Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Standing up for democracy and American values, by Ed Slavin


Until 1777, St. Augustine had no printing press and no newspaper.  In 1776, it took several weeks for British residents of the fourteenth British colony here to learn of the Declaration of Independence, from newspapers, brought by boat from South Carolina.  In response,  residents burned the Declaration of Independence in  public, also burning effigies of John Adams and John Hancock.  Three signers of the Declaration of Independence were later incarcerated here, but survived, unburned. 

In 1979, a a junior Justice, William Rehnquist wrote that the civil jury trial rights are "a bulwark against oppression." Today, some would burn our Constitution and Bill of Rights.  

Our  right to civil jury trial is imperiled by forced arbitration clauses.  Our right to checks and balances are threatened.  Enough.

The Constitution is a living document and our Supreme Court is proof that human growth is a constant. 

Consider the careers of Justice Hugo Black and Justice Neil Gorsuch's landmark decisions in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender employee rights) and McGirt v. Oklahoma (Indian tribal rights),  

I'm proud of our independent judiciary; it is a bulwark of democracy, which is under attack by the President and a few misguided hyper-partisans.

President John F. Kennedy said at American University's commencement on June 11, 1963, "We must make the world safe for diversity,"  "Out of many, one" -- "E pluribus unum" is our motto.  Among the graduates was West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, once a KKK member, who grew with maturity to support human and civil rights  On December 23, 2009 Senator Byrd voted to invoke cloture on Obamacare, saying  "This [vote] is for my friend, Ted Kennedy." (Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, my first boss, proposed national health care after he survived a plane crash -- agreeing with prior Presidents, supporting health care for all, first instituted in Germany in 1888). 

My family came to these shores circa 1849 and 1888, surviving Irish potato famine and Russian pograms in Poland. We're survivors.  As FDR once reminded the DAR, we're all immigrants.

Our City and Nation likewise survived genocide and wars, including a Civil War.  We're survivors. 

Abraham Lincoln's generation survived the racist anti-immigrant "American" or "Know Noting" political party, of which he wrote his friend Joshua Speed in 1855:  "I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? .... As a nation, we begin by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read it 'all men are created equal, except negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy (sic)."

With the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, our Nation and world mourns her human rights vision, wit and scholarship.  Let's cherish the opportunity to reaffirm our sacred duty to join what Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, "we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Today's reactionary, Russian-amplified equivalents of the "Know Nothings" are now finally losing their grip on power. 

Stand up for democracy and American values. Vote like your life depends on it.  It really does!

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