The name Hazel Bryan Massery is probably unfamiliar to a lot of Americans. Similarly, Elizabeth Eckford, while probably more prominent, is still not an everyday name heard in 2011. These two women’s paths crossed in a single moment that would be photographed and evolve into one of America’s most notable icons of the Civil Rights movement. Elizabeth Eckford was one of nine black students who were thrust into national attention when they broke Arkansas’s segregation laws by integrating Little Rock Central High School in September, 1957. Hazel Bryan (as she was known then) was photographed screaming at Eckford as she walked to school under the supervision of the National Guard. Most of us are familiar with this picture and have seen it in our history books since elementary school. Though Massery (along with many other Central students) later apologized personally to the Little Rock Nine and eventually supported integration efforts in the South, this photograph proved to be worth a thousand words and Massery would be remembered in history as an emblem of Southern racism despite her later renunciation of her segregationist stance. Today we see a different version of the Civil Rights movement in the United States playinhg out. LGBT Americans are daily denied equal rights ranging from marriage to health benefits, to protection from the law to not being fired from their jobs due to their sexuality. We see people such as Fred Phelps and his rabid flock of crazies (possibly America’s most famous lunatics since the Manson Family) who picket everything from funerals to rock concerts shouting such malarkey as “God hates fags,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates America.” For a more complete list of what God hates, just Google “Westboro Baptist Church” (Note: God probably also hates the Internet, so be careful). On a less extreme level (but perhaps a more dangerous one due to their being taken seriously and having actual authority), we see many politicians (mostly conservative but also some moderates who don’t want to lose conservative voters), religious leaders and everyday people who also believe and assert that LGBT Americans somehow do not deserve the rights or protection their straight counterparts enjoy. I am certainly not condemning all politicians and religious leaders. Many politicians, including several Republicans, have been tremendous supporters of LGBT rights and even more religious leaders have been invaluable to the cause of full Queer equality in the United States. However, we are living in a time where the most vocal anti-equality activists are sending a message loud and clear in the United States that it is somehow wrong and not acceptable to be Queer in the U.S., which they do by supporting the Defense of Marriage Act and denounce DADT Repeal and the Matthew Shepherd Act. Apart from being unethical, un-American, intolerant, backwards and untrue, such statements are dangerous and irresponsible. We all remember last year when there was a surge of LGBT youth suicides. These suicides, in my opinion, are the direct responsibility of those (like Phelps and other anti-LGBT voices) who create an atmosphere of hatred and intolerance much like those who shouted obscenities and death threats at nine teenagers for simply going to school 54 years ago. These people are certainly entitled to voice their opinions by comparing LGBT people to pedophiles, sexual perverts and deviates (however vile and demented these points of view may be), but when these comments and the atmosphere they creates begin to kill children, I’d say we have some serious soul-searching to do as a nation. What I am interested in are the basic principles of liberty (including the liberty of being with whomever one loves under the same terms as everyone else) and fairness that the United States claims to love so much yet denies to its own citizens. To give ourselves the credit of being a diverse, accepting nation, we must act in that manner which isn’t accomplished by denying human rights to other human beings under any circumstances. Simply put, I ask those who oppose Queer equality for whatever reason simply to consider how future Americans will remember them when the LGBT rights movement finds its way into the history books. Just as Hazel Massery’s image has become one that characterized all of Arkansas as racist and intolerant, these same people who viciously fight against civil rights in the contemporary will make the entire populace look backward and intolerant in the future. Comments on this opinion should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
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The floodwaters of the 2012 presidential election have begun to seep through the cracks of the dam holding them back. Mainstream candidates such as Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gengrich and Michele Bachmann have announced the formation of exploratory committees. This is truly an interesting time in the world of politics. Since Margaret Chase Smith (1964) and Shirley Chisholm (1972) appeared as presidential candidates and Hillary Clinton made her bid in 2008, women are appearing more and more as contenders for the presidency. The year 2008 also brought into the picture one Sarah Palin, who emerged as the Republican vice-presidential candidate — the first Republican woman to do so (Geraldine Ferraro was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1984). Last year saw a slew of women (many of them conservative, Tea Party candidates) running for Senate and the House of Representatives. However, when ultra-conservative women politicians such as the aforementioned Bachmann and Palin or other candidates such as Sharron Angle or Carly Fiorina are hailed as “champions of women’s rights in the United States,” I frankly die a little on the inside. As a feminist, I always enjoy seeing glass ceilings broken. When women earn opportunities that have previously been denied to them by a male ruling class, I certainly am pleased. In this context, I am using the term “feminist” to mean anyone who advocated the equal rights of women in all realms to those of their male counterparts. What makes this situation different is the fact that being a female politician does not instantly make one a feminist politician, particularly when said female politician has made a political living working against women’s rights in this country and asserting an agenda that ignores other women. Simply put, political office depends tremendously on how it is used. Being a woman elected to office, while a difficult and impressive task in our still incredibly sexist nation, does not mean that said official is a champion of women’s rights. On a personal level, I look at their (“Tea Party feminists”) handling of issues that many prominent