Wading into Politics and Current Events

Speak Out

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We are trying to raise kids who are comfortable navigating in their world.

With that in mind, there was an opportunity this week that we simply couldn’t pass up. The kids and I attended a rally at the Texas Capital, and I have some thoughts I’d like to share.

The rally was kid-oriented; two Representatives, Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) and Wayne Faircloth (R-Galveston), read The Lorax, and we then discussed the bill in question, HB70, which prohibits all political subdivisions from creating any regulations regarding trees and other vegetation. I had already told my kids about the bill, and what it meant, and we went to this event only after they agreed it was something they’d like to speak out about.
Texas Campaign for the Environment then had some lobbyists delivering copies of the book to different Representatives. We tagged along, and though the House was still meeting, we did get to speak with some staffers. The whole thing was an interesting experience, and I know that not everyone shares our viewpoint, but I think there are some things that apply to everyone, and I’d like to share what we learned.
This experience taught me – and the kids – that speaking out about your opinion doesn’t have to be scary – even if it WAS intimidating at first. We went to five offices, and everyone we spoke with was quite pleasant, and even welcoming. It was a wonderful opportunity to remind my kids that we have every right to be there, and speak to the people who represent us.
We learned that sometimes, your allies might surprise you, or even hold a slightly different opinion. Some of the people protesting this bill were doing so because they love trees; some were protesting because they thought it was a slippery slope to other environmental issues, and some protests were not about trees at all, but were people who want to preserve local government’s right to regulate local concerns.

It was also a very neat way to remind the kids that if you don’t tell people – or your government – what you are thinking, then they don’t know.Aside from our gentle little foray into political activism, we made a whole day of it. We spent the day walking around the capital city, riding public transportation, and talking to people and taking in the public art, all of which goes back to the goal of comfort in navigating your world. (I realize that there are places where this is not a big deal, but for those of us in Texas: we love our cars, and we are well out in the suburbs. Public transportation and learning how to safely walk on a city street are experiences that we have to actively seek out!)

Go out and be brave! Ride the bus, talk to a stranger, voice your opinion!
Speak your mind even if your voice shakes. — Maggie Kuhn
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L’État, c’est moi.

I am the State. – Often attributed to, but almost certainly not said by, Louis XIV.

Nonetheless, it kind of illustrates the prevailing attitude towards politics for most of human history. We have forgotten that the Founders of our country came up with something incredibly radical: the concept of loyal opposition. Until they came along, one was not loyal to one’s country – one was loyal to one’s king. At the time the Framers created the constitution, even imagining the king’s death was considered an offence punishable by being publicly drawn and quartered (for men), or burned at the stake (for women).

But then came the concept of loyal opposition. Nationalism. Prior to the American and French revolutions, there was no such thing. If you google quotes about nationalism, you get a lot of negative stuff, but it doesn’t have to be. At its basic form, nationalism simply means loyalty and devotion to a nation.

We’ve refined that, quite a bit. Now we have patriotism: devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country.

Devotion to a nation. Love of a country. Not devotion to a king or ruler or, dare I say, president.

Isn’t that amazing? Our Founders created a world wherein it is possible – even encouraged – to love your country without liking the rulers. Our very government is based around the ability to change our decision-makers at will. We are allowed to say we don’t like them, and want to replace them with someone new. We are constitutionally required to periodically replace our own government.

So, what?

It means that I can be loyal to my country, even if I don’t like the people in charge. Because we do not owe loyalty to a president. We owe loyalty to the Office of the President, and to the United States of America. There have been times when I have not necessarily liked the president, or decisions that person has made. But I will always respect the Office. Regardless of who gets elected today, that is what patriotism and nationalism are. I don’t have to like the president. I am allowed to not like the president. But I will defend the Office.

I believe that one’s love of country cannot be determined by the person they vote for. Can it be an indicator of other things about them? Maybe. But I don’t believe you can ever truly say that a person who takes the time to do their research and vote for the person they think is best has no love of country.

L’État, c’est moi, et c’est également vous.

This is not something to be proud of.

confederate battle flag

I don’t care where you’ve got it tattooed. I don’t care about your bumper sticker, the hood of your car, the shade in your window, or the flagpole in your yard. I don’t care what battle your 5 times great-granddaddy fought in.

This is not something to be proud of.

This is not even the Confederate Flag. It was the battle flag of General Lee and the army of northern Virginia. It was used by civil war veterans’ groups after the war, but it got into popular usage in the 1940’s – as a symbol of segregation. This is a flag whose current popularity was built by hatred.

The legislature of South Carolina has – unintentionally, no doubt – done an excellent job of illustrating the perversity of this symbol. A confederate battle flag flies at the South Carolina statehouse, at a monument to confederate soldiers. It is affixed to its pole. It cannot be lowered. It will never sit at half staff. It may never be allowed to show deference or respect to anyone – even on Confederate Memorial Day. I would go so far as to say that this sort of refusal to offer respect to its own history as a battle flag disconnects it irrevocably from that heritage.

I cannot respect anyone or anything that does not show respect to anyone else. Period. And I will teach my children the same.

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This is the actual flag of the Confederate States of America.

1st conf flagIf you want to fly a visual symbol of history, fly this one.

I am all for replacing the publicly displayed battle flags with this one. But only if we publicly call it what it is. Announce it loudly. Pass official resolutions on the state and federal levels. Make this part of the history books. Make it so that every single time anyone looks up this flag, anywhere, this is listed as part of its history:

This is a symbol that we have committed evils on one another. Actions that can never be corrected, and are a stain on our past. This is also a reminder that we must constantly be striving to be better. To remember that we were wrong. To remember that it is in our power to learn from our heritage, and be better people than our ancestors. We are better than our past. And this is a symbol that coming together is not easy. That we must strive to unite ourselves under a quest for decency and respect for one another. That we must all work for our country to be the great one that it should, and can, be.

When the Civil War ended, the Confederate states were not assimilated as conquered territories – though that was considered by more than one Congressional session. They were ultimately readmitted as sovereign states (albeit, with some requirements). It was messy and ugly. But they were readmitted.

To put it mildly – they screwed up, in one of the worst ways possible. But they were readmitted.

This flag should remind us of that, too. We are a country that has had a dark past. We hurt our fellow human beings. We killed each other over whether or not we had the right to hurt each other. But then, we decided to try to stitch ourselves back together, in the hope that it was possible to do so.

It’s a travesty that it has been 150 years, and we are still stitching, and that it is still messy and ugly.

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Under the First Amendment, individuals have the right to free speech. Even it it’s distasteful and hateful. The confederate battle flag cannot be banned. It can’t even be forcibly removed from state houses or state capitols. No matter where it is, we cannot remove it without violating one of the tenants that makes this country great. But we can think about what we are saying to one another when we display it. We can talk to one another about it. We can learn. We can stop accepting it.

This is going to offend somebody. But I’m leaving comments open. Leave a comment. I can’t learn if you don’t explain things to me.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/06/19/why-south-carolinas-confederate-flag-isnt-at-half-mast-after-church-shooting/

http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2015/jun/21/jean-casarez/flying-confederate-battle-flag-south-carolina-half/

http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Readmission+of+states