Dreams Deferred

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“America’s New Patriot” (c) 2001 Adam Dyer

The president of the United States has worked with the government over the last 7 months the same way he has run his businesses: with total impunity.  His basic assumption seems to be that he was elected to lord over the country, like the CEO of a private company with no accountability other than to the allegiances forged in blood or in a mafia-like system of “you scratch my back….”  In addition, he has taken the Mitch McConnell political agenda from 2009 which was built entirely on erasing Barack Obama and doubled down on its xenophobia, isolationism and flat out ignorance.  Add to this his own special megalomaniac fixation on self aggrandizement and you have what he has peddled as the formula to “make America great…again”.  He is proud to put “America First”, relinquishing the historic and noble aspiration of being a global leader in favor of holding tightly to what he alone defines as “ours” from his dangerously narrow and fearful world view.

But a President, isn’t supposed to lord.  Our government is not by and for one oversized compensatory ego.  The President of the United States is one relatively small part of a government system that, although flawed, has absolute checks and balances on each of its branches of power.  While this president is a petulant, ill qualified, temperamentally unsound neophyte, the current Congress, on the other hand, is grossly and somewhat sadistically negligent in enabling this bull in the china shop.  Congress must start to do their job.

But I am no politician.  I am a minister.  My job is all about how people make peace with the world around them. Some call it spirit, others call it God, and others have no name for it.  What is consistent however, is that in the work of ministry, we are asked over, and over again to reflect what we see and hear from people about their lived experiences.  This could be as they watch a loved one die, or as they look into someone’s eyes and declare that their life will be inextricably linked to theirs.  It could be questioning the path of a life, the loss of a job, or grasping the meaning of the words “cancer free”.  And we do this without judging someone’s politics, religious beliefs, race, gender or any other aspect of what makes them who they are other than first being human.

I have had the opportunity in my brief ministry so far to meet many undocumented migrants.  People from Mexico, Somalia, Ecuador, Ireland, Canada, etc.  I myself had the experience of flying under the immigration radar for an extended period, many years ago in England.  It was an uncomfortable feeling, but being black with an American accent and passport, I knew that ultimately I was in little danger and would probably be given the benefit of the doubt.  What is more, I had come to the UK on a lark and not because I was fleeing violence or starvation.  Going home would never be a bad or fatal thing.  The large proportion of people I have met in recent years however, have largely escaped situations that few of us who were born in the safety of the US would be able to survive.  They escaped violence and persecution, and even more, they managed to find a way to navigate the labyrinthine systems of work, taxes, housing, healthcare and transportation that even those of us born here find to be a burden.

The young people that I have met who have benefited directly from DACA are not criminals.  Indeed they are heroes.  From very early in life, they have been family translators, workers, emotional support and so much more.  These often very young people, have become the eyes and ears and windows into the world for their parents.  We call them “Dreamers” but I think we don’t appreciate the depth or breadth of that dream.  They were brought here not just for their own dreams, but for the dreams of their entire families, who knew that even if they (the parents) died in this journey into the unknown, the dreams in their children still had a chance.  This is what every parent wants for their child, to simply have a chance.

The ministerial reflection I want to offer on the cusp of the next chapter in DACA is this: the president is also a parent.  He is the parent of an eleven-year-old, who he has carried over the wall into the White House.  To our knowledge, the president’s son had no choice in his father’s decision to run for office.  The president has forever changed his child’s future.  He has opened his son up to a level of scrutiny and objectification that only other First Children could possibly understand.  Although there are certainly enormous gifts and privileges that come with being a wealthy First Child, there is equally enormous risk and it will forever impact how his son will be seen in the world.    Of course, the president’s son is no refugee or undocumented migrant, and I certainly don’t know or understand how the president sees his youngest child, but hopefully, this young person will thrive and grow and learn about love and compassion and humanity…as every child should be given the opportunity to do.  Imagine what a different outcome we could see for DACA, if the president, for just one moment, could muster up even a grain of real empathy to see himself alongside parents who simply want to give their children a chance instead of lording over them like a tyrant CEO.

Nightmares

I can’t imagine a worse nightmare
Than to go to sleep with hope one day
And wake up with none the next.
Emerging from the hole
Coming into the light,
Being coaxed out and told I will be safe
To live, to thrive, to grow
Only to have the fat cat pounce
And start playing with me
Like a toy mouse
Forgetting that I am actually alive.
Each swat of his giant paw
Wrenching my joints
And claws gouging my skin.
I fear now that when he smells the blood
He will come in for the kill
Not because he is hungry,
But simply because he can.
I was told to rest easy ‘til the morning
When I would be called into the light of day
My sleep was peaceful
My dreams were free
My future unburdened
Now I see
It was just setting the stage for the nightmare to continue
And a prelude to the end of me.

