What We Call Ourselves, Colltalers
A nation is not the sum of its citizens but an ideal they choose to live by. The so-called American Dream can’t be bound by the exactitude of facts, or acquiescence of history, for it’s often at odds with them. But as an ideal, it still has the power to convey a reality worth fighting for.
The thought has a renewed relevance today. As civility and personal responsibility values seem to be losing battles in several fronts, there’s a push for a new social contract. And a focal point is a campaign Dr. Martin Luther King Jr set in motion when he was murdered in the 1960s.
The May 14, 1968, Poor People’s march in Washington, jump-started a month-long movement seeking redressing of social inequalities, and became part of the struggle for Civil Rights of the era and beyond. Dr. King’s tragic assassination only added urgency to the movement.
Then as now, choosing the poor as a marker had, if anything, a crucial advantage: to accurately gauge the state of social justice by focusing on those whose very existence depend on it. There were between 40 and 60 million living below poverty line during that decade, when the U.S. population was still 200 million. Now, extreme poverty has actually increased, to 62 million Americans facing such dire predicaments.
Efforts to reset national priorities are the foundation of the current Poor’s Campaign, as led by Pastor William J. Barber and Liz Theoharis, while advocating for living-wage laws, education, end to mass incarceration, single-payer healthcare system, and right to vote guarantees.
What really seeks to inspire, though, is for another take on morality and values of solidarity and equal opportunity for all, badly missing in our national conversation. And by consequence, to re-invite the world to look up to America again as the land where everyone is welcome.
Recent developments have seriously confronted what we actually believe is going on with the world, and what role
is left to this country, its still most powerful beacon. There’s been an inexcusable disconnect between seven billion people and the remaining obscenely wealthier minority, including this particularly empathy-depleted crop of global leaders we’ve elected. And we do have a responsibility to address that.
Just as the aspiration to social mobility, and the conviction that anyone has a shot at greatness, which are baked onto the U.S. Constitution, no longer belong solely to Americans, so is this nation’s need to reckon with its resorting to global strife and carnage to advance its interests. In other words, first, it’s necessary to fix our own moral compass, so to be trusted again as a legitimate partner in resetting that of the world’s.
Heaven knows how civilization, circa 2018, is mourning the bitter demise of a code of honor among nations, of fulfilling duties and paying off debts, of being fair and acting with sportsmanship even, before threatening others with annihilation because they fail to come clean.
That responsibility extends to the Middle East, to our misguided approach to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis: to Syria, where no more American bullets should be shot; to mankind’s expectations over our agreements with Iran and North Korea; to our part in reversing climate change causes. And that’s not even mentioning the unnecessary presence of the U.S. military in practically every corner of the planet.
It’s time to come to terms with the fact that America has gone from shining knight of democracy and human rights to its dysfunctional and scary nemesis. And that Americans either rise up to restore and defend democratic values to their original power, or risk losing them for good.
But there was an unquestionable piece of good news last week: the U.S. Senate restored net neutrality by overturning the FCC’s industry-dictated and, irony-free titled, Restoring Internet Freedom Order rule, which would create paid-for-privileged access lanes to the Internet.
After such an ultra-rare backbone display by congressmen, a final decision rests now with the House of Representatives, yet another spineless body of legislators which however may swing to the favor of a massive majority who wants the Web free and accessible to all. If they call in and put on pressure on their elected officials, that is. For all good wishes, even if neutrality wins for now, other attacks should be expected.
In about five to six months, major elections in several countries may determine whether the current global turn to authoritarianism and ultra-right wing policies will get a renewed endorsement or a rebuff from voters. In the U.S., the House itself may change party leadership.
But a measure of caution may be in order even for those naturally negative-inclined. That’s because what it’s at stake stands far beyond the scope of the polls, and what may be decided has potential to throw away all efforts to rescue the world from its dive towards self-destruction.
However, it’s also the moment to give up on claiming that hackers ate our homework already. Yes, there may be again some foreign rigging by you-know-who, but hacking will be the least of it. For Facebook, for instance, which was instrumental to disrupt the 2016 elections, is unlike to change its business model, all 29 million rule-breaking hate speech, violence and terrorist posts it says it deleted notwithstanding.
Money in politics was there much before Russia or anyone else broke into American institutions’ servers. Anti-immigrant policies or illegal religious interference in politics, the targeting of racial minorities by law enforcement, or bias against the poor, were all already factors in American life, decades before a dishonest, misogynistic reality show character got elected to high office. Remember personal responsibility?
We blame the dispossessed, the undocumented, the health-challenged for not doing their part, when they are, and cut a slack to professional women who ‘couldn’t bring themselves’ to endorse Hillary Clinton, and voted for Trump, or the dangerous sexually repressed moralists, that call themselves god fearing, but support a sexual predator with money. And yet, the former are the ones committed to an inclusive America.
Above all, we keep failing our children, letting them be slaughtered every other week in their own classrooms. U.S. schools are now more lethal than the Afghan battlefields, but instead of talking about guns, we only come together to argue over bathrooms, bibles and abortion.
As we head to Memorial Day, possibly the very last the most famous American POW, Senator John McCain, will ever see, we must lend a strong hand to the Poor People’s initiative, and start getting those we know committed to vote in November. Scandals, lies, corruption, shame, it’s all gone too far already. The world needs America to rebuild its moral authority. To friends in Hawaii, keep a close watch on the Kilauea. WC