Friday, January 20, 2017

The March of Time

The last time I blogged for A View from a Blond it was pretty close to the election when it looked like Hillary Clinton would be our first female president.  I was optimistic, but scared.  It seemed then that this country was more divided now than when I was five when the Vietnam War was something you heard about every day.   You saw young soldiers bloody on TV in a war zone– not fake blood – not something staged but the real thing brought to you in living color. 

You also saw demonstrators marching against the war– who also got bloody in the streets – red fluid hemorrhaging out of real people trying to express their outrage at a system they felt was unfair.   There were two sides - the Hawks – the people who were pro-war and the Doves – those that wanted peace.  Their tug of war seemed impossible to reconcile.

The people who were caught in the middle – the young people who went to war and came back shattered or not at all were the ones that sacrificed the most.  In the end, we lost Vietnam and frankly never should have been there.  From 1961 to 1975, over 58,000 soldiers were killed.  Just to put that in perspective –in the Iraq War/Afghanistan Wars from 2001 to 2014 – we’d lost over 7,000 soldiers (Stats via Wikipedia).  For families that have lost a father, son, brother, cousin, sister, mother, wife – these numbers just compound the pain of losing someone you love and the only solace is that there are families out there who have felt that pain on a personal level.  Sure we can say the obligatory “Thank you for the ultimate sacrifice,” but without experiencing that pain first hand it just seems hollow.  How a wife or husband or a parent copes with the loss of their loved one – those things can’t be measured in a debate on whether to increase or decrease spending on a military action.  Yet the people who declare war –rarely see combat first hand.  Launching those first salvos can have repercussions that last decades if not centuries and the innocent always get hurt in the crossfire.  

The weekend after the election – my family and I went to Sweetwater Creek State Park which includes the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company that was a cotton mill which ran during the Civil War.  The ruins were both sad and exceptional in capturing a time gone by when factories were powered by rushing water.   During General William T. Sherman’s siege of Atlanta, the factory was burned in July 1864 as a way to cripple and punish the South for the indolence of secession.   That part seemed pretty cut and dried to me – the South had its ass handed to them because it wanted to preserve slavery.  It got what it deserved.  I learned that the factory at that point was being run by mostly women and children who were just trying to earn a living to keep a roof over their heads while their fathers, brothers and husbands fought out of a misguided sense of loyalty for a cause that benefitted the white aristocracy.  The mill workers were poor, did not own slaves and many were actually Union sympathizers. 

General Sherman deemed them traitors because the cloth was going to the Confederacy and had the factory burned.  He told his generals to forcibly relocate the 500 women and children at both the Manchester and Roswell Mills to Indiana.   These poor souls had just a few minutes to pack what they could carry, were put on carriages or made to “march” to Marietta where trains would take them to Nashville, then Louisville and finally Indiana.  Unfortunately, Sherman’s sense that they would find work in the Northern cities was extremely misguided.  The cities were overrun with refugees and many of the women and children died of hunger and exposure.  Few of the women came back to Atlanta or found out the fates of their husbands, sons, fathers or brothers.   It was a classic guilt by region – they were Southerners and they brought on their own destruction.  Never mind that they did not own slaves and once they were sent up North, there were not enough resources to help them in the “refugee camps.”  Their peril was fueled by Sherman’s “March to the Sea” in which he burned and pillaged along the way from Atlanta to Savannah.  

It’s easy to demonize people based on where they live because that makes having to face the more complicated issue of why they feel the way they do more daunting.  Dismiss them all as imbeciles, terrorists or racists and you save yourself the time of looking at a complicated issue that is multi-faceted.  That in spite of where they live whether it’s the American South or the Middle East– they might actually have a completely different point of view than what is the assumed outlook for that region – i.e. – maybe they are not racists or terrorists.    

Politics like war is never that completely cut and dried.  It would be too easy to cast one side as the ultimate villain and one side as the ultimate hero – there are shades of gray on both sides (Christian Grey not withstanding).   This is where we are now with politics in America.   Eight years ago, we inaugurated at new president – a black man who was young, had a beautiful wife and two amazing little girls.  It seemed like anything was possible and that this man with the kind smile would pull us out of a very bad recession and give people universal healthcare.  His predecessor had served eight years, but the first four were contested with hanging chads, an appeal to the Supreme Court who declared him the winner of the delegates of Florida after weeks of uncertainty.  There was a peaceful transfer of power even if for many like me – it did not turn out in our favor.  He was re-elected with a more decisive margin in 2004.   But for eight years, the disappointment of the year 2000 still stung.  Then 2008 brought not only a Democrat but a black man as President and it seemed that American had finally arrived as the land of opportunity and anything was possible.   The dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. had finally come true.

