Friday, November 25, 2011

Fighting resegregation in Georgia

Today, I wrote the US Department of Justice to urge it to reject the proposed Georgia legislative maps for violating the spirit and intent of the Voting Rights Act. If you wish to write the Justice Department with your concerns about these maps aiming to create a super-majority white conservative control of the legislature, here's how you do it:

Write a letter to the Department of Justice. Where to send your letter:

Mr. Chris Herren
Chief, Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
Room 7254 - NWB
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20530

If you want to send your letter through an overnight express service such as Airborne, DHL, Federal Express or UPS, then your letter should be addressed to:

Mr. Chris Herren
Chief, Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
Room 7254 - NWB
Department of Justice
1800 G St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20006

You may also email your letter to and please enter “Georgia Redistricting” in the subject field.

If you would rather not send a letter or email, you may also call the Department of Justice at 1-800-253-3931 and ask to speak to the Georgia Redistricting team. You can also Fax 202-616-9514 and on your cover page, please reference “Georgia Redistricting”

My letter:

Hello -

My name is Jason Cecil, and I am a Georgia resident who lives at 1503 Oakridge Court, Decatur, GA 30033. I wish to comment on the proposed redistricting maps that Georgia Republicans have adopted.

As a resident of DeKalb County, these maps endeavor to disenfranchise myself and my neighbors by placing us in oddly shaped districts that slice through multiple communities of interest and dismanteling multiracial coalitions that have bound our communities together in the last couple of decades. My proposed state House district looks like a candy cane that coils around my neighborhood and then shoots over to Stone Mountain before ending in south DeKalb. My area of DeKalb has little in the way of common community interest with the rest of this proposed district other than being located in DeKalb County.

The state House and state Senate maps show a clear disregard for communities of interest, and have the intention of eliminating ALL White Democrats from the state legislature. The Georgia Republican party is endeavoring to segregrate the parties to ensure that the GOP is seen as the "white" party and the Democratic party is "black only". These maps produce majority white districts to elect Republicans and majority black districts to elect Democrats. As a white Georgia Democrat, I feel my vote is being targeted because of my race. The proposed maps ensure that I am not able to participate in multiracial coalitions to elect representatives of my choice. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination of any kind. The proposed maps appear to be systematic in their targeting of White Democrats which isolates African Americans and all other voters by limiting their ability to build coalitions.

What's even more offensive is that the Georgia Republican party has claimed the Voting Rights Act "made" them do it. There is no legal standing for Republican comments that they are allowed to have up to 73 percent Black Voting Age Population in a district. It is a manufactured number. The Voting Rights Act does not require a specific threshold, and the outcome cannot reduce the electoral power of minorities,including their ability to coalition with other groups. The artificial creation of Black districts at the expense of integrated districts violates the intent of the Voting Rights Act. These district maps manipulate the Voting Rights Act, maximize GOP voting performance at the expense of multi-racial coalitions. The proposed maps maps DISCRIMINATE against the ability of Georgians to build multi-racial coalitions which have been a proud feature of state and local politics for the last 46 years.

Other factors that lead me to oppose these maps:
  1. GOP-led reapportionment hearings were not held in places and times in which most Georgians could attend. The panels did not fully reflect the diversity of Georgia.
  2. Discrimination based on past political expression has been frowned upon by members of the US Supreme Court.
  3. The growing Hispanic and Latino population in Georgia is being isolated by eliminating the sole Latino Democratic Representative in the legislature. The message to this population is: Get on board with white conservatives if you want a voice in state government.
  4. The maps target two of three LGBT members of the legislature by putting them in districts with fellow African American incumbents. These two legislators are the ONLY African American LGBT state legislators in the United States
I ask that the Department of Justice reject these maps for violating the spirit and intent of the Voting Rights Act.


Jason A. Cecil
Decatur, GA

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What I Learned Tonight

In my last post, I mentioned my current challenge of sticking with something for the sake of physical fitness.  Well, through the misery, the dry heaves, the asthma attack, the new bouts of hyperventilation, and learning to run... I have stuck with it.  Rugby is kicking my ass, but in a good way.  I found an iPhone app called "From couch to 5k" that I've started working with that alternates periods of running with walking.  I find that running is doable in digestible chunks.  I find that at practice, I can now jog halfway around the pitch without feeling I need to slow down.