second- and third-wave feminists would find important. Specifically, when these women speak publicly about their opposition to abortion (usually defending it with their religious beliefs) or speaking out against equal rights for LGBT Americans (also frequently relating it to religion) are undoing what previous feminists and true women’s rights activists have worked towards. To hear people claim that these women are working with any sort of feminist agenda is almost laughable at best and is down-right insulting at worst. The advocacy against gay rights is one that I find particularly hard to mesh with feminist principles. With social equality being at the center of the feminist movement (which worked side by side in the 1960s and 70s with the gay rights movement), I fail to see how one can claim to support unconditional equality and yet deny it to millions of Americans. Additionally, while abortion is an equally nasty battle, attempts by so called “Conservative feminists” to defund Planned Parenthood is contrary to main-stream feminist principles. By denying a plethora of reproductive health services to women (such as STD tests, birth control and HIV/AIDS resources), a vote against Planned Parenthood or other reproductive health organizations is a difficult position to defend when looked at through a feminist lens. I am certainly not implying that all or even most Republican women politicians are anti-feminist. I am simply stating that if Republicans truly want to nominate a woman who is actually woman-friendly in 2012, there are much more viable candidates (Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Judy Biggerts, Shelley Moore Capito, Meg Whitman or Jodi Rell, to name a few from a much longer list) than either Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann. Comments on this opinion should be sent to email@example.com.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin once stated, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” This sentiment, spoken over 200 years ago, proved eerily accurate in the course of American history. Living in proverbial isolation and sharing borders with only two nations, the United States has enjoyed a mild history of conflict and home-soil attack. However, when Americans feel threatened, we historically have had a tendency of panic. Following the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, Japanese Americans (and frankly any east-Asian American) faced public persecution and persistent questioning of their loyalties. This paranoia was enough that the government began concentrating Japanese Americans in camps for the remainder of the war. Similarly, when the Soviet Union and the United States emerged out of the Second World War as the planet’s only “super-powers,” the threat of Communist invasion and infiltration became so great that the government began to question and investigate truly dangerous, hardened Soviet revolutionaries such as Lucille Ball and Julia Child and even execute those suspected of passing on American secrets to the “Red Menace” in Moscow (see Julius and Ethel Rosenburg). We frequently say that hindsight is 20/20, yet when is there enough hindsight that it can evolve into foresight? Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a new “public enemy” emerged on the American scene: Muslim-Americans. I remember vividly a high school teacher of mine bragging about leading a rebellion on a flight by refusing to board the plane because as Muslim couple was flying on it that day. Whether it be a question of building a community center erroneously labeled a mosque near Ground Zero, or a sociopath in Florida wanting to burn copies of the Koran in a demented and un-American protest, it is impossible to shake this sickening paranoia that is pitting Americans against other Americans—or even more broadly, human beings against other human beings. You might have read about Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) who is currently leading an investigation into a theorized “radicalization of American Muslims.” His theory is that it is a tool used by al Qaeda to recruit young Muslims as part of a larger plan to continue attacking the United States. Low and behold: history hath repeated itself in the form of another sickening, discriminatory witch hunt fueled by nothing more than scapegoating. Are we or are we not a nation founded on principles of religious tolerance? I would need reminding as to what part of this is tolerant or constitutional. A slew of 2012 hopefuls, including Gov. Barbour of Mississippi, have called for federal bans on Islamic law and have joined the ranks of those pointing the post-9/11 finger at Muslim Americans. However, these politicians never fail to distinguish that their goal is not to discriminate against ALL Muslims. No, they magnanimously point out that they are only bent on fighting against the religious rights of Muslims whom they suspect of being radical or violent. Isn’t that just gracious of them? I am personally refreshed to know that these people who are using their political authority to platform trashing a religion they do not understand are only doing so in the name of American security. As Americans, we are obliged to stand up for the rights of others when we see rights being abridged, especially in the wake of a national tragedy. I would advise that we all reflect on what would best aid the nation: a bitter and ill-aimed investigation into the religion of millions of Americans or maintaining the tolerant and unified attitude that we are meant to strive towards? It has been ten years since that day we all remember, and yet discrimination has only seemed to sprout into a larger beast. With such potent manure as that spewing from the mouths of prominent politicians such as King and Barbour, I fear that this sprout will only grow larger. Comments on this opinion can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
