Thursday, January 1, 2009

What does it mean when we say "America"?

In addition to the blogs I have followed for a while now, I have been reading more good ones lately.

Political Morsels and Other Droppings , A Time for Change, Musings of a Wandering Elf, True Blue Texan, and Willpen's World are great. These fine Americans are talking about the important issues in our culture. Issues where consensus is no easy thing.

It has started me thinking about what it means when we say "America". It's a term loaded with idealism and history and not all of it great.

There are a lot of folks who flung the Un-American-Monkey-Poo at each other this election cycle. Some are still trying it with the ridiculous tripe about Obama's birth certificate.

I recently called the Hawaii Department of Health I got so fed up with all the internet broo-haha; they don't just hand out birth certificates like Halloween candy. The poor fellow I talked to sounded exhausted and although he was very kind, I could tell I wasn't the first person calling with such inquiries (or even the 151,441st, given the tenacity of these kooks).

So, what does "America" mean?

We are THE social experiment that is the culmination of almost 3,000 years of Western history. People seem to think ancient Greece was the cradle of Democracy. To a certain extent, it was. But it had slaves, had a barbaric legal system in some cases (think Plato and hemlock; ideas could get you killed), and there were no rights for the ladies (except for a precious few and even they were sequestered like Vestal Virgins).

If I really stop to think about it, is the America of today so very far removed? We have a class of working poor in this country that have been falling through the cracks for several decades now. If you want a sad quick read about this, Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickle and Dimed is an excellent first-hand report about this huge group of Americans. They may not officially be known as slaves, but they indeed live, work, and die like they are.

As far as the legal system, I still can't figure out who it works for in America. I know there are many good attorneys and judges out there. However, I cannot help but feel sorry for them in a system where they are over-burdened with frivolous law-suits, ethics aren't always black and white, prisons are bursting at the seams, and innocent (and in many cases mentally ill or handicapped) people get put to death.

And women. Well, women in AMERICA are still fighting to keep the basic right to control whether or not they become pregnant or stay pregnant. I wish it were called pregnancy control-- birth control is jumping the gun 9 months way too early.

Perhaps the best thing about America is that it is hard to define-- it means something personal to each of us. Kind of like the religion thing. Or the gender thing. Or the sexual orientation thing. Or the thing we think of as freedom. 'Person'-al being the operative notion here.

I named this blog November Fifth for two reasons. First, November 5th, 2008 was the first day of a post-Bush 43 America. Second, I named it for Guy Fawkes. V for Vendetta is an excellent movie; if you haven't seen it, you should. You can't kill ideas like freedom or justice or hope. They live in the people who fight for them and for every one who falls defending these ideals, three more rise to take their place.

America is wounded; it's broken and yes, I still love it and believe in it.

Like Hemingway said, "The world breaks everyone, and afterwards many are strong at the broken places". As Americans we have entered a time when we begin the work to heal our country. The voices of irrationality will not drown out the voices of reason and civility. America will heal at the broken places, and afterward we will ALL be stronger for it.

Happy New Year; may it be the best one yet for each and every one of us here at home and everywhere on Mother Earth.


cmacivor January 1, 2009 at 11:51 PM  

Skyewriter, that was so well written and so beautifully done. I am so impressed.

I was laughing that you called the Hawaii department of Health. As a lawyer, I find that whole brouhaha over the certificate such a waste of the courts time, effort and energy. I actually went to the blogs where they were discussing the legal "strategy" and it was obvious to me that these are some right wingnuts. Suffice it to say, I don't think they care much about interpreting the law, but as you say, they are using our court system to express their beliefs and it gets them play on CNN once in a while.

The legal system. It's funny, I am a defense lawyer for corporations and you would think that I might agree that there are a lot of frivolous lawsuits, but I actually find that this is part of the whole Republican mantra that is actually designed to strip people of their rights. I don't see so many frivolous lawsuits. Some obviously have more merit than others, but the whole reason people end up in court in the first place is that they can't agree on something and it is a rare thing when one side is completely wrong and the other side completely right.

So, with all its flaws, I see out legal system as a microcosm of the greater America. it has its inherent prejudices, bad judges, SCOTUS ruling that a woman should bring an unequal pay claim within a certain time frame when she would have no way of knowing that her pay was unequal, but more often than not, I see a lot of really good work. I think of the Southern Poverty Law center, the much maligned ACLU, Warren Berger, Thurgood Marshall...I could go on.

I do think that you are absolutely right that the greatest flaw in our legal system is that the poor cannot afford representation. They pay for it dearly too. The poor are routinely taken advantage of by people who threaten them with legalproceedings that they fear and they cannot afford to hire an attorney.

To me, this experiment that we call Democracy can be so messyand unpredictable, it doesn't always work perfectly well, but just as it gives the "obamanots" their day in court, it also gives us Brown vs. Board of Education and all of the miraculous, ugly and crazy stuff in between. It gave us Obama. Where else would that have happened?

Thanks so much for your post and your very kind words. your students are very lucky to have a teacher with a mind like yours.

True Blue Texan January 2, 2009 at 12:45 AM  

Very well said. We've spent so long awash in the politics of division that it will be a long haul to find our way back to consensus. Our founding fathers based our government on the idea of compromise. Our leaders have forsaken that ideal for partisanship. It's far past time for us to learn to live together, to agree to disagree and find the common ground. I hope that Obama, as a thinking, educated person, can lead us back to our true American roots.

And thank you for the compliment. It's still a wonderment to me that people I've never met read my blog. If you keep reading, I'll keep writing. Agreed?

Ted January 2, 2009 at 7:43 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sidhe January 3, 2009 at 10:56 AM  

This was most excellent and perfectly timed. I have been thinking a lot of "American" lately and I do spend a lot of time reading the Constitution (I'm not really sure why it fascinates me so) in addition to be a prospective law student, you really nailed me with this one.

It reminds me of a particular incident in which a (quite wealthy) foster family was causing some problems for the foster care agency and a birth family...these problems came to an abrupt halt when the supervisor at the agency (and my friend) simply asked "would it be better if we got a attorney involved." It worked for her because she had the "agency" behind her, it would not have worked for the birth family (nor would they ever have thought to seek legal consultation in the matter), they would have been bullied by the foster family's cash reserves and access to the legal system.

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