Oddly, the thing I enjoy the most about the conditioning part of rugby practice is the stretching.  It hurts, but in a good way.  When I first started at the end of July, I could barely grab my ankle, but now I can get a couple of fingers on the toe of my sneakers.  I've learned a lot about stretching which is useful to me, and I'm grateful to Gary for showing me what he knows.  Even at the gym, the stretches we do, especially for the legs, are very useful.

I've received a lot of support from the team that I didn't anticipate.  I still find it embarrassing to be cheered on as I straggle behind everyone else to finish a drill.  I'd much rather have someone there with me, urging me on to the finish...then bring the cheer when I do :-)  That's just my sense of embarrassment at needing to be prodded, but it's good for me.  I do need to be prodded, encouraged to push just a little farther without going overboard.  It's an odd balance, but several guys on the team seem to have a gift for it, at least where it comes to me.

The one asthma attack I had was due to the fact I had forgotten to take my inhaler prior to practice.  Not a smart move.  When I take the inhaler prior to practice, I'm fine.  I've found in the last week or so that I have a different problem; in trying to take slow, deep breaths, I lose control of my breathing and start to hyperventilate.  It still scares me when it happens, but I've learned I can beat it by intensely focusing on an object and really putting my mind to seizing control of my breathing once more.

Tonight was an especially interesting practice for me.  We started out with the usual stuff:  a job around the pitch, squats, stretches, high knee jog back and forth.  But then we started with this exercise that Gary promised was going to prove once and for all that we definitely have thigh and butt muscles.  He warned us we'd feel it tomorrow and curse his name.  I'll admit, I kinda wished at that moment that I could just go home.

I didn't, though.  The drill went like this:  we start at the end of the field (blanking on the name of the line right now), do 20 squats, then we do deep lunges to the 25 yard line, pulling up the opposite arm of the leg that is at a 90 degree angle from the squat.  At the 25 yard line, we sprint to the 50 yard line.  Gary strongly suggested that we really high knee the sprint in order to pump blood into thighs that will be screaming by that time.  At the 50 yard line, we do another 20 squats.  Then the lunges again to the 75 yard line.  Then high knee sprint to the 100 yard line.  Turn around, rinse, and repeat all the way back down the pitch to where we started.

I kid about the rinse part, but what was no joke was how my legs felt.  I've been practicing squats on my own at the gym, so the first 20 were OK.  The lunges started to hurt halfway to the 25 yard line.  But I did it.   Most of the other guys were in a bit of a race, so I was WAY behind.  Coach Zach came up beside me to show me proper form and to do the lunges with me so I'd get it.  He stayed with me all the way down the pitch and back again, encouraging me to take it one piece at a time.  The 2nd half of the pitch, I thought my thighs were going to give out.  It's a weird sensation to feel the strength in your legs just give out like that, but I stuck with it, and they did not give out.  They hated me, screamed bloody murder at me, but they kept working.  I was not able to run, but I did high step it through the sprint portions.  And in that last bit where I was lunging to the finish line, Coach Zach said, "In front of all these guys, you're going to finish this.  You can do it."   That's when I got a round of encouragement for me to finish that I found embarrassing, but I plugged ahead and  I did finish.  I didn't finish pretty, but I finished.

Honesty time.  Before that experience with Coach Zach, he really frightened me.  He reminded me of my 7th grade basketball coach who was gruff, liked to yell a lot, and thought nothing of ridiculing you.  I have lived in a bit of fear that Coach Zach would turn his ire on me.   Whenever he talked about the need to build stamina because without it, you are useless to the team, I figured he was talking about me directly.  When he came up to me while I was lunging, I expected to be yelled at for doing it wrong.  Instead, he simply showed me how and had me mimic him, and then stuck by me to make sure I kept up my form.  He didn't yell at me or ridicule me for being slow.  Him sticking with me made me not want to give up.  Getting that kind of personal attention told me that he had some faith me, and I wanted to honor that faith and not let him down.  If he guessed that's how to motivate me, he guessed correctly.

