abraham, Jesus, Mohammad were great bodhisattvas. An atheist, humanist scientist can still find worth in the calming practice of meditation and the soothing ritual of devotion and commitment to religious community. And a believer in Original Sin can find solace in the notion that we will eventually achieve the gnosis to attain salvation and that reason can ease our path along the way.
Our brokenness is not the problem. How we cope, or fail to cope, with our brokenness is the problem. Mental illness is not the problem. Stigmatizing the mentally ill and providing inadequate care for sufferers is. Addiction is not the problem. Failing to provide treatment and support for the addict is. Domestic violence is not the problem. Continuing to promote the objectification of women in our rape culture is. Poverty is not the problem. But failing to dismantle institutionalized systems of social, economic, and political oppression is.
There is a parable told in many ways about a village next to a river. One day a villager noticed someone drowning in the river. The villager quickly swims out to save the person from drowning. The next day, the villagers save two drowning people. The following day, four people are caught in the rushing current. The villagers organize themselves quickly, setting up watchtowers and training teams of swimmers who can resist the swift waters. Rescue squads are soon working 24 hours a day. But each day the number of drowning people increases, reaching the point where the villagers cannot save all of the drowning people. Finally, someone asks the question, “Where are all these people coming from? Let’s organize a team to head upstream to find out who’s throwing all of these people into the river in the first place!”
America is drowning. All the watchtowers, lifeguards, and band-aid solutions will never solve the problem. We must venture upriver to stop those who are throwing people into the river. We must stop those who love power and money more than people. We must stop the lunatics who believe that we can bomb enemies to freedom. And we must stop electing willfully ignorant politicians who cater to the wealthy to the detriment of the People.
Halfway through writing a posting on brokenness for this week, I walked out to get the mail. Living in a house previously owned by a Republican, I have been exposed first hand to the character of their candidate for State House. Joan Brausch has run a clean campaign based on nothing but her record of service and her stance on the issues. Organizations backing Gary Glenn, on the other hand, have produced some of the most vile and despicable pieces of political trash I have seen in my 58 years.
Many years ago, when I still lived in Pittsburgh, I was represented in Washington by a gentleman named Doug Walgren. He had served many terms quite successfully and was a popular Democrat. Then, Walgren ran against a political newcomer whose entire campaign was based on the fact that Walgren had moved his family to D.C. out of convenience. His opponent argued, therefore, that Walgren couldn’t possibly represent the people of Western Pennsylvania adequately. Of course, it didn’t matter than Walgren maintained two homes and paid taxes on both. This opponent was slick, avoided the issues and kept hammering this inconsequential point and managed to get elected. Literally one month after the election, he moved his family to Washington D.C. as well. That flagrant hypocrite was Rick Santorum.
So, folks, let me tell you that I have seen this act before. And believe me, it is an act. When he pulled that stunt about the American Legion with Karl Ieuter, I revisited the politics of the Big Lie again. I am a pacifist, and I have been a member of the American Legion because of my father’s service, so I knew Glenn was making a political mountain out of a mole hill just to scare veterans. And now, according to Glenn’s ads, electing Joan Brausch will turn Michigan’s men gay, get our young women raped, and infest our population with Ebola. I wish I were kidding, but that has been the content of these ridiculous and sensationalist ads.
If you want to vote intelligently on Tuesday, you must look into the soul of a person. Someone who claims to be pro-life, but would continue slashing funding for public schools, cut access to birth control, and interfere with women’s basic health care will say whatever it takes to scare conservative voters. Someone who claims he can revitalize our economy, but walks lock step with the Koch Brothers and the Mackinac Center will say whatever it takes to scare business owners and rich people. And someone who claims the moral high ground, but stoops to the low tactic of calling LGBT folk pedophiles worthy of being fired or evicted because of who they love certainly isn’t moral.
If you can’t bring yourself to vote for Joan Brausch, then at least reject Gary Glenn’s Tea Party obstructionism and simply abstain. We have more than enough fear mongering in government. We need people with hope and vision, people willing to listen to all points of view and do what is best for the people. Reject the slick words and the insulting scare tactics and look into the souls of the candidates. Then vote for the person who respects the dignity of every person, speaks to the issues, and doesn’t resort to cheap theatrics to garner your support.
- The bankers, lawyers and other white collar criminals responsible for our economic collapse have not been charged, let alone convicted of crimes.
- Income disparity continues to rise, with the average corporate head earning hundreds, even thousands times more than their average worker.
- Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and other oppressions continue unabated and largely unregulated.
