A Shared Opinion …

There are a number of opinion writers who I read regularly, and Charles Blow of the New York Times is one.  His column on Sunday struck a chord, for much of what he says mirrors my own thoughts very closely, especially when he says, “I would love nothing more than to write about other things, worthy things, more intellectually stimulating things. But for more than two years, I have written almost exclusively about Donald Trump.”  I initially intended to only provide a few snippets from this column, but after I studied and pondered it a bit, I decided to share the entire column after all.  Give it a read … I think you’ll be able to relate to much of what he says …

You Have a Right to Weariness

The struggle for goodness and decency is an eternal struggle, not a seasonal one.

Charles BlowBy Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist

Do we have a right to weariness in an era of animus? More precisely, can we afford it, or is exhaustion a luxury reserved for those whose wealth, privilege and status insulate them from the losses the rest of us could suffer? Does patriotic defense of country require perpetual, obsessive vigilance, or is it permissible to retreat occasionally for one’s own mental and spiritual health?

These are questions I ask myself regularly, and ones that are frequently asked of me, if not in those exact words. People are trying to figure out the proper posture to take in a world riven by deceit and corruption, a world in which the leadership of the country represents an assault on decency.

This is a conundrum, I must confess.

I, as much as anyone else, feel trapped by our current predicament. I would love nothing more than to write about other things, worthy things, more intellectually stimulating things. But for more than two years, I have written almost exclusively about Donald Trump.

I feel compelled by what I view as history, fundamental and consequential, playing out right before me with nothing short of the life of the republic at stake. And yet, at a certain point, words begin to fail, or the obvious has already been stated. Once you have pointed out that Trump is a liar, you can then note only that he is telling more lies. The same goes for his racism, bullying, anti-intellectualism, corruption and grift.

At some point, it becomes clear that the abnormal, outrageous and unacceptable have become a constant, and even the rolling boil of righteous folk’s indignation reduces to a simmer.

People often ask me, “When will it end? What can we do to get him out of there?”

My answer always is, “I doubt it will end soon, and there’s very little anyone can do to change that.”

I hate to bear that message, but it is the only one I can deliver if I wish to be honest rather than popular.

As much as there was to celebrate last week, with liberals winning control of the House of Representatives, and doing so with such a diverse slate of candidates, it was also clear that Republican control of the Senate means that any hope of removing Trump via impeachment has shrunk to nearly nothing. Even if the House impeaches Trump, the Senate remains highly unlikely to remove him.

Democrats are even debating how far they can take oversight in the House without turning off people politically.

The only hope is that the Robert Mueller investigation may deliver something so damning that some Senate Republicans view it as unacceptable. But there is no evidence as of yet that anything would sway them.

Trump is taking steps to severely hamper Mueller’s efforts. Last week, he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. The F.B.I. is currently investigating corruption at a company where Mr. Whitaker sat on the advisory board.

At this point, it may be more prudent to view what comes from the Mueller probe as fodder for the 2020 presidential campaign. It may not pave the way for an impeachment conviction by the Senate, but could well pave the way for an electoral “impeachment.”

It is very likely that we are stuck with Trump until the 2020 election, and even then the Democrats can take nothing for granted if they wish to defeat him.

That is the root of people’s distress. How can Republicans in Congress abide this behavior and use it for political positioning? How can so many of our neighbors condone open hostility to minorities, the press and the truth?

Or maybe the questions are for us. How could we not have registered fully just how hostile a substantial portion of America is to inclusion and equality? How could we not have registered the full depths of American racism and misogyny? How could we not remember that American progress has always been like a dance with a disagreeable partner, stumbling backward as well as moving forward?

I remember calling my mother when Trump was elected, and she was not nearly as distraught as I thought she’d be. Her stated reason: We’ve been through worse. She is an elderly black woman from the South. Her sense of history and heartbreak are long and fraught.

Recently, I’ve delved even more deeply into this line of thinking, reading about how black people positioned themselves during both Reconstruction and Jim Crow, when the political structures were largely arrayed against them.

I wanted to know how they survived and made progress against open hostility. The recurring themes are to never lose hope in the ultimate victory of righteousness; to focus your fire on the things you are most able to change; and to realize that change is neither quick nor permanent.

