Opinion: This is My America

I was born in 1966 in a small city in central New York, the fifth child of parents who did not discuss social or political issues with their children. That did not keep me from listening to the adult conversations that happened at the dining room table as I sat quietly and still as a mouse on the end of the living room couch or next to the cast iron register on my bedroom wall, right above that table.

It also did not silence the nightly evening news streaming from the television, unfiltered and unexplained and it certainly did not provide a realistic foundation for the deeply embedded dime store patriotism I was raised with. Finally, it did not stop me from finding my own examples of and connection to humanity in educators, friends, books, television, and movies.

Like the true seeker I was and am, I absorbed every bit of it and held on to what made sense and felt right to me.

A wooden fence with three flower signs on it in red, white, and blue [S. Barker]

Since the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, I have spent considerable time following random threads of my own history trying to unravel the paths that lead from the mixed messages and disinformation that clouded my earliest understandings of important issues to the way I think and feel about them now. I do not know why I thought this mattered; perhaps some part of me still puzzles over the differences between me and the siblings I grew up with. But tonight, sitting on the ground, pulling weeds from my front garden, I realized that the why does not matter as much as the what is.

I do not think that the specific details of the mixed messaging hold significance other than they might allow people to relate to my experiences. What is important is how often fear and superiority were factors in the messaging, and although as a child I did not recognize it, I now clearly see the passive-aggressive and authoritarian threats often conveyed with phrases such as “If you don’t like it, leave.”

“If you don’t like the way we play here, just leave.” “If you don’t like the way we talk about people, then leave.” “If you don’t like the way we treat you, leave.”

Those particularly bullying types of statements are intended to force submission to a command culture that has an innate understanding of the fear some people have of being alone or isolated and to enforce control over people who, for various reasons, may not have any control at all over their situation. I cannot think of a single situation where such bullying is anything but total assholery.

As a child who always felt different, I was sometimes emotionally overwhelmed by that type of bullying and by the constant “othering” I saw and experienced from seemingly endless sources. Selective othering was mind-boggling as well: to often hear that people of a certain color or religion or ethnicity are bad or scary because they look or act differently, yet other people are okay because they are well educated or wealthy or an athlete/actor/musician and so must be special.

I was never an example of a perfectly accepting child or human being, but I tried. I was fortunate that the good influences of certain teachers (thank you, especially to Mr. Matzke, Mr. Phillips, Ms. Sickles, Mrs. Terry, and Mr. Gray) and literary characters who I held as dear friends allowed me to mostly sift the chaff from the grain as I learned how to intellectually and emotionally process information. I did not feel empowered or know how to voice my thoughts and feelings about right and wrong, but I managed to hold them safe deep within my spirit.

From earliest childhood on I knew what it was like to be treated as less than or other because of my gender and socioeconomic status. I was in my 30s before I first experienced the pressures of being othered because of my spiritual beliefs. I was in my 40s before I started making connections that finally really opened my eyes and mind to social justice and women’s rights issues. Those connections happened when I met women who shared my spiritual beliefs, and when I joined a coven and its founding tradition the horizons of my world became limitless.

I found my voice and began speaking out on the social issues that the great “Them” use to constantly divide and conquer the people of the United States of America. More important than speaking out, I began to speak in earnest with friends and acquaintances and even with myself. Those limitless horizons have brought so much light into my world that nothing can hide in the dark anymore.

I have watched and sometimes felt powerless as the great “They” became more and more outspoken about their supposed ownership of America – about which people belong here and which do not, about who has a voice and who does not, and about who has rights and who does not.  And lo, here we are, with the loudest and most hateful voices in this country telling people like me that if we do not like what is happening in America, we can leave.

I kept something else held safe, though, deep within me, as I was growing up and then continuing to grow as a human being – my love of this country. My belief in the ideas and ideals that America is supposed to stand for. The sense of true patriotism that makes my heart swell with pride when we get things right – because we do sometimes get things right.

Maybe it was bullshit when I was learning about it in grade school and junior high. Maybe it was a Kodachrome red, white, and blue history that never really existed, but I believed it. I do not care what was hidden behind the lessons because what I believed matters more. I believed in hope. I believed in an intelligent, reasoned love of country. I believed in the ideal of good and right prevailing. I believed in freedom for all.

The women and men who first fought for this country stood against horrible odds, and against not only the oppression of a king across the waters but against their own neighbors and sometimes their own family. The leaders of that revolution were not perfect human beings, but they knew that changes had to be made and pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to that cause. Our ancestors have continued that fight ever since the first shot was fired in Lexington. It has never been easy. It is not easy now.

I did not know the human truths about the founders of this country when my belief and pride were born, and I do not think that matters anymore. One of our most sacred responsibilities as human beings is to evolve and become better and more enlightened than those who came before us. Many Americans have done that and many more are finding their way to the truth. We just do not shout as loudly as those caught up on the wrong side of this war against humanity.

This is my home. I am not leaving. On my sacred honor, I will not give up. Not the fight, not the war and certainly not the country. Nobody is going to other me into silence, into complacency, or out of my home. While the towers of the corrupt patriarchy crumble and burn all around us I will continue to create and strengthen connections and participate in the work that will allow this country to become what it should be: a place where we are all recognized as equals; where no religious doctrine or belief is applied to the laws of the land; and where freedom of religion becomes freedom from religion, as it was originally meant to be.

This is my America.


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