We moved on to defensive drills and tackling.  This is where I learned something tonight that I had not known before:  I LIKE TO HIT!  And by hit, I mean tackle.  It turns out that I have some raw ability to do it too, which is even better.  In the last practice, we were told to imagine we were tackling behind the player, which fits into how I was once taught to punch.  You don't punch for the face; you punch for BEHIND the person's head.  That way you fool your brain into hitting with full force.  If you aim for what you are hitting, your brain will subconsciously pull back in anticipation.

I was paired with some of the more aggressive members of the team, which did worry me.  Coach Zach said we had to not approach a tackle with fear because that would end in injury.  So I only focused on the legs and I went to tackle, and I held on for dear life once I grabbed hold until the guy came down.  It was fun!  I liked to hit and take people down.

I wasn't as good at being the person tackled.  I did what I could to avoid the tackler, which Coach Zach says I need to stop doing.  "Forwards go forward, not sideways."  The point, I believe, is to plow through a guy trying to tackle you like he's nothing.  That I need to work on.  I think the notion of making myself a kind of big bowling ball when I have the ball and am being approached will be helpful in this endeavor.  Coach Zach even said that I could be pretty good once I learn to plow straight ahead.  Gotta admit, that was the highlight of my night.

We then started more real-game type of drills.  I found this disorienting and I ended up making a lot of mistakes.  I tackled a couple of guys way too high and ended up putting a kink in my neck.  But that's why they tell us to go low, and put our shoulders into the belly of the guy we're tackling.  It makes perfect sense.  I need to get comfortable with the chaos of a real game situation though.  Otherwise, I'm going to be worse than useless on the pitch in those situations playing defense.  The game of rugby moves FAST, and I gotta learn to move with it.   I'm not as worried about that because my brain can process something and with practice, I'll be fine.  I just need to find whatever it is that will make it click with me when we're doing the whole post-A-B-C stuff.

I already know that I'm going to be in MAJOR pain tomorrow.  I feel it a little already, but the feeling I had when I was able to successfully tackle tonight is something I want to capture again.  It makes the pain I"m going to feel tomorrow worthwhile.  It's amazing to know that there's something physical that I could be good at!   That is one reason why I'm writing this tonight instead of tomorrow:  the pain is going to make me curse rugby at least a little bit.  But that's why God invented naproxen  and cold compresses.

The challenge continues...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Current Challenge

To say that I am not a fitness enthusiast would be quite the understatement.  Other than cardiovascular and aesthetic benefits, I have never found myself obsessed with the gym, even with the endorphins released after working out.  Thus, I have never been, nor will I ever be, a gym bunny.

This fact has made it entirely too easy for me to simply find excuses to skip the gym.  It's too late.  I'm too tired.  I'm cranky.  I don't feel good.  I'm hungry.  It's too early to be awake.  I have other activities that take my time.  I can't fit it in.  Blah, blah, blah.  The end result is that I'm grotesquely out of shape, my resting heart rate has gone up, and my waist size has expanded as my metabolism seems to be inexorably sliding to a complete stop.  This has had health consequences from the development of a "fatty liver" which makes my enzymes screwy to an absolute warning that if I don't act, and SOON, I will become the latest citizen of Diabetes-Land.

I want to avoid diabetes at all costs.  Diet isn't going to cut it.  Even eating healthier, the slowing of my metabolism makes that route only so advantageous.  Also, I enjoy a good meal.  Always have, and probably always will.  This means that I have to increase the number of calories I burn through physical activity.  The gym is one aspect, but my history with consistent gym going is spotty.  My lack of gym addiction makes it all to easy to push that down on the priority list.  Even when I have friends to meet at the gym.  It can be as simple as  resentment of never going to the gym closest to my house.  It invariably falls apart.

