I hope everyone is having a wonderful and festive holiday season. As we take the time to celebrate our community’s bounty with our family and friends, I’m troubled by the spate of incidents across the country that show a contempt and wanton disregard for the spirit of empathy for our fellow human beings. A dark undercurrent in American society is rearing its ugly head. In this hotly contested political season, overt bigotry and attacks on marginalized groups seem to be growing.
Last month, a majority vote in the House of Representatives to ban Syrian refugees from seeking safety in the United States was a particular low point in today's America. What was especially disappointing about that vote was that 47 Democrats joined the House Republican majority in passing a ban. Turning away people in desperate need is not a value the Democratic Party stands for. Fear of "the Other" is certainly not what our party stands for. It's unlikely the bill will pass the Senate, but fortunately, President Obama has vowed to veto it if it does.
Yet another low point continues to come in the form of Donald Trump's ongoing campaign to try to win the GOP nomination for the Presidency by mocking and denigrating just about every group on the planet except for his fellow white, wealthy, straight, able-bodied and male peers. His bigoted barbs - from suggesting protesters should be met with physical violence to calling Mexican immigrants ―rapists‖ to suggesting that mosques be surveilled and that the names of Syrian refugees be put in a database - sound like they come from a different era. However, what's more frightening is how the mainstream media has for too long given him and other right- wing extremists the benefit of neutrality. When political debates become a matter of "both sides do it," blatant lies are called "controversy," and extremism is mainstreamed, our society becomes debased and lives are endangered.
Where is all this going? Just last month, five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot and injured at a vigil for a young black man who was killed by police in Chicago. Three people were killed at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. And in Irving, Texas, open carry fetishists were reportedly intimidating Muslim worshippers at a mosque. Are we about to see a new level of political violence in America against people who don't fit the mold of "straight, white, rich and Christian?" Are too many of us going to sit back and look the other way until it's too late?
Democracy in California just took a huge leap forward. In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed our state’s new "Motor Voter Program," a law that could put millions of unregistered Californians onto the voter rolls. Co-authored by Democratic Assemblymembers Lorena Gonzalez, Luis Alejo and Kevin McCarty, and championed by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the "California Motor Voter Program" requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to electronically enroll residents with a driver’s license or state identification card once they have been identified as eligible to vote. Eligible Californians have the choice to opt out of being registered during a specific period of time. California joins Oregon as the second state in the nation to adopt a "motor voter" program.
Unlike Oregon’s law, however, California’s "motor voter" program is not a true automatic voter registration system, since residents still must confirm to the DMV eligibility and they have the option to opt out. And neither state’s program is true universal automatic voter registration, where the government registers every citizen at birth and the right to vote is activated at 18 (no having to interact with a specific agency) - something other advanced democracies already do. Still, with ―motor voter‖ and our already-in-place online registration system, California is streamlining the way we vote by minimizing the need for filling out a paper form and saving money (and trees!) at the same time.
Gov. Brown also recently signed into law bills expanding same-day registration to the days leading up to Election Day, requiring most municipalities to align their local elections to coincide with state and federal elections in even-numbered years, and allowing legal permanent residents who are 16 and 17 years of age to serve as poll workers. All of these reforms aim to increase voter turnout, thereby strengthening democracy in California. And the more people participate in the political process, the more equitably resources are shared and all our rights are better protected.
Unfortunately, in other states dominated by Republican legislatures, voting rights are being quickly rolled back through restrictive voter identification laws, cut backs to early voting, and curtailing voter registration efforts. This is anti-democratic behavior. But then, that’s the point: to keep disfavored groups (the poor, people of color) from accessing the benefits of citizenship. Decades ago, California was a right-wing state — birthplace of the anti-tax movement, aggressive, ―tough on crime‖ measures, and anti- immigrant sentiment. But demographic changes have rendered those attitudes far less popular. We’re undoing the damage done by the reactionaries in the past. With millions more Californians soon to be added to the voter rolls, the changes could be even more dramatic.
Culver City Democratic Club – 62 Years
General Membership Meeting – Veterans Auditorium Rotunda
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Twenty fifteen has been a bloody year. As I write this, we’ve had nearly 300 mass shootings occur since January, according to a Washington Post graphic that went viral. The latest tragedy just took place at a college in Oregon, where the killer took the lives of nine people and injured nine before being killed himself in a shootout with police.
It’s now become a numbingly regular and morbid ritual. The armed perpetrator - usually young, white and male - massacres people in a public place. The media punditry wonders if mental illness is involved. The President makes a statement condemning the killings and demands Congress pass gun control legislation. The National Rifle Association makes a statement saying guns shouldn’t be blamed, and besides, we need more guns to protect us. People hand-wring over what to do — or insist that nothing can be done. And so, no new national laws are passed. The current tragedy recedes into memory, and people go on with their lives. Then the cycle repeats itself with the next massacre.
America is now the mass shooting capital of the world. A University of Alabama study released in August asserts that the combination of extremely high levels of gun ownership, Americans’ obsession with fame, and the gap between Americans’ expectations of themselves and actual achievement creates a uniquely toxic environment for mass shootings. Then add to that the tens of thousands of single instances of gun violence: domestic disputes, robberies, gang warfare, suicide, the killings of unarmed people by law enforcement.
So why do we keep coming back here again and again? States that have stricter gun laws have fewer firearms deaths than those with looser regulation, but guns still cross state lines, making this a national problem. National legislation is needed, but that hasn’t been possible. We need to confront some hard truths. Some on the left like to point to Australia as a model on how stricter gun regulation can be achieved at the national level after a mass shooting. They say that Australia has a similar frontier history and love of guns, but that did not stop the country from enacting stricter gun laws in a speedy 12 (!) days. Yet, they fail to acknowledge that in Australia, everyone is required to vote. Moreover, Australia, unlike the United States, has a parliamentary system, where the party in power (or a coalition of parties) has total control of the government and opposition parties cannot veto legislation. The makeup of the U.S. Congress is among the most mal- apportioned legislative bodies in the world, meaning sparsely populated states - the ones that tend to be rural, majority white and more supportive of looser gun regulation - have greater political power than more populated states with more urban constituencies, like California. How Congress is currently organized hasn’t changed much from 1776. It’s archaic and anti-democratic.
Second, folks need to learn the real history behind the Second Amendment — not the fake one we’re taught as propaganda. The amendment was not generally created to ―protect citizens from the tyranny of the federal government. It was added to guarantee that southern plantation owners could raise ―militias‖ to quell slave revolts without interference from the feds. In other words, the Second Amendment was created to preserve the Union by protecting slavery. That’s not something to be proud about, let alone express endless support for.
Third, Americans need to get real about the disconnect between the high expectations of themselves and actual low social mobility in the U.S. Our national drive to be better than everyone else at everything has created much innovation and wealth beyond belief. At the same time, endless optimism and competition, - but falling short of what is expected - is killing the psyche. Some humility is in order. The reality of economic inequality has made the ―American dream come crashing down to Earth. Many who thought they were immune to hardship by virtue of their privileges or a lifetime of working hard, are finding out how precarious life really is in a country with such a thin safety net.