Saturday, June 27, 2015

Conservatives Can't Change the Subject Anymore

Activist Ryan Toney in front of the Supreme Court in 2013
Every now and then in this country, if you're lucky, you might just be fortunate enough to bear witness to the kind of fundamental change that shifts foundations, alters perceptions, changes the course of our history and reminds us of the kind of nation America can be when it gets it's act together.

Today was just such a day thanks to a landmark Supreme Court decision resulting from years of legal challenges, social activism and lobbying for marriage equality and LGBT rights.

Today was a good day for all Americans.

Yesterday was such a day too, lest we forget that the Affordable Care Act withstood a second major legal challenge and is now one step further towards being firmly cemented as one of those bedrock Roosevelt-ian federal programs that "promote the general welfare" like Social Security or Medicare.

It's not simple to put a finger on it but something has clearly shifted in the collective American

A terrifying chain of events seared into the American mindset; a teenage girl in Texas being physically assaulted by an out of control police officer trying to break up a disturbance at a pool party.

A racist killer brainwashed by right-wing hate propaganda using a legally purchased handgun to murder nine innocent people in a church during a bible study in Charleston, South Carolina.

These events are directly linked to the high-profile police killings that took place in Baltimore, Ferguson, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Cleveland, South Carolina and elsewhere.

After the deaths of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and others, there was no more dismissing the killing of unarmed and innocent people of color as isolated incidents or accidents.

In this technology-driven age of social media, cell-phone video & photos, CCTV cameras and eyewitness accounts have made it clear for those who weren't aware of it before (or denied it) that the state-sponsored brutalization of people (many but not all people of color) by some members of law enforcement is not just systematic.

The scale and frequency of it (the federal government doesn't even keep comprehensive stats on police killings) has branded it as a large-scale human rights violation being committed by the very judicial system tasked with enforcing laws and protecting the public.

The scope of this issue is examined in the June 4th issue of Rolling Stone in Matt Taibbi's searing expose of systematic police violence against communities of color and the origins of "Broken Windows policing" entitled "Why Baltimore Blew Up".  You have to read it if you haven't already.

As Taibbi writes in the opening paragraphs, "Go to any predominantly minority neighborhood in any major American city and you'll hear the same stories: decades of being sworn at, thrown against walls, kicked, searched without cause, stripped naked on busy city streets, threatened with visits from child protective services, chased by dogs, and arrested and jailed not merely on false pretenses, but for reasons that often don't even rise to the level of being stupid."
The stark truth of these massive inequities in the justice system are coupled with the issue of the mass incarceration of African-American men, which is so absurd in scope that even in this highly politically-polarized atmosphere, it's now brought together people like Hillary Clinton, the Koch brothers, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and George Soros on the same side. Think about that.

It's creating a groundswell in America, a tidal wave of awareness that is now extending beyond the justice system; I think it's the momentum of that same groundswell that swayed the slim 5 - 4 majority on the Supreme Court to vote in favor of marriage equality.

Though I did study Constitutional law in college, and the SCOTUS majority did rule based in part on an expansive interpretation of the 14th Amendment in granting same-sex couples the right to marry, I think the court's opinion can be traced back to the simple fact those justices are just like us.

They saw what happened to Freddie Gray in Baltimore after he was taken into police custody for a reason that's still not clear.

They watched a South Carolina police officer shoot a black motorist in the back who fled a traffic stop then watched him die before picking up his taser and placing it near the man's body to try and justify his murdering an unarmed man who was running away.

They watched in horror as the reports unfolded of Dylann Roof shooting innocent churchgoers in cold blood based on his twisted interpretation of racist manifestos he'd read online.

We've all watched those things unfold, they may be members of the Supreme Court but in that they are no different than us.

I don't think there's any question that those things impacted their decision to both affirm the Affordable Care Act and to grant marriage equality; not because it's a health issue, or a gay issue, or a black issue, or a white issue, or a religious issue.

It's a human issue. It's a question of what kind of nation we want to be in the 21st century.

This groundswell I spoke of, this tide is going to affect even more change; it's already shifted the tone of the 2016 presidential race as GOP contenders have been forced to confront nationwide calls to remove the Confederate flag from license plates and from the grounds of statehouses in South Carolina, Alabama and elsewhere.

Walmart, Sears, even NASCAR have already called for the removal of the Confederate flag.

Students at the University of Texas are petitioning for the removal of a statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis from campus. 

That tide is affecting not just race, and sexual orientation but gender too.

As Eriq Gardner reported in the June 5th issue of The Hollywood Reporter, the ACLU targeted the film and television industry with a petition on May 21st calling on Hollywood to request the government (specifically the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) to begin an investigation into why female directors are still so underrepresented in television and film.

It's impacting the conversation on immigration as well.

In the wake of Donald Trump's abhorrent and offensive remarks about Mexicans during his recent presidential announcement, Univision, the nation's largest Spanish-language broadcaster has severed ties with the Miss Universe pageant because of Trump's involvement as a co-producer of the event.

These are all human issues and Americans are not just paying attention; they are calling for changes.

As Matt Taibbi wrote in the opening of his June 4th  Rolling Stone article on systematic police abuse: "When Baltimore exploded in protests a few weeks ago following the unexplained paddy-wagon death of a young African-American man named Freddie Gray, America responded the way it usually does in a race crisis: It changed the subject."

Conservatives in this nation have been changing the subject for decades.

They've tried to convince people the Civil War was about the abstract concept of "States Rights" rather than whether states should decide whether black Americans could be owned as property and held in perpetuity in a state of forced labor and human bondage.

They've tried to frame the right of same-sex American couples to marry in the context of a "States Rights" issue or a "Freedom of religion" issue.

They've tried to frame their desire to suppress the rights of blacks, Hispanics, the elderly, college students, legal immigrants and the poor to exercise their Constitutional right to vote as a "Voter Integrity Issue".

But unfortunately for conservatives in this country, especially the right-wing extremists who now control the Republican party, something has shifted in the collective American consciousness.

A new awareness has taken root and is now growing, and conservatives can't just change the subject anymore - they must now confront the human issue before us all.

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