I'm equally not good at solitary sports which depend upon personal drive to have the discipline to succeed.  I simply do not care enough about athletic achievements to make that workable for me.  I've never been good at sports.  I was never well coordinated.  I was awkward.  The one year I played basketball in 7th grade after being the first guy in my class to hit puberty was a disaster.  I invariably screwed up in practice, got ridiculed by the coach, felt inferior and embarrassed, and the one time I did get on the court, I was fouled and couldn't even make free throws.

I need an organized activity where it's OK to not be talented.  Where I won't have others pile onto my own sense of athletic inferiority.  The one October I tried playing fall softball, I had the definite impression that I was annoying the more talented players.  I could smell the judgment, although I will say they never vocalized it.  I may have found a sport, and a team, that can fit my needs.  It will not be easy, because I really am out of shape, but this is a mission, a challenge, that I cannot fail.

In July, I went to a Rugby 101 "clinic" held by the Atlanta Bucks rugby club.  I suppose since rugby hasn't penetrated the United States school sports that it's expected people will come this not knowing a thing about rugby.  That is certainly true of me.  I thought of rugby because I've been told on more than one occasion that I have a build made for rugby.  So I went.

Going to learn a sport in the midday heat of July during the hottest summer I have lived through in Atlanta wasn't the hottest choice.  I overheated.  I had had coffee about an hour before the clinic, so I chucked that one too.   I had bags of ice applied to my head to bring down my body temperature.  It worked, and no one gave me any judgement.  The guys were super nice, and were quite adamant about not overdoing it. In the part of the clinic I did participate in, I actually had some dexterity at catching the rugby ball, which shocked me.  I thought that perhaps I could do this.

But there's a level of athleticism required in rugby that will make this probably the largest physical challenge of my life.  There's a lot of running, and endurance.  I knew there was puking in my future.  But I also knew that there was no way to make it through that without just doing it.  My cardiovascular system needs to be strengthened for endurance and so that it doesn't so quickly escalate to maximum heart rate, and the attendant vomiting.

I went to the first Bucks conditioning practice last Thursday evening.  On the plus side, it was held from 7:30 to 9pm, at the end of the day.  It was still 90F outside but the sun wasn't nearly as intense.  We started out running a lap around the field at Coan Middle School.  I, of course, brought up the rear.  Two laps was enough to send my pulse into the stratosphere and to bring on the nausea.

I had prepared better for this practice than the Rugby 101.  I filled an old OJ 2 gallon jug with water and chilled it mostly so I could dump it on my head and try to regulate my body temp that way.  I also ate nothing after lunch earlier that day, so my stomach was largely empty.  But it wasn't enough to keep away the damn nausea.

I hate being nauseated more than anything.  I can take things hurting.  I can even take vomiting, even though it's very difficult for me to actually vomit.  Nausea drives me nuts.  It's enough to basically cripple you, but nothing that anyone can really recognize except you.

I had to stop and start a lot.  It was really embarrassing, even though I'd warned the guy leading it that I was coming to him from a zero fitness level.  The guys were quite encouraging.  I didn't get the impression that I was making people roll their eyes at how lame my physical reactions were.  Gary was really good about telling me not to overdo it, and to encourage me to do what I could.  This was the first time doing a lot of these exercises, so I had the awkwardness of  that combined with an overwhelming nausea that would start up again soon after I got going.

Even with the leg throws, my issue was getting my legs up to where they could be grabbed.  Joe was kind enough to realize it would be better to hold my feet up, let my legs fall, and have me bring them back up.  The last lap around the field at the end, I ended up walking it.  But for me, walking it after I had vomited bile and felt like utter crap, was a victory.  I really wanted to just say "screw it" but I couldn't.  I knew I had to finish this workout for myself.  Killie (that spelling may be off for the nickname) came back around the jogged with me, asking if I thought I could do a slow jog.  I told him it was a victory for me to be even walking it, and he noted that my walking was keeping up with his light jog so it was all good.

The conditioning left me drained.  I was basically a zombie afterward when I went out to eat.  I'm sure my dinner companions found me less than charming.  I also wondered if some of the guys thought that would be last they'd see of me.  The next conditioning is scheduled for Tuesday night, and I will be there.  I hope it will be better physically than it was Thursday.  Gary gave me some pointers about what I could do at the gym to get my body used to sustained effort on a treadmill.  There is a bit of fear about what happens when actual practices start.  Gary made mention to all of us how the coaches would put us through hell.  The conditioning kicked my ass... I can't imagine what the coaches have planned.

