Our first contact with people outside of ourselves is our family. They are charged with not only feeding, sheltering and protecting us, but with teaching us right from wrong and other basic lessons of life. As we go through the socialization process provided by our school system we learn basic facts and values about our country. We are taught that people came here to escape discrimination for the way they worshipped or thought or spoke. We learn all about the abundant freedoms bestowed upon us by this great and special nation of ours.
Over time, and with additional education, some of us begin to ask questions and develop our own opinions, attitudes and interpretations of what America is and how it either coincides with or conflicts with our values. Certainly, the most serious example of this kind of conflict is our own Civil War. Clearly, this war was the result of two distinct sets of values, hopes and dreams at odds with each other. There were, in fact, two different visions of what America should be. Since the resolution of that costly and tumultuous war, our country has once again moved onto the path towards universal freedom and equality, although progress has at times been uneven, hotly contested and slow. We are all familiar with the various movements from Civil Rights, to Gay Rights, to Women’s Rights to the Anti-War Movement, etc. that have focused our attention during recent decades. While it is undeniable that there is still work to do, it has felt as though we were on the right track up until recently. A variety of actions over the last few years leads me to question that we are still on that progressive path. It feels that we are once again, as a nation, at war with ourself.
We have all become accustomed to the marches, demonstrations, newspaper ads and the many other conventional methods utilized by political action groups over the years to get their point across. At times there has been violence associated with particular movements such as “Bloody Sunday”. However, our right to “free speech” has enabled many ideas, opinions and perspectives to come into view and be heard. As a nation we have always celebrated this fact and held it as an example for the world. But something has changed. At first it was subtle and often under the radar. But now it is in front of us and we need to understand how the tactics of those who want to limit our freedoms and narrow our choices have changed. In a blog that I posted on February 28, 2014, entitled “The Battle To Rebrand America” I pointed out that the most important and potentially damaging action wasn’t taking place in Washington D.C. but rather in state legislatures. My point was that these state legislatures are impacting on abortion rights, voting rights, gun control, pay equality, immigration, marriage equality, health care, minimum wage, religiously based school curricula, climate change and a host of other issues that impact on freedom, quality of life and health in ways that the Federal Government is not. As an example I need only mention the latest attempt by a state to allow discrimination against individual groups through Indiana’s recently passed “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”. They continue to say that it is identical to the federal law of the same name passed in the 1990s. However, if you have been following the news, you are well aware that there are significant differences in Indian’s law that expose any minority group to discrimination.
This kind of action is not unique to Indiana. The legislation passed by dozens of state legislatures under conservative control are equally contrary to what I believe our nation represents. There has been action in all of the areas I listed above that are damaging to our way of life and the freedoms and opportunities we have come to expect. This is not a small insignificant movement or even a large boisterous movement. It is rather a significant portion of our population in a majority of our states that are quietly and insidiously infringing on the rights of other citizens. It appears that there is a true conflict regarding our vision of what America is and should be. America seems to once again be at war with itself. It isn’t violent, but the destruction it will cause to the lives of countless Americans is no less horrific. It is time for those who care to become active and work to change the political makeup of our state legislatures. This is, no doubt, the most important battlefield of our day.