The struggle for goodness and decency is an eternal struggle, not a seasonal one.

Don’t beat yourself up if you need to tune out every now and then and take a mental health break. There is no shame in it. This is a forever fight. Once you have recharged, reapply your armor and rejoin the fight with even more vigor.

That white privilege thing

Our good friend Keith wrote this post nearly three weeks ago. I intended to re-blog it at the time, and as seems to happen more and more with me these days, I got side-tracked and it fell by the wayside. No matter, for his words are timeless … they were as true 100 years ago as they are today, and I suspect will still need to be heard in another century. Thank you, Keith, for this post, for reminding me of it, and for your generous permission to share.

musingsofanoldfart

Usually when Dr. Phil comes on, I leave the room. Seeing people yell at each other is not therapeutic for me. Yesterday, my wife said you need to see this one as it was an interesting group discussion on race relations and white privilege.

In one powerful, illustrating exercise, young adults of both genders and several races, religions, sexual preferences, and countries of origin stepped forward or backward based on answers to a series of questions. At the end of about thirty or so questions, white people tended to be at the front of the room, while other races tended to be at the back.

As a now 60 year-old white man, I can pretty much go anywhere I want without repercussions. And, I need not have to worry for my life when I am stopped by the police or state patrol. A black man in his Sunday best has…

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Shame On You, Donald Trump …

Once again, I find myself wanting to apologize for our ignorant, crude, ignominious, arrogant, brash, narcissistic so-called ‘president’ after he made a fool of not only himself, but of us all, when he was mistakenly allowed to travel to the EU over the weekend.  To all my friends & family across the pond … please forgive us for sending him, for we knew not what we were doing.

The occasion, for any who may not know, was to honour those who died in World War I on the 100th anniversary of the end of that war.  It was a solemn occasion, a time to set aside differences and come together to remember …

Trump started his trail of terror before even leaving Air Force One, when he tweeted an attempted insult toward Emmanuel Macron, President (in good standing) of France.  But it got worse.  His alleged purpose for traveling to Paris on Friday was to attend ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.  The reality, as is always the case with Trump, was something else altogether, but that was his stated purpose.  But guess what?  It rained.Trump-rain-WWIIt rained.  Trump was afraid of a little bit of water.  I’ve often said I don’t think he bathes regularly, and this proves it!  All the other leaders who had gathered in Paris for the occasion attended …Prince Harry rainAngela Merkel braved the elements, as did Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Prince Harry, Spain’s King Felipe VI … even Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin found time to attend, despite the rain.  Trump later claimed that the only reason he didn’t attend was that his motorcade would have disrupted roads.  SO WALK, YOU F***ING MORON!!!

General John Kelly and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Joe Dunford attended instead – apparently they didn’t need a ‘motorcade’. France WWI Centennial

Representative Don Beyer of Virginia hit the nail on the head:

“Millions died to protect the free world during WWI, and Trump can’t be bothered to honor their memories. Instead, he’s chosen to sit in a hotel and live-tweet Fox News. Just imagine if President Obama sat out a Veterans Day ceremony because of the rain …”

Just imagine, indeed.  But then, President Obama was … well, you know … African-American, and thus his every move was placed under a strong microscope and picked apart like the Christmas turkey.  Trump, on the other hand, is ugly white with layers of fat, acne, and a bad toupee, so he can do no wrong!  (Yeah, I’m pissed – what tipped you off?)

“It’s incredible that a president would travel to France for this significant anniversary — and then remain in his hotel room watching TV rather than pay in person his respects to the Americans who gave their lives in France for the victory gained 100 years ago tomorrow.” – David Frum, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush

Even Winston Churchill’s grandson, British Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, joined in the rebuke, saying, “They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen,” and adding that Trump is “not fit to represent his great country.”

“President@realDonaldTrump a no-show because of raindrops? Those veterans the president didn’t bother to honor fought in the rain, in the mud, in the snow — & many died in trenches for the cause of freedom. Rain didn’t stop them & it shouldn’t have stopped an American president.” – John Kerry, Vietnam War veteran and former Secretary of State

Macron-MerkelHowever, the best rebuke came from none other than French President Emmanuel Macron in this one sentence that is bound to become iconic …

“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism by saying ‘our interests first, who cares about the others’, we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great and what is essential: its moral values.”