My mom did not greet the news of me vomiting well.  Maybe I shouldn't have shared it on facebook, but oh well.  I need to share because I need the encourage to fight through, to improve, and stick with it despite the physical misery I will experience early on.  My mom both emailed and called me to express her concern.  She has visions that I will end up one of those people who just drop dead in a practice because I will push or be pushed too hard.

I'm not concerned about the being pushed too hard with the Bucks.  So far, they've really respected limits, and I have no reason to believe that won't continue.  This is definitely something I need to do for me.  It's going to be hard.  I'm not whining; I'm simply facing the facts.  I have to prepare myself mentally to face up to the regular embarrassment of not being able to do what other guys can do on the team.  I usually haven't participated in things in which I am not naturally talented.  From childhood through adulthood, I followed things that ran along with my passions from drama, to school honor societies, to politics.  I have established myself as a credible contender for the activities I've participated in.

My parents never pushed me to play sports, and I certainly wasn't inclined to pursue activities where I had zero natural talent.  But the stakes are too high for me now.  It's important for me to pursue this despite the difficulties.  Despite being pretty sure that I will see next to no playing time, and I certainly won't be a benefit on the pitch.  Knowing this, I still need to pursue this rugby thing, push my physical fitness into healthier levels that will keep me away from diabetes and hopefully improve other aspects of my general health.

 I need to face down something that has a lot of natural negatives for me and my ego, and to not give up.  Maybe I will find a natural talent in some aspect of rugby.  Maybe the game will click for me in a way that will allow me to make a REAL contribution.  I have to do this for me.  I feel that if I fail at this, the consequences for me personally will be bad.  What's worse, I'm afraid I'd lose respect for myself.  I'm a tough bastard in many ways, and I've faced down a lot of personal crap over my lifetime so far.  But now I need to prove to myself that I'm more than just emotionally tough.  I need to prove my mettle to myself.

But I may go through a personal hell to do it.  And I'll need the help and encouragement of friends, especially new friends I'm making on the Bucks team.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Federal Furlough Notices Released

In case you've never seen one, here is what went out to each individual staff member at CDC starting last night and through this morning.  My notice was received at 7:06am.  Thanks Teabaggers!

I. - Important Furlough Related Notice

As Secretary Sebelius communicated in her message to all employees, civilian and uniformed dated April 5, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services may be in a furlough status when the current Continuing Resolution expires this week. In the absence of either a fiscal year 2011 appropriation, or a continuing resolution for HHS, no further financial obligations may be incurred as of midnight on Friday, April 8, 2011 except for those related to the orderly suspension of the agency's operations or performance of funded or excepted activities, as defined by the Office of Management and Budget.

You have not been identified as excepted from the furlough based on one of the following criteria defined by OMB:  (1) Employees involved in obligations 'authorized by law' or (2) Employees involved in the safety of human life or the protection of property. This means that if the Department is in a furlough status, you will be furloughed from your position, and will be in a nonpay, nonduty status.  (Commissioned Corps officers will remain on active duty, but in a non-work, non-pay status)

Please begin identifying the required actions you will need to complete in order to effect an orderly shutdown of your office operations should the official shutdown occur.

All employees will receive their regularly scheduled pay on Friday, April 15, 2011 for the pay period ending Saturday, April 9, 2011.

Because this furlough does not have a planned end date, Departmental leadership will make a reasonable effort to inform all employees when the furlough is over and when they are expected to return to work. Please also continue to monitor the news for the latest information regarding the furlough.  When you hear that a continuing resolution or a fiscal year 2011 appropriation for HHS has been approved, you will be expected to return to work on your next regular duty day.

