Monday, October 10, 2011

Jobs not Cuts!

My friends Shane, Matt, Beth and I had the fortune to participate in two peaceful protests downtown today. Move's "Jobs not Cuts" and Occupy South Bend, two organizations with similar wants and goals (ending corporate greed; getting Americans back to work with good wages; returning government to the principles of 'by the people and for the people--not for corporations) both organized to protest downtown, joining forces to make their (ours) voices heard.

Today's turnout seemed rather small, however, Occupy South Bend also had organized downtown on Saturday with reported crowds of approximately 100 citizens.

I went with the thought of representing returning veterans of war. Recent figures estimate 9.1% percent of Americans are unemployed. Those same conservative estimates state that 14 million Americans are unemployed (or underemployed). I doubt any of us have doubts that that figure is much much higher.

U.S. Labor Department figures are of those collecting benefits and does not take into account the other 4.5 million people whose benefits have long been exhausted (and even that is considered a conservative number). Some believe there are nearly 25 million Americans out of work--and one can only guess what those figures are worldwide... remember, America is not the only nation suffering from high unemployment!

While millions of Americans from all segments and age groups are unemployed, one segment often neglected are our returning veterans of the Iraq and Afghan War. As recent as this summer, it was estimated that more than 200,000 veterans are unemployed. The unemployment rate for veterans is 13.3. And for Reservists and Guardsmen, the news is even worse. More than 14% of our "weekend warriors" are having difficulties securing jobs after returning home while defending our nation.

This fact is unconscionable! While we veterans would be appalled to think we are any better--or worse--than the other unfortunate souls unable to find a job, it does seem a slap in the face to come home and be unable to provide for our families.

Another related fact in these hard times is that of the 4.5 million homeless Americans, 14% of those are our veterans of war. Poverty in America has risen to numbers not seen in decades. The poverty level (U.S. Census Bureau figures: September 13, 2011), estimate that poverty rose to 15.1% in 2010, the highest rate since 1993 (and social scientists believe it has risen even more in 2011).

It does not take a rocket scientist to see these the high unemployment rate and homeless rates are tightly interwoven together.

Today at the rally, one of the speakers from Occupy South Bend called Americans to arms. "We do not have a leader (in the movement). Our voice is our leader!" Many of the speakers today spoke of their frustrations of a government that seems to have forgotten who put them in office--and who they represent.

It, to me, is a disgusting fact that our corporations today are sitting on larger monetary stockpiles than in any time in our history yet they are not hiring; they resist paying decent living wages to their employees; increasingly in recent years, jobs were shipped wholesale overseas (I did read yesterday that there are signs that this trend may be reversing--welcome news, if true); and they are contributing more dollars to politicians to represent their demands... yet the last time I heard the Constitution read "we the people," not "we the corporations."

My friend Matt sadly represents the "99." Those people wearing that moniker have long sought jobs. Matt has sent out more than a 1,000 resumes over the past three years to no avail. These people, above most others, definitely have the right to raise the question, "where are our leaders who say they "feel our pain" but do literally nothing to get America back on track-- and their constituents back to work.

I make no apologies for echoing the cries of those who wonder what the GOP are doing. The Republican Party swept the nation in 2010 with the claims they would put America back to work, yet in the 11 months since that dramatic November election, the House of Representatives have not offered one single jobs bill. Instead, they have offered bill after bill that instead wreaks havoc on those who are unemployed (no jobs bills, refusing to extend unemployment benefits, working to repeal the health care package that should, in theory, benefit ALL Americans.

Jobs programs are sorely needed; likewise with educational training programs. Yes, this costs money, but let's face it, if our government (your government) can bail out the banking industry, it can surely find the means to do the same for its citizens. I know of those who decry the bailout for the automotive industry, but it appears those programs saved countless millions of jobs. Can the same be said of the banking bailout (those same business organizations that most believe helped contribute to near catastrophe)?

Realizing that all of these issues are complex (and finding answers just as complicated), it makes little sense for our government to sit back and do nothing to alleviate these dire situations.

Members of both political parties must... MUST set aside their differences and work to put America back to work again!

With the 2012 elections looming in the not-too-distant future, it is definitely time for us voters to make our voice heard and our displeasure known! I have seen signs around town that say "vote for neither party!" I can empathize with that thought, but do not endorse it. I truly believe the Democratic Party has the best interests of our people at heart. I have to ask a familar question, "Mr. Boehner, where are the jobs????"