Ooooohhhh … good one, Mr. Macron!!!  And then he went on …

“I do defend my country. I do believe that we have a strong identity. But I’m a strong believer in cooperation between the different peoples, and I’m a strong believer of the fact that this cooperation is good for everybody, where the nationalists are sometimes much more based on a unilateral approach and the law of the strongest, which is not my case.”

But at the end of the day, Trump did manage to find time for one world leader … his ol’ buddy …trump-putinPerhaps this, then, was his sole reason for spending millions of taxpayer dollars to travel abroad for the weekend?  Or perhaps it was to seek a relief from the heat of last week’s mid-term elections?  Either way, he once again wasted huge amounts of our money in order to do nothing more than embarrass us.  Shame on you, Donald Trump … Shame on you.

♫ Everyday People ♫

Most often, I just like the song for the music … the tune, the singer(s), the rhythm, and there is no real rhyme nor reason … I just like what I like.  But there are a few songs that I also like for the message, and Everyday People is one of those.

The meaning in this song isn’t deep, mysterious or cryptic … it is quite simple:  we are all the same … everyday people.  Nobody is better than another.  Personally, I think this song should be required to be played in every church, synagogue and mosque throughout the world, for it gets down to the basics of what religion ought to be about.  You get this message down, then the rest follows naturally.

The song was originally released by Sly and the Family Stone in 1968 and was the first single by the band to go to #1.

milk.h1The song was used in the movie Milk, about gay rights activist Harvey Milk who, in 1977 when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, became the first openly gay elected official in the United States.  Less than one year later, on November 27, 1978, Milk was gunned down along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone.  The shooter was Supervisor Dan White, a conservative board member who had campaigned on a platform of law and order, civic pride, and family values.  The movie is worth a watch, if you haven’t seen it.milk shootingSly & the Family Stone was a mash up of musical styles with band members of different genders and ethnic backgrounds — they lived the message they sang about.  And now, I’ve chattered enough … just listen …

Everyday People
Sly & the Family Stone

Sometimes I’m right and I can be wrong
My own beliefs are in my song
The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then
Makes no difference what group I’m in

I am everyday people, yeah yeah

There is a blue one who can’t accept the green one
For living with a fat one trying to be a skinny one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo

Oh sha sha we got to live together

I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do
You love me you hate me you know me and then
You can’t figure out the bag I’m in

I am everyday people, yeah yeah

There is a long hair that doesn’t like the short hair
For bein’ such a rich one that will not help the poor one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo

Oh sha sha we got to live together

There is a yellow one that won’t accept the black one
That won’t accept the red one that won’t accept the white one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo

I am everyday people

Songwriters: Sylvester Stewart
Everyday People (from Milk) (Re-Recorded / Remastered) lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

No, Folks, This Is NOT Normal …

Yesterday morning we awoke to news of another mass shooting, this one at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California, that left 13 dead, including the gunman.  The first headline I saw claimed it was the “First mass shooting in the U.S. in over 10 days”, as if that were a statistic in which we ought to take pride.  First, a mass shooting every eleven days would be nothing to be proud of even if true, but the reality is that it was not the first, but rather the eleventh mass shooting since the shooting at L’Simcha (Tree of Life) synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on October 27th.  Eleventh.  Think about this one for a moment.  Did you realize there had been, on average, one mass shooting per day for the past ten?  Why did we not know?  How could we have missed it?mass shootings map-2According to statistics from the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 307 mass shootings in the 312 days of 2018.  It has become a common occurrence in our lives and we are, apparently, no longer shocked.  Five people shot, nobody died … oh well, just another day in paradise, eh?

The words of one parent whose son, Telemachus Orfanos, lost his life yesterday morning tell it all …

“I don’t want prayers.  I don’t want thoughts.  I want gun control.”

Telemachus had survived the Las Vegas massacre last year, only to lose his life in this one.

Gabrielle Giffords, the former Democratic congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in 2011, tweeted …

“307. There have been 307 mass shootings so far this year. Do we really want to raise our children in a country where mass shootings like Thousand Oaks are a weekly occurrence? A country where every single day in America, more than 90 people are killed with guns?  Classrooms. Places of worship. Newsrooms. Movie theaters. Restaurants. Yoga studios. Nightclubs. Playgrounds. No place in America feels safe anymore. No other high-income nation has this level of gun violence. I’m heartbroken, angry, and never going to accept this as normal.”

