Category Archives: social justice

Welcome to Libertarian Island! A Play in One Freedy-Free Act.

Libertarian Island

Libertarian Island

SCENE I: A busy urban street. Two middle-aged white men, BOB and JOE, are waiting at a stoplight, having a spirited political discussion. They have been friends for years and the discussion has the feel of ritual.

BOB: Look, I just don’t trust the government to run my health care. In fact, I don’t want ’em doing anything for me at all. I just want to live my life without government interference. What’s wrong with that? Besides, the American health care system is the best in the world!

JOE (sighing): Oh, forgawd’ssake, BOB, give it a rest already. I wish just for once you could live in that Libertarian Paradise you’re always talking about. I’d bet you’d be begging for government to come back in about half a second!

(The light changes. BOB and JOE start walking across the street, too absorbed in their conversation to pay much attention to where they’re going.)

BOB: No, seriously, JOE. The only thing to do is make government so small we can drown it in a bathtub. Every man for himself. It’s the only way we can be free!

JOE: Ahhh, BOB, don’t you get that all corporations care about is their bottom line? I’m telling you —

(Out of nowhere, a bus, out of control, careens into the intersection and smacks right into the hapless friends. Strangely, the marquee on the top of the bus reads “Liberty Express.” BOB and JOE fly in opposite directions as the scene fades to black.)

SCENE II: A lush island Paradise. The sky is a lovely blue festooned with decorative, puffy white clouds. BOB is lying on a hammock strung between two palm trees. Behind him, the facade of an impossibly luxurious resort hotel can be seen; in front of him is a beautifully landscaped infinity pool, complete with waterfall and fat-free bathing beauties in bikinis. BOB is unconscious, but appears to be otherwise unharmed by his encounter with the Liberty Express. Slowly, he opens his eyes and takes in his surroundings.

BOB (wonderingly): What the fuck?!

(One of the bikini-clad babes, perfectly tan and blonde, strolls over to BOB with a drink in her hand.)

BLONDE (liltingly): Hello, Bob! Welcome to Libertarian Island. Care for a complimentary beverage?

BOB (confused): What – what happened?

BLONDE (comfortingly): That’s really not important, Bob. Everything will be explained to you shortly. I’m just here to provide you with your complimentary beverage. Do you want it or not? It’s got a cute little umbrella and everything!

BOB (totally lost): Uh…yes???

(The BLONDE hands him the drink, which he sips tentatively. A huge smile blossoms across his face.)

BOB: Wow! That’s the best martini I’ve ever had. How did you know it was my favorite?

BLONDE (wagging her finger, flirtily stern): Uh-uh-uh! Drink up!

(BOB finishes his drink. His eyelids lower to half mast as the potent alcohol kicks in.)

BOB (tipsy): Thanks, uh…what did you say your name was?

BLONDE (coldly): I didn’t. (lifts her wrist to her mouth) Okay, he’s ready.

(She walks away, completely indifferent now that she has performed her duty, and happily situates herself on the lounge chair from whence she came.)

BOB: What – where are you going?

(He starts to follow her, but a man clad all in white robes steps in front of him, blocking his access to the BLONDE. The man looks like a Ken doll, the ultimate Republican idea of perfection. In fact, his name is KEN. Cool, huh?)

KEN: Now, BOB, let’s just calm down. My name is KEN, and I’m here to officially welcome you to – Libertarian Island!

(A banner unfurls from the palm trees between which BOB’s hammock is tied. The pristine white, beautifully-inked banner reads, of course, “Welcome to Libertarian Island.” Below that declaration are the words “Freedom IS Free! Free, Freedy, Freedelicious Freedom!”)

BOB (in awe): Cool!

KEN: I’m here to be your guide and to help make your stay more enjoyable.

BOB: How could it be more enjoyable? I mean, (gesturing) LOOK at this place!

KEN: Well, BOB, this place certainly is beautiful. But this is not where you’re going to be staying. Step this way, please.

(KEN leads BOB past the bikini babes, who loftily ignore him, and towards a dirt path in the elegant green sward. After a minute of walking, BOB notices something strange.)

BOB: Hey KEN – is that a door?!

KEN: Yes it is, BOB. You see, you were in the visitor’s section of Libertarian Island. When you go through this door, you will see the rest of the island. I promise, you’re going to love it!

BOB (confidently): Of course I will. I mean, this is Libertarian Island, so I’m assuming we’ve got that damn government out of our lives and are free to create a better society through choice and competition!

KEN: Ab-so-LUTELY! (opening the door) And heeeeerrrre we are!

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It’s Up to You, New York!

Apart from being brilliant, beautiful and incredibly talented, I am also somewhat psychic. (And modest! Did I mention that?)

When this story came out a few weeks ago, my PUMA ears perked up.

At a dinner event last night with gay activists, Senator Charles Schumer—a longtime supporter of civil unions, but not gay marriage—officially endorsed gay marriage and promised to work to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed by Bill Clinton in 1996. In a statement released after the event, Schumer said, “It’s time. Equality is something that has always been a hallmark of America and no group should be deprived of it.”

