It has been exactly one week since election night, when America reelected Barack Obama for a second term as President of the United States. After taking some time to watch all of the pundits on political television weigh in on the election, I now feel like adding my two cents. Actually, if it weren’t for Harry Reid, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article.
When the Senate Majority Leader appealed to Republicans for cooperation on looming challenges the government faces in the days ahead after the election, like the fiscal cliff, he used a fitting metaphor. He said, “It is better to dance than to fight.” And since I spent election night in a dance studio, watching voting results and my dancing partners’ feet, as to not step on them in my awkward attempt to master the art of Tango, I decided it would be appropriate to share my thoughts about this year’s election.
First I would like to say, my pain has been alleviated now that it is all over. The constant negative political ads that aired on television like a bad reality show in syndication had me reaching for the remote, and depressing the mute button every ten minutes. When I wasn’t trying to silence the television, I was trying to manage the constant cacophony of telephone rings from pollsters, some with a pulse and some automated. Yet I answered every single survey with patriotic patience and sincerity, partly because for the first election in my lifetime, this year I chose to volunteer to register voters.
I know what it’s like to ask someone to participate in the electoral process and have them snub you like a debutante would a plebian. I suffered quarrels with unregistered voters in front of Walmart over the alleged corruptness of the Electoral College and the dubious worth of one’s vote. And despite the fact that it took Florida nearly a week to declare the state blue, I felt all gold inside, knowing I played a minuscule part in a winning election.
So let us dance. Now that the election is over, it’s time to choose your partner. And although Harry Reid was addressing members of the Senate and Congress, I would like to aim my comments at ordinary citizens; like the gentleman I saw driving a red pickup truck the other day on my way to work with a huge Confederate flag hoisted on his bed flapping in the wind. We are not all going to like each other. We are not going to agree on all of the issues all of the time. But we all have to live together and find a way to work through our differences. Maestro, strike up the band!
Politically speaking, I lean to the left. I vote Democrat. I support Affirmative Action, the DREAM act, gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana and I am pro choice. I believe in ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and I support Wall Street regulation. That being said, it’s August; convention time! So I spent this week listening in on the Republican National Convention with the intention of getting to know my political polar opposites a little better; the Right. To be honest, I’ve never watched a full RNC before. I’ve protested at one (The 2004 RNC in New York), but I haven’t really given Republicans a fair shot with regard to understanding their ideology. So this time around, I challenged myself to listen to their keynote speakers and platform.
Not long into the first night of speeches, I began to have what might be called an allergic reaction. All of my liberal white blood cells within my body rushed to lobby against what they detected as a foreign invasion; an immune system sortie on the rhetoric that threatened to destroy me with distortions, comments taken out of context and extremism. Sadly to say, I found myself acting very juvenile in response; mocking my Republican officials with my own brand of political satire, taking shots at their bright red clothing and even sarcastically applauding with the audience and chanting along; “WE BUILT IT!” (I even created a Village People YMCA- like cheer involving my hands signaling MITT for Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney) Needless to say, I needed to step up my maturity if I was going to get anything meaningful out of this convention.
But perhaps my embarrassing antics were exacerbated by comments like “We are truly the best, last hope on Earth,” made by Saratoga Springs, UT Mayor Mia Love as she brought her speech to a close. I honestly believe America is a country that would oppose existential threats to life by totalitarian states or terrorist organizations on Earth regardless if a Republican or Democrat was elected president. I understand her intention was to make a rallying call to her party members, but portraying the GOP as the savior of the planet seems a little exaggerated.
And when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took the podium and said, “We are the great grandchildren of men and women who broke their backs in the name of American ingenuity; the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation; the sons and daughters of immigrants…” I couldn’t help but think that he missed a great opportunity to prove the claims that some in the Republican Party have made about them being the party most suited to address the needs of the African-American community, by not recognizing the contribution that slaves made to this country, in addition to immigrants.
On the second night of the convention, I determined to act my age and listen attentively. I enjoyed listening to Arizona Senator John McCain and even though I disagreed with Attorney Generals Pam Bondi (FL) and Sam Olens’ (GA) view on Obamacare, I now feel as if I understand their objectives a little more clearly. But when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice commented “…we need to give parents greater choice, particularly poor parents whose kids, very often minorities, are trapped in failing neighborhood schools. This is the civil rights issue of our day,” I felt she, like Governor Chris Christie, once again missed out on a great opportunity to show America that the GOP was the party best suited to meet the needs of the African-American Community (as well as other minority communities) by directly linking the struggle for those minority voters who now find themselves marginalized because of new voter ID laws across the country, with what she claims as the “civil rights issue of our day.”