Make your voice known!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years later, let us remember the best of who we are

Let us not forget.

Let us not forget the tragedy that united us.

Let us not forget those were lost that day.

Let us not forget the bravery of the people who risked their own lives looking for survivors in the rubble of both the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Let us not forget those who have died in the war defending this nation since the events of 9/11.

Let us not forget that for a short period of days in the aftermath we were a nation united in shock and in fellowship.

Even then, our Congressional leaders of BOTH parties were able to set aside partisan differences AND we can do so again in these times of hardship!

Let us not forget our blessings.

And most importantly, let us not forget that we Americans are a compassionate, loving people.

Let us remember to be better than we think we can be, even when confronted by hardship and evil acts.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

We are Family

I'm not sure why, but traveling to Chicago's Gay Pride this year was more meaningful to me than I had ever anticipated. I mean, after all, it is just a collection of people riding on parade floats, loud music, people marching, huge crowds cheering--it is pretty much the same thing year after year. Or is it?

Mind you, as I have the past few years, I traveled with a number of good, close friends. Naturally, those of us who live in cloistered South Bend always revel in the "family feel" of the parade. Countless men walking hand-in-hand--women too--without fear of reprisal, something rarely seen here in small town America.

Opening the parade was a float loudly playing what is generally accepted as a premiere gay anthem "We are Family" (by Sister Sledge). It set the tone, as always, for this year's parade.


The three hour + affair was populated with the usual suspects.... American military veterans of war marched as did members from PFLAG--both groups have always been incredibly popular with the crowds--and the audience, as always, was huge! I've always enjoyed seeing parents marching alongside their gay daughters and sons. I somehow doubt my parents would ever do the same. Still, it was an amazing, heartwarming sight!

Tens of thousands of people (surely, more than 50,000 people where present for the parade)--gay, lesbian, transgendered and straight people alike lined the route on Chicago's Broadway, Addison and Halsted streets. We observers stood, sat, hang from upper floor windows--applauding, cheering, laughing, pointing... living it up for the day!

As always there were plenty of floats with scantily clad men and women; many church groups were there illustrating not all homophobes are Christian--clearly so... many Christians churches and other denominations have embraced the gay community with open arms.

And what gay pride parade would be complete without the ever popular dykes on bykes? Drag queens joined the Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps (ROTC) baton twirlers, the gay square dancers and then, of course, were the countless business floats proudly proclaiming they embrace and support their gay employees.

Local political figures courting the gay and lesbian were out in force... notably, Chicago's mayor Rahm Emmanuel marched in the parade. I believe, he was the first Chicago mayor to walk the parade greeting the crowds. He did it on foot, not separated from his constutuents seated in a car, but he marched on foot... and he obviously was not afraid to be seen there! He shook hands, smiled, and he was there! With us!

So why did this year's parade leave me so verklempt? Honestly, I am not sure, but I can say that the vote legalizing gay marriages in New York state just two days earlier surely played a part f my feelings.

One woman who marched alone carried a sign, proudly and up high, saying "Thank you, New York!" Another carried a sign saying "Illinois is next!" And yet another "Illinois, we're coming next to you!"

I wish I could say the same of my native Indiana, but I know better. Hoosiers may proclaim "Hoosier hospitality," but all too often, that does not include its gay sons and daughters. For us to experience the emotions of this day, we usually are forced to travel to Chicago, New York City or other major metropolitan cities, where inclusion is much more common.

As the four of us watched the parade, we wondered why the parade seemed so out of sync and unevenly spaced out. Not until the next day did I learn that homophobes slashed the tires of many of the floats just prior to the beginning of the day's events. If not for the ingenuity of parade officials, this year's parade might have not happened at all. Last minute efforts heroically rounded up enough tires to keep the floats going! Kudos to them--and to the marchers undaunted by hate... And shame upon those who attempted to douse this year's annual celebration!

Knowing this, even after the fact, made the parade more meaningful this year.

During the parade, I met a lesbian named Beth. She and I talked about our roots (her hometown--13 years ago--was Denver), our jobs (in her job she works youth and veteran programs, getting people ready for college and enlisting them for jobs) and we talked about whether we are "out" in our jobs or not. Beth, 33 years old and I being 53, bo,th agreed today's gay teens are a different animal than from *both* of our generations. Kids amazingly, are coming out today at the age of 10, 11, 12!!! This was unthinkable in earlier times... and I am sure this is scaring the beejeebies out of the Christian right, a notion I find rather amusing and ironic!

