Political non-negotiables

Americans are very focused on the things that separate us as the presidential election of 2016 approaches.  We have party labels and identify ourselves as “followers” or “supporters” of one candidate or another.

Not so long ago the differences between parties and even candidates were strategic and philosophical.  You could agree to disagree with a member of a different party or someone sporting a different bumper sticker, because supporting one or the other didn’t define you. That seems to no longer be the case, and it’s making us hate each other.

There are issues where I have opinions that I know are different from others, but I don’t hate others for holding them.  In fact, I understand their way of thinking, I just don’t share it.  People disagree on how our government can best serve us, and that’s what makes America what it is.

Here are the non-negotiables:

  • No human being should have their rights infringed upon because of their skin color, belief or non-belief in any deity, the expression of their romantic love for any consenting adult, their gender, biological or otherwise, their competency at speaking English, their financial resources, their level of formal education or their physical ability.  Unalienable human rights are endowed to ALL of us.  Whether you like the way we live or not.
  • The earth needs to be respected.  Pollution – air, water, and land – is fouling up the planet that we live on.  I don’t care if you believe in climate change or not.  We can NOT back down from polluters.  They need to be stopped or nothing else matters.
  • Violence should ALWAYS be a last resort.  Whether you are protecting your property against a burglar, whether our military is establishing order in a foreign land, whether a law enforcement officer is preventing a crime or detaining a suspect, whether your team wins the championship, whether someone cuts you off in traffic, whether an umpire calls a strike on your child when it was clearly a ball.  Hitting, stabbing, kicking, beating, shooting, bombing – should be avoided whenever there is ANY other option.
  • Children in the richest country in the world should not go hungry, unsheltered, uneducated, or unprotected from violence.  I don’t care if their parents are lazy.  I don’t care if their parents are convicted felons.  I don’t care if their parents have addictions.  I don’t care if their families have abandoned them.  I don’t care if their families have work visas.  If we have the audacity to call ourselves a civilized society, we protect our young.  Just like every other mammal in the animal kingdom.  And this same mercy should be extended to children from other countries who need protection and care.
  • People of any age need safe housing and nourishing food.  We have plenty.  Really plenty.  There is no reason to keep so much more than we need knowing that some are starving and homeless.

We can argue all day long about how to spend tax money, how much to tax, how to treat our allies, how to treat our enemies, etc, etc.  If we do not hold ourselves to some degree of ethics, we have lost all that has ever been good in the United States.


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Harriet’s Heroism is Worth More Than $20

Hero.  An overused word, in my opinion.  Not everything that is brave is heroic.  Not everything that is good is heroic.  An act must be both brave and good to be heroic.  By brave I mean that the risk to the hero must be significant, and by good, I mean the intention and the outcome must be good.

Harriet Tubman blocked a slaveholder from trying to recapture and escaped slave when she was only a teen.  For that act, her skull was crushed and she suffered a debilitating brain injury for the rest of her life.

Harriet escaped from the plantation as a young woman, leaving behind her beloved, husband who was already free and refused to go with her.  Her sisters had already been sold, and she knew that she and her brothers were likely next.  She led them away, but her brothers later returned, unable to overcome their fear.  She risked her life but made it to Pennsylvania, where she was free.

Most other people’s story would end here, with a “and she lived happily ever after.”

But not Harriet.

Harriet returned south, even knowing there was a reward for her capture.  If she’d been caught, she certainly would not have been treated gently.  No doubt she would be used to “set an example” in  a cruel and brutal way.   She knew this.  She returned anyway.

She rescued several family members and brought them safely to freedom.  The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required the northern states to return former slaves, so now she was no longer safe in the north either.  She brought more family members and friends even farther – all the way to Ontario, Canada, where the Fugitive Slave Act held no authority.

In all, Harriet returned about 13 times and freed about 70 people.  None of her charges were ever caught.

I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” Harriet Tubman at a suffrage convention, NY, 1896.

Harriet is well-known for her commitment to the abolitionist movement.  She was also active in women’s suffrage.

If all this is not heroic enough, she joined the Union during the Civil War and was the first woman to lead a raid which liberated over 700 slaves.

I am sensitive to the idea that Harriet Tubman may, herself, not have approved of her face on the $20 bill.  She may even have been truly offended that a nation who’s currency represents a cruel and unjust past, and continues to profit from inequality, now bears her likeness.

What does the Harriet Tubman $20 bill mean?  It means that white Americans cannot ignore her story.  The history cannot be denied when we look at it every day at the grocery store.  It means that little black boys and girls will grow up with a hero.  One who believed that they deserve everything.  One who risked her life and never, ever gave up.

Maybe.  Just maybe, the true value of this hero will be recognized.


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