We Are Obsessing over the Wrong Election

TED Talks make you think. I’ve recently become obsessed with TED Talks. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out ted.com. Better yet check out their YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/ted

TED is a nonprofit organization that promotes sharing of ideas. Originally it focused on Technology, Entertainment, and Design which is what the letters TED denote. However TED conferences today cover a wide variety of topics including science, business, and global politics. They host conferences all over the world that consist of presentations no more than 18 minutes long by experts in every field you can imagine. I could go on all day about the interesting things I’ve learned but TED is about sharing ideas and I’ve got some to share.

I recently found a TED presentation that called me to task about my own political activism. It was by a woman named Alessandra Orofino from Brazil. Her presentation was to “It’s our city. Let’s fix it”. You can click on that title see it. It only runs about 15 minutes.

In the beginning of her talk, she cites statistics such as the fact that most of what we consider global problems are actually concentrated in cities. Our cities have the greatest poverty, contribute the most to global warming, they are where the crimes occur. If you want to fix the world you need to start by fixing the cities and you need to start with your own city. She goes on to point out that municipal elections have the absolute worst turnout rate of any kind of election. In Brazil it is mandatory that you vote in their elections. Yet 30% of the people either voted and then invalidated their ballot or they stayed home altogether and decided to pay the fine for failure to vote. I don’t have any statistics about Indianapolis but I know it’s been decades since I bothered to vote in a municipal election. Indianapolis city elections are on the third year of the four year cycle. That’s this year.

This prompted me to realize that we are obsessing over the wrong election. We are totally obsessed with the presidential election because we are totally obsessed with the presidency. We call the President of the United States “The Leader of the Free World” and “The most powerful man in the country”. That’s because the United States is a leader among nations and our president is the leader of our entire country.

But what about me?

What about the job of President of the United States directly affects me on a daily basis? Will my life change one iota depending on whether or not my next president did or did not have a private email server in her previous job? I’m never going to have an abortion and although I oppose abortion for a variety of reasons most of which are not religious, the legality of abortion doesn’t affect me directly and apart from appointing Supreme Court justices, the president has no impact on that hot button topic either. These past few years have shown us that when the president and Congress are divided, nothing gets done.

But what about the mayor or the City Council or the school board? Depending on how the mayor does his job, I either do or do not have sufficient police to make my day-to-day life safe. I either do or do not get my street plowed in the winter. I either do or do not have to buy new tires for my car because the potholes don’t get fixed. If I had children, I either would or would not get a quality education for my kids depending upon the school board. My nephew had to pay hundreds of dollars to rent an iPad because the school requires it but doesn’t provide. This is despite the fact that the Constitution of the State of Indiana requires them to provide a “free and appropriate public school education” to all children. I believe it’s just as unfair to charge a $30 book rental fee as it is to charge $100 iPad rental. But what can I do about it? The city government is going to decide whether or not to tear down my house or my favorite store or restaurant for some other purpose.

Our local city government probably affects our personal lives hundreds of times more than anything that the president does on a regular basis. But I know nothing about city government and I consider myself a reasonably knowledgeable political junkie. I don’t know if the mayor is up for election this year. I don’t know who is running against him if he is. I’ve been a diehard, bleeding heart, liberal Democrat for my entire and I don’t know if our mayor is a Democrat or Republican and I don’t know if our City Council is majority Democrat or Republican.

Recently there was a proposal before the City Council to spend millions of dollars on a new Justice Center. It would house municipal jails and court rooms. It’s construction would create hundreds of jobs and continued operation would likely create jobs as well. It would renovate an abandoned factory that is a blight to its neighborhood. Yet there were serious questions about the cost and scope of the project. After going back and forth between the Council and its committees several times, the project failed to get enough support to pass.

While I don’t want my mayor or City Council spending that kind of money without doing due diligence, especially in light of that one police command center that they recently had to abandon because the building was unsafe… Even if this project was a boondoggle, I can’t believe that it was proposed on someone’s whim. Some reasonably intelligent and thoughtful people developed, refined, presented, and promoted that project because they saw some kind of need. So maybe it was a bad idea or too expensive or whatever multitude of reasons councilmembers had for rejecting it. But where does that leave us now? What unmet need that this new Justice Center was supposed to meet is not going to be met? I don’t know. No one is saying.

Will our municipal courts be bogged down? Will our jails overflow resulting in inhumane treatment of prisoners some of whom might actually be innocent? Will that overcrowding resulted in the early release of people who should not be released? Everyone talks about the project itself but not the needs. I watch the local news early evening and late night and sometimes at noon every day and I feel totally ill-equipped to voice an opinion on that particular situation.

Our city is suffering right now from a rash of gun violence. An innocent bystander, a mother of five, was caught in the crossfire of a shootout at a filling station at 38th and Lafayette Road. That is so close to me that I actually heard the gunshots through my bedroom window that night. I heard the shots that killed that woman. Another young man was run over by a car while trying to escape the gunfire. That incident was at 2:30 AM. This week there was another shooting right across the street from where my dad buys our pizza. It happened 4:30 PM very close to the time when he might’ve been picking up a pizza.

