Am I a Bad Progressive?

First, a disclaimer:  This particular post is a personal commentary rather than a news or political commentary.  I hesitated to write it, but then realized that this venue (blogging) was created for precisely this sort of sharing of personal feelings and thoughts.  So, readers, however limited in number you may be at this point, bear with me for today as I ask myself a personal question, one that caused me to reconsider my own intentions in writing these posts in the first place, and one that might possibly inspire you to do a bit of reflection yourself.

I began this blog with multiple intentions.  I sought to inform people of news stories that they may have missed, or that had been overlooked by the mainstream media.  I also wanted to add my perspective and opinions on those stories, perhaps presenting things in a way that made them more accessible to people who don’t normally read about politics.  I was hoping to inform people, to present reasons that I think the way I do, and convince others to share my beliefs.  But, my greatest intention was to inspire people to act, to take the progressive ideals that they found here (and elsewhere), and to turn them into actions, to participate in the process of taking this country back from the corporations and the political parties and the media and the religious zealots and the lobbyists, and to deliver it back into the hands of the people, where it belongs.

These intentions perhaps overestimate the power of a simple blog, and I recognize that.  But, it is better to aim high and to fall short than to aim low and accomplish nothing.  So, I aimed high, seeking to be a rallying cry, a voice leading the charge.  But, something that happened recently led me to question my own worthiness to take such a bold position.

I was at a family gathering over the weekend.  The reason for the gathering is not really relevant, but it is important to note that this was the first time I had seen most of my relatives in quite some time.  In fact, there were some people there I hadn’t seen in over two decades.  Also important to note is the fact that I come from a family of staunch Republicans.  Most of my relatives are the stereotypical Texas-bred Christian Conservatives.  This has branded me as the black sheep of the family, a position that I have alternately resented and relished.  I am the only one in my family to vote Democrat, the only one to swear off going to church, the only one without a gun collection, the only one with a hybrid car, and the only one with a non-white spouse.  All of these things have been points of pride for me, but have also led to numerous debates with family members who try to sell me on the traditional virtues of Christianity and the Republican Party.

It is one of these debates that is the inspiration for this post.  I was with a number of my uncles and cousins, a single Progressive among a dozen or more Conservatives.  As they took turns sharing what they thought was wrong with the world today, and who among the crowd of Perry, Romney, Bachmann, or

Republican Party (United States)

The elephant in the room?

Gingrich was best suited to fix it, I bit my tongue.  My father, knowing my personal politics, tried to goad me into joining the conversation, spouting various Republican talking points in my direction, likely hoping that the combined forces of the assembled Conservatives would bring me back into the fold and cure me of my folly, but I would not take the bait.  There are times when I embrace the chance to debate, and to impart some knowledge on people who I believe to be misinformed.  But, there is some part of me that still feels the need to defer to my elders, especially in an occasion such as this, in what was supposed to be a friendly reunion of relatives.  And, even when one of my uncles shocked me with a blatant racial slur against the current president (the actual quote was something like, “I don’t care who it is, but the Republicans had better get their shit together, or else that n***** is going to get voted back into office”), I still bit my tongue.  Now, there is no part of me that finds such talk acceptable, regardless of the venue, but I said nothing.  I suppose I didn’t want to start an argument, especially not with a 75 year-old Texas-bred uncle, who was likely not used to having his opinions or language questioned.  It seemed too big a breach of etiquette (though it was certainly no more a breach than his despicable epithets).  My blood boiled, but my voice remained silent.  His words sat there, like an elephant in the room that I refused to address.

Later, I related this story to my wife (who, for the record is wonderful, and also fairly progressive in her politics), and she asked me why I didn’t say anything.  She said (and I paraphrase), “If you’re going to write a political blog, and call yourself a Progressive, that’s exactly the sort of thing you should say something about.”  And, she’s right.  I made excuses to myself, but that’s all they were–excuses.  Truthfully, there is no reason that I should have kept my mouth shut.  It’s one thing to not want to start a political argument during a family reunion, but no sense of decorum should allow me to permit someone to use such hateful language.  I felt guilty that I didn’t respond, seeing my silence as condoning that kind of talk.  She made me realize that if I’m going to talk the Progressive talk, I need to walk the Progressive walk.  That is, if I’m going to stake my claim to this position as a spokesperson for Progressive politics (and the respect for all humanity that implies), I can’t bite my tongue.  I can’t be silent.  As the Texans would say, I’ve been “all hat and no cattle.”  I’ve been dressing the part, but not doing the dirty work that goes along with it.  I cannot lead a charge that I am not a part of.

So, I say, no more.  I resolve to no longer bite my tongue.  I resolve to speak when it is called for.  And, I resolve to act when action is needed.  It is one thing for me to say that hateful language is inexcusable, but if I excuse it, then my words mean nothing and I am part of the problem.  My words and my voice are my weapons, and I cannot let them be weakened by refusing to use them.  I must stand tall in the face of contrary opinion, and I must strive to change the minds of those that are ignorant or hateful.  I must address the elephant in the room, especially when it is an elephant of discrimination, be it racial or otherwise.  I have long called myself a Progressive, but I must actually be Progressive.  So, that is my new resolution, and I challenge all of you to do the same.  Be proud that you care about others, that you strive for equality and peace and compassion.  Embrace that, because it is a virtue.  But, also share it.  Let your voice be heard.  Let your words be your weapons.  And, do not let them be silenced.