To be honest, I think Mitt Romney would be a good president for the American economy. He knows business. He knows how to generate income. I think it would be a step backwards on many of the social issues that are important to me if Mitt Romney were elected, but a step forward for the economy, mainly because, he would not be facing a Congress that, quite frankly, would be as hostile to his proposed agenda, as it has been to President Obama. Put quite simply, I think the legislative process may run more smoothly with Mitt Romney at the helm because the obstacle of an African-American as president for a majority White Republican Congress that is obviously still dealing with the ever-present challenge of race in our society, will have been removed.
Yet, it is my hope that President Obama is reelected, as I do plan to vote for him. And should his supporters vote, not only for him but for the Democratic leadership in the Congress and Senate that is necessary to assist him with his agenda (As sadly, in my opinion, we did not do a good enough job of in 2010, which gave rise to many of the Tea Party members assuming seats in Congress, and subsequently, creating a force of opposition to the President), I believe the economy will grow, and more jobs will be created.
On an unrelated note, I have been reading Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story by Dame Daphne Sheldrick. The book is about her experiences running an orphanage for animals near Tsavo National Park in Kenya, and I decided to draw one of the elephants from the photos in the book for the illustration for this article. (I learned about Dame Daphne Sheldrick from one of Chelsea Clinton’s stories on NBC Nightly News) I may not agree with the GOP, but they have a great mascot!
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” – The United States Constitution, Amendment 14, Section 1.
We used to have something in this country called miscegenation laws, which would have made it illegal for a Black man and a White woman to be married. My grandfather was Black and my grandmother is White and they lived married through this unfortunate period in our country’s history. When riding in a car together, sometimes it was necessary for my grandmother to get down on the floor of the car while my grandfather drove, in order to be unseen by people who might object to their relationship on the grounds that they shared different racial backgrounds. In fact, they had to move north from Virginia to Ohio in order to escape those laws (See Loving v. Virginia 1967). People used to use the Bible to call marriage between different races “an abomination.” (Among other things people used the Bible to call abominations like women having the right to speak in church based on 1 Corinthians 14:34, and women wearing pants based on Deuteronomy 22:5.)
President Barack Obama’s comment in an interview with ABC news, in which he stated “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” has furthered the debate on the issue of same-sex marriage. The president’s comment was preceded by Vice President Joe Biden’s statement on NBC’s Meet the Press, in which he said he was “comfortable” with same-sex marriage, just days before North Carolina voters decided in favor of a constitutional amendment banning it. The president had sad in the past that his thinking on the issue had “evolved.” The elation on the faces of people in the LGBT community on television was plainly evident after the president made his unprecedented statement. And for good reason. After all, how do you tell someone who to love, or who not to love?
The comments of both President Obama and Vice President Biden are commendable. It’s a step in the right direction. But until there is either further federal legislation passed to prevent states from violating the rights and privileges of American citizens, or forthcoming Supreme Court rulings to overturn same-sex marriage restrictions, such affirmations may ultimately, unfortunately, prove to be mere political posturing. I applauded President Obama’s signing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: the policy of banning openly gay, lesbian or bisexual individuals from serving in the military. Now the time has come for Congress, the judiciary and the president to once again rise to the occasion, and ensure that here in the United States of America, everyone is treated equally.
“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” I grew up with these words, spoken by President John F. Kennedy, which were finely printed on a trivet in my family’s kitchen. The souvenir belonged to my maternal grandmother and was used mostly for holding serving spoons instead of shielding the dinner table from heat, due to its having been damaged. When washing dishes I would scrub spaghetti sauce, pancake batter, and what ever other ingredients and mixes my mother used for cooking, from off this plate and read over the words, time and time again. And now thinking back, it seems odd that I never learned much about the man who spoke them. That is until now. Chris Matthews’ book Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero provides its reader a clear, concise introduction to the life and times of JFK.
Although categorized as a biography, Matthews’ Jack Kennedy reads more like an Action/Adventure. A page turner, I felt like I was along for the ride as a young JFK plots practical jokes in rebellious spirit railing against authority, answers the call of duty to serve his country while encountering enemy ships in the South Pacific, and then goes door to door after WWII as a military hero, introducing himself as the new political candidate in town. The book also took me on the campaign trail, sharing intimate details of the tenacity, nerve, stomach and guts it takes to run for a seat in Congress, the Senate, and ultimately, the White House.