Gay rights advocates are now hoping Schumer will use his considerable clout to win over lawmakers in the State Senate and make gay marriage legal in New York. Describing Schumer’s impact on undecided politicians, Alan Van Capelle of the Empire State Pride Agenda tells NY1, “Knowing that Senator Schumer will campaign for them if they feel like they are in a difficult spot for reelection, I think matter [sic].” And openly gay City Council Speaker Christine Quinn says, “For him to stand up and say that he’s going to make sure everyone is fully equal under the law is really remarkable. And political support like that, you really can’t even measure it, it is so significant.”

As happy as this announcement had made me, I still wondered what had caused Schumer’s sudden reversal. But then I read that after Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed the new junior Senator from New York,  a significant dynamic had shifted. The new Senator was pro-gay marriage, and quite unashamedly so. The former junior Senator, Hillary Clinton, was not.

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Equal Pay for Equal Work: Still Not Happening, Ladies. Now, Go Buy Some Beauty Products.

Nine to Five - What a Way to Make a Living

Nine to Five - What a Way to Make a Living

Being home sick is not all bad. Yesterday I was able to watch the end of one of my favorite movies from the 80’s, “Nine to Five“, starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and the deliciously villainous Dabney Coleman as their “sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot” of a boss.

The ladies in question all want one thing from Mr. Coleman: Respect. And they ain’t getting it. Lily Tomlin, the always-passed-over power behind the throne, finally loses it when the boss refuses yet again to give her a promised and much-deserved promotion – awarding it, of course, to the young man she trained instead. She, Fonda and Parton have a commiseration party, where they get stoned and fantasize about taking revenge on Coleman. Tomlin’s fantasy is about poisoning Coleman’s coffee. When she gets to work the next day, she finds to her horror that she has actually done so by mistake. Tomlin, Fonda and Parton then go through endless, hilarious machinations to prevent anyone from knowing that Tomlin is an attempted murderess, including kidnapping Coleman and holding him prisoner in his own house for six weeks.

During those six weeks, the ladies completely revolutionize the company that Coleman was running in such a sexist and inhuman manner. Parton can sign Coleman’s name better than he can, and they keep sending out memos from “the boss” instating female-friendly improvements, including a new day care center, a job-sharing program that allows working mothers to work part-time, and equal pay for equal work.

Coleman ends up escaping his confinement, and shows up at the firm determined to change everything back to the way it was before, and to send the women to jail for attempted murder and kidnapping. Just as he is about to call the police, the owner of the company (Mr. Tinsdale) personally shows up to commend him for increasing productivity over 20% in that short six-week period. He is delighted about absolutely everything the women have done – open to every change, except one. Holding a baby in his arms, Tinsdale remarks to Coleman under his breath, “That equal pay thing, son – that’s gotta go.” At the end of the movie, the women never solve this problem, although the script is optimistic that they will.

Alas, twenty-nine years later, nothing has changed. Mr. Tinsdale is still in charge, and he’s not even remotely as open-minded as he was in “Nine to Five.” Employers are not required to do much of anything to take care of their employees these days, and women are still paid an average of 78 cents to every man’s dollar. This disparity partially explains why the United States has fallen to 15 on the Human Development Index. (Notice that Iceland is number one – yes, the country that has just appointed an openly lesbian woman as its interim Prime Minister. Huh.)

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Churches and Gay Marriage: Why Don’t They Mix?

(NOTE: My thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims of terrorism in Mumbai. Such a terrible tragedy. I just can’t write more about it today.)

Why Is This Scary?

Why Is This Scary?

After the passage of California’s Proposition 8,  I’ve been shaking my head over why many religious institutions are virulently against gay marriage. This interview with Richard Rodriguez, an author, fervent Catholic, proud Hispanic, and “out” gay man, has a very interesting take on the subject. According to him, it’s all about the family and the wimminz, and how the church is afraid of losing its power over them both. I have to admit that I’ve never heard of this theory before, but Rodriguez makes a convincing case for his point of view.

The first couple of paragraphs pack quite a wallop.

For author Richard Rodriguez, no one is talking about the real issues behind Proposition 8.

While conservative churches are busy trying to whip up another round of culture wars over same-sex marriage, Rodriguez says the real reason for their panic lies elsewhere: the breakdown of the traditional heterosexual family and the shifting role of women in society and the church itself. As the American family fractures and the majority of women choose to live without men, churches are losing their grip on power and scapegoating gays and lesbians for their failures.

Rodriguez goes on to say this about how the feminist movement and the gay rights movement are linked, in the minds of those who are invested in religious institutions:

American families are under a great deal of stress. The divorce rate isn’t declining, it’s increasing. And the majority of American women are now living alone. We are raising children in America without fathers. I think of Michael Phelps at the Olympics with his mother in the stands. His father was completely absent. He was negligible; no one refers to him, no one noticed his absence.

The possibility that a whole new generation of American males is being raised by women without men is very challenging for the churches. I think they want to reassert some sort of male authority over the order of things. I think the pro-Proposition 8 movement was really galvanized by an insecurity that churches are feeling now with the rise of women.