Watching President Obama take the oath that day – I could hear the
echoes of the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. King which was part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963.   For a shining moment – the dream had been realized and many white liberals like me wanted to think that racism had finally been concurred.   Sadly, the election did not always bring out the best in America and racial tensions continued to swell throughout President Obama’s eight years even when he again won a decisive victory in 2012.

The reality of a white majority was fading and states like Georgia now have counties like DeKalb that are minority majorities.   The difficult conversations about race between black and white America have been stifled by political correctness.  Rather than have an open discussion about frustrations about this shift in culture -  many were driven underground where groups of people who could feed their own prejudice and anger fueled the divide.     

Inequities in urban areas were also not being openly discussed and tensions would boil over when yet another unarmed black man was killed at the hands of a white officer or a person on a neighborhood watch.  There would be more marches by Black Americans that would be peaceful or marred by violence by people who just wanted to detract from the central message of inclusiveness and their frustration with a system that seemed rigged no matter who was president. 

So here we are eight years after a black man took the oath to a man who is a billionaire and has no experience governing.  A man who has made racist and sexist comments and freely admits grabbing women by the genitalia to assert his power over them.   He won but not just on the strength of the angry white guy vote (although that was a huge factor) but by white women that didn’t want to vote for a woman – either because they didn’t trust her or just frankly didn’t want to see a woman as president.    Sadly women not supporting each other has been a reality since the fight for suffrage and the Equal Rights Amendment. 

Which brings me to the marches that are happening all around our nation
the day after the inauguration and why I’m marching.   I’ve done plenty of Pride Parades, walked in the MLK parade with my church and supported other groups financially that wanted to protest the social ills that I thought needed correcting.  I’m upset at the prospect of a Trump Presidency and his use of Twitter as a bully-pulpit.   I worry for the women like me who are in the workplace and face the real possibility of discrimination, sexual assault or harassment (all of which I have experienced).  I fear for American Muslims, for race relations, the LBGTQ community, the arts, education, the environment – the list sadly keeps going on.   My presence at the Atlanta march is a testament to the fact that I don't agree with the new administration and I'm exercising my right to peacefully demonstrate with others who share the same viewpoint.  I also hope that those people who I know that support Trump can respect my right to march and might actually ask me about my experience.

Sometimes a post in Pantsuit Nation on Facebook just doesn’t have the power that standing around with thousands of like-minded people can.  If anything good can come out of a Trump presidency is that it’s getting more people engaged in a process that includes marches, going to local council meetings, calling your representatives and letting your voice be heard in person.   It’s getting young people to take a more active role in their government.  

The last time in my lifetime that the country felt this divided was over Vietnam and 100 years prior to that it was the Civil War - a war that to date has had more deaths and causalities then all the rest of our wars from the 1770’s to the 2010’s put together.  Over 750,000 people died in that war – 2% of the American population.  To put that in today’s context – that would be over 6,000,000 people.   That war left the entire country physically and mentally devastated.   The Union managed to stay together but the price of human lives and suffering was a scar that took decades to heal.  

So as the fissures that feel like they have divided the foundation of our country keep growing - keep in mind that we’re all Americans and that our finest hours have happened when adversity has stricken but served only bring us closer together.  December 7th brought our parents and grandparents into World War II to stop Japan and Germany from their tyranny.  D-Day brought rejoicing.  The Kennedy Assassination shook people on both sides of the isle and made everyone examine their own mortality.  9/11 had people like me crying in the streets, but were comforted by strangers who didn’t ask if I was a liberal or conservative – just someone who needed compassion and a hug because we were all hurting.

In doing my research for a documentary on the Civil War, I ran across a
passage from Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs in which he talks about Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. General Lee was the proud Southern General who was literally fighting to his last man and realized that the end was near -he could not sacrifice anymore souls for such a lost cause.  Grant showed up in a working uniform which contrasted with Lee's formal one.  They started to talk to one another – not as enemies but as human beings.  “We soon fell into a conversation about old army times…Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting.”  Grant was very respectful of Lee who was actually Lincoln’s first choice to lead the Union Armies.  You got the feeling that if they had not been on opposite sides of the war they might have been friends.  Grant even offered Lee’s starving army access to his rations.  He did not gloat in his victory but gave him a dignified exit because now they were once again Americans.   It was the very definition of compassion.

It’s vital at this point in our democracy that we try reach across the divide which now feels like the Grand Canyon to talk to people whose viewpoint is not necessarily our own – to listen to what we have in common like how much a baby's laughter makes us smile, bringing up our children in the digital age, dealing with aging parents and not what separates us.  The next four years are going to be a challenge – no matter who was going to be president.  The challenge now is to march forward together and do our level best not to fall apart.