For additional furlough guidance, please refer to the Question and Answer document and the Office of Personnel Management's website at and

Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.
Director, CDC, and
Administrator, ATSDR

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A 10-year-old note

The build-up to the 10th anniversary of my dad's suicide has been fairly quiet emotionally.  I didn't even think about it much until the past week, although it has haunted me over the weekend.  Yet, I didn't feel like rehashing the event in detail, as I have in the past.  If you are interested, you can read about it here.

My thoughts have been most focused on the notes my dad left.  He left 10 of them.  Randy Cecil was nothing if not a planner.  He knew exactly what he was doing and planned everything, even burning a disk of music he wanted played at his funeral.   Out of the 9 personalized notes, the envelope with my name on it read, "Jason, Mom, Dad, and Judy".  I didn't get my own note, which has bugged me.  As his only son, I thought I deserved a note of my own.  Perhaps he couldn't face the prospect.  He adored my grandparents, so perhaps it was just easier to lump me into a note for them and his sister, my Aunt Judy.

Anyway, by the bedside table, Dad left the following note (italics indicate something written in my dad's handwriting):

February 13, 2001  5AM

To Whom It May Concern:

I took my own life without the knowledge or assistance of anyone.  I used prescription drugs that I saved over time without my doctor's knowledge.  Please notify Pam Cecil at 381-3332 (work) or 266-1591 (home) and Michelle Harr at 243-4882 (work), 312-4409 (mobile) or 223-4403 (home).  Do not notify my parents or son as I prefer Pam or Michelle to do that.

Please give my will to Michelle Harr as she is my executor.

Randal H. Cecil
Randal H. Cecil

My physician is Dr. James Borders.
My therapist is Jacky Thomas.

I was struck at how, even at the moment of his impending suicide, Dad wanted to be sure that no one got into trouble because of his actions.  He explicitly clears his medical doctor and therapist of any professional blame.  And that was the right thing for him to do.  I worked with Jacky to try to save him, and he fooled her in the end just as he fooled me.

Of course, the police had to open and read all of the suicide notes, even though mine was marked:  "ONLY FOR  Jason, Mom, Dad & Judy     Personal"

This note read:

February 13, 2001

Dear Jason, Mom, Dad, and Judy,

I'm so sorry to cause you this pain, but I could not erase my pain any other way.  I love you all very much.  Please do not blame yourselves as you did all you could do.  Please also know that I tried very, very hard for a long time to get well and could not.  The pain hurts just as much, if not more, now than it did at first.  Please do not blame anyone else either.  Please forgive me.

It is my strong desire to be cremated and my ashes scattered here in Lexington at Raven Run Sanctuary.  I do not want my body displayed!  Just have my picture instead (the one I gave to Jason and Judy at Christmas).  I would like a memorial service here in Lexington so that my friends can attend. I prefer not to have a minister or priest speak, just my friends and family.  I created a CD of John Denver and Judy Collins music that I would like played at the memorial please.

As for my guitar and recordings, Judy, please let Jason have first pick.  Also, I want my John Denver vinyl records and videos to be sent to Linda Symons in Australia.

Jason, please know that I am very proud of you and love you more than I can ever say.  Please be strong, take care of your mother, and live a good life.

I've got to go.

Randal (Dad)

Dad had a really bad habit of signing cards and such to me with his name followed by "(Dad)" as if I needed the hint.  LOL

The note itself is kind of impersonal, but I think it was difficult for him to write.  He didn't get all of his wishes in the 2nd paragraph.  I felt that since he had committed suicide, there were somethings we were going to compromise for the sake of his survivors, and if he didn't like that....tough.  I did have him cremated, and became a HUGE fan of cremation in the process.  When I die, I hope to be cremated myself.  But, I only scattered half of his ashes at Raven Run Sanctuary with my mom.  The other half I had placed into a cremation burial box, and buried it in the family plot in Dickson.  My grandparents, especially, needed a place to visit my dad's remains.  Someplace they knew a part of him lay.  And since they will be buried next to him, they will always be close together.