And this isn’t an outdated Action/Adventure story retired on a dusty bookshelf. On the contrary, it is timely. And if the old adage that history repeats itself is true, Chris Matthews’ book goes a long way in demonstrating how events that happened nearly fifty years ago still have relevance today. Like the story he tells of the Buddhist monk who lit himself on fire in protest of South Vietnam’s president Ngo Dinh Diem’s persecution of the country’s Buddhists, as a precursor to the Vietnam War. I instantly thought of the vegetable cart owner in Tunisia who similarly lit himself on fire which sparked the Arab Spring. And there is also the narrative of how the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union came to sign a treaty vowing to not test nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, space, and water. Just last week, the news was filled with stories about North Korea’s missile launch and possible attempts to test nuclear weapons by their leaders in Pyongyang.
If the lure of the Kennedy dynasty has ever grabbed your attention, as it has successfully in my case over the years; this story, as told by Chris Matthews, will be an immensely enjoyable one to read. The notion that countries on the brink of war can somehow, in the nick of time, resort to diplomacy instead of catastrophic engagement, is reassuring in the current context of global affairs. The idea that presidents showing restraint instead of the use of force, despite being pressured to be the aggressor, opens the door for the possibility of peace, offers sobering advice for a world that finds itself in a climate of potential new wars, based on old vendettas, on the horizon. Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero helps draw the line between nearsighted thinking and foresight, emotion and reason.
On Tuesday, December 6, 2011, I paid a visit to Representative Allen West’s office in Washington, D.C., along with a group of fellow activists. Allen West represents the 22nd district of Florida. When we arrived at his office, we requested to speak with him, as was our right as constituents and residents of his congressional district. There were about 15-20 of us and we were told that he was not in his office and that we could wait outside in the hallway until he returned. Instead, we chose to enter his office and wait for him patiently. We waited for nearly two hours and finally he made an appearance. After he met with designated members of our group, he gave an interview with Fox News and made some statements that were not entirely reflective of what I witnessed. So, with all due deference Mr. Congressman, I’d like a word with you!
Firstly, when the video of your interview begins to play, Fox News posts a bulletin that reads “Occupy Protests Get Violent” in the segment which features statements you gave regarding your experience with the Occupy Palm Beach group; the group I am a member of. I would like to ask you; when did our meeting with you become “violent?” Was it the part when we were sitting in your office peacefully and your aide slammed the door loudly for us all to hear because he was frustrated that he was unsuccessful in getting us to wait in the hallway for two hours for you to arrive? I will concede that an unfortunate event did occur when a woman in our group lost her temper (as did your aide when he slammed his door) when she was rudely ignored by your administrative assistant when she asked her “how do you like working for Representative Allen West?” Our group member reacted to being ignored by your administrative assistant by turning to the rest of us and loudly saying, “She just ignored me…what a bitch!” I did not appreciate her calling your assistant that derogatory name, as our intention was to reflect a tone of mutual respect. However, your administrative assistant neglected to exhibit that same amount of respect, and I didn’t think it very proper or business-like for her to ignore one of our group members when she was asked a simple question. And at no time did the police, present in your office, find it necessary to arrest anyone in our group. So we must agree that no violence occurred, and that Fox News’ bulletin was misleading.
Secondly, I applaud you for taking the time to meet with some of us and for making the comment that “you never kick over someone’s tent” in an attempt to show our movement the proper respect when Fox News attacked our legitimacy. However, you then went on to state “when we confronted them with facts and the truth they kind of went away with their tail in between their legs…” Actually Mr. West, after our meeting with you we proceeded in an orderly fashion downstairs to Representative Vern Buchanan’s office (13th district of Florida) to also meet with him. Unfortunately, similarly when we arrived at your office sir, he also was not available and his administrative assistant, though much more welcoming than your own, could not tell us when he would return.
Far from leaving with our tail in between our legs, we actually participated in two more major demonstrations in our nation’s capitol over the course of the next two days; one in the financial district of Washington, D.C., and the other in front of the Capitol building where police guards watched from atop the stairs with automatic weapons. (See picture below)
So Mr. Congressman, let us be fair when we speak via media outlets about our dealings with one another. I admire the courage it takes to work as a congressional representative for the Unites States of America. You and our other representatives and senators put your life on the line every day when you go to work. You work hard with the sincere intentions to make sure our nation is moving in a direction consistent with how your constituents vote. We appreciate your service. But please, do not refer to Occupy Wall Street as “an empty movement” as you did in your interview. Because sir, I assure you our movement is not “empty.” Conversely, it is full with equally hard working, courageous, sacrificing people who are spread across the nation, including the 22nd district of Florida, which you represent.
