Thursday, September 6, 2012

I Haven't Always Been a Liberal

I grew up in the South and am a product of my environment.  In the Greensboro, North Carolina of 1960, when I was just entering high school, we had legalized segregation of our schools, movies, swimming pools, our restaurants, water fountains and even our toilets.  I remember as a child, before I was even able to read, trying to drink from a water fountain with a sign above it saying "COLORED".  It was either my mother, my aunt or my grandmother (can't remember which) who rushed over and pulled me away.  It was like I was going to get a fatal disease and turn "colored" if I drank from that fountain.  For a 5 year old that made an impression on me that stayed with me for a lifetime.  
During my high school years Greensboro was the scene of some significant civil rights activity. In February 1960 four black students, later known as the Greensboro Four, from Greensboro's black AT&T University sat down at the lunch counter of the Woolworth store on Elm Street. Things were never the same after that.  It took a while but by the summer Woolworth had desegregated all its stores and the black employees of the store, as well as everyone else, were able to sit down at the lunch counter and have a tuna sandwich.  But that wasn't the end of segregation in Greensboro.  We had a movie theatre that only allowed Blacks to enter from a side door and then only sit in the balcony.  The black community saw what could happen through peaceful demonstrations and soon there were demonstrations outside the Carolina Theatre.  But this time the police came in and broke up the demonstrations by arresting the demonstrators and herding them into busses to be sent to makeshift jails out in the county.  To this day I have regret in my heart that I was one of the onlookers, cheering the police action, and encouraging them to jail all those black people who had the audacity to ask be allowed to enter the front door and sit in the lower section during the Saturday matinee, even though the only black actor was Sidney Poitier. 
I give this history because I believe that the difference between Conservatives and Liberals has to do with a basic resistance of Conservatives to resist change, even when change is good and moral.  In Greensboro we resisted the idea that Black people should have the same rights as we did and didn’t even think that it was wrong.  Liberals on the other hand believe that there is a progression in civilization that has to be dealt with by changing what has been the norm.  There were probably many white people in Greensboro that thought it was wrong to not allow black people to eat at lunch counters and enter the front door of the theatre, but at the time it was not socially acceptable to voice those concerns.  I remember giving a speech in my speech class criticizing the black people for creating such unrest in Greensboro.  I can still see the alarmed look of my speech teacher, Ms. Causy, when I finished.  I can only imagine what she actually thought of my speech, but it was one the best grades I ever received in high school.  It must have been pretty good although highly misinformed and racist. 
Fast forward through 20 years in the Navy, completion of college, marriage, kids and some soul searching of ideals and I started to see that we as a people are just people.  It is a total accident of birth that some were born white, some black, some from America, some from Mexico, some from Russia and yes some from Christian families and some from Muslim families.  In reality we are all the same inside, all wanting happiness, love, security for ourselves and our loved ones.   Yes we’re all individuals but we are part of a social system that benefits from the contributions of all.  Some are lucky enough to inherit talent that makes it easy to make lots of money, some have a talent for building, some leading others, some have no talent but are just good inside.  This social structure is present on the macro scale with world leaders, owners of multinational corporations all the way down to the smallest village in deepest Africa.  Some people rise to the top, some only achieve mediocrity and some are a burden.
I see that I have again drifted off my point that I have not always been a Liberal.  Good thing this is my own musings and very few people, if any, will actually read it.  OK to pick up where I left off, as a teenager and into my twenties I was as conservative in my ideals as any Klansman.  As a matter of fact I probably could have been a recruit for the Klan had I known anyone who was a member.
Believe it or not though my parents, especially my father was very liberal.  I remember arguing with him during the campaign days of 1960 when Kennedy was running against Nixon.  I was only 16 but I was a real Nixonite and even accused my father of being a Communist for supporting Kennedy.  The idea that Kennedy espoused altruism for all people, social acceptance of others, no matter their background, was really against those feelings I had developed within my gut. I could just not believe my father would succumb to ideals so radical and against what I thought of as our Southern traditions.   
Later on in the 1960’s when people started to protest the Vietnam War, hippies grew hair and beards, smoked pot and marched in favor of civil rights, I was aghast at what I thought our country was coming to.  I was in the Navy at the time and remember arguing politics with another sailor who actually sympathized with those people.  I could not see how this guy, a sailor like me, could be in favor of such radicalized ideas.  He pointed out to me that the greatness of our country guaranteed the right of those people to express those convictions without threat of being jailed or ostracized.  I was full of God and Country and if you didn’t believe what the majority believed, then you were not really patriotic.  After all change was unknown and I resisted it as I had always before.  This belief, that if you didn’t acquiesce to the will of the majority, then you were in effect a traitor and not patriotic would affect me personally later in 2002 when the Bush administration was pushing for war with Iraq.      