The other compromise I enacted was having his body on display for family only before the visitation for friends and others.  I know I wanted alone time with him, open casket, and I knew my family did too.  I made sure we all had a few minutes alone with him to say whatever goodbyes we needed to say.  It gave me a sense of peace, and I'm sure it helped everyone else too.  For the general visitation, though, his casket was closed with a picture on top.  His death was not gruesome at all.  After he took his anti-anxiety meds on top of the screwdrivers he'd been drinking all night as he wrote the suicide notes (computer time stamps told the tale), he put on an allergy mask and then tied two trash bags around his neck, securing them with rubber bands.  He suffocated within 30 minutes.  I guess he just didn't want to be gawked at.

It's no secret that my lack of having someone unrelated to me who loves me enough to want to spend his life with me, and I with him, drives my depression cycles and sometimes leads to outright despair.  But one thing about being a suicide survivor is that you know what it means to be left behind.  It also takes suicide away as a potential choice, no matter how badly I might feel someday.  I've lived through the devastation that haunts us to this day.  There's a hole in the hearts of many people in my dad's life that will never be filled because of the way he left us.  I don't think he anticipated that, or that we'd still care 10 yrs later.

But it is 10 years later, and I still do mourn for him.  I think about him.  I still miss him.  But I do pray he's at peace.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Our Political Discourse

When I first heard the news that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) had been shot, I immediately figured it would turn out to be a teabagger exercising his/her "2nd Amendment Remedies".  After all Giffords was one of those swing districts whose re-election was one of the last ones called.  Her re-election campaign was ugly and full of fury on both sides.  Sarah Palin had her as one of the "targets" to take out in 2010 since she had voted for Health Reform.  I wasn't the only one who immediately jumped to that conclusion.  Millions of other people did too, and like me, they tweeted about it.

I was scolded for jumping to conclusions and not being helpful.  The nature of twitter is its immediacy.  It's very much like a rolling national, sometimes international, conversation.  There's a reason that so many people, mostly unconnected to one another personally, immediately thought about the Tea Party Movement with its talk of 2nd Amendment "remedies", watering the tree of liberty with the blood of martyrs, and threats of a 2nd American Revolution, and specifically Sarah Palin with her tradement "Don't Retreat - RELOAD!" crap.

That the right immediately went on the defensive indicates to me some evidence of a guilty conscience.  They immediately starting saying things like:
  • "How DARE you suggest that our rhetoric might play a role!" 
  • "Dude was crazy, we had NOTHING to do with it!  How DARE you!"
  • "Liberals said worse about Bush!" (who, unless I missed something, never had someone take a SHOT at him)
  • "Democrats use targets too!"
  • "Violent rhetoric is just part of politics, and always has been!"
  • "You're just crass and political trying to take advantage of a tragedy.  How DARE you!"
In all that hand-wringing and deflecting, never once did Palin, Beck, or her defenders say, "Wow, that is NOT what we meant by that rhetoric.  Everyone knows that.  Dude was crazy, but Jesus, if things we said helped in any encourage him, that's not what we're about.  Using gun sights and talking about "reloading" and "2nd Amendment Rememdies" in the heat of a campaign was taking it too far.  We wouldn't do it again, and we'll call out anyone who tries in the future."

But no, instead there is complete denial and attempts to change the conversation.  There's no acknowledgement that just because we CAN say something that we should.  There's no willingness to even discuss that perhaps political leaders shouldn't engage in the ultra violent rhetoric of the base.  All the examples of Bush bashing, and the calls for Bush's death came from no-name fringe people, most of whom were anti-war.  You didn't have Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, Nancy Pelosi, or any Democratic leader of note going on the nightly news to spew out the same crap, or suggest that liberals needed to take up arms to seize back the country.  We were always focused like a laser on the next election, convincing people to show up to the polls.  Harry Reid did insult Bush, calling him a liar on the Senate floor which was as bad as it got.  We did feel that the Bushies were dangerous to the freedoms we loved under our Constitution, but we protested peacefully, sued (often successfully) in court, and got our voters to the polls in 2006 and 2008. 

