Here in Prairie Country, we like to flatter ourselves that we're pretty much removed from the kind of race-baiting, code-wording crapola that's re-emerged in this election campaign via voices as disparate as Rush Limbaugh and Bill Clinton and Lou Dobbs and John Hagee and, well, the list, sadly, goes on...and on...and on...and....
We see it in the subjects the media choose to focus on. The endless Rev. Wright. Hmmmm, just who is actually going to be on the ballot this year? Hillary Clinton, or Bill? Barack Obama or his former pastor? John McCain or George W. Bush? The lines are way too blurry these days.
Maybe in your neighborhood, you, too, have thought, hmmm, it can't happen here.
Until it does. Switch off the news about the gang shootings in Chicago, or the punditizing about the Alabama section of Pennsylvania or the upcoming Appalachian spring back to a previous century, and it's still right here.
Here in the Red River Valley of the North the ugly head of bigotry and hate emerges, too. North Dakota not-so-nice at the University in Grand Forks these days. A Jewish student has lived in fear, subjected to a swastika painted in the stairs at his dorm, a pellet gun shooting at his dorm room door. A school administration too slow to respond, to investigate, to do anything until the glare of publicity forces their hand.
So, hate radio is merely "bombast" and political campaign tactics merely "this ain't beanbag" until each and every one of us must say, enough.
Enough of smear by association. Enough of the politics of fear and hatemongering. Enough of screed and slime in the name of furthering a personal agenda of power or privilege.
Because the more we let ourselves be divided against "them," whoever "them" may be, the weaker we all become.
The collapse, right here in the heartland, of a major bridge across arguably the most important river in America, the Mississippi, is omen of these times. Neglecting the ties that bind us, the power that is "We, the people..." invites collapse and ruin.
Together, we are stronger, we are, yes, our brother's keeper. We are the exemplar of living toward a more perfect union, not division, of states.
Too often, it's easy to forget the lessons of history, or give them short shrift. And then comes an episode that reminds us of one pastor's call*:
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The version inscribed at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. reads:
- First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -
- because I was not a Socialist.
- Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -
- because I was not a Trade Unionist.
- Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -
- because I was not a Jew.
- Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.
New England Holocaust Memorial
The version inscribed at the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston, Massachusetts reads:
- They came first for the Communists,
- and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
- Then they came for the Jews,
- and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
- Then they came for the trade unionists,
- and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
- Then they came for the Catholics,
- and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
- Then they came for me,
- and by that time no one was left to speak up.