None of us should ever be willing to accept this as normal … it isn’t.  I’ve quoted statistics in past posts, so I won’t bore you with them again, except to say that every other nation in the industrialized world has stricter gun laws than the U.S., and not a single one has the number of gun deaths … not even close … that the U.S. sees every single year.  Every.  Single.  Year.

Tree of Life synagogue, Parkland, Las Vegas, Pulse nightclub, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook … how many more?  How many more people in this country have to die before somebody wakes up and says ENOUGH!!!  Small men who rely on guns to make them feel like big men need to find some other outlet for their anger!  We The People are tired of the killing.  The NRA owns most every republican in Congress, as well as the small man sitting in the Oval Office.

Please … don’t sit back and shrug this one off, don’t accept that gun violence in the United States has to be ‘the norm’.  It doesn’t have to be.  Write letters, make your voice heard, or one of these days it might be you who gets that call in the middle of the night.gun-pointing

In Case You Missed It …

Tuesday’s election was about more than the Senate, the House and the governorships.  Little attention was given to some of the ‘issues’ on that ballot, but a few are of major importance.


On gerrymandering …

Michigan, one of the most gerrymandered states in the Union, overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment which provides that future legislative maps will be drawn by an independent commission. At the peak of its effectiveness, in 2012, Michigan’s gerrymander allowed Republicans to win 9 of the state’s 14 U.S. House seats, despite the fact that President Obama won the state by over 9 points that year.  Granted, it is only one state out of fifty, but added to Ohio and Pennsylvania that have already made progress against gerrymandering, it is a start.  Remember that Rome was not built in a day, and racism in politics will not be defeated in a day, either.

On funding education …

Education funding has dropped drastically in recent years. Twenty-nine states were providing less total school funding per student in 2015 than in 2008!  In 19 states, local government funding also fell. In more than half of the states in the United States, the poorest districts — districts with the highest rates of poverty — get $1,000 less per pupil in state and local funding than districts with the lowest poverty rates.

On Tuesday, six education initiatives passed overall, in Seattle, Washington; Georgia; Maryland; Montana; and two in the state of Maine.  Four others were defeated in Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Utah.  Although Colorado is the 12th richest state in the United States, it ranks low in terms of its education spending. It ranked 42nd in spending on public education and 39th in per pupil spending.  The reason for its failure on Tuesday?  The funding for the initiative would have come from a corporate tax increase that was turned down flat.  Those investment portfolios are a lot more important than the education of our future leaders, yes?

On abolition …

Yep, you heard right.  The State of Colorado’s Constitution still had a clause left over from 1865 stating …

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The state tried to pass an amendment to remove this clause in 2016, but the amendment failed because the wording on the ballot was so confusing that people weren’t sure whether they would be voting for or against.  The state finally got it right this year with …

“Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution that prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime and thereby prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude in all circumstances?”

It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support … 65%.  Um … so 35% want to keep the potential for slavery?  Sigh.  Some things just die hard.  It’s Colorado, the state that turned down increased educational spending.

Tough on guns …

The voters in Washington State deserve a two-thumbs-up and an ‘attaboy’ from us all, for on Tuesday, they passed one of the toughest gun regulations in the country with a 60% margin.  The measure will raise the legal age to buy semi-automatic rifles to 21. To obtain such weapons, people will need to pass an enhanced background check, take a training course and wait 10 business days after a purchase.  In addition, they will enact a storage law. Gun owners who don’t secure their firearms with devices such as a trigger lock or safe could be charged with gross misdemeanor or felony “community endangerment” crimes for allowing prohibited people (such as children) to access and display or use the weapons.

A group funded by the NRA (go figure) called Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms has announced its intention to sue in an attempt to block the measure.  Let us hope there are some sensible judges in Washington State.

