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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Friday, April 20, 2007

don't back down

Today I worked crew on a photo shoot at a facility outside Sacramento that employs a wide array of folks with developmental disabilities. What an amazing experience.

We set up a white seamless and some lights and sooner than we realized there was a boisterous line of workers of all ages and ethnicities stretching far back on the shop floor ready to have their portraits taken.

We played music. Our subjects danced and sang. Some of them introduced themselves. Some of them didn't. Some were shy. Many weren't.

Every last one of them had a distinct personality. A shining individuality. A deeply personal voice and inquisitiveness. His or her own set of likes and dislikes...his or her own radiant identity...

just like you and me.


I thought today about a phrase I've used here once before...a line that folks told me has its roots in Unitarian Universalism:

the inherent dignity and worth of every person

I thought, too, of the work of Keith Haring. His radiant child...and what it meant in New York City in the 1980s to see that radiance let out. What it meant to see that symbol catch on in the subways and on gallery walls. An anti-corporate symbol that was vital, fresh and alive. An antidote to the anodyne. A subversive message wrapped in a package that forced its way into your consciousness. A symbol of life in a city full of death.

I was moved, of course, by the radiance of these workers. By their irrepressible insistence on being themselves. It is something else to receive high fives as you walk a factory floor. It is something else to realize that the most valuable thing you can share with someone is a possession that costs no money...it's your self. It's who you are. Our subjects today shared that as a matter of course. How generous. How real.

And I thought to myself that these folks, these fellow American citizens, have a message for you and me. Something political and deeply personal: don't back down.

Be yourself. Be true.

I came home and I clicked on that YouTube that Kagro X linked to today...about Congressman Obey and the "liberal" protestors and I thought: it's high time for this country to start debating and mixing it up again. It's high time we all came to the table and talked turkey. It's time this country came face to face and shared our common hopes and dreams. It's time we revisit that awkward moment we had in the 60s and 70s before the code words and hate speech became the order of the day when we actually had debates about our ideals...about what it means to be an American.

And, yes, it's high time that America realized that "liberals" are not "idiots" and that our idealism is sincere. It's time we showed our sincerity, our persistance in the face of adversity and our command of the facts. That conversation with Congressman Obey is just one of thousands that needs to happen. Both sides need to be honest. Both side need to listen and take heed of the other's point of view.

Let a thousand conversations bloom!

Some big oil corporation didn't invent "green"...no matter how many millions they spend on their advertising. Idealists did. "Liberals" did. And we can say that with pride even as we insist that it is about time that Congress got around to passing regulations and corporate reform that makes energy independence and a massive reduction in carbon emissions a reality.

There is one group of people in American politics who told it like it actually was about those "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq...and it wasn't the leadership of either party or the New York Times...it was us.

We've told the truth about the food we eat, the energy we use, the air we breath.

We idealists aren't just about pointing out a "different way"...in so many ways, in so many places, we work hard to make our ideals reality, to put them into action all over this great nation and beyond. Whether as teachers, or social workers, or pastors, or health care professionals or non-profit activists...whatever our employ...we do what we do out of love and passion and idealism.

We need to let that shine.

Some of us are religious, some of us are secular. Some of us lean right, and some of us lean left. What we have in common is a shared commitment and belief, an optimism rooted in the idea that when we work together, when we accept each other, when we listen and debate and discuss, so many great things are possible in this democracy.

Communication is not perfect, nor is it easy...but any attempt at authenticity and honest interchange is so much better than code words, cheap put downs and hate.

I was moved today by the courage and radiance of some fellow citizens who likely will not participate in the debates about the future of our nation that we have here online and elsewhere. That privelege and responsibility is ours.

My message to you tonight is simple. Stay true. Hew to the facts and to your ideals. Listen with respect, but do not cede an inch to intolerance and lies.

Don't back down.


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