Fighting the Establishment in Three Very Different Ways

One of the very basic human rights is the right not to be oppressed.  Too often people submit to this oppression, allowing those in power to do whatever they want, simply because they are in power.  It is a natural assumption that those that hold power will use it for the greater good.  But, it takes only the tiniest amount of cynicism (or maybe just a bit of common sense) to see that this is not how things actually work.  In reality, those in control use it simply to maintain their position.  Any concession to those below serves only to weaken their hold on the reins of power.  So, the few rule the many, with both sides seemingly content to stay within the status quo.  But, it does not have to be this way.  Submission does not have to be the rule for the oppressed.  They have the ability to stand up in defiance against those that try to keep them down.  Not only can they fight, they even have a variety of ways in which to do so.  The methods may vary, but the intentions are the same: to let it be known that they will not lie down in the face of unjust oppression.  The news today is filled with three specific examples of people fighting for justice, each in their own way.

The most visible example can be seen in Libya, where rebel forces have marched into Tripoli, after months of fighting.  These rebels are seeking to end the 42 year reign of Muammar Gaddafi.  The reasons for their uprising are many, and include the execution of dissidents, a highly censored press, the banning of political parties (and execution of anyone who dared to form one), the oppression of the Berber people, and the government control of the nation’s wealth and natural resources.  Following similar uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the time was ripe for action in Libya, and victory could have far-reaching effects across North Africa and the Middle East, and even the rest of the world.  The protest began peacefully, but quickly escalated into violence after a brutal response from Libyan police.  The fighting has continued for months, and what began as peaceful protest has escalated into a bloody civil war, with estimated total casualties up to 20,000 people (including thousands of civilians).  Things appear to be reaching their climax over the last day or two as rebel soldiers have marched into the capital and captured most of Gaddafi’s family.  But, even with these rebel forces on the cusp of victory, it is impossible to ignore the tremendous amount of death and destruction that has been left in their wake.  If they do manage to topple Gaddafi’s regime, they will still be left with a country in need of rebuilding, and with thousands of deaths to mourn.  A Pyrrhic victory is still a victory, and any successful attempt to overthrow tyranny and liberate people should be celebrated, but one has to wonder if there were other options.  It can be difficult to argue for non-violence in the face of brutal retaliation, but the tragic results of violence are now evident in the streets of Tripoli, and across Libya.

Though it has not received nearly the attention of the events in Libya, there is an uprising here in the United States with an arguably similar global impact.  Keystone XL is a proposed oil pipeline that would run from western Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico.  This proposal has angered environmental activists, as they argue that the potential effects to the environment would be catastrophic.  This oil would be extracted from huge deposits called tar sands, where bitumen (a form of petroleum) is actually mixed with the sand in the ground.  This differs greatly from traditional oil wells, and require a tremendous amount of additional processing and refining in order to produce usable oil.  But, this processing comes at great cost to the surrounding environment.  Trees and brush must be removed, and then the sand itself must be mined, with two tons of sand needed to produce a single barrel of oil.  Huge amounts of greenhouse gases are released into the air (up to 45% more than traditional oil production), and a tremendous amount of water is needed for the extraction process.  This water is then returned to rivers and lakes, but is now contaminated with a variety of toxins, causing further damage to an already ravaged ecosystem.  Environmentalists claim that continued Tar Sands oil extraction in Canada could be extremely detrimental to the global climate, and could increase and accelerate the effects of Climate Change.  All of this ignores the potential risks of leaks within the pipeline itself, as it travels almost 2,000 miles across the United States.  Since this pipeline has to cross an international border, President Obama has the ability to deny a permit for its construction, though he has not yet given any indication that he will do so.  Environmental activists have decided to stage protests in order to raise awareness of the potential risks, and to sway public opinion and force the President to deny the permit.  They have planned daily non-violent demonstrations over a two-week period in front of the White House, risking arrest in order to make their voices heard.  Today marks the third day of demonstrations, and over 200 arrests have already been made.  But, their protest appears to be working, as their fight is slowly gaining the attention of the media.  Every day that passes as they continue to protest brings them closer to their goal of stopping the construction of the pipeline.  And, if they do reach their goal, they will have done it without any violence, and without any casualties.

Ohio residents have found an even easier way to protest: through the ballot box.  Governor John Kasich signed State Bill 5 a few months ago, despite overwhelming public resistance.  This bill is similar to the one in Wisconsin that forced recalls and put Governor Scott Walker on the hot seat.  The bill stripped most collective bargaining rights from state workers and attempted to take power away from the unions by making it more difficult for them to collect dues.  However Ohio has a law called a Citizen’s Veto, meaning that if enough signatures are collected, the bill will go on the ballot this fall and voters will have the opportunity to repeal it.  In order for it to appear on the ballot, about 230,000 signatures needed to be collected.  This sounds like a huge amount, but opponents of the bill were able to gather over 1.3 million signatures, more than five times as many as they needed.  This, along with mass protests throughout Ohio, has caused the Governor to back off his stance, as his popularity decreases and backlash grows.  He has now offered to meet with union leaders in order to discuss a compromise.  The unions have rejected this offer, knowing that they have both power and public opinion on their side.  The governor has until the end of the month to reconvene the legislature in order to repeal the bill, or the referendum will appear on the ballot this fall, where it will almost certainly succeed.  This is another great example of successful public protest against oppression, and again it will be achieved with no bloodshed.

And, this is all without mentioning the BART protests in San Francisco, or the Verizon strike (or the looming grocery strike in Southern California).  There are countless ways to be heard, to let those in power know that you will not submit, and that you will fight for what is right in whatever way you can.  Violence is rarely (if ever) the best solution, but unfortunately it is sometimes the last resort.  But, though the bloody uprisings dominate the news, there are countless examples of non-violent protest that succeed in empowering the masses against the powers that seek to keep them down.  Submission is an option, not a way of life.  It is just as easy to choose not to submit, to stand up for what you believe in and what is right.  The real power is with the people.