A Whirl Wind Week of Politics

This has been an extremely busy week in terms of politics in the U.S. Both good and bad. Here’s a quick wrap up on the steps forward, steps back, excitement, emotion, and disappointment. 

Early in the week the Supreme Court chose to gut the Voting Rights Act. This has been an issue that I’ve always been on the fence about. It didn’t sit right with me that only a few states were singled out to have their voting decisions basically babysat by the federal government, though I did understand why. However, within days of the decision, these states were immediately taking steps forward to take measures that would make voting difficult or even impossible for minorities, young people, and low income communities. After seeing these reports, that’s when the anger finally became apparent within me. One argument used to strike down the Voting Rights Act was that “this is no longer 1965”. It was said that our country has come a long way since those days and measures such as VRA were no longer necessary. However, it is very apparent that in fact some of our country is still living in 1965 and has not joined the rest of us here in 2013. Texas, for example, wants to move forward with its strict voter ID law that would require either a passport or a birth certificate to vote. Passports are not affordable for everyone in this country and a birth certificate isn’t something that many immigrants or people in general have easy access to if any at all. This is just one example that has already come up, but NPR has reported on others as well.

On a good note, the Supreme Court DID strike down DOMA! I sat at my desk at work with tears in my eyes and goosebumps throughout my body as I thought of all the people who have fought so passionately hard for this change. This decision will change the lives of so many in a positive way as they are finally recognized by the federal government for being who they are. I got to celebrate that night with good friends of mine who were ironically also celebrating an anniversary. It was so amazing to see them finally able to discuss their future and look forward to plans that they were unable to have prior to this incredible day. I could go on and on about DOMA, however, I’m going to wait. Sunday is the Pride Parade in NYC and I get to participate with Amnesty International this year. I’m sure the photos and energy of the day will add even more to this celebration that I look forward to capturing. I would like to say congratulations to California though who Human Rights Campaign announced can resume same sex marriage immediately today after years of dealing with the ugly shadow of Prop 8.

Another inspiration of this week was Wendy Davis in Texas. This woman stood for 11 hours–no food, no bathroom breaks, and unable to sit down or lean against anything. She did this to stand up for the women of her state. Texas is working to pass a budget bill that will essentially close reproductive health clinics throughout the state only leaving around 6. Think of how big Texas is. That fact will make these resources inaccessible to the majority of the state, especially women in low income communities. Despite the majority being against her, Wendy stuck it out with an incredible filibuster that caused time to run out before the bill was passed. At the end, dozens of Texas women joined her in support, and as news spread, so did women around the country as #standwithwendy began trending on Twitter. Unfortunately, Rick Perry (who I cannot stand), is of course bringing the bill back to the table. There is a similar budget bill trying to be passed in Ohio, my home state, which saddens me when I think of the women whose health care this will effect. Closing clinics will not stop abortion, it will only cause more unsafe instances such as Kermit Gosnell. And even more than that, these clinics are not just about abortion. They promote family planning education so it doesn’t get to the point of abortion and healthcare such as cancer screenings. 

Immigration reform. Amazingly, the Senate passed the immigration reform bill that was put together by the “gang of 8”. As it has been expressed, the bill is not perfect, but something needs to be put into motion and amendments will then be made to fit our country best. However, to get to that point, something must be passed. It infuriates me that the Senate was able to come together to get to the point, but before it even hits the House the GOP representatives are already saying they will absolutely reject and not let it true. The partisan issue to me has turned into people acting like children and just holding out for the purpose of being difficult and not working together. We will see what happens, but it’s not looking good. And our country wonders why we can’t get anything done. 

Through everything that has happened this week and in general, it’s important to keep the important aspects of life above politics. People seem to forget that we are dealing with actual human lives and that everyone is different. Any inequality or abuses on human rights in unacceptable. This world is not black and white, people’s lives have circumstances that might be different from another’s. I encourage you to open your mind, put yourself in a situation that is different than yours. How would you feel? What would you be facing? Be willing to think differently, have conversations, and remember that politics is not just a game. It is something that has an impact on a person’s life for better or worse. It concerns me when I see the lack of empathy.  For example, as I watched the news the day that DOMA was struck down, I saw same sex couples crying, so emotional and passionate about what their lives would now be like. How can anyone seeing that, those REAL people with feelings, not be happy for the more positive life they are now able to have? I think it’s something to take a step back and think about, don’t you?