In the shadow of the massive protests in Egypt that unseated a president, the shot seems to have been heard around the world. In Madison, Wisconsin, thousands of public employees (many of them teachers) came out in protest of plans by the Governor to limit collective bargaining, basically unplugging labor unions. We have seen a similar issue facing Georgia. Public school teachers (as well as other public employees) are taking furlough days right and left, a money saving tactic that unethically compromised their contracts in the middle of the read and lowers their annual pay (although they are still expected to come into work out of the goodness of their hearts). I certainly understand that in a recession, we are all expected to make sacrifices. What irritates me is the fact that the same establishments that are preaching endlessly about the necessity of public employees to shoulder the weight of “hard times” are the same ones who insist on extending tax cuts to the many of the wealthiest people on the planet. As a child raised by two teachers, I spend every holiday and occasional weekend visit home hearing my parents talk about “fund saving” strategies (such as pushing six class periods into one day and laying off new teachers) that are making Georgia educators want to rip their hair out. Of perhaps more concern to college students is the threat to state scholarships such as HOPE and the Georgia Tuition Equalization Grant, the funds of which are drained for money. Yet the solution, according to our lawmakers, is not in tax hikes for those who can afford it. I’m certainly not advocating that we end tax breaks for those with 12 mansions in various states and make CEOs CHOOSE between spending the summer in the Swiss Alps and going on December cruises to the South China Seas instead of the usual both. My eyes water simply thinking about it. However, I cannot fathom how the fat that must be trimmed has to come from public programs (such as education and health services). Additionally, the laws of the state leave teachers helpless in fighting these “reformations” and can either accept unfair and ridiculous budget cuts or be terminated from their jobs. Our great state of Georgia (which has made a fine living protecting the interests of wealthy white people over the past two centuries) ranks only ahead of North Carolina in the number of union members in the state (thank you, Right to Work laws). What this essentially equates to is that Georgia’s teachers cannot go on strike because the state has the right to terminate said striking teachers. Our state has used red tape and bureaucracy to benefit itself again to a point where salary, contract and benefits for teachers as well as educational funding for students are at the mercy of a government that will sooner keep students from getting college degrees than end tax breaks for millionaires. It is high time our state looked over its priorities again. Do we value public funding for education more than appeasing wealthy campaign donors and lobbyists? My suggestion is that the state repeal its archaic restrictions on unionization and allow teachers the opportunity to negotiate with their employers before having hunks of their paychecks absorbed into a state budget handled by a government that shows little concern for the well-being of the millions of Georgians who study and teach. Comments on this opinion can be sent to email@example.com
In the wake of the Arizona shooting that left six dead and a United States congresswoman seriously injured, the question of gun control resurfaces again in these lovely, well-armed United States. In recent years, with tragedies like the Columbine shootings and the Virginia Tech massacre, the issue has certainly been simmering. I find myself asking over and over after reading about these tragedies why people claim that the solution to gun violence is simply to give out more guns. That logic is like saying the solution to the Black Plague was more rats. Clearly, there are enough dangerous people with enough guns; otherwise we wouldn’t have to argue the point in the first place. These men and women scream nonsensically that the Constitution defends their right to carry guns wherever they please and no one can stop them from doing so. This right is the second amendment to the Bill of Rights, which states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” In the legal sense this promises the states the ability to form a militia and, as a part of that, the members of such are allowed to “bear arms,” not that everyone has the right to buy and sell assault rifles at his/her choosing. The courts of the United States have also said that the argument that this amendment allows citizens to privately own weapons is erroneous and baseless. Stevens v. U.S., United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, 1971 reached such a conclusion. It ruled that “Since the Second Amendment right ‘to keep and bear arms’ applies only to the right of the state to maintain a militia, and not to the individual’s right to bear arms, there can be no serious claim to any express constitutional right of an individual to possess a firearm.” On an ethical level, there should be limitations to this right as there are to any right. We are granted freedom of speech, but if someone yells loudly that (s)he is going to assassinate the President, (s)he has infringed upon the right of the President not to be threatened with assassination and it becomes a question of national security. Furthermore, no one in his/her right mind would say that it should be legal for a private citizen to drive around town in a Panzer, and yet this would technically (by mainstream pro-gun definitions) be a violation of Constitutional rights. Another popular slogan is the ever-irritating “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This is also an idiotic saying because guns make it much easier for people to kill people. In 2008, the FBI reported that 67 percent of all murders in the United States were committed with guns. Furthermore, guns have only one function practically speaking: to kill someone/something. Hunters don’t need concealed handguns or semi-automatic weapons to shoot Bambi’s mom. That leaves the point of such weapons to be exclusively for injuring or killing another person. I’m certainly not proposing that all guns be banned, but I am proposing much tighter restrictions on who can obtain guns and the process by which guns can be bought and which guns ought to be sold. On paper, the United States prohibits guns to be sold to convicted felons, psychiatric patients, etc. However, 15 states automatically restore convict firearm rights upon their release from prison and presenting fake ID when buying a gun had a 100 percent success rate in five states that met minimum federal requirements according to the Government Accountability Office. Out of all background checks (roughly 96 million per year) in the United States, only 1 percent is denied firearm ownership, and of that 1 percent, 26 percent have that decision reversed in appeals. The need is clear that serious reform is needed for the process of buying guns as well as determining the legality of certain guns (such as those that can shoot up to 30 rounds without reloading). I propose that classes be necessary for gun owners, harsher punishment for those who violate gun laws and an elevated sense of seriousness taken on the part of those performing background checks. Otherwise, I fear we can only expect more stories of innocent lives being taken by means of senseless firearms accessed with ease by deranged people. Comments on this opinion can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org