I’m from Brooklyn. In my part of Brooklyn, everything was interactive. Whether your ethnic group was Puerto Rican or African or African–American or German or Chinese or Thai or Yemeni, our part of Brooklyn actually encouraged you to talk to each other.
As a family we were – and still in many ways are – Italian, even those of us who can no longer speak Italian. Being Italian means being vociferous, which is to say having opinions and being eager, watchful, and alert to the possibility of expressing those opinions on anything, including especially politics. At any Christmas or Easter dinner or anyone’s birthday gathering, there would be a debate about some aspect of how the US was run or not run and everyone but the baby was welcome to join in.
There were Republicans, Democrats, Mussolini Fascists, Communists, and Socialists at that table. The interchanges were loud and they went on for sometimes an hour or more. Then someone would say something that was really hilarious or the baby would start crying or my mother would come into the room with a platter of pastries and a pot of hot coffee. Then everyone would move to the living room and talk about the Dodgers and the debate was over. At the end of the day’s celebration everyone kissed everyone else. Guests would leave promising to see each other at the next feast. And they would.
Now my family is splayed apart – distance from one cause or another has shaken us out of those get along traditions, as it has in my country.
We Americans, once a politically talkative nation, are now in fortresses, divided