Have We Learned Anything?

1 06 2011

They say every generation has its defining moment. But as a 9-year-old, it felt like any other day.

 

Ten years ago I was a chubby, bespectacled 5th grader, not a care in the world. My biggest worry was getting home in time for Pokemon. The words terrorist, Guantanamo Bay and al-Qaeda meant nothing to me.

 

Ten years ago, September 11 2001, every class in my elementary school was gathered in the gymnasium. None of us had any idea that today, like when JFK was assassinated or when Pearl Harbor was bombed, would be the day that defined the rest of our lives.

 

Ten years later, for another 9-year-old it was more special than just any other day; she was about to meet Representative Gabrielle Giffords at her first “Congress on Your Corner” gathering of the year in Casas Adobes, Tuscon Arizona. Christina-Taylor Green, was born 9/11/2001. Her mother says Christina’s birth “lent a grace note of hope to that terrible day.” She was an aspiring politician, a baseball player, and a caring daughter and sister. On January 8, 2011, Christina and 5 other people were murdered, and 14 others were wounded.

 

Christina’s murderer, Jared Loughner, is a man the media calls “mentally unstable”. His gender, religious background and race were not mentioned as possible influences on his violent actions. If Jared Loughner had been Muslim and had shot into a crowd of people, the media coverage, and the reactions to it would have been very different. Michael Moore seems to have had the same idea. He tweeted about Sarah Palin’s Facebook page, “If a Detroit Muslim put a map on the web w/crosshairs on 20 pols, then 1 of them got shot, where would he b sitting right now? Just asking.”

 

Many Americans who believe that it is wrong to discriminate against others because of race, religion, age, ability or sexual orientation seem to have a huge blind spot as far as Islam is concerned. People equate Islam and Muslims with everything they hate and fear. After years of news about the “War on Terror” and hearing political leaders refer to “the Evildoers”, is it any wonder that people living through economic difficulties who blame President Obama for their hardships believe that the President is Muslim?

 

This blind spot also extends to Latinos, but that was much more subtle until recently coming to the forefront of media attention in places such as Arizona. Now according to one of my professors, Latinos are now the people most often killed in movies and on tv. I have not seen any statistics, but it makes sense what with the growing anti-immigrant propaganda I have been hearing since middle school.

 

In my sophomore year I joined my high school chapter of Amnesty International, and so began my crash course in American politics. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of changing the world, I was just there to learn. I wrote an article about Guantanamo Bay prison for a small newsletter we were going to print. As I sat in front of my computer staring at the AI website reading accounts of the abuse the prisoners suffered, I felt overwhelmed. What could one teenager do to change so much misery and hatred?

 

That March our advisor brought us to the office of New Jersey Peace Action just two blocks away. The Executive Director Madelyn Hoffman gave us a tour of the office and explained to us what NJPA was. I still felt like I knew next to nothing about any of these new issues that were popping up, but here was an office full of people who devoted their lives to peace, and if I was going to find answers, this was a good place to start. I started volunteering the next day, and at least once a week for the next few months I came and organized the dozens of books in their boutique. There was everything, not only the history of Peace Action but books about the Vietnam War, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Star Wars and Nuclear Weapons in the United States. I had the information at my fingertips, but it was still going over my head.

 

I continue to volunteer at New Jersey Peace Action to this day. Maybe someday this will all make sense, or maybe war, discrimination and hatred will always be a mystery to me. Regardless of the reasons politicians give, and the real reasons such as greed for money, oil or trade, I will never accept that people should die before we try every other option to maintain peace first.

 

My senior year of high school I took AP government. I will never forget the day my teacher brought in that morning’s newspaper, in which was printed 4000 individual photos of Americans who had died in Iraq. All these young smiling faces, all these lives cut short. I do not understand the motivation to sign up for any branch of the armed forces, but the bravery of those who choose to do so deserves respect, respect that the United States government did not give them. Most Americans want this war to be over, yet more and more money is spent and more and more soldiers are sent overseas to die.

 

Members of the government of the state of Arizona obviously do not respect the rights of people to live free of discrimination either. The Arizona Immigration Law SB1070 has become infamous. Representative Giffords like many others opposed this bill. She issued a statement saying “This law stands in direct contradiction to our past and, as a result, threatens our future.” The President of the University of Arizona contacted her when the families of several students who had planned on attending the University decided to attend out-of-state schools instead because they disagreed with this law.

 

Another outcome is a loss of revenue for many businesses in Arizona near the US – Mexico border. Many Mexicans who frequently go to Arizona to shop have “trusted traveler” cards which enables them to save time crossing the border. the Mexican government issued a travel alert, warning of “a negative political environment for all Mexican visitors” in Arizona. After SB1070 was passed Mexican newspapers and radio stations labeled Arizona as xenophobic and Mexican-hating. Clearly people heeded the warning. In Nogales Arizona, business owners like Bruce Bracker suffered. He says that 80% of his business is from Mexican customers who cross legally and that “The day they signed the bill sales were down 50 percent, and since then I’ve been getting killed,”. You would think it’s obvious that writing a law that alienates people who spent nearly 4 billion dollars in your state every year is a bad idea. Clearly Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, the author of SB1070, hasn’t gotten the memo.

 

There is nothing wrong with having practical objections to this law, but for most people, their objections come from having a visceral reaction due to moral objections to the discrimination this bill legalizes. America has a very vivid history of discrimination, and of people who choose to fight it, yet it continues to this day.

 

All across the country the responses have been intense. There was outrage and daily rants on facebook, people at my college decided to boycott Arizona and there are over two dozen Boycott Arizona facebook groups started by various individuals and organizations. I can only imagine how much more angry people directly affected in Arizona have been. Arizona is one of only three states, along with Alaska and Vermont where, as of April 2010, it is legal to carry concealed weapons without a permit. How could that possibly be a good idea in the middle of all this hatred boiling up to the surface? Angry people plus easy access to guns never equals anything good as Christina Green and Gabrielle Giffords can attest to.

 

So where are we now? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and against people of color continue and more people die every day. Guantanamo Bay has not been closed, people in Arizona can be pulled over for having too much melanin in their skin, and a little girl, who brought her family hope in the middle of a national crisis, will never grow up to make her own mark on the world.

 

I have learned a lot in the past ten years. I know how to form my own opinions on war, discrimination, guns and what it means to treat people like equals. I have come a long way from the confused 9-year-old. But let me ask you, what have you learned, and has America as a country learned anything?

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One response

1 06 2011
Jo Sippie-Gora

Thank you, Jewel, for your insightful comments. I really appreciate hearing from young adults such as you. Keep them coming!!

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