 

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“A Person and/or Small Group Cannot Represent A Country, A Nation Nor A Religion”

I am struggling to even find a starting point for this blog post because when I think about the topic so much anger fills my brain. This past week has brought a lot of unfortunate circumstances that can make it very hard to see positively. Between the Boston Marathon, West Texas explosion, the Senate failing 90% of the country on gun background checks, and more…it is a very frustrating time. However, it seems to be made worse by just how people are choosing to take out their frustration, and the media is not helping.

The victims of the Boston Marathon have been on my mind, as they have been for most of the country’s I’m sure, constantly. Yet despite how awful we feel because of this violence and hatred that has been inflicted on innocent people, there are still those who turn around and add more violence to the picture in the name of it. Throughout the news coverage, I had been hoping that the suspects would not turn out to be Muslim because I knew it would reinforce stereotypes in this country that people fail to see past. Right off the bat it was assumed that they were Muslim and “non-white”, probably Arab even by members of our government and the media who plastered the name of an innocent Saudi student and another 17 year old who were also victims of the awful events that had just occurred. Within the same day of the attack there instances around the country of people who “look Muslim”, which is a completely ignorant thing to say, being violently attacked. In the Bronx a man was beaten up outside of a restaurant he was having dinner, a woman in Boston was shoved in front of her child just walking home. Rumors spread like wildfire that the Saudi who had been highlighted in the media was being secretly deported by some shady deal that Obama was making. The 17 year old who the New York Post put on their front page was getting threats via social media. Their names and faces tainted on top of the pain they were already feeling just like anyone else who was in or watching with Boston that day.

It infuriates me how irresponsible the media has become when they know the influence that they can have on people. Is getting the story out, being first, or even getting the highest ratings more important than a person’s safety? The reporting has been despicable and very difficult for me to watch. Before we even knew anything about the two suspects the focus of their identities rested on things such as their social media page saying Islam as world view, or the fact that Chechnya is primarily Muslim. These things were reported as if they were the true answer, when in fact there was absolutely nothing that said this was the reasoning behind the attacks. Therefore only causing people to spin into more ignorant comments about Muslims and people of Chechnya, that they really knew very little about. Was it worth it? Was it worth it to get that reporting out to cause people pain? I have friends who were in and around NYC who just “looked” Muslim, whether they were or not, who felt terrified to be in public due to the negative attention and even abuse toward their safety because people cannot see past this color blind vision that continues to be drilled into their minds. There has been no trial, we have not even heard directly from the suspect any details for a motive, everything is only speculation, yet it is being reported as though it is fact and therefore people are taking it as so. Even it does turn out that they did act in the name of Islam, it is a radicalization that is not a characteristic of the religion, but of their minds and demeanor. They are no different, and quite possibly may have even acted in similar unfathomable reasoning, as the recent mass shooters. All of these mass shooters were white male. Can you even think of one of their religions? Probably not, because the media did not report the information as they did the two Boston suspects.

I watched Bill Maher yesterday, where a point was brought up that of course not all Muslims are violent, but it is only fact that radical Muslims are the most violent today. This point was awful to hear because it will only reinforce what people are already thinking. I don’t see this as the case. There are terrible acts being done in the name of many religions that have been radicalized, or in some cases not. In Africa, groups based off of Christianity such as the LRA have abducted millions of children, murdered, raped, and maimed millions of African citizens using a perverted version of the 10 Commandments in their work and to brainwash others, for example. It can happen anywhere, it just depends on the person and the circumstances, NOT the religion itself. To bomb innocent people does not take one particular religion that billions of others follow as decent human beings, it takes a person whose brain has been tarnished for other reasons or an understanding of that religion that is coming from the results of that already tainted brain. Just how much of the Taliban are uneducated and deciphering the Quran in ways that the majority of other Muslims would never. Just like the Westboro Baptist Church translates the Bible into a tool of hatred. This translation of the Bible used in the name of much violence and death including toward the LGBT community. And now here we are disgusted with the violence in Boston on Monday, and in some cases acting out by creating more instances of violence and hatred.