On restoring voter’s rights …

Florida voters have approved a ballot initiative which provides former felons with the right to vote, re-enfranchising 1.4 million people.  I applaud this one with all of my hands.  I know there are many of you who disagree with me on this issue, but my thoughts are that a person who commits a felony is nonetheless still a citizen of this nation … he or she should still have a voice in the way the nation is run and who does the running.  The ‘punishment’ for their crime is, as meted out by the courts, imprisonment or probation, but does not include revocation of citizenship.  Especially when you consider how many convicted felons’ only crime was drug-related.  So, I am thrilled that Florida took the initiative and hope to see more states follow suit.

Last but not least …

The State of Michigan passed Proposal 1, legalizing marijuana aka pot, making it the first state in the Midwest to legalize pot for both medicinal and recreational use.  The proposal passed by 56%.  Two other states, Utah and Missouri, legalized it for medicinal use only.


There were other issues, initiatives, proposals and measures covered in Tuesday’s election, some important, such as Florida’s constitutional amendment banning both offshore drilling and indoor vaping, and several states’ proposals to limit a woman’s right to choose in abortion cases, and I will have more about those at a later date.  These were all largely overlooked in the feeding frenzy over the House elections, but now we can step back and see what else was either fixed or broken by voters.

The Morning After …

Donald Trump claimed that this election, the 2018 mid-term election, was all about him.  He was right, but not, perhaps, in the way he meant it.  The very narrow taking of a majority in the House of Representatives was all about Donald Trump … it was a referendum by democrats … a statement that said, “We have had enough.”

Contrary to what many predicted, it was not a sweep, there was no ‘blue wave’.  And in fact, at several points it looked rather dim, and I had even written a morning post based on the assumption that the GOP maintained their control over the House — it was a glum post and I was happy to send it to the trash about 2:00 a.m.!  There were some mega-disappointments, albeit not unexpected:  Andrew Gillum, Stacy Abrams and Beto O’Rourke.  At this writing, there is still a slight chance for Stacy Abrams, for the margin is narrow enough that a run-off election might be called for … we can hope, although I suspect the odds are slim.celebration.jpgNow, we’ve had a moment of relief … some, no doubt, celebrated with champagne and noisemakers … it’s time to take stock, time to take a sobering look at the reality.  The newly elected 116th Congress will not be seated until January 3rd, 2019 … nearly two full months from now.  Have you considered what might happen during that two-month period?

I have no inside information and speak only as a decades-long observer of the political scene, and a more recent observer of Trump-antics.  As such, it appears to me that the main thing Trump would like to see put to bed before he is actually held to account for his actions in two months, is the Robert Mueller investigation into possible criminal interactions between Trump, his campaign, and Russian manipulators during the 2016 presidential campaign.  I will not be surprised to see some staffing changes at the Department of Justice in the next two months.

Trump, in his usual fashion, started the ‘morning after’ with threats …

“If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else, at the Senate level. Two can play that game!”

“They can play that game, but we can play better because we have a thing called the United States Senate and a lot of questionable things were done between leaks of classified information and many other elements that should not have taken place.”

Whoa … wait just a minute … you don’t own the Senate, and they don’t even work for you, Donnie boy! Would somebody please inform him that this is not junior high school???

And later, this …

“According to NBC News, Voters Nationwide Disapprove of the so-called Mueller Investigation (46%) more than they Approve (41%). You mean they are finally beginning to understand what a disgusting Witch Hunt, led by 17 Angry Democrats, is all about!”

Funny, isn’t it, that the mainstream media of which NBC News is a part is “the enemy of the people” and “fake news” until they report something that suits his purposes?

Is there no work for Trump to do … has he nothing better to do than play childish games?  Or is he simply petrified of what investigations into his tax returns and his business’ finances since he took office would reveal?

Another sobering thought is that the Senate seats gained by the republicans last night may make a democratic majority in the Senate improbable anytime before 2022 … another four years.  It is true that the majority in the House has given democrats an opportunity to insist on some oversight, will put an end to the free ride he has had thus far and hold him accountable for his actions.  However, the importance of the Senate should not be downplayed.  First, it is the Senate that confirms or denies Trump’s cabinet choices and, even more importantly, Supreme Court nominees.  If the republicans hold the majority in the Senate for another four years, it is almost a certainty that Trump will place three more justices on the Court, making 5 of the 9, Trump picks.  For life.

