THE VIEW FROM HERE-Every day is a news day. Some of it is new and startling. Some of it is repetitive and numbing. Some of it we have heard so many times over days, weeks, or even years, that we almost become indifferent to it. But it is those latter matters that sometimes require our most focused attention--issues like suppressing the vote; maintaining the glass ceiling for women; perpetuating lop-sided prison terms for minorities (especially Black and Latino men); denying climate change, using religion to confuse and confound; preferring the use of animus to influence politics; assuming the color of one’s skin is a determiner of success or failure …
I remember (back in the day) when I first got out of college and applied for a job. Blatant responses to my résumé—you are a female applicant who will marry some day and move wherever your husband takes you and will eventually have children and will want to stay home, so although you are well-qualified (perhaps more so than many others), we will not hire you.
Or … you are over-qualified and will leave us for something better.
So I went back to college and obtained my teaching credential. I applied to 80 schools the first year—no openings. I applied to 40, the second year—no openings. The third year I started to get interviews: You are a single woman and will likely get married and have children and leave the profession. We are going to hire an older, more settled female or a male for the job. Hmmm
… where did I hear that before?
Finally, I did get hired into the teaching world and stayed in it (uninterrupted) for over 37 years. Whoa! Did that surprise everyone?! Despite prognostications, I got married and had a child and didn’t even take maternity leave (my son was born in June so I had the summer off). After I returned to the classroom in September, I even nursed him—women, there is a way to do that and work at the same time!
That was about 40 years ago. Not a whole lot has changed, however. Women are still getting about 77¢ on the dollar. Few are at the top corporate level. In fact, more women hold entry-level, low-paying jobs with no future than their male counterparts. Women hold disproportionately small numbers in elected office and we still haven’t had a woman President (even though other Western countries are way ahead of us on that). We have the Lilly Ledbetter Law but are still fighting for an appropriate wage.
It is only through elective office in large enough numbers that laws and regulations can change, but this will not happen if people are kept from voting. I have always thought that gerrymandering is against the law, but apparently that proscription is too difficult to enforce. Can you imagine how scary it would be if the Republicans took the Senate in 2014 (as well as the House) and then the Presidency in 2016. Most, if not all, of the gains that women, minorities, the LBGT community, the military, etc. have been made would surely be watered down, reversed, or even overturned. Then what?!
I also remember, quite painfully, when my son was beginning school (keep in mind that he is multi-racial), the prejudice that that innocent little boy encountered. Walking along with me, people would ask me, “Oh, what a cute little guy. Did you adopt him?”
One teacher, before the school year even began, told me she assumed that he would not do well in his studies and would have to start with a lower group. It is a good thing that I have a few brain cells that control my responses because I was ready to throw a few untoward words at her. Instead, I went directly to the principal of that highly regarded private school and got him changed into a different first-grade class where he excelled (as he did every year). But he was lucky, because he had parents who knew their rights and what should be, what ought to be expected from the classroom.
By the way, as much as I support public education, then and now, there are insufficient programs available in public schools to care for children of working parents. Either child-care hours are not accommodating the average work schedule or parents are told their children do not qualify because the parents earn just a bit too much for eligibility. Hence, latch-key, unsupervised, or under-supervised kids too frequently make their way into the criminal system instead of being encouraged to develop within the educational system.
I also remember when my son moved on to a public middle school. He had an English teacher that I just knew, from hints that she had dropped, that she would never give him a fair shake. I shared this with other teachers and parents, stating that I had no doubt he would never get the A he deserved because the teacher was clearly applying a ghastly stereotype to “color” her attitude about him. He received a B but deserved the A (having received the highest grades in that class).
Neither my son nor I ever forgot that episode or others, and I hate to think what scars these various behaviors have left on his psyche. He is one of the lucky ones, however, that despite such obstacles, he has become a successful professional, husband, and father, and mini-entrepreneur.
As for females and minorities, once on the job, almost all of them must still do better than better. They cannot simply be the crème de la crème of their respective graduating classes, they have to prove themselves over and over again by being the best on the job—just to be considered average—and they always remain under the gun to keep their positions.
Yes, things have been changing over recent years. Laws have been passed (although not always enforced) to discourage these negative behaviors. Reality, nevertheless, smacks us in the face. It is so hard to prove discrimination in school or on the job. Minority students are still disproportionately disciplined and suspended or transferred to other schools, and later, after school is behind them, the same pattern generally follows them—often right into prison, too frequently for minor, non-violent, victimless crimes (like smoking marijuana) that diminish or even ruin their job prospects for the rest of their lives.
It is all about perceptions and stereotypes that have been beaten into people’s psyches—often through movies and television but even more so, perhaps, through endless campaign advertising used to scare voters (remember Willie Horton), persuade voters, coerce voters to cast their ballot in a certain way (often against their own best interests)—so that people see the world around them in the threatening way they do … and then act accordingly.
The right to suffrage is being turned on its head. Money can and does often buy votes, and yet we don’t have sufficient and adequate laws on the books to mandate clean-money campaigns.
Prisons are over-crowded (mostly with minorities)—a system that does not fulfill the purpose of incarceration which is to rehabilitate, not annihilate. Solitary confinement is so overused in this country that we exceed most nations in that scourge. Many prisoners are placed there, arbitrarily serving indeterminate lengths of time. Some actually spend years there. And once these people are released into the general populace of the prison or released to the outside, they are so damaged psychologically and even physically that they are not fit to live anywhere without the very real possibility of hurting themselves and/or others.
To add insult to injury, according to the author of the highly regarded book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? -- Thomas Frank very clearly states that people are being manipulated by that one percent that rule the country—the plutocratic oligarchy. Religion is used to preach the word that what transpires on earth is of far less importance than earning one’s way into heaven; hence, vote for those who share your beliefs and battle against those who have a questionable précis. I cannot say it better than Frank who sums the issues up so perfectly:
“Understanding themselves [the citizen voters] as victims besieged by a hateful world [it is the godless liberals who support higher minimum wages, equal pay for women, and safety on the job but also endorse same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to have control over her body] absolves conservatives of responsibility for what goes on around them [like repressing the franchise or encouraging fracking and the Keystone XL Pipeline, both of which will do irreparable damage to our world-wide environment]. It excuses them for their failures [when they drop out of school but don’t understand why they can’t get a good job]; it justifies the most irresponsible rages [shooting into a car with innocent Black teenagers because the perpetrator did not like the music]; and it allows them, both in politics and in private life, to resolve disputes [consider Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin] by pointing their fingers at the outside world and blaming it all on a depraved liberal elite [yeah, that’s me and millions of others].” Brackets are mine.
No, I haven’t addressed all the issues, but enough for you to form an opinion and act upon it. A primary in California is coming up in June followed by the general election in November. American voters, quite sadly, are notorious for not taking the time to cast their ballots during the “off-year election cycle,” but as you have heard me say before, it is during these very elections that we vote for people who will represent us for years and be most closely connected to our needs and concerns. It is during the mid-cycle that we vote on measures that will for quite some time affect our lives. Who controls City Council, County Supervisorial Board, the State Assembly and Senate, the House of Representatives control our futures with an impact that is virtually irreversible.
Vote and make your voices be heard. Tell your neighbors, friends, and relatives to register and vote. Get involved in campaigns. Make yourselves knowledgeable about the issues—research both sides of the proposals, the pros and cons of the candidates. In this day and age of the computer and the smart phone, there is little excuse to do less. I challenge you to do more!
(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Coalition. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, A Quick-and-Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts. She also writes for CityWatch.)
Vol 12 Issue 26
Pub: Mar 28, 2014