ALD

Jefferson’s Democracy

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Democracy before decency…
Jefferson’s greatest deed
Sealed in the American creed that
“All men are created equal”
Too often holds these truths to be self-evident:
That “men” exclusively means “male”
And “equal” is only painted from the palette of white skin
And being “created” is synonymous with
an individual right to material wealth.

Democracy before decency…
Jefferson’s “gradual abolition”
Evolved into the prolapse of civil rights
Where what is most basic became most rare
A moral inversion secured in place by law
An ethical hesitation justified by greed
An excuse later celebrated under the blazing lynching tree
Where assumptions of dominance
Were seared into the genetic memories
Of both the “dis” and the “en” franchised class.

Democracy before decency…
Jefferson’s assumptions are
Captured today in words that
Dribble off the lips of those
Who see “both sides” of racial hatred
And try to “defend” free speech and First Amendment rights
To maintain the same status quo that birthed the horrors of
Slavery, genocide, colonial sexual servitude
And the posture that denies its paternity to the progeny called
Holocaust.

Democracy before decency,
Pride before dignity,
Profit before prophetic,
“We” before “all”,
Process before people…
This is history repeating
And failing over and over
and over.

There is no democracy
If the truth of decency makes a mockery of humanity;
There is no democracy
When civil rights are based on moral wrongs;
There is no democracy
In free speech that secures the end of a noose;
There is no democracy that un-sees, un-hears…
That too easily forgets.
There is no democracy in rape.

Mr. Jefferson,
We have learned the hard way
That there can be no democracy
Without truly common human decency first.

– ALD

A message for @SenateDems & @HouseDemocrats

I hope y’all read this because its 4:30am and frankly, I’d rather be asleep right now…

I woke up in the middle of the night burning with the following thought: Donald Trump is personally violating my constitutional rights. It came to me as I thought back to his petulant, bratty and terrifying (see the rise of Nazi Germany) performance in Phoenix this week. Call me biased, but start with looking at this list CNN put together of the 57 most outrageous quotes from that speech: Donald Trump’s 57 Most Outrageous Quotes…

Here’s another bit worth considering. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution where the office of President of the United States is defined and outlined in its scope of power and obligations reads:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:-“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” [1]

My sleepless night comes from how this oath, as sworn to by the 45th president and when considered alongside at least 50 of those 57 most outrageous quotes from CNN, doesn’t quite match up with this little gem from the most talked about element of the Constitution today (see bold):

AMENDMENT I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [2]

The first thing to note here is that the First Amendment is entirely the jurisdiction of Congress. It is Congress’ obligation to protect and define the laws established in the Constitution and that includes the First Amendment. In fact, any casual student of the Constitution (I would qualify as one) can see that the founding fathers gave most of the power to Congress because the House and Senate actually represent the people. The Executive, cannot and DOES not function without the power of Congress…that was the whole point of the legislative structure. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have failed the American people in maintaining this essential balance of power in our government as the majority party leaders of both houses…but that’s another blog post.

My primary point is that Donald Trump has leveraged his “celebrity” and his power as president to completely undermine our constitutional right to freedom of the press. Every time he speaks of “fake news” or “fake media” he takes his office and actively uses it to damage the integrity of something that is very clearly protected in the US Constitution.

We do not live in a dictatorship, where the government controls our access to information. Despite the influence of wealthy individuals and power hungry corporations, one of the basic premises of US government is the free flow of information and even Rupert Murdoch understands that. Donald Trump, overriding the power of Congress, is actively and intentionally blockading that flow of information from the press by creating an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion and he has managed to master the art of curtailing, perverting and twisting the information generated by the free press into a sickening, poisonous and judging by Charlottesville, lethal brew.

If we are to have any hope at all of eradicating this disastrous virus of lies from our highest elected office, I say we need to look at and actually use the Constitution that is meant to serve as both his job description and his watchdog. I am calling on you, our elected officials to demand that Trump either end his war on the press (which, if it could be defined as a war would be full on treason…see Article III section 3) or to seek his removal from office for not adhering to his sworn oath. If you who we have put in office are not willing to do so, than folks, the People of the United States must to bring suit against Donald J. Trump for being denied free speech and access to a free press, and yes, we have the tools in the Constitution to do that as well.

See you in court.

Ways to Sue if Your Constutional Rights are Violated

[1] – http://blogs.findlaw.com/injured/2014/09/3-potential-ways-to-sue-if-your-constitutional-rights-are-violated.html

[2] – Ibid.