But conservatives have, since the Clinton presidency, presented liberals and Democrats as beyond the pale, trying to create a socialist dictatorship with FEMA concentration camps and death panels that will swoop in and kill healthy grandmas everywhere!  Oh, and while we're at it, we're going to disarm the populace, and take a black marker to scratch out the 2nd amendment.  Since Obama was elected, we've endured the unending charges of birthers that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim looking to exact vengeance on America for European colonialism in Africa?!?  And we have just gone through a 2 year election cycle where House members feared for their lives, to the cheers to the GOP establishment.  We saw my Representative, John Lewis, get spat upon while walking to cast his vote for health reform.  And Giffords herself had her office windows broken after she voted Yes on health reform.  We saw Sharon Angle saying that people might have to use "2nd Amendment Remedies" as if we were on the verge of a tyranny not seen since the election of Hilter in 1933. 

Politics is rough, and campaigns have become mini-wars.  No longer do we think people are merely wrong in their policy preferences, but somehow EVIL and out to DESTROY the Constitution!  I've been as guilty as any teabagger in that fallacy.  I've assumed that people on the right are driven by pure greed and a disdain against people different than they are.  I think that not only are they misguided but dangerously so. 

A lot of this feeling is driven by real sense of potential danger I feel as an openly gay man living in the South. I am accutely aware that the VAST majority of my fellow citizens in Georgia do not think I have many rights worth respecting.  I don't have children, but I have many dear friends who do.  I know there are people who would gladly use the police power of the state to remove those children from their homes because their parents happen to be gay.  I know the Constitution of Georgia states that no relationship that I might enter into with another man will be recognized in any way, shape, or form.  If I had a husband and someone tried to contest a will that left him as beneficiary, I have no confidence that my wishes would be followed unless the case was tried in DeKalb or Fulton Counties.  For me, who is in charge makes a difference.  It's the difference between attempts at writing discrimination into the US Constitution with a "marriage amendment" versus the repeal of DADT.

I have learned that not all Republicans are enemies, but I find it much easier to intellectually engage with fiscal conservatives and have a debate about how much and what kind of governement is necessary than I do to engage with social conservatives who I believe would do not consider me an equal human being in any way, shape, or form.  I fear social conservatives, and until they learn to accept that gays are part of society and must be treated equally, I always will.

What frustrates me more than anything about Sarah Palin, her rhetoric, and the white washing of her record, and ludicrous denials of any responsibility whatsoever for dealing in over-the-top rhetoric...and all the conservatives who are screaming that Democrats are just as bad for even bringing up the rhetoric issue is the lack of personal responsibility.  Keith Olbermann had the decency to personally apologize for overheated rhetoric he has used.  Would it be too much to ask someone to acknowledge that he/she has engaged in overly violent rhetoric, and to agree that perhaps we need to tone it down?   For too many on the right, the unfortunate answer seems to be YES, that IS asking too much.

The assassin in Tucson was undeniably off his rocker.  I think he knew right from wrong, which is thankfully the definition of legal insanity.  I hope that he will be put to death for what he has done.  But honestly, people, it was only a matter of time before some crackpot decided to take matters into his/her hands.  Our divisions are too great and too deep to promise that only polite conversation be used in debate and campaigns.  But responsible political leaders need to have a filter for what is appropriate!  Just because we CAN say something does not mean we SHOULD.  Isn't that a lesson we were supposed to learn in Kindergarten?

Some suggest that making this argument is an attempt to chill political speech.  That we should not only continue to engage in overheated, violent rhetoric, but revel in it.  And when a tragedy happens like the attempted assassination of a member of  Congressman, we should merely dab away the tears at the tragedy, lament the loss the loss of life, and then carry on.  No reflection needed!  After all, Freedom of Speech apparently means Freedom from Criticism.  If we somehow suggest that we need to cool it with the war, revolution, and violence metaphors, then we are, by definition, enemies of freedom.  I don't think asking for responsible maturity in our political discourse, especially from our acknowledged leaders, is anti-Freedom of Speech. 

I hope we don't give in to pressure from the right to drop the discussion about the tone of our politics.  No one should suggest making a law to regulate speech, but there's nothing in violation of the Constitution from applying shame and peer pressure to urge people to use a little judgement when exercising the precious right to free speech.  It may be the only way to continue to preserve our system.