We live in a country that is extremely diverse. I think that makes us fortunate. We can get to know and learn from people that have roots throughout the world without even leaving the United States. In fact, we all have roots, of course varying how far back these roots are, that stem to a different nationality. Diversity is a beautiful thing. So many different minds and views trying to make sense out of this world and bringing fun traditions (and food!) to our door steps. But yet, all we have is anger for people who don’t “look American”. Whatever that means. I’ve also seen some reports come out trying to get the similar points out that I am here, but use terms such as “white folks” are color blind. As someone who is white, this is just MORE labeling and assuming. It never seems to end.

Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leonne and a Muslim himself tweeted an important reminder to the world.

“A person and/or a small group cannot represent a country, a nation nor a religion.”

Do Something also shared a thought that wraps this entire message up very well:

“Heads up: Saying Al-Qaeda is an accurate representation of all Muslims is as stupid as saying the Westboro Baptist “Church” is an accurate representation of all Christians.

There are 2.2 BILLION Muslims in the world. To think that an incredibly small group of fundamentalists is a fair representation of that many people isn’t right.

We’re all human, let’s start acting like it towards each other.”

Yes there are terrible things that have happened this week. Yes they may or may not have been committed in the name of something as seen through the killers head. But everyone, no matter where they are from, or what religion they are, as innocent decent people (as the majority of the world is) are feeling the hurt and sympathizing with the victims. Let’s not create even more hatred and violence because of something we do not understand or because of what is being drilled into our heads by the media. Open your eyes, think for yourself. If more prejudice and violence stems it is only the evil minded who are continuing to win this battle.

The Fine Line Between Self Defense & War Crimes

Throughout the last several years most of my studies have focused on issues going on around Sub-Saharan Africa. However, becoming more involved with Amnesty International in the city and meeting people from around the world I became anxious to learn about more and more cultures around the world. The Israel-Palestine conflict has never been one that I personally have been as informed on as I would like, and it still is not. However, I do know the difference between right and wrong and after spending the last week researching it as much as I could I have very mixed feelings.

I know the history is extremely complex. However, within recent months the casualties of Palestinians have been extremely high and the Israeli government seems relentless. After seeing media report after report come out with higher numbers of children and civilian casualties I cannot grasp how people through social media and even President Obama are so heavily backing the government of Israel. Both sides, meaning the Israeli government and Hamas should be held accountable. I understand that Israel is an ally to the U.S., but I also know that Benjamin Netanyahu is known for committing war crimes and standing behind atrocities in the Gaza Strip where people are basically refugees in their own land with no freedoms or human rights granted to them at all. I don’t understand how people in the world or the U.S. can look at them getting murdered with more plans coming out to increase the violence and not want to help them. I agree, the extremist groups like Hamas are also killing Israelis, and those should be condemned as well. People seem to not understand that there are families, children, husbands and wives that are not in these militia type groups that can not have the world turn their back on them so that Israel can murder them in self defense to Hamas. I read today that 44% of Gaza is under the age of 15. That’s nearly half, and explains why the child causality rate is so high. How is this right and how can people not care?

I also understand that because of the complexities that Israel may be on the defensive in feeling that if they back down that the violence will switch. So where does it end? Will it always be whoever is the weaker will be the victim of the defensive attacks of the other and so forth? It’s been going on for years–what is the solution? All I know is I do not agree with the U.S. standing so firmly behind Israel. Allies or not, they are murdering people and planning a ground attack that will increase these numbers even further. I feel concerned for what will happen in the coming days for these people. It amazes me, as usual, that this much suffering and fear is going on for other humans and so many people can easily go about their daily lives and the news reports spend a total of 3 minutes reporting anything. I feel strong emotions knowing that at this moment that is going on. I’m continuing to learn more so if you have any resources or things you think would be good to know I am open for discussion.

As I was typing this, I saw protestors on the news that are currently in Time Square. They were orthodox Jews that were protesting in support to end the suffering for the people of Gaza. Gave me a little bit of hope to see interfaith work in action for good to go to sleep with. Reminded me of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization I’ve been following very closely lately and I strongly recommend. It’s been a rough weekend. Between this conflict and the M23 rebels approaching Goma in DRC makes me feel very fired up again to do something to help and try to find a way to change. A friend of mine posted this today, and it fit in pretty well.