 

Hey, Kathy…

landscape-1496233880-kathy-griffinKathy Griffin made an exceedingly poor choice as a pop culture celebrity.

No child (regardless of who is their parent) should have to see their parent or an image of them murdered.

Kathy Griffin did not kill anyone (not even her audience). The joke wasn’t worth it.

Donald Trump has not killed anyone directly (yet) and does not deserve to be murdered.  No one does.

 

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that…

Kathy Griffin created a piece of fiction…poor taste, violent, bad…but a piece of fiction nonetheless. And she is contrite.

Whereas, Donald Trump is creating fact every day and he is rabidly unapologetic no matter what kind of violence it represents.

Not only has he enabled violence at his campaign rallies but he enables and has sometimes endorsed:

…violence against and traumatic separation of families

…violence targeting people through hate crimes

…violence against women and their bodies

…violence and victimization of US born citizens as “foreign” and “undesireable” for their associations

…the ongoing violence against our environment.

 

Kathy Griffin created an entirely ugly and inappropriate piece of fiction. There is no excuse for that.

Donald Trump is creating entirely ugly and inappropriate fact. There is also no excuse for that.

And who just got fired?

 

In 2002 I had the great pleasure of briefly interviewing and chatting with Kathy Griffin as part of the Los Angeles Pride Parade.  She was totally bawdy and randy and made me blush…and she was one of the most completely authentic people I’ve ever met.  Inappropriate, rude, crude, she also knew never to take herself so seriously that she couldn’t see when she was wrong.  She still has my vote.

#Solidarity

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LGBTQ Support for Migrant Rights…NOW!

The LGBTQ machine must mobilize as an active agent of resistance to mass deportations and abuses by the current administration. In the midst of our own personal struggle, we cannot let go of our connection to the broader struggle against oppression.  #Solidarity makes us all stronger.

3.8 percent of the US population identifies as LGBTQ[1]. Imagine if the government decided that LGBTQ people posed such a threat to the financial security and personal safety of “traditional” families that they needed to be removed and were routinely “rounded up” and transported out of the country? This is what is starting to happen at this moment to the 3.5 percent of the US population that is undocumented[2]. Through a new wave of aggressive raids and mass deportations, the government has begun the next great humanitarian crisis. It is quite simply a crime against humanity that, if we allow it to play out, will be a stain as permanent on American history as slavery and the ongoing refusal to end rape.

US Presidents have been brought up on charges of crimes against humanity before, largely for their support of foreign governments who created unsustainable or lethal situations in their own countries. But we are currently walking blindly into a situation where our own government is creating the lethal situation in our own territory. American exceptionalism and American isolationism do little to keep us safe; they merely keep us exceptionally isolated. The sheer volume of undocumented people in this country cannot be treated like a small influx of evil or lazy vagabonds. Our undocumented residents represent an entire nation within a nation (nearly 12 million people); a nation that our government has not effectively grown to understand or recognize in the cloud of racist immigration policies[3]. This population is by and large a hard working, honest nation that is eager to succeed and is essential to our way of life. It is a nation whose only crime is having the audacity to want to be included in the possibility of prosperity and life without persecution. This is the exact same story that faces LGBTQ people and the precedent that is being established in the treatment of migrants is one that could easily be turned on LGBTQ people, on disabled people or anyone who doesn’t represent what one narrow slice of the ruling elite deems as worthy of including in the American Dream. The resistance against mass deportations is an LGBTQ issue; it is an African American issue; it is a Jewish issue; it is a Muslim issue; it is a white issue.

The great lesson that will go down in history will be based on how the United States responds in this moment.  How we are able to see humanity before looking at bank accounts and ethnic bloodlines. We cannot afford to see America through only one racial perspective, one gender perspective, one religious perspective or one economic perspective. The bottom line is that our nation and our government created the opportunity vacuum that brings countless people, documented and undocumented to this country. This should be a point of pride, and not a strategy of war and persecution. There is no crime in being not-white, or not-rich, or not-straight. The only true crime is turning your back on another human being out of selfish bigotry and fear.

#LGBTQ4MigrantRights, #Solidarity, #Resistance

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[1] http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-How-Many-People-LGBT-Apr-2011.pdf

[2] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/03/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/

[3] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_and_Nationality_Act_of_1952

Slogan to the Right

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Lincoln Inauguration (incomplete Capitol) 1861

Four words that are
Not for all
Cast a pall
Build a wall
Straight and tall
Where only one side is right.

Four words that
Conjure an era
Make nostalgia dearer
Allay misplaced fear
Make it clear
There is only one way to be right.