In the early 1970’s the Navy, experienced some disturbing racial events on some of its deployed ships.   After all it had only been a little over 20 years since the services were integrated and Black and other minorities, including women had not achieved either high rankings in the services nor were distributed into the more specialized and technical careers.  Most minorities, having been recruited without technical guarantees were subsequently pushed into deck jobs, chipping paint, mopping floors and serving in the ships galley and the laundries.  Blacks especially felt that even though the service was supposedly integrated, were being institutionally partitioned and segregated as they had been in civilian life.  Of course this was all denied by the upper levels of both the officer and the enlisted ranks but the Navy at the time had a CNO in the name of Admiral Zumwalt who was way ahead of his time.  His idea was that we did not have a white Navy, a Black Navy but one Navy and he put in place a program called Understanding Personal Worth and Racial Dignity (UPWARD).
The UPWARD Program required the recruitment of sailors from the fleet to be trained to conduct 2 ½ day seminars on race.  These seminars would delve into the basis for people’s feelings, where they came from, the experiences they have had in their lifetime, the prejudices they held toward others.  Zumwalt decreed that everyone in the Navy from the lowest seaman to the highest admiral was to attend one of these seminars.  At the time I was stationed at Subase Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, working in the base torpedo shop and doing work that was boring and not very gratifying.  I had just made 1st Class Petty Officer and felt that I could do better things when word came that the command was looking for volunteers to attend this training program to become RAFs or Race Awareness Facilitators.  At the time I didn’t think I was racist so I volunteered, probably more to argue my thoughts rather than to serve for the greater good. 
Thus began a two week period of self-awareness that was to bring a life change for me.  Whoever developed the program really knew how to bring out the feelings of the attendees.  I remember other trainees that just could not handle it, getting up, crying and walking out.   At the end of this training I had to admit to myself where I had come from and the fact that I had been racially indoctrinated from an early age and it affected my thoughts and actions and how these feelings were deep down in my gut.  As it turned out I was probably one of the best candidates for this type of training, hence because I had been there, I was able to take what I had learned and apply it to the seminars that I was to conduct in partnership with Boatswains Mate 2nd Class Thomas. Over the next 10 months Thomas and I did one 2 ½ day seminar per week consisting of 25 to 30 persons which included both officers and enlisted personnel.  Looking back I don’t know if we actually changed anyone’s ideas.  I do think we uncovered some feelings that people may not have even known they had, and in that way maybe years later it may have had an effect on their lives.  I know it did mine.
Spring forward to 1992.  I had retired from the Navy almost 10 years earlier.  President Reagan was leaving office and Bill Clinton was challenging George H. W. Bush.  I had been adamantly opposed to Reagan but for some reason I kind of liked Bush and actually voted for Bush over Clinton.  Over the next couple of years I could see that the Conservative Republicans were more out to destroy Clinton then to help him fix the economy. Of course Clinton’s dabbling with Monica Lewinsky didn’t help, but through all that I felt Clinton had the best interests of the country and under his administration no one can say we did not prosper. 
The election of 2000 really cemented my aversion to all things Republican.  I swore after that stolen election, and seeing the antics of the Republicans in Florida, that I would never ever vote for someone who classified themselves as a Republican.  I suppose that is pretty close minded and I know that there are some conservative Republicans who are good and feel that they have the best interest of the country, but in my opinion they have the wrong philosophy of obtaining those ends.  This has only been solidified with the Bush/Cheney Administration pushing the Iraqi war on us.  I could see from the beginning that we were being sold a bill of goods on that war.  Being in the military I knew the term Weapons of Mass Destruction or WMDs but all of a sudden it was a household word.  It was a sales job of mass proportions.   I also think this has become the basis for the tremendous polarization of our country that we experience today.  I know I am totally polarized against conservative Republicans. 
OK, might as well talk about President Obama.  I have to admit I was a Hillary fan.  I told myself I was for Hillary because I was not only a great fan of Bill but I thought Hillary was more capable of winning the election than Obama was and to me that was the most important thing, beat the Republicans.  When Hillary finally conceded I was pretty down, as were a lot of her supporters.  But as noted above I am a Liberal Democrat and will not vote Republican, I fell in line with Obama, even though I did not think the country was ready for a Black president.  I think I was right, although I was wrong about Barrack Obama being able to win.  I think this has proven out during the past 3 ½ years.  Given what Obama was confronted with when he took office, the obstruction that he has experienced since he has been President and the amount of what he has accomplished, if he were white he would be hailed as one of the great presidents of our time.  The problem is the hate that has surfaced during this period since Obama has been elected.  No other President has ever had to prove his citizenship with his birth certificate, no other President has had to defend his heritage, and no other President has been subjected to the abuse that Obama has had to endure.  This is place squarely on the fact of pure out and out racism and it goes back right to what I wrote about earlier.  Not being able to confront change.  Not being able to accept the fact that a black man is smart, elegant in the way he conducts himself, eloquent in the way he speaks and has come from adversity to be where he is. 
Now on the eve of this election I am very concerned that with the polarization of our country and the hate that has actually become overt in this election, that President Obama wins and wins big, because anything else is going to be disastrous
End of My Musings for Today.    

No comments:

Post a Comment

Recapping a Year of Covid19 in 2021  I haven't written much in the last few years but maybe its time to start again.  For the past year ...