Monday, June 6, 2011

The Other F Word

George Santayana observed famously that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. It is that observation that makes reading history and remaining up to date on current events so important. Sometimes, keeping up to date on current events can be depressing at least, frightened at worst, but the alternative is to invite catastrophe.

It boils down to connecting the dots. Looking not at individual news stories but at the larger picture, and assessing what that larger picture portends for the future of our country.

Item: More anti-abortion legislation has been passed in the months since the 2010 election than in the decades since Roe v. Wade. Legislatures, both state and federal, faced with mounting deficits and unemployment numbers, have chosen instead to put their combined energies into restricting the right, established by the U.S. Supreme Court, of a woman to chose what happens to her body.

Sub-item: the laws, typically (with some hair-curling exceptions) do not decree abortion to be illegal (can a state make illegal something the federal courts have determined to be legal? That remains for some brave woman to bring suit if these laws are passed – and the prospects for passage are unfortunately very good), only make it damned hard for a woman to find an abortion provider. South Dakota, as an example, has one abortion provider for the entire state, and if you look at your map, it’s not a small state. If you find yourself in the position of needing an abortion, you have to come up with both transportation and lodging fees to get to the provider. Right now, there’s a 24 hour waiting period between checking in with the provider and actually having the procedure. But wait: there’s more. If the legislature has its way, the waiting period will be increased to 72 hours – increasing the number of nights a woman must pay for lodging. And yet more: the provider has only limited office hours, so 72 hours usually translates to a full week between the first visit and the procedure. With many women unable to take a full week to travel across the state and/or be able to come up with the additional fees for travel and lodging, these draconian rules put safe, legal abortion out of the reach of many women. Oh, and did I forget to mention the “counseling” the women have to endure? As if having an abortion is a decision come to on a whim. The arrogance of these legislatures, imposing themselves between a woman and her doctor (and her clergy if she chooses to include him/her) is breath-taking. And yet some states are working to criminalize abortion to the point of incarcerating providers (and some have even considered jailing women who have sought abortions). The clock seems to be turning back to 1900. While people are using up their unemployment benefits and losing their homes, legislatures are targeting women with unwanted pregnancies.

Item: A number of state legislatures have stripped unions of their bargaining power. Some of my Republican friends have observed that while unions once had a place, now they’ve outlived their usefulness. Really? Is salary and health care the only reason to bring management to the bargaining table? What about safety issues? What about length of hours and breaks and lunch? What about the quality of the work environment? If you think that unions are no longer necessary, get rid of them and see how fast municipalities are ready to spring for new safety equipment for fire fighters and police officers without the threat of a work stoppage. No one with budget responsibilities ever spent a cent unless pushed to do so, and if striking gets the money spent to ensure the safety of the work force, then that’s what it takes. And how to mobilize without a union? (Although the rebels across North Africa and the Middle East seem to have succeeded with Twitter and Facebook, but come on. This is America. Do we really need to resort to technology to bring management to the bargaining table for simple requests? Wait – I guess we do now, in too many states across the Midwest.)

Item: Michigan has gone one step further and empowered the state to dissolve the local, legally elected government of any municipality it chooses and to put a state-appointed – what, czar? uberfuerher? director? – over the affairs of the municipality. What kind of country has states dissolving local government? Apparently, ours.

Item: San Francisco, long a favorite city of mine, now has on an upcoming ballot an initiative to criminalize circumcision. And the most troubling part of the text is that there is no exemption for religious observance. We Jews of course circumcise our boys on the eighth day of life, and Muslims circumcise their boys before puberty. These are religious obligations. Even in the darkest days of Prohibition, accommodations were made for wine used for ritual purposes. This initiative goes way beyond the boundaries of liberal how-can-you-mutilate-your-babies mentality. The most frightening part? Check out this link. If you think, as I did a week ago, that this is just foolishness from people who want to leave circumcision to their boys when they turn 18, read about Foreskin Man (I kid you not) and look carefully at the graphics. The art work in this “publication” mirrors some of the worst of Nazi propaganda in the dark days before the implementation of the Final Solution.

So how do we connect the dots?

Look around. What’s going on in our country? We are still in the throes of the worst financial crisis in 80 years. Unemployment as of yesterday went over 9% nationwide, far higher in many states (including here in California). People are frightened, and when people are frightened, they look for scapegoats and easy answers.

What’s “the other F word”? Fascism.

Fascism, as in the hatred of the Other, the mistrust of the Other, and the circling of the wagons while attempting to build a society that’s ordered and predictable. Women know their place. Everyone looks like us (read: white and Christian). Law-breakers are dealt with mercilessly. People who follow laws informed by non-Christian faith traditions are suspect and must be controlled. Unions are the expression of the people and therefore must be silenced. Only a strong central government can be trusted to take care of its people (even, as in the case of personalities like Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin, they don’t even have their history straight). Rights get to be restricted. And if you say something wrong long enough, people will begin to believe it. Like “death panels.” And “our black president was born in Kenya.”

Change is frightening. Having a national leader that doesn’t look like “us” is frightening. Instability is very frightening. And the way to deal with change and instability is to impose more and more tightening laws that invade people’s personal lives, imposing the ethics of one faith tradition onto those who do not share that faith tradition.

We hear so much about the right to bear arms. What about the part that says that the government shall make no law regarding the establishment of a religion? Or do we just pick and choose which part of the Constitution we hold sacred and which part is disposable?

Do we rewrite history to make it fit our contemporary notions of safety and order? Or do we study history as it is, in order truly to preserve the safety and order of the society we have built over more than two centuries?

We need to connect the dots. We need to stay awake. We need to speak out, to support the good people of Wisconsin who continue to sit in at the state capital, to support Planned Parenthood, 97% of whose budget goes to providing contraception advice and free mammograms and Pap smears to women who can’t afford to get them elsewhere. We need to keep in mind that no – NO – federal funding goes to providing abortions through Planned Parenthood, so those who wish to cut their funding (and some states have already succeeded) are not reducing the number of abortions in their state; rather, they are limiting women’s access to preventive health care.

Attacks on unions. Attacks on women’s health. Attacks on religious freedom.

Are we going to remember history? Or, God forbid, will we allow it to be repeated?

No comments: