29 June 2010

The Good Old Days, They Sucked

Republican congressman John Boehner was quoted today as complaining that Democrats are "snuffing out the America that I grew up in."

That remark entitles Boehner, the House Minority Whip, to a great big "you're welcome!" from Democrats. Boehner was, you see, born in 1949 and so grew up in America where Jim Crow ruled in the South and was a presence in much of the rest of the country. It was an America in which gays were locked in their closets, women were expected to aspire to be nothing more than housewives (certainly not Supreme Court Justices) and civil rights took a back seat to state's rights.

It was an America in which pollution was released into the ground, air and water with little concern for the environmental impact. Seat belts were not regular features of cars, indeed many safety features we take for granted today in vehicles, equipment and in homes were not in wide use or in some cases even dreamed of.

In the America of Boehner's youth there were no African Americans in Congress, let alone the White House (except for the custodial staff). Handicap access ramps at schools and other public facilities were unheard of. TV, film and other media were stilted by stiff censorship. Of course today there's is a censorship being enforced -- on the advertising of tobacco products.

It may have been former president Ronald Reagan (who did far less damage to the country as a bad actor than he did as president) who started the myth of the good old days of white picket fences. Actually they were good days -- for straight white Christian males of means.

Progressives must keep pushing forward with vigor because there are plenty of folks like Boehner pushing back. They are afraid of change of a disruption of the old order that has served them (and them alone) so well. Many of these people have complained since Obama's election that they feel this is not their country anymore. Great, now you know how African Americans have felt for the last 200 years. Who said it was your country anyway? Shouldn't America be a place where everyone feels at home?

I leave you with this poem from the great Langston Hughes that I believe captures the feeling that many Americans have had for much of this country's history.


       Let America be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again

3 comments:

Fletch said...

Amen.

John said...

Well done, thank you for the poem.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Excellent.