The Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel's James D. Davis is one of the longest-serving religion writers in America. Jim is also one of the genuinely good guys; a man who walks the walk and writes with the best of them. For more years than I can count, my favorite part of Sunday's paper has been Jim's Faith and Values column, where he runs a brief interview with a member of the local clergy/faith community. Within the limit's of the column, Jim's questions are rather probing -- anything but cookie-cutter -- although he does ask everyone to describe in brief their "worst moment on the pulpit." He also asks everyone what their favorite quote is. Understandably, most respond with a verse from the Bible.
Were Jim to pose the favorite quote question to me, I would have a difficult time choosing between three that have long shaped my thoughts and actions. The first comes from Leviticus 19:16:
לֹ֥א תַֽעֲמֹ֖ד עַל־דַּ֣ם רֵעֶ֑ךָ
namely, "Don't stand idly by while your brother bleeds."
The second is a verse from the Mishnaic work Ethics of the Fathers (2:5):
ובִמְקוֹם שֶׁאֵין אֲנָשִׁים, הִשְׁתַּדֵּל לִהְיוֹת אִישׁ
Which translates roughly as "In a place where everyone is acting like a jerk, you strive to be a mentsch."
The third comes from Bobby Kennedy:
Some men see things as they are and say 'why.' I dream things that never were and say 'why not.'
Which obviously needs no translation.
That which links these three seemingly disparate quotes should be just as obvious: they are all calls to action -- strong reminders that sitting around and k'vetching (Yiddish for "complaining" or "bitching") about ignorance, injustice and inanity just won't cut it. As the old advertising slogan for VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) went, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."
All of which brings us to the New Year.
Goodness knows, it will be good to leave 2012 behind. Outside of President Obama winning another four years and adding a couple Democratic seats in the House and Senate, it has been year of insanity. As Father Time departs, Congress has failed to rescue America from tumbling down the so-called "Fiscal Cliff." It need not have been. Those of us who follow politics closely understand that both the fiscal issues confronting us and the impasse we face are far from insoluble. Poll after poll indicate the American public's overwhelming preference for raising a bit more tax revenue from the very wealthy -- not as an end-all-and-be-all -- but as beginning. A clear and overwhelming majority wants to see Congress and the White House hammer out a deal. But instead of a congressional majority working together to shore up and save the American economy, less than a third of that body has decided to hold an entire nation in thrall. In thrall to what? To the dictates of the hyper wealthy. To a political catechism which teaches that agreeing with this president and this administration on anything -- up to and including that January follows December -- will open them up to primary challenges from people on their political right. (It makes one shudder to think that there are actually people further to the right than members of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus.) They are so tied in to the Norquistian "No tax increases for anything . . . ever! Period!" orthodoxy that they refuse to even accept a return to pre-Bush era tax rates on people making over $1 million a year. (For the mathematically challenged, this means they refuse to ask for even a penny more in taxes for those who make $19,230.70 a week, $2,747.25 a day, 365 days a year. Aargh!)
Speaker Boehner is trapped between a rock and a hard place. He cannot lead for the simple reason that there is no party to lead. He has Majority Leader Cantor glaring over his shoulder and a monolithic minority within his caucus who suspect him of being a closet liberal for actually holding talks with President Obama. Their allegiance to Grover Norquist, the Koch Brothers and ALEC come first; their allegiance to the American people -- outside of the most conservative voters in their districts -- comes a distant second. And, just as the senate is hamstrung by the ever-present threat of a filibuster, so too is the House held captive to the so-called (unwritten) "Hastert Rule." (Also known as the "majority of the majority," this doctrine states that the Speaker will not allow a vote on a bill to take place unless the majority of the majority party supports it. As they say, "rotz-a-ruck.")
Not only is Congress placing the dictates and desires of a minority ahead of those of the American public vís-a-vís the Fiscal Cliff, they are also kowtowing to the NRA in the matter of all things pro-gun -- despite a clear majority supporting reinstatement the Assault Weapons Ban; requiring background checks at so-called "gun shows;" and placing severe limitations on the number of rounds in a single ammunition clip. Then too, there are innumerable state legislatures enacting laws against women, minority voters and the elderly -- all against the stated wishes of a clear majority.
What in the world can we, the angry, frustrated, fed-up majority do? After all, they have all the money; they can pretty much do what they want.
Actually, they can't. If the 2012 election proved anything, it was that tens of millions of people standing in line hour after hour in order to vote can trump hundreds of millions of dollars. And here is where my three favorite quotes come in:
First, we cannot simply sit back and stew; if we see injustice, we must do something about it. To do otherwise is tantamount to sitting by and watching our brothers -- and sisters -- bleed. Sure, we aren't always going to win, but sitting back and merely k'vetching guarantees a loss every time.
Second, despite there being so many childish jerks out there, we must strive to act like adults. Let's not waste too much time vilifying those who are holding back progress; in the long run, it takes away from the progress we seek.
Third, never stop dreaming big dreams; of bringing heaven and earth ever so much closer together.
Stay in touch with your local elected representatives. Make sure your views are heard. Let them know that you will absolutely not vote for anyone who supports issue X or is against issue Y. In the long run, votes matter even more than dollars. The 2012 election proved that.
Concretely, I also recommend taking part in a process which hearkens back to our earliest days; petitions. There are three great petition sites on the internet:
The first is SignOn.org These are the folks that created, among other things, a petition calling on Macys to get rid of the Donald Trump collection. They got more than a half-million people to sign the petition, and although they have yet to rid themselves of the Trump label, it has pretty much kept "The Donald's" mouth in check for the past few months.
The next is change.org Through this site, you can create your own petition, place it on FaceBook, Twitter or any of the other social media networks and hopefully put pressure on those who think they know what's best for you and me. Public sentiment is more powerful than most of us realize.
Last and certainly not least is the White House website, which solicits petitions from the great unwashed public. Remember, this president started out his professional life as a community organizer. He firmly believes that together we can make a difference. The "rules" of this website are unique: once a petition garners a minimum of 25,000 electronic signatures, the White House will respond. Unbeknownst to many, the president's "change of heart" on the Defense of Marriage Act had a lot to do with all the people who signed a petition. Then too, there are more than 100,000 people in Texas who have signed a petition calling for the Lone Star State to secede from the union. Ah well, the petitionary process isn't just for those with two feet on the ground. . .
May we all pledge that in 2013 we will not stand by while others idly bleed; that we will strive to act like adults and dream big dreams. And above all, let us do everything in our power to hold the feet of those in thrall to the wishes of a select few -- to hold those feet to the fires of popular will.
Best wishes for a happy, healthy and productive 2013 . . . or as we say in Hebrew,
(Wishing you a "Happy Silvester")
©2012 Kurt F. Stone