"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value."
--Thomas Paine, The Crisis, December 23, 1776
Crisis, as my esteemed Greek professor used to say, is a moment of judgment. Some like to judge; indeed, maybe all of us do. But some like to judge excessively, and they judge that which they have no business judging: the humanity of other women and men.
Others loathe judgment, wishing only that others will choose for them, and pray, whether the proxy choice be wise or foolish, the stress of ambiguity might be ended.
Now is the time for true patriots to stand up and plead for the rights of all their people, the validity of the Constitution of the United States, and the protection of body and soul of all citizens of our nation.
For 7 years, we have heard that true patriots are those who fight the war on terror by any means necessary, even by vitiating and violating those very rights that at least 4193 American service persons in Iraq and at least 626 American service persons in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) have died to protect and defend with their very lives. But true patriots do not fight to limit, vanquish, or deny freedoms guaranteed by their fellow Americans. True patriots do not ACT like such "patriots" as those who destroy the rights that took 200 years and more than 1.2 million lives to build and defend.
Last week, in a moment of civic judgment, 53% of the American electorate chose between two men of intellect and integrity the one who will lead this country into a very uncertain and shaky future. And it was a judgment that shortened the arc of justice, though race relations are only at a beginning, not a point of completion.
Last week, similarly, after a particularly ugly and distorted campaign of alarmist fear and bigotry, 52% of the electorate of California voted to take away Constitutionally guaranteed rights from gay and lesbian persons with the passage of Proposition 8. Citing the California equivalent of the landmark Supreme Court case of Loving v Virginia (1967), the California Supreme Court decided in favor of marriage as being a fundamental civil right for all citizens. Hardly "activist judges," these four judges, in a "crisis" moment, landed on the side of equal rights, and also shortened the long arc of justice.
Equal rights. Not special rights, not calling for rights that others did not have. Equal, civil rights.
And now the aftermath, the foremath, the beginning of a period in which second-class citizenship no longer belongs only to those who have historically been, and still are often treated as, second-class citizens. Many still ride in the steerage of the ship of state.
The angry reactions of many whose rights were taken away, against those whom they thought took them--Mormons, Blacks, Catholics, and others--have caused much anger in return. Some have been called "terrorists" for expressing such anger, and some of this anger has been inefficiently directed.
Throwing around terms like "terrorism," "rights," "patriot," and the like, do not necessarily lead to civil conversation. Civility is often a lost art, but may not have been such a reality in times past as we think they were. But I pine for civility like the return of love that may not have ever been there.
And I pray that, as I wish my own humanity to be realized and respected by those who oppose it in word and in deed, I might respect their humanity, their fears, and their rights to oppose me in speech, if not by opposing me in the murder of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, the denigrating of our primary relationships, and the uncivil labelling of us as terrorists.
Our country is in a pivotal, critical moment: will we fight for the rights of all citizens, Black, White, Gay, Straight, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Intersex, American Indian, elderly, and young? Or will we limit our regard to the people whose characteristics we judge to be appropriate based on our traditions, tastes, and plain prejudices?
These are the times that try men's and women's souls. But...
These are also the times that prove the promises of 230 years and 1.2 million lives not to be empty, but ripe for the picking.
Come, pick with me, but may our rites be civil.