Monotheistic religions feel threatened by the rise of feminism and the insistence, in many communities, that women take a bigger role in the church. At the same time that women are claiming more responsibility for their religious life, they are also moving out of traditional roles as wife and mother. This is why abortion is so threatening to many religious people — it represents some rejection of the traditional role of mother.

In such a world, we need to identify the relationship between feminism and homosexuality. These movements began, in some sense, to achieve visibility alongside one another. I know a lot of black churches take offense when gay activists say that the gay movement is somehow analogous to the black civil rights movement. And while there is some relationship between the persecution of gays and the anti-miscegenation laws in the United States, I think the true analogy is to the women’s movement. What we represent as gays in America is an alternative to the traditional male-structured society. The possibility that we can form ourselves sexually — even form our sense of what a sex is — sets us apart from the traditional roles we were given by our fathers.

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A Bittersweet Experience

As some of my regular readers know, I am a professional singer as well as a politics-obsessed bloggista. Last night, I was privileged to sing in a Concert for Life, sponsored by the Project People Foundation. The experience left an indelible impression on me.

My part in the concert was small: I was there as a “backup” for the Cantor at the temple where I sing. (That temple has long been a partner in PPF’s efforts). The rest of the time, I was able to sit, snack, and enjoy the other performers. And what a show it was!

Project People Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of impoverished and AIDs-scourged South Africans. To highlight this focus, PPF opened the concert with performances from South Africans who are part of the cast of The Lion King. They danced and sang with amazing energy, skill and passion. Then, an absolutely phenomenal gospel group sang several pieces that were so inspiring, they almost convinced me to convert. (Oy!) In the middle of all of this was a celebration of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday, complete with a gorgeous cake.

Finally, the gospel choir closed with a knockout performance of “We Shall Overcome,” with the first verse sung in Hebrew to honor the Temple’s participation. The entire room stood up and held hands spontaneously. It was incredibly moving to touch strangers and colleagues in such a comfortable way, and sing along with that ultimate anthem of faith and resolve.

That was the sweet, and how sweet it was.

And now, for the bitter.

The performance took place at a large, prominent, mostly African-American church. Barack Obama’s name was mentioned twice by various speakers, both times in the context of how inspiring it was as an example to children and adults that an African-American could be nominated as a Presidential candidate. (He hasn’t clinched the nomination yet, but I knew where they were coming from.) The folks in the room seemed to agree (I saw a few nods and heard a quiet “Yes!” or two), but there was no applause or loud affirmation of these statements. (And believe me, this crowd was not shy – if you’ve ever been to a service in a black church, you know what I’m talking about.)

In fact, both of these statements were made by men, and I saw some female faces around the room freeze a little, as mine did. I wondered if the two thoughts that went through my head were running through theirs:

1) Women of color could have been inspired by Hillary as well as Obama; and

2) Why isn’t he better?

Let’s address #1 first.

Reverend Jeremiah Wright mentioned Hillary Clinton in his controversial “God Damn America” sermon, and his remarks were instructive. He asserted that Hillary hadn’t had to work twice as hard as a white man to get the same job. It was a laughable and hugely ironic statement in the context of this primary, considering that Hillary has now all but lost the nomination to a man, although she was the winner of the popular vote and has a resume that, by any objective measure, dwarfs Obama’s.

Clearly, gender equality is not a part of Reverend Wright’s awareness. As every woman in his congregation could have told him, women do have to work twice as hard as a man in order to get the same job. Of course, even if they are fortunate enough to get such a job, they are paid, on average, 77 cents to the man’s dollar.

Is there any reason to assume that Hillary Clinton would not continue her work to gain gender equality as President? No. The only way to beat Hillary was to smear her with false accusations of racism and race-baiting, and that is exactly what his campaign did. Out of an understandable sense of community, only a brave few African-Americans stood up for her or Bill Clinton in the face of Obama’s divisive tactics, and those who did were intimidated with primary challenges or, in some cases, death threats from the Obama camp.

As frustrating as #1 is to me, #2 is what really hurt. Why is he The One, as Oprah famously dubbed him? What has he ever done for the black community? What has he promised to do for the black community? Why does he talk down to the NAACP and perpetuate white stereotypes about his own people?

Why doesn’t he appreciate how much his community needs a figure of great stature, a person who aspires to be a fighter for social justice for all Americans, a person who strives for peace and an end to institutionalized racism and bigotry of all kinds – yes, even unto sexism and homophobia? Why isn’t he humbled a bit by what the unqualified support of the black community means?

It breaks my heart that Senator Obama was not asked these questions by the Party Leaders before they decided to elevate him to national status. Fair or not, an African-American candidate will bear the burdens of his long-suffering community on his shoulders, just as Hillary would be expected to bear the burdens of long-suffering women on hers. And as I looked at all the faces around me last night, holding hands with a beautiful stranger and pledging to overcome, I could only think: African-Americans deserve better. They deserve so much better than vague platitudes about hope and change. They deserve a deep understanding of their plight and a lifelong commitment of time and resources, of heart and soul, towards mitigating that plight.

For all of our sakes, I hope they get what they deserve from America and, should he prevail, Barack Obama. As we all know, it’s been a long time coming.