Children and Community

I’ve been thinking a lot about community in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Of course a marathon is seemingly all about the individual– Look what I did– I ran 26 miles– no one carried me– I did it myself– hooray for me.

But the Boston Marathon is also a celebration of community.  A celebration of the families and friends, in some cases trainers and coaches, of the runners.  Moreover it has become a celebration of the entire city of Boston.

And I’ve been thinking about my kids as members of a larger community.  Yesterday, my son and youngest daughter and I played basketball with another family.  My oldest daughter had just come home from sleeping at a friend’s house.  Today, a neighborhood first-grader is coming to our house after school to wait for his parents to come home.  On Tuesday a sixth-grade girl is picking up my daughter from school.  Wednesday my daughter’s best friend is coming over to the house.  And so it goes (to quote Kurt Vonnegut) day after day, week after week.

We are embedded in community.  Of course we are.  Of course we are.

And when this recognition of community breaks down we lose sight of our connections, obligations, responsibilities, and dependence on others.  Who cares about the environment, economic equality, social justice?  After all, it’s just me and my family right?

Which makes the recent conservative outcry against a simple MSNBC promo spot not just ridiculous, but also very telling of the pinched ideology of the right.

In the short promo Melissa Harris-Perry (yes, I’ve blogged about her previously– I do love her…) says that children don’t belong to their parents.  She argues they are part of larger communities and therefore we have collective responsibility for them:

“We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to their communities.”

The right exploded in outrage.  Maoist!  Stalin work camps-apologist!  How dare you suggest that small human beings don’t belong to other human beings!  How dare you claim that a whole society has responsibility for the care and well-being of the most vulnerable members of that society!  Didn’t the dear departed Margaret Thatcher teach you that “there is no such thing as society.There are individual men and women, and there are families” ?????????

In response to Perry, one insightful sage actually posted:  “This woman needs to be shot!!!”  Now there’s a reasoned response.  Kumbaya my lord, Kumbaya…

Next time you meet a parent who lost a child to gun violence, or lack of health-care, or someone whose child died in Iraq or Afghanistan, keep in mind that, according to the right, we can only ever look to ourselves when it comes to protecting or nurturing our children.

“The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire.  We don’t need no water let the motherfucker burn…”

Criticize Him Tomorrow

We can go back to criticizing the Republican-lite policies of the Obama administration tomorrow. Today, Inauguration Day/MLK Day, let’s just think about history.

When I was a child growing up in the 1960s and 70s it was the stuff of science fiction to imagine a Black President.  The Civil Rights Act, finally establishing that legal segregation was prohibited throughout the entire nation, wasn’t even passed until two years after I was born.

Obama, for all his flaws (and they are real flaws), embodies Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote:  “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”  Thus, it is supremely apt that Obama’s Second Inauguration is being held on the long fought over MLK National Holiday.

Let’s not delude ourselves that our Black President signifies the end of racism.  As scholars like Melissa Harris-Perry, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Tim Wise, Patricia Williams, and many others so rightly point out, racial injustice is a thriving and toxic force in 2013.  As Cornel West argued years ago, yes, race still matters when it comes to resource allocation, opportunities, justice, health, etc., etc.

But let’s also not turn our eyes away from the historical significance that the (dis)United States of America elected a mixed-race man with the foreign-sounding name of Barack Obama to the highest office in the land, not once, but twice.

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”  MLK would surely be a fierce critic of many of Obama’s policies.  But, for just a moment, imagine the repressed tears of centuries that he would be weeping today.

An Open Letter to James Tracy

James Tracy is a media professor at Florida Atlantic University.  I’ve met Prof. Tracy once or twice through my sporadic involvement with a group of progressive media scholars called the Union for Democratic Communications (UDC).  In my fleeting encounters with him, Jim has always struck me as an intelligent and pleasant person.

Now Prof. Tracy is receiving national news media attention for his blog posts on the Newtown, CT school shooting.  Prof. Tracy is suggesting that the news media and the government are withholding the truth about this tragedy.  He has even alluded to the notion that the event may have been fully staged by the Obama administration in order to advance a gun control agenda.

Jim.  Why?  Why do you feel compelled to pursue this conspiracy theory?  Is this the face of progressive scholars that you think the general public needs to see?  Do you really want to advance an argument that the most extreme elements of the NRA would love to embrace?

Personally, I think the allegations are absurd.  Yes, conspiracies do happen.  Yes, the government lies to us all of the time.  But staging a mass murder of children at an elementary school?  Professor, please!

But letting go of the debate about whether or not he could be right, for just a moment.  Is this really how the left should be spending their time?  Is this really what we want to be known for?