These same four words
Erase black authority
Deny brown integrity
Evade gender autonomy
Remove migrant empathy
Define only one kind of right.

Four words,
one man,
300 million dreams,
An unending struggle to be “right”
That in the end will leave us all
Alone and afraid in a dark and starless night.

– ALD

Wherefore Art Thou?

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W.E.B. DuBois

In 1890 W.E.B. DuBois delivered a commencement address at Harvard[1] in which he tackled the issue of the impact that leadership has on society. He brilliantly foreshadows the work of Martin Buber’s Ich und Du (I and Thou – 1923). More importantly, his words ring ominously true today as we start 2017 in the United States. In the piece, he reflects on the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis:

I wish to consider not the man, but the type of civilization which his life represented: its foundation is the idea of the strong man—Individualism coupled with the rule of might

DuBois goes on to caution that:

The Strong Man and his mighty Right Arm has become the Strong Nation with its armies. Under whatever guise, however, a Jefferson Davis may appear as man, as race, or as nation, his life can only logically mean this: the advance of a part of the world at the expense of the whole; the overweening sense of the I, and the consequent forgetting of the Thou. It has thus happened, that advance in civilization has always been handicapped by shortsighted national selfishness.

Today, we are facing a New Year and a new government and sadly a new shortsightedness. The choice is stark: are we, as a society, a nation and individuals, going to be an isolated “I” or are we going to be partners in cultivating a world of “I-Thou”?

The incoming US Government administration has utilized a “post-truth”, bully posture to convince the American people that the schoolyard will be better for everyone as long as the chief punk is in charge. This has ushered in a new dark age in American idealism that finds its greatest motivation in fear…fear of exclusion from the club, fear of the other, fear of appearing weak, etc. It backs up a nouveau belligerence that has no grounding in facts or integrity. “Because I say so” has become the default bargaining phrase of the day and the “deals” that are already being struck are less about negotiation and more about coercion and self-aggrandizement. In this equation there is only “I”. The “I” of the “strong man” who only functions for himself* and the “I” of the minions responding to the source of their intimidation, each one trying to see a small part of the big bully/strong man reflected in themselves.

But there is also the dangerous “I” of apathetic immobilized malcontents who refuse to fight back because they believe the system will correct itself. These are the same people who in 1868 allowed Jefferson Davis and the rest of the Southern aggressors in the civil war to be pardoned “with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws which have been made in pursuance thereof.”[2] The result was Jefferson Davis and his “Strong Man” never being called to task for defending the institutionalized possession, abuse, rape and murder of other human beings in servitude. This laid the groundwork for the next 150 years of political apologists who still don’t understand why blacks don’t just “get over” slavery and the legacy of Jim Crow. The “I” of apathy does more damage because it is the “I” of retreat and acquiescence with the full knowledge that grave wrong is being committed. This is the same “I” that quickly defaults to assumptions of sameness as a rationale for inaction. It proudly proclaims on one hand that “All Lives Matter” and that it does not see race, but it refers to “the Hispanics” or “the gays” as if they are entirely different species. This is the “I” who will see you as long as they see themselves in you first.

But, I-Thou does not function based on sameness; it is not a filter. Instead, I-Thou is a manifestation of interconnectedness. I-Thou asks us to be in relationship regardless of our ability to agree. It says that there is no I without Thou. The great advantage here is the elimination of in-groups and out-groups and the true nourishment and safety of all. The challenge for us then today is to avoid being swept up in the wave of “Strong Man” individualism based on assumptions about how we are all the same and instead embrace the importance of being able to submit strength, individual or national to the benefit of all in celebration of our collective uniquenesses. In truth, the more the “Strong Man” abandons his relationship with “Thou”, he is not only weak, but an utter coward, afraid of his own human frailty and need. I cannot improve upon the words DuBois uses to drive home our greatest calling, particularly now at the dawn of an era that will challenge our most basic potential for interconnectedness:

What then is the change made in the conception of civilization, by adding to the idea of the Strong Man, that of the Submissive Man? It is this: The submission of the strength of the Strong to the advance of all—not in mere aimless sacrifice, but recognizing the fact that, “To no one type of mind is it given to discern the totality of Truth,[3]” that civilization cannot afford to lose the contribution of the very least of nations for its full development: that not only the assertion of the I, but also the submission to the Thou is the highest individualism.

Happy New Year!

– ALD

*I have intentionally retained the limited masculine language of “he/him/his” in this piece to reflect the original language used by both DuBois and Buber from which I have drawn my analysis.

[1] http://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mums312-b196-i029

[2] http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=72360

[3] New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, Volume 7, Issue: 3, March, 1890, 361-374