By Sue Saltmarsh
It has always been a mystery to me as to why certain people living in the South seem determined to display the flag of the Confederacy on window decals, t-shirts, bumper stickers on their pick-up trucks, or, in S. Carolina’s case, in front of their state Capitol as some sort of badge of honor. Do they not know what that flag stands for? Do they not realize that they might as well be proclaiming their allegiance to racism, stupidity, and an army of losers? And why is it that the people most tied to it seem to indeed be stupid, racist losers?
As S. Carolina prepares to emerge from the burden of its dark past, I believe it serves as not just a wake-up call, but as cold water in our national face. Two weeks ago, the possibility of removing the Confederate flag from the Capitol seemed about as likely as, well, single-payer healthcare being passed unanimously overnight. But today, the impossible is becoming probable. And the “why” of that is also worth examining.
Cynics would say Governor Nikki Haley’s current stand on the issue comes from nothing more than her desire to be a candidate for Vice President. And the Republicans who’ve jumped on the bandwagon of doing “the right thing” after 150 years of the opposite are just courting the black vote, one that they know they’ll need if they’re to have any hope of surviving the 2016 election.
But I think it’s bigger than that. As President Obama has said, we’ve had too much of this. Evidence that our society is self-destructing is now perhaps too plentiful to ignore. Those of us who don’t use the First Amendment to justify hatred or the Second to justify murder are sick of it and perhaps, finally, we’re going to get off our whiney asses and DO something about it!
The deaths at Columbine, Ft. Hood, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Boston, and too many other places that the corporate media ignores may now be consecrated by the deaths of those nine churchgoers in Charleston. A symbol of the worst of human nature may now be relegated to a museum rather than elevated as if it was something to be proud of. And those who survived Dylann Roof’s sickness may not spend the rest of their lives paying the bills for the medical care they need.
The point is, we never know what the last straw will be. We never know the tipping point that will ignite a bonfire that burns away the unjust, the wrong. We can analyze, predict, and gamble on possibility, but the end result is never certain until it happens.
In September last year, no one knew that 400,000 people would come to New York from around the world to shake world leaders by the shoulders and demand they do something about climate change. And there was no one betting on the probability that those 400,000 would be the catalyst to real change, but politicians pay attention when crowds are that big and thanks to the Peoples’ Climate March, dialog has opened up and continues from the Rockefeller Fund divesting in fossil fuels, to Brazil capping carbon emissions, to the Pope asserting – as a scientist – that climate change is real and we’re responsible.
Now, as the Confederate flag droops and falls from over the S. Carolina Capitol, the NRA’s usual justifications for people like Dylann Roof to have guns in the first place are not working quite so well. Have we really had enough this time? Will the deaths of those nine victims serve to right several wrongs?
As a society, we have the right and responsibility to “stand our ground,” to protect the civilization we created, to improve it, to make it a safe, healthy, happy place for us all to live. But we must understand that “freedom” cannot be a part of that society as long as it allows corruption, hatred, fear, and violence to dominate. And we have the right and responsibility to say, “No more!” when they do.
Freedom to speak should be protected, but not if it hurts or destroys lives; bearing arms is a matter of choice except for the military and law enforcement – if you choose to have a gun, you should have to apply for a license, state your reason for wanting one, be cleared by a background check, and be limited to the type of weapon you need for your stated purpose. If you need an assault rifle to prove you’ve got the balls to walk into Wal-Mart, you also need mental health help. Roof had a handgun – imagine the destruction he could have wrought with an assault rifle.
I can’t say it any better than Aaron Sorkin said it through Will McAvoy’s explanation of why America is not the greatest country in the world:
“We used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons, we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy… The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”
But we could be. It takes courage to buck the trend, to challenge the status quo. Ask Bernie. And as those fighting for social justice of all kinds know, it takes time and tenacity and sometimes, loss.
The loss of lives in Charleston will become another thread in the tapestry of the United States’ journey to national adulthood. I hope it will prove to be not just a thread, but a wide, bold stripe that signifies our growing from teenage apathy, selfishness, and hubris to the adult activism, unity, and humility that will prove we’ve learned our lesson.