- Our diet has become more genetically modified and our environment more polluted.
- Labor unions continue to be assaulted, no living wage is in sight and health insurance remains a target of the “haves.”
- Jobs remain scarce, and students continue to graduate from college with decreasing hope and increasing debt.
- Corporations are being treated more like people, and people are being treated more like disposable commodities.
- Our reckless policies regarding campaign financing have created a government owned by the tiny elite they are supposed to be regulating.
- Our blind pursuit of war abroad has now expanded onto our city streets as paramilitary police gun down unarmed, innocent civilians.
- It has become increasingly easier to buy a gun than to vote in some states.
Use your imagination for a second. Let’s say that a radical conservative movement swept through Eastern Canada and took over control of the government. This movement does not just want French separatism, but to convert all of Canada to a French-speaking nation. In time, English-speaking Canadians start losing rights and are subjected to oppressive laws. Eventually, this regime starts imprisoning and physically attacking the pro-English advocates.
Suddenly thousands of white, English-speaking children start crossing the borders of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Montana. Fearful parents are sending their children away from possible harm by a violent government to a land that promotes freedom, equality and liberty.
Here is the question. If you support the protesters now yelling and screaming at Central American children fleeing murderous regimes, would you show up at the Canadian border with your guns in hand? In exactly the same situation, except that the children are white and speak English as their native language, would your reaction be the same? If it is taking a few seconds to consider your answer, then you have already answered the question. You are a racist.
A child is a child, whether their skin is white, brown or black, and the United States has the resources to protect children being threatened. In fact, the United States has an OBLIGATION to protect these children. Who do you think sold the tyrants in Central America their weapons? Who do you think trained these thugs in methods of torture and intimidation at the infamous School of the Americas? We did.
The United States has a responsibility for creating the unstable governments in Central America by being the world’s second largest arms dealer — only slightly behind Russia and far ahead of number three China — and through the actions of our “intelligence” community to interfere with other nations’ development. And now, the fruit of our efforts has come home to roost. When you sew violence and political corruption, whether you think your intentions were good or not, then you should be prepared to accept the consequences. Well, those consequences are showing up at our doorstep. And if we turn them away, then America stands for nothing but greed, arrogance and hypocrisy.
As a kid, I sort of resented July 4. You see, my birthday is July 5, today, and I always felt a little cheated by all the attention afforded my neighbor day. Of course, I still loved the parades and picnics, the fireworks and festivities.
Only as an adult did I come to appreciate the true significance of Independence Day. America remains a nation with tremendous potential for good in the world. But, today we stand at a fork in the road toward our future.
One road continues the well worn path of history, where value is measured by money, power and influence — forcing our will on others in order to get what we want. This path was paved by Egypt and Persia, Rome and Genghis Khan, and European imperialist governments who carved the world into most of our current nation states.
This path can be trod benevolently, as we struggle to do. This path can lead to great progress and improved quality of life. This path can also lead to totalitarianism, genocide, massive inequality and cultural destruction. This path explored the globe and gave us tools to increase efficiency and effectiveness in a multitude of ways. This path also gave us anti-Semitism, slavery and the near extinction of native peoples on every continent. And, if we continue to ignore our contributions to global climate change, this path may lead to a bottomless pit of unavoidable destruction.
The other path is virgin ground. No one can say for sure what lies down the future of this path because no nation has had the courage or the resources to unlock its mysteries. What matters more than the ultimate destination, however, is the manner we use to clear the path. For this path can’t be cleared with bombs and drones. Corrupt bankers and Wall Street criminals cannot show the way. All the money, power and influence in the world cannot clear the first foot of this path.
Only independence can clear the path to a great future for America: independence from our reliance on violence that batters our women and murders our school children; from our irresponsible use of technology that endangers our environment; from rewarding the acquisition of wealth at the cost of our neighbors’ well-being. Our independence can only clear this path if we are all truly free, and we all work together as equals.
Independence only exists in a community of equals. The gap between rich and poor must be narrowed until no one lacks the resources to achieve their goals. We must abolish every form of privilege: men over women; white over non-white; straight over gay; and every impediment to functional ability. Every person must work equally and together, sharing the burden, and bolstering each others’ spirits. And lastly, independence only exists in a community where every member is free to believe (or not) in the god of their choice. No one religion can dominate, and no one should have the power to enforce their religious beliefs on others.
I dream of what lies at the end of this American path. I fantasize a society without hate, with the causes of poverty and crime eradicated, with every citizen respected and respectful, empowered and empowering, loved and loving. I see this Beloved Community in our future, this Beloved America.