But I know jack shit about my mayor, my City Council, or any other municipal government issues. We are all obsessed with the wrong elections. It is a sin that I know more about Donald Trump than I do Greg Ballard. I just had to Google “Mayor of Indianapolis” because I couldn’t remember Ballard’s first name. And I like politics.

I’m ashamed of myself and my guess is you should be too.

Not just racist: Literally Un-American

There’s lots of online and media debate about whether or not the Confederate flag is a symbol of hatred and/or racism. One very eloquent article which you can read here gives a brilliant and thoughtful argument for why the simple should not be used today. The author of that article talks about the fact that the meaning of symbols changes over time. An example he gives is that the swastika was originally used by some Eastern cultures and even Christian communities as innocuous symbol before was adopted by the Nazi Party and the SS. He goes on to say that the way that the Confederate flag has been used in later years makes a symbol of hate and racism.

The evolvability of meaning of words and symbols is something that is always interested me especially when it comes to terms describing disabilities. If my perspective that when it comes to disability terminology we never will come up with a permanently inoffensive set of terminology. At one time the words idiot, imbecile, and moron were the technically correct medical terms to describe people with varying degrees of mental retardation. But because people used them in pejorative ways, the terms became insults and lost their original innocuous meaning. When I was young the politically correct terms were mildly, moderately, and severely mentally retarded. Today you can’t say “retarded” especially its shortened form “retard” because it has been co-opted as an insult. Whatever term we come up with, someone’s going to find a way to use it as a pejorative and we will have to invent yet a new word that eventually will become so innocuous that it will lack meaning whatsoever.

Sorry for getting off-topic… We were talking about a particular flag. In the article I linked above, the author unknowingly illustrates a point that I’ve been wanting to make about the flag for several days. I just now got around to putting my thoughts in writing. The author of the article doesn’t call that flag what I as a Northerner have always called it. To me it was “The Confederate Flag”. I was taught it was the flag of the Confederate States of America which seceded from the United States of America. He however does it “The Rebel Flag” and unknowingly damaged his own argument that the meaning of the symbol has evolved from an innocuous one into an egregious one.

Let’s say for the sake of this discussion were going to set aside the idea that this is a racist or hate filled symbol and look at its original unadulterated meaning. It was the flag of a group of states which consciously decided that they did not want to be part of the United States of America. That makes it quite literally un-American. It was a group of people which with geographic pride decided that they no longer wanted to be part of this country. In a strange way I’ve never understood geographically based Civil War. If a bunch of states up and decide they don’t want to be part of this country. My attitude is “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.” I would’ve applied this to the American “War between the States” the southern term as well as to Vietnam, Korea and any other geographically based Civil War.

The people of the Confederate flag or as they called it the Rebel flag made the conscious decision that they did not want to be part of this country. They did not want to uphold its laws. They did not want to be guided by its founding principles. They wanted to go off and do something different from being Americans. Okay technically the entire northern and southern continents of the Western Hemisphere of this planet are in some ways American. There is South America. Mexico and Canada are North American countries as well. But when I say they do not want to be Americans I’m saying they do not want to be part of The United States Of America which was founded on July 4, 1776 and continues to this day.

While rebellion and political discourse and disagreement are an integral part of our society North, South, East and, West… The Confederate Rebel Flag isn’t about political discourse. It’s about separatism. It’s about us versus them. It’s about “we don’t want to be like you anymore so much that we want to go off and do our own thing and live by different founding principles then you live by.”

The state of Louisiana and much of the midsection of this country originally belonged to France. We bought it from them in the Louisiana Purchase and sent Lewis and Clark out to see what we got for our money. New Orleans as a French quarter. The Creole language is somewhat French. Baton Rouge is French for “red stick”. I have no problem with people in Louisiana celebrating their French heritage. They used to be French. Then they want anymore. They became Americans. American in the sense that they were part of the United States of America. If they want to fly a French flag as part of their historical heritage I would have no problem with that. I don’t know that they do but it wouldn’t bother me.

The state of Texas and much of the Southwest portion of this country used to be Mexico. The cities, towns, rivers have Mexican names. There were Mexicans this side of the Rio Grande before it was a border. People in the Southwest US have wanted to fly Mexican flags as part of their historical heritage and similarly I have no problem whatsoever with that even though it has generated controversy in some quarters.

But when you fly the Confederate Rebel flag with pride, even if you have no racism and no hatred in your heart, you are being un-American. Taking pride in a time of your cultural and geographic history when your ancestors will file decided they didn’t want to be part of the United States Of America.

That flag is a symbol of divisiveness. It is a symbol against the Constitution and the founding principles of the United States of America. It has ALWAYS been such a symbol. It did not just get co-opted by racist or hate groups. It has always been and always will be un-American. And if you don’t want to be part of America, you know how I feel… Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.