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Friday, November 7, 2008

For Future Reference: This is About You

We left the Castro just before President elect Barack Obama began his acceptance speech in Chicago's historic Grant Park. We listened on the radio as he said:

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference. It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America."

I was divided; overwhelmed with happiness that we had elected our first non-white President, a Black man, a man with a Kenyan father and white American mother, and this man could name me, a gay disabled Navajo Indian in his speech. Especially when race in this country is consistently framed in black and white, and gays and lesbians are considered dirty secrets, at best kept private.

This is not the Castro I was raised with. This is not the San Francisco I was raised in. This is not the California I was raised in. People were dancing in the street, even while the early numbers for 8 were being posted. "Oh, Obama, he has our back."

This is not about Obama. This is about you and the fact that Californians saw absolutely no problem immediately casting a yes vote on Proposition 8 immediately after they cast their yes vote for Obama.

Obama's campaign placed a great emphasis on unity. He prioritized thoughtfulness, articulateness, and people coming together for a greater purpose, call it community or call it pragmatism. He spoke against the divisiveness that characterized the last eight years. His actions were considerate and measured—a salve on the bitter ill will that has come to shape relations between people. He asked us to refuse the categories that encourage and allow us to dissociate from one another—red/blue, black/white, male/female, Christian/Muslim/Jew—and to work together on a larger project, best defined as a human project, a global project.

Many were moved when he offered a hope not hate based project. Many see his victory as a civil rights victory, a long overdue triumph over the racism and bigotry on which this country was founded and continues to thrive. God bless America. A new day has dawned. We're going forward. "Oh, but not you. You stay here."

How can over 5, 344, 012 people vote yes on Proposition 8? How can 70% of the black vote and 50% of the Latino vote yes? How can Christians and elders overwhelmingly support 8? If this is purely a question of Christian values, how can the same voters split on proposition 4?

Maybe I hold the wrong assumptions about my fellow Obama supporters. Perhaps I relate to easily to people I don't identify as—white, black, asian, heterosexual, Christian. Maybe it's a simple consequence of having my entire existence, my priorities, my values negated daily in the media, in social relations, buying groceries or renting a movie.

My grandparents taught me that first and foremost I was human, where their arguments went from there I was expected to keep up with, but never to lose sight of one fundamental truth: we are all related.

In its simplest terms proposition 8 eliminates a right that already exists. On May 15, the California Supreme Court voted to overturn proposition 22; affirming the right of one individual to enter into a contract with another.

Prejudice and fear trumps these simple terms. Prejudice determines who you can relate to and why. Hatred of others, and feeling completely, utterly and fundamentally disconnected from them is a consequence of not being able to relate. I'm not like you and this isn't about me are both statements that reflect an inability to relate.

Proposition 8 exposed Californians’ notion of precisely who is a person deserving rights and exactly what rights you have access to if your personhood is suspect.

Recognizing another soul as a sentient being is a philosophical question the elders have debated since time immemorial. The United States Government itself has taken up this question; famously in African American history and less widely remembered in a case dealing with the Ponca.

Standing Bear et. al. V. Crook: Standing Bear was a Ponca. The Ponca are Those Who Lead. In May of 1879 the federal court in Omaha Nebraska began hearing his case. Standing Bear was a Christian, an Episcopalian. Early in 1877 the Ponca were told they were being removed to Indian Territory. They had never fought against the U.S.. They farmed and had moved from their Earth Lodges into their own, hand built, log homes. As an old man Standing Bear lacked the resources necessary to resist the U.S. soldiers and over three days he brought his household, his wife, their three children, two grandchildren and son in law to the agency for removal. His household assets—valued at over $4,000, in "buildings, land, stock, goods and chattel"—were confiscated and either destroyed or sold off. He received no compensation. On their stormy walk to Indian Territory his daughter was among those who died and his son was among those who became ill. A devastated Standing Bear promised the youth he would carry his bones home to the ancestral ceremonial burial grounds, ensuring that Bear Shield would not face the afterlife wandering the earth alone.

Because he was an Indian, by law, Standing Bear the Ponca leader was a ward of the nation and consequently not allowed to leave the reservation. Standing Bear was a father. With his son's bones, and his small band, he left the reservation. He was arrested on the Omaha reservation. They too were Indians, by law, and he was trespassing on federal lands, even though they were relations and had offered him and his band refuge. In fact, he had come to their reservation at their invitation. As wards they lacked the authority, the propriety, necessary to offer such hospitality to their cousins.

Standing Bear sought redress, but the question before the court was could he? Did he meet a simple qualification? Was he a person in the eyes of the law. On this point they argued. The DA maintained that he and his fellow Poncas had no recourse to Habeas Corpus and "regardless of what they said they were still Ponca Indians, due to their ancestry and place of birth, they could not cease being Ponca Indians because they said they were no longer Ponca Indians."

