Jan. 22nd, 2017

America is a myth. It's a beautiful myth. It's the myth of equal rights, acceptance for all, and democracy. It's the myth of,

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

It's the myth that we can call something a "right" but only allow some members of society to have that "right." It's the myth that anyone from anywhere can achieve the American dream. It's the theme of New York amplified: "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere." It is the myth that all are equal.

Then there's America the reality. The reality that even while we are built on a foundation of immigration, each large wave of immigration has been met with prejudice and backlash. It's the reality of "No Irish need apply" and "No vacancies for blacks". It's the reality that allows an entire country to deny sheltering refugees from a war-torn country - men, women, and children all - because of the fear that one of them will be a terrorist, despite the fact that at least 80% of terror attacks on American soil are committed by American citizens".

This is not to say there's no intersection of the two. The reality is that the right for adults of sound mind to marry whomever they love is still not an actual right. It's a privilege extended to only certain groups of people. The progress is that Americans have fought, and fought hard, to extend that privilege far enough for it to be considered a right. In 1967, it was finally deemed legal at the federal level for people of different ethnicities to marry each other. That's only 60 years ago. In more recent decades, of course, the right to marry has been extended - slowly and lurchingly - through various states to those in same-sex partnerships. The myth and the reality of the right to marry are coming closer and closer.

Voting is another right some take for granted because our reality is much closer to the myth, but that gap was closed after hard work and hard fighting. Women were granted the right to vote in 1920. It wasn't until 1965 that LBJ enacted legislation to ensure that barriers to minority voting were lowered, so that all citizens could in fact exercise their rights as guaranteed, without interference, intimidation, and manipulation by those who did not want minorities to vote. Up until last year, I myself felt pretty secure in all our citizens' voting rights, excepting of course those criminals who are barred from voting due to felony convictions (which I don't agree with, but that's another tangent). Then in this last election, we learned that there were far fewer polling places available to voters, disproportionately affecting poor, rural, and minority populations", as well as targeted actions focused on party lines and also affecting poor and minority populations". Many people focused on the ID issue - shouldn't voters show ID to prove who they are? It's hard to argue with - except my entire state uses mail-in ballots. I've been voting since 1998, and I have never once had to show ID. I sign up online, my identity is verified with certain numbers, and I'm registered. Yes, I need my driver's license number. No, I have never shown ID.

As you may be aware, a Women's March occurred on Saturday. It was affirming, rewarding, community-building, concrete action. Even if that is the only thing a person does in their lives, adding numbers to the estimated 4 million (worldwide) is an act on its own. It states not all of us accept an administration aimed at killing the myth of America. This administration rests solely on the reality of the United States, and it is a grim, ugly reality. It is the reality we deserve to be slapped with in our collective face. It is the reality that many citizens are complacent; that we pay more attention to the myth of the United States than its reality. Part of the shock and horror of this election is that cognitive dissonance from waking up and realizing things aren't as good as they're said to be.

There are, of course, those who have been struggling and working all along to bring the myth and the reality together. These are the people we should all emulate. There are also the people who don't realize there's a distinction at all - the ones who scornfully ask just WHICH rights women don't currently have, dismissing the action as a bunch of spoiled middle-class females reacting to a bigoted serial sex assaulter in office. The ones who say this march means nothing, that it's one big collective virtue signal, that it is a waste of time. The ones who are bewildered, dismissive, and condescending are the ones for whom the reality and myth are synonymous. They are the ones on the inside who cannot look out and acknowledge theirs is not the only American experience. These are also the ones I find myself not being able to communicate with; the ones so hard to defend against, like trying to pick up a blob of oil with your bare fingers. It's very hard to explain to someone that the very fact they are insulting those who march is the exact reason the march needed to happen.

The ironic thing? I didn't even make it to the march. Insomnia messed me up. I'm pretty disappointed I wasn't there walking alongside others who want to make a difference. We probably don't even agree on what that difference is, and that doesn't matter. What matters is that the complacency and oblivion are melting away; in their place are growing, footstep by footstep, a new awareness that "We the people..." is not just an old phrase. It is the very literal foundation of our country. "We the people" allowed the circumstances that resulted in this mess; "we the people" will fix it. Bodily. By being together, walking in step, enjoying unity of purpose, making the myth of the United States become its reality. A reality where anything called a "right" is in fact extended to everyone, not chosen groups. A reality that merges with the phrases and slogans we sling around so handily - of acceptance, welcoming, community. It will obviously require more than a single march. It will require hard work, dedication, and inclusion, going forward with future actions at all levels in all communities. It will require an awareness and a compassion for others and the ability to extend a helping hand to anyone.

That's what brings me joy, and relief, now that this march has happened. It is a perfect example of myth becoming reality. It's a glimpse of the future to come. All balanced on the heels and toes of those who care enough to step outside.

April 2017

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