By Lance Simmens
Democracy is under attack from California to the New York island (to steal lyrics penned by Woody Guthrie in 1940). And at the sake of using alliteration to drive home a point, democracy is dependent upon diversity, demeaned by divisiveness, and disintegrating before our very eyes.
This is not only true in the sense of a nation struggling with its identity, but seemingly infecting state and local politics at an alarming rate. Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously invoked “all politics is local.” Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, when asked why politics in academia was so vicious, simply replied in an either witty or sarcastic vein “because the stakes are so small.”
The extent to which our national miasma is seeping down into governance at levels heretofore seemingly thought too local or small to elicit great outrage, given their closeness to the people, is a clear indication that democracy is witnessing perhaps its greatest challenge in our nation’s history. The emergence of never-ending conspiracy theories, distrust, if not outright hatred for established institutions of our governmental process, and a national network pedaling suppression of voter and human rights, universal rejection of reproductive rights, and a seeming disdain for civility, reason, and compromise in not only solving but discussing controversial issues threatens every region, city, and locality in our nation. Los Angeles is no exception.
While largely promoted by a Republican Party that has abandoned its moral center, it has reached into institutions that are considered solidly Democratic, such as the LA City Council. Recent audio recordings of three members of the City Council and the president of the LA County Federation of Labor have shockingly exhibited a level of outright racism in what they thought were private conversations while discussing the thorny issue of redistricting. Through gerrymandering, a practice that is inherently antithetical to democratic process, districts across the country have grossly under- and over-represented elective offices at all levels of government,
One of the first lessons I was taught as a wide-eyed staff member in the United States Senate was simply this: Never say anything that you do not want to read about on the front page of the Washington Post. Unfortunately this lesson has escaped many who carry the weight of representing their constituents.
The seemingly casual and joking manner in which openly hostile and derogatory remarks targeting African-Americans, Asian-Americans, an openly gay white member of council and his parenting skills regarding his Black son are so repugnant that I am not going to go through them here. You can easily enough access them on your own, but I feel certain that you will find them distasteful. Why it took a year to uncover this abhorrent behavior is beyond comprehension. Why they were said in the first place is a far more serious problem.
The point is not to at least make an attempt to ensure that no one actually hears and or records your racist remarks, rather that it is wrong to hold them in the first place. In this instance, several of the characters identified have submitted their resignations and those who have not are being strongly encouraged to do so. If they refuse, then City Council ought to take steps to forcibly remove them for conduct unbecoming an elected official.
And lest there be any doubt why we feel that democracy is crumbling around our very feet, the deeply inbred nature of racism in our nation has endured for over 400 years now. History teaches us about mistreatment that accompanied waves of immigrant cultures entering our country throughout the past. Eastern Europeans, Irish, Catholics, Asians, Muslims, Italians, Africans, Mexicans, Haitians, Koreans, South and Central Americans, Vietnamese and numerous other influxes of immigrants have at one time or another been vilified by groups that were like them, immigrants. It did not make sense then and similarly does not make sense to this day.
If we do not learn to embrace a diversified society, there will continue to be more examples of hatred, violence, and condemnation cast upon people simply because of the color of their skin or the countries from which they were born, or the religions they practice. At this point we simply run the risk of turning the clock back on advances we have struggled to implement in our treatment of human kind. We run the risk of exposing embarrassing examples of how our professed embrace of freedom and liberty are fine words but not backed up by our actions.
Racism is not limited to any subset of political, religious, or cultural groups as the current episode sadly reflects. It is a cancer that must be eradicated in order for a healthy society to grow.
To finish with the lyrics of Woody Guthrie, “This land is your land, this land is my land, This land belongs to you and me.”