Second, it is the Senate that must come up with a two-thirds majority in order to convict and remove Trump from office if the House were to vote to impeach.  I keep hearing people say that once there is a democratic majority in the House, Trump will be impeached.  He might be, but he will remain in office just as Bill Clinton did.  The difference is … consider Trump’s temperament … you think he’s abominable now?  Imagine if he were to be impeached, and yet still remain in power.

It is not my intent to spoil the party here, but just to remember that while last night’s win was a positive step, it is not the end of Trump’s reign of idiocy.

A Kinder, Gentler Time …

It was a kinder, gentler time in the United States.  It was a time when we had a president who valued human life, who placed human life above profit.  The year was 2012, and on Independence Day, July 4th, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former HuffPost editor Jose Antonio Vargas wrote an OpEd titled What Does It Mean To Be An American?  A lot can change … a lot has changed … in six years.

Jose Antonio VargasWhat Does It Mean To Be An American?

As we celebrate America’s Independence Day — as we explore what it means to be American on the most American of all days — I also celebrate my independence from the word “illegal.”

Today’s Fourth of July holiday, our country’s birthday, marks a new beginning for undocumented Americans like me.Time-mag-2012Last month, TIME magazine featured an unprecedented photograph of 36 undocumented young people, myself included, on the cover of its U.S. and international editions. “We are Americans,” the headline declared. “Just not legally.” Shortly after, President Obama, in the most significant step in the fight for immigrant rights since President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, issued a directive to stop the deportation of an estimated 1 million DREAM Act-eligible undocumented youth and welcome them to our workforce. America, in turn, embraced 1 million dreams. And in last week’s Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s immigration law, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion for the highest court in the land: “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a movable alien to remain in the United States.”

As we celebrate America’s Independence Day — as we explore what it means to be American on the most American of all days — I also celebrate my independence from the word “illegal.”

Academics and lawyers will be quick to point out that I, in fact, was never a “criminal.” Being in the U.S. without authorization is not a crime, but rather a civil offense for the country’s estimated 12 million undocumented residents. Yet for too long, the rhetoric around immigration has been shrouded in and synonymous with criminality. As a cable news producer on Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” tells a colleague in the show’s most recent episode, we’ve grown accustomed to talking about human beings as if “we’re talking about scraping gum off our shoes.”

“These people chose to take a huge risk to become Americans,” the producer notes, “and they deserve a better descriptor than ‘illegals.’”

To me, what it means to be an American goes beyond your place of birth or the documents you have, back to when throngs of Irish, Italian and Eastern Europeans crossed the Atlantic Ocean in search of a better life, no papers asked. What it means to be an American is less about who you are than what you are about— how you live your life, how you contribute to this country, how you pledge allegiance to a flag hoping and praying it will make room for you. What it means to be an American is in the hearts of the people who, in their struggles and heartaches, in their joys and triumphs, fight for America and fight to be American every day.

A few weeks after I “came out” in June 2011 about my undocumented status in an essay in the New York Times Magazine, Washington state revoked my driver’s license. Among the first people to reach out to me was Aaron Sorkin. I’ve interviewed Sorkin before. He told me he was working on a new show about a cable news program, and that the second episode is set on the day Gov. Jan Brewer signed the Arizona immigration bill into law. He asked for my thoughts on immigration. In an email later, I told him about the first time I watched one of his films. It was 1997, not too long after I discovered that I didn’t have the proper documents to live in America. I was watching “The American President,” a movie starring Michael Douglas, and toward the end of the film, Douglas, as the president, says: “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ‘cause it’s gonna put up a fight.” I was 16, lost and disoriented, and I told Sorkin that hearing those words helped me realize that I had to fight — that America was a fight and that America had to be earned.

Undocumented Americans, aspiring citizens like me, have been fighting and will continue to fight for this country we call home. And, as more and more undocumented Americans and the people who support us — the Good Samaritans in our lives, the teachers, pastors, neighbors and friends who make up our underground railroad — “come out” and tell our stories, America’s view of immigration and the nature of citizenship itself grows increasingly more complex and nuanced. It becomes about human beings.