Standing Bear's council maintained that "an Indian who has severed his tribal relationship and sought to live as a citizen was entitled to protection under the law." There was precedent. Habeas Corpus had been applied to the insane, to children and to slaves irrespective of their citizenship, so unless the court wanted to decide that Standing Bear and his band were beasts, they were human beings, and consequently entitled to protection under the law.

Sympathies were with Standing Bear and his band but Justice Dundy reminded everyone "in a country where liberty is regulated by law something more satisfactory and enduring than mere sympathy must furnish and constitute the rule and basis of judicial action."

He ruled: "An Indian is a PERSON within the meaning and ways of the U. S. and...Indians possess the inherent right of expatriation, as well as the more fortunate white race, and have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, so long as they obey the laws and do not trespass on forbidden ground."

He was a person, but was still not free to stay with his relations, the Omaha or even the Ponca. In the eyes of the law he had severed those relations. Once he set foot on any reservation land he would be arrested, again.

Bear Shield's bones still had not been returned to mix with those of his ancestors.

Personhood is incompatible with tribal identity. Standing Bear could not be a person and a Ponca simultaneously. He had to relinquish one in order to assume the social-legal position of the other, a distinctly different position, not even an separate but equal position. He was granted humanity, but not allowed the specific details of his humanity.

In Standing Bear's case the difference in positions was racialized. The idea seems to be that with the election of Obama as the 44th President of the United States we have moved past these categorical inequities and government sanctioned bigotries.

As every American Indian knows, Indianness is still incompatible with American personhood. Even the briefest glance at our sovereignty movements reveals this contemporary fact.

The U.S., historically, has sought to extinguish those people seen as somehow unfit for personhood. In 1962 the Ponca of Nebraska were abolished by an act of Congress and their 800 acres of land were confiscated. Their status as a People was not reinstated until 18 years ago, the lifetime of a voter coming to age.

When it was impractical or impossible to extinguish the unfit the U. S. has, historically, sought to confine and contain them.

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving married in the District of Columbia in June 1958. When they returned to their home in Virginia they were arrested. She was black. He was white. Their marriage violated the states anti miscegenation laws. In 1959 they plead guilty and were convicted to a year in prison. In lieu of serving that year the trial judge offered them a suspended sentence, for 25 years, contingent on their leaving, and not returning to, Virginia.

In his opinion, delivered on the Day of the Kings, he stated: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

These arguments, these sentiments, are the same; they are founded on a narrow notion of the normal and feign a concern for potential harm to children (mongrel offspring or not). They are familiar to anyone following the debate surrounding proposition 8, as is the insidious invocation of "Almighty God."

The Lovings’ took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Chief Justice Warren delivered the court's opinion, stating:

Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival. Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942). See also Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888). To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

These convictions must be reversed.

It is so ordered.

Up until 1974 same-sex intimacy was a crime in California.

The question for Homosexuals, at this point, seems to involve two issues. Are homosexuals people under the law, entitled to equal protection, and under which law should these cases be decided: U.S. or Biblical?

It is common knowledge that the Christian right, along with the Mormon Church, are the primary funders of the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign. And the popular appeal for the Yes on 8 campaign has been to religious sympathies. Many of those polled said they were compelled, as Christians, to go to the polls specifically to cast their yes vote on 8, while voting for Obama, especially the 70% of Blacks polled.

Darryl Scott, a father, a black man, and an Obama supporter voted yes on 8 because "He has no hatred for gays but was raised to believe marriage is between a man and a woman...people should do what they want to do, but it shouldn't be forced on others."

Ignoring the backward logic of voting to eliminate the opportunity of people to "do what they want to do," while "forcing [it] on others" it is essential to note his reasoning relies on his religious sympathies and as Justice Dundy reminded the nation in 1879 "something more satisfactory and enduring than mere sympathy must furnish and constitute the rule and basis of judicial action." Presumably that is the law.

One of the two largest individual donors to the Yes on 8 campaign has admitted, in print, "my goal is the total integration of Biblical law into our lives."

Evangelical fundamentalism gains its strength, numerically, politically and financially by exploiting the lonely, the poor, the isolated and the uneducated. They have masterfully manipulated the fear and alienation people have from and with each other, to the extent that even their salvation is an individual salvation, their spirituality shaped by a private relationship with their Father God. Though the super churches clothe themselves in the drag of community their message is divisive.

The Nebraska Ponca were being forced at gun point to ford the surging Niobrara River during a fierce storm. Women and children of the three villages wailed. The men unloaded their 72 wagons and 500 horses, struggled through the high waters. On the other side they reloaded their goods. The women and children wailed. In the midst of this organized effort the United States's troops were swept from their mounts. The current was too swift and strong. Ponca men dove, immediately, into the waters and rescued the soldiers.


They were men.

And the Ponca's are those that lead.

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I believe we can be more beautiful than broken. Devotion to language and literature, stories and storytelling, writing and reading will restore humanity and heal severed relations. There is no alibi in being.