I’m not saying the Obama administration must be embraced by the left.  Just read some of my earlier posts.  I know the problems with the Obama administration.  I know they cannot be trusted.  But there are a passel of other issues which we should be beating the drum about.  How about starting with unmanned drones and the murder of children in other nations?  How about their compromises on wealth inequality which will result in more misery for the poor as social programs are lost to the pit of austerity?

Or if you really want to take on a conspiracy, how about the conspiracy between big government and big oil to doom us to a future of melting ice caps, rising seas, and devastating storms that will kill many more people than any one, two, or even three shooters could ever bring down?

Really, Jim, really?  Is this what remains of the left in this country?  Is this the best we can do?

I’m sure you are a good person with marvelous intentions.  A person who is devoted to truth and holding media and government accountable.  But you are choosing to lay down with NRA snakes.
Don’t be surprised when you wake up covered in bites.

You don’t Have to Go Home but You Can’t Stay Here

Random Thoughts on the last day of 2012:
Engels wrote: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.” More true now than ever before. 
I will try again next semester, but I am getting so sick of the students I encounter every year who have fallen under the spell of the global warming denial propaganda machine.  I feel like I am wasting time trying to convince Medieval sailors that the world isn’t flat.  Here there be Dragons!
When will we stop indulging in an action film mentality that deludes us into thinking that more guns is the only answer to our gun problem?  Let’s arm teachers, Wal-Mart greeters, bus drivers, dentists, gynecologists, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers.   Every day can be a glorious shoot out choreographed by Quentin Tarantino.  Soundtrack by the Insane Clown Posse.  Based on a novel by Ayn Rand.
If I meet a right-wing economist named Clifford can I call him Fiscal Cliff?  And then punch him in the face?
Zen, baby, Zen.
Things I know will make me happy in 2013:  Lori. My kids. My brother and sisters. My nieces and nephews. Music. Books. Movies. The Daily Show. The Walking Dead (the television show, not the Republican party). Cats. Those times when I get it just right in the classroom. The Celtics (sometimes). Writing (sometimes). Dim Sum. Modern art. Bill Moyers. Bill Simmons. Bill Maher.  Bill W. (Just kidding!). The geese flying over. The sky just before darkness. Summer. Being alive.

It’s the Guns, Stupid

Why can’t we just ban guns?
But: Mentally ill and violent people will harm others with whatever they can.  If we ban guns why not ban knives?
Well, knives have a regular routine use aside from harming others.  We need them to cut our food and for a variety of other routine, mundane, purposes.
But: Guns also have a use aside from shooting human beings.  For hunting. Shooting other animals beside humans.
Hunting is a specific, exceptional, non-routine activity.  Dynamite also has its uses but would anyone truly argue that we should let people walk around with dynamite strapped to their bodies?
These are different classes of items—those that are used routinely—a bicycle chain for example—that could be used to harm someone—even a belt could be wrapped around someone’s throat to asphyxiate them. 
But there are other objects whose use is so destructive that it would be absurd to suggest that we should all just have them in our homes, our cars, our handbags— grenades for example. 
Guns belong to a second class of objects—those whose intended, prescribed use is non-routine and destructive.
Yes, a deranged person can hurt others with their bare hands but who would ever make this trade:  An insane, violent, person with a semiautomatic weapon in a classroom for an unarmed, insane, violent person in a classroom?
You will also hear that if teachers were armed they could take a shooter out.  Really?  Think about some of the teachers you have had.  Now imagine them with rifles, engaging in a shootout in a kindergarten classroom…

Make Him Do It

Thank God.
Now Romney and McMahon can just go away.  As my oldest sister texted me late last night:  “Now Romney can go back to just being rich.”
But let’s not delude ourselves.  Let’s temper our jubilation with some clear-eyed realism about who Obama is.
Today is a good day to revisit something John Nichols wrote just after the 2008 election:
“Franklin Roosevelt’s example is useful here. After his election in 1932, FDR met with Sidney Hillman and other labor leaders, many of them active Socialists with whom he had worked over the past decade or more. Hillman and his allies arrived with plans they wanted the new President to implement. Roosevelt told them: “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.”
It is reasonable for progressives to assume that Barack Obama agrees with them on many fundamental issues. He has said as much.
It is equally reasonable for progressives to assume that Barack Obama wants to do the right thing. But it is necessary for progressives to understand that, as with Roosevelt, they will have to make Obama do it.”  
Nichols, by the way, is fabulous.  One of my favorite writers.  It’s worth checking out his many books, several of them co-authored with the media scholar Robert McChesney.