On Saturday, October 22, 2011, I helped to start an occupation of Flagler Park located in downtown West Palm Beach, FL, after several weeks of General Assemblies. Together, along with 6 other occupiers, and with the support of hundreds more who were in attendance earlier that day, I slept on the grass underneath the Autumn sky, in a park directly across from a harbor of million dollar docked yachts, multi-million dollar mansions, and flanked on one side by the Trump Plaza and on the other side by Bank of America, all in the shadows of the Merrill Lynch Building. The Police advised us that anyone in the park after 11:00 pm would be arrested, but after further review of the city ordinance, and thanks to the many dedicated members of Occupy Palm Beach who stayed up late and made phone calls to the Mayor of West Palm Beach, it was decided that there were no legal grounds to remove us from the public park. We stood our ground and remained in the park all night.
We, community members made up of students, graduates, retirees, parents of children concerned about their futures, unemployed, underemployed (part-time and full-time), poor, middle class, upper class, Democrats, Republicans, non-party members, Liberals, Conservatives, environmentalists, activists, professionals, from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds have assembled to occupy and volunteer our time, money and efforts for many reasons. I, like many others, joined the Occupy movement because I am 34 years old, have foreclosed on a home, surrendered a vehicle due to not being able to keep up with the payments, am drowning in student loan debt and taxes, experienced multiple periods of unemployment due to either refusing to comply with unethical business practices (including those harmful to the environment) or experiencing various forms of disparity with respect to the corporate hiring process, have family members who are incarcerated by a prison system with disproportionate sentencing for the African-American, Latino and immigrant populations, am unable to afford health care and am left with no retirement plan. We have assembled and occupied in order to seek solutions to these problems and more. We are thankful for all of the food, supplies, legal aid and support we have received from those generous members of our community who stand with us in solidarity. We are the 99%, using our right to peacefully assemble, in search of a more inclusive system of democracy and socially responsible economics, which will unite us with the 1%, in order to “form a more perfect union…”
My great grandfather’s name was Harry Frazier. That was not his real name. Harry Frazier was the name he took for himself in order to pass for Caucasian in an environment which was hostile toward Native Americans. He was a full blood Native American. This was a common survival strategy used by many people during his time in order to conceal their true identity. He lived in Tennessee and one day he wrote his true Native name down in a family Bible. No one in my family knows where that Bible is now, and so we do not know what his real name was. Our family believes that he was either from the Cherokee or Choctaw tribe, but without knowing his original name it is nearly impossible to determine this information.
When I heard that a protest movement on Facebook had been initiated in response to the United States Government’s use of the codename Geronimo for Osama Bin Laden in their operation to capture and kill him, I was conflicted. Native Americans were asked to change their profile picture to Geronimo. Besides my great-grandfather, I have other ancestors who were also Native Americans. However, because it was unpopular to discuss and/or disclose Native American ancestry in their day, this information was either kept secret or downplayed in some manner. I cannot apply for tribal membership because I cannot prove my ancestors were Native Americans. I don’t have their original names and they were not recorded in any census or official documents. It’s the same dilemma that African Americans face when desiring to trace their genealogy because our ancestors’ names were changed from their original names to their slave master’s name. For this reason there are often branches missing in our so-called family tree.
Geronimo’s real name was Goyathlay. His ancestry was of the Apache tribe. His mother, wife, and three children were killed by soldiers in the Mexican Army. In his career as a war chief, Geronimo fought against the Mexican and United States Army and became one of the most revered leaders in Native American history. To link him with Osama bin Laden is a gross error of association. Geronimo was defending his home country from the westward invasion of the U.S. Army. Hundreds of treaties were broken on the part of the U.S. government which allowed them to illegally seize Native American homelands. This resulted in the creation of reservations where Native Americans were forced to move and live in virtual poverty. There are still Native Americans living on reservations today. The U.S. government has yet to address all of the treaties that were broken during those wars. So to identify Geronimo with Osama bin Laden, liking him to America’s worst enemy, is as President Barack Obama often times suggests, a line of thinking that is on “the wrong side of history.” No one who defends their people and homeland from an unlawful invading army should be labeled as a terrorist.
One day my great-grandfather Harry Frazier fell from a building’s fire escape. He had been drinking and the police arrested him and took him to jail. No medical attention was ever administered to him and he died as a result of his injuries while in jail. It is our family’s suspicion that the police knew he was a Native American and that was why he didn’t receive medical care. My mother told me that he once said, “It’s better to be a Black man than an Indian in this country.”
I voted for Barack Obama in the last presidential election and I plan to do so again in the next. I do hope that he along with all of the tribal councils can work together to rectify this unfortunate association of names. So again my dilemma was whether or not to change my profile picture and join in on the protest. Do I have enough Native American blood running in my veins to justify my participation? Am I authentic enough? Is this my fight? When thinking of what happened to my great-grandfather, I know I have the obligation to speak up. I have done so. I will continue to do so. Maybe one day, if things don’t change, you’ll see me cruising around Facebook with the likeness of a true American Hero!