Together with a small group of friends, I founded a campaign called Define American, which seeks to elevate conversation on immigration. And elevating and broadening the conversation means engaging different types of audiences from all walks of life. After appearing on “The O’Reilly Factor” last month, I received an email from Dennis Murphy of Omaha, Nebraska. The email reads:

“Mr. Vargas:

As founder and former state chairman of the Nebraska Minutemen, now merged with the Nebraska Tea Party, I was positively impressed by your interview with Bill O’Reilly. If I understand your situation correctly, you [were] brought into the United States by your parents when you were a young child, and they chose for whatever reason to do so in a fashion that avoided our immigration law. You now refer to yourself in your blog as “an undocumented American,” which I believe is a fair and accurate assessment.”

Thank you, Mr. Murphy, for considering me one of your fellow Americans. Let’s keep the conversation going. Let’s keep exploring what it means to be an American.

Yes, folks, it was a kinder, gentler time.  No, it wasn’t perfect … not even close.  But then, life isn’t perfect, people aren’t perfect.  Still, it was kinder and gentler … we cared more, hated less.  I miss that time.

sad-turltle

Think Your Vote Isn’t Important?

Well, here we are … the big day has finally arrived after months of divisive rhetoric, dirty tricks to keep voters from the polls, and demoralizing speech by certain corrupt elements in our government.  This has been the ugliest, nastiest election season I have seen in my 67 years. Today is the day those who haven’t already voted will head to the polls.  Well, most will.  Some will.  Others, it seems, have a thousand and one excuses for not voting, the top one seeming to be “my vote doesn’t really matter”, followed by “I don’t have time”.  Think it’s not important that you vote?  Let’s look at somebody who thought it was …

She felt violated, she felt abused, not by a single perpetrator but by the government that was supposed to protect her.Fannie-Lou-HamerHer name was Fannie Lou Hamer. She was born on October 6, 1917. Her parents were sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta area. As a child, she often went hungry and without shoes. In the winter, she tied rags on her feet to keep her feet warm. She began working the fields when she was only 6 years old.

Later she realized she was not considered “a first class citizen” because she was poor, because she was black, because she was a woman.

In 1961, she went to a hospital to remove a tumor. She would be given a hysterectomy without her consent by a white doctor who was following the state plan to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state. Fannie Lou Hamer became another victim of the involuntary or uninformed sterilization of black women, common in the South in the 1960s. They were commonly called “Mississippi appendectomies” because women would be told they needed to get their appendix out, but instead they would be sterilized.”

“In the North Sunflower County Hospital,” Hamer would say, “I would say about six out of the 10 Negro women that go to the hospital are sterilized with the tubes tied.”

The government-funded program started in the 1930s targeting people in “institutions for mental illness” then slowly targeting “the blind, the deaf, the disabled, alcoholics, those with epilepsy, and ultimately the rural poor on welfare.”

This was the turning point in Fannie Lou Hamer’s life.

She would say, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

She decided at that point that she would fight for human rights, human dignity, and she would never give in, to anyone.

She soon realized that the only way to improve her life and the life of other poor blacks was to register to vote. If she was prevented to register or saw others who were prevented to vote, she would speak out and protest, if necessary.

She became relentless. She would be fired from her job, driven from the plantation she had called home for nearly two decades, she would be threatened, arrested, beaten, and shot at, leading to one arrest where she would be beaten nearly to death, suffering permanent kidney damage.

When she was stopped by police, she would start singing “This Little Light of Mine” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

She would say, “I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scared — but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”

Fannie Lou Hamer would become a tireless champion for racial equality, working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), fighting racial segregation and injustice in the South. She also helped to found the National Women’s Political Caucus. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi’s Freedom Summer for the SNCC, and she later became the vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

At the Democratic National Convention, Hamer would be seen making her way through a group of old, white men to tell the world her story. At times, she fought back tears, such as recounting the time she was beaten in a Mississippi jail. She would add, “I was in jail when Medgar Evers was murdered.”

She would ask, “Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?”

At the convention, rumors circulated that one of the toughest men in America, President Lyndon B. Johnson, was terrified of Hamer, her courage, and her voice.

Hamer would say, “We got to fight in America . . . for ALL the people.”

Still think it isn’t important, that your vote doesn’t count, or that you just can’t find time?  Do us all a favour and … think again.

**Note:  The header photo is John Lewis, Civil Rights leader and member of the U.S. House of Representatives serving Georgia’s 5th district, during the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965 in the struggle for voting rights.