And this leads me to what I think moved me the most about this year's parade. Late in the parade there came a point where there were hundreds... literally hundreds.. at least three to four hundred youth marching in unison. It was like a huge disorganized conga line. It was so cool! The sight of all these youth gave me goosebumps (see the video at the end of this post).

I had turned to my friend Matt and Shane and mentioned wishing I had a video camera to capture this sea of moving bodies. Literally, I was in tears as I witnessed this. Hundreds and hundreds of youth who were proudly gay and lesbian--and if not, their straight friends--were marching alongside in support of their friends.

Thinking of that huge undulating mass of teens and twenty-somethings walking proudly in unison, I have goosebumps all over again just reliving that moment.

We truly are... family!

photos by the author
video courtesy of Shane Kellar

Friday, June 24, 2011

New York, New York!

New York state tonight became the sixth state in our nation granting marriage equality to its gay and lesbian citizens (which includes Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont... and in our nation's capital, Washington, D.C.). With a vote of 33-29, the New York legislative body said to the rest of the nation "marriage equality is the law of our land." Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the legislature into law on July 25, 2011.

No longer will New York's gay citizens be shunted aside as second class citizens. That said, this bill will not correct the deficiencies on a federal level, but this is a start.

New York is now the largest state with the largest population to pass such legislature without being forced to do so by its courts. Brave leaders took a stand tonight.

With New York, long considered far more conservative than many other states, passed the marriage equality amendment on Friday after much hand-wringing and debate during the course of this past week. Republican leaders agreed to let the bill go to a vote only after guarantees were written into the legislation that would protect religious institutions from lawsuit.

Fine. So be it. Gay activists have long said they have little problem with religious institutions being permitted to practice their faith. This was never a matter of us vs. them. It has long been an argument on fairness, equality and rights guaranteed by our nation's Constitution. It is sad that gay people even have to fight this battle, but the realities have also made this a necessity.

Last night, President Obama was in New York state hosting a fundraiser. The President's spokespersons says the President still favors this issue be resolved state-by-state. This is unacceptable! Since when should citizens ever have the right to sit in judgment of their fellow citizens.. and to decide what rights are to be meted out--and to whom.

President Obama is on record saying gay and lesbian couples should be afforded the same (and equal) rights that heterosexual couples receive by saying the two simple words that conclude a wedding ceremony. "I do." By that very argument, "I do" should be a part of the President's re-election mantra.

Personally, I think the President has a lot of balls to go before gay and lesbian donors and tell them to their face "I support you, but only so far.... and while we're at it, can you give me your money?" Mr. President, you have my marginal support, but unless you are willing to go all the way, my support will remain in question.

Earlier this year, the President instructed the Justice Department to stop enforcing the legislation Defense of Marriage Act--DOMA, to most of us. Not enforcing the law is a wimpy way, passive-aggressive even, in saying you believe the law is unconstitutional. Non enforcement is no answer. The law must be abolished to ensure equality in our 50 states. Non-enforcement says nothing to the states other than "business as usual."

History is awaiting. Six states have said enough is enough. Sadly, my own state leaders (Indiana) are working to amend our state constitution saying "marriage is between a man and a woman." If successful, yet another state (currently 40 states expressly forbid same sex marriage) will step into the lane saying "we condone, nay, demand that discrimination be the land."

Just last week, California's recent constitutional battle took on a new urgency when local courts refused to vacate an earlier decision stating Proposition 8 is unconstitutional because the overseeing judge, Judge Walker is gay. Californians now await further rulings later this year to see if the nation's most populated state will be permitted to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples.

C'mon Mr. President. You have said your opinions about gay marriage "are evolving." To that, I say, "Evolve already!" Put your beliefs into practice... You have said you believe DOMA is unconstitutional. You cannot say one thing and yet be so spineless to not more aggressively put this law where it belongs--in the grave.

In other words, put forth legislation that goes beyond mere words, but in deeds. Leaders who permit such discrimination to continue will find themselves on the wrong side of history. I can honestly say, who wants to be remembered in our nation's history textbooks that way?

Clearly, public sentiment is slowly changing. Just two years ago, an overwhelming majority believed gay marriage should be forbidden, but many recent polls now give the affirmative camp a slight majority. It goes without saying much work remains to be done, and hearts to be won before this issue will be resolved.

Last word: Congratulations, New York leaders. Your brave stance tonight will not be forgotten!

Note: Gov. Cuomo signed the bill shortly before midnight tonight, cementing the legislation, making it the law in the Empire State.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Reckless lips, guns and consequences

We all knew it had to happen. It was, after all, just a matter or time. Of course I am referring to the tragedy in Tucson over the weekend.

And so we have to ask, is any of this surprising?

When Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford was doing a typical "meet and greet" with her constituents, she was shot by a 22-year old lone gunman (actually, that fact remains a point of question right now). The gunman, Jared Loughner was tackled by bystanders, but not until after 31 shots in all had been fired, leaving six people dead including a nine year old girl who was there because of her interest in politics.

His actions sent a chill down the political scene nationwide.

For every politician who goes out of his or her way to meet their voters in town halls, at shopping centers, their concerns about safety were suddenly brought to the forefront.

The most important question remains why did this happen? I posit that, in part, this tragedy occurred because of the hate-filled airwaves of talk radio and Fox News; because of the rantings of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck and others. And if the vitriolic rantings of media pundits were not bad enough, we have seen some of our politicians, our elected leaders acting no better.

When, during the 2008 presidential campaign, someone yelled out to Sarah Palin "kill him (referring to candidate Obama)!" Did candidate Palin chastise this person? No, of course not. Her inaction only served to fan the flames.

More recently Palin and her aides played the role of advocate for candidates, many from the Tea Party. Her SarahPac organization used one catchy jingo-istic ad campaign calling for candidates and voters alike to "Stand Up, Don't Retreat, Reload!"

Palin and her aides can claim all they want that the "Reload" campaign was not using rifle sights, but we all know better. If it wasn't, why did they hastily remove it from the web? Was she slapped down by the GOP? Hardly.

A Palin aide says the poster was supposed to have been removed after the 2010 election, but due to some oversight it had not been pulled.

Yeah. Right. The ad was pulled only because one of the names on her target list had been targeted.

Let's examine the landscape coming from the far right of recent years . When our political leaders spout outlandish remarks, one has to wonder why no one from the GOP has called them on the carpet. I am increasingly angered by the GOP when the party remain silent enmasse after their own party members use reckless language and campaign tactics that either overtly or covertly advocate violence and intimidation. Where are they?

I'll tell you where... they are sitting with their hands over their ears, their eyes and their mouths... not to mention their hearts.

Of course, Ms. Palin offered her sympathies to the Gifford family. BUT seriously, just stating one's sympathies for the victims is not enough. We all can do that... the difference is, some of us really mean it.

When associates do or say something stupid, slowly backing away, disassociating one's self from the them or the their crowd inconspicuously is not bravery, saying nothing is not bravery. Taking a stand against them is.

When candidate Sharron Angle said if we don't get our way we might have to use "second amendment remedies." Did the GOP chastise her? No.

When Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann said "I want people armed and dangerous over the Obama Health Care plan," was she put down? No. In fact, the GOP recently threw her a bone, naming her as their representative for the House Intelligence Committee (if there was ever an oxymoron, this is it).

When former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee joked about President Obama getting shot, did the GOP chastise him? No.

When Congressman John Boehner said (after the Health Care Reform vote) “Take Rep. Steve Driehaus, for example,” he says. “He may be a dead man. He can’t go home to the west side of Cincinnati. The Catholics will run him out of town.” Was he repudiated by his fellow GOP? No. In fact, he became majority leader. In essence, he was rewarded.

When Texas (naturally) Senator John Cornyn said violence against judges is understandable. Was he slapped down by his fellow GOP? Of course not.

Were any of them? If they were, it certainly was done out of sight with no public admonishments. I've heard the apologists claiming the Democrats were doing the same. Perhaps, but I doubt it.


Show me one Democrat or left leaning politician who has ordered their followers to show up at a political rally packing a gun or baseball bat. Show me one. Show me a liberal who has told his or her constituents that it's time to take to the streets with guns, utilizing our God given right to bear arms. Show me a Democrat who has called out for Americans to run a politician out of town because they disagree with the party line. Show me one. I dare you.

All the people who say we cannot blame the right for these acts of violence seem to forget that when our elected officials make speeches using incendiary language, they are virtually giving permission to the loose cannons in our society to act out as we saw this past weekend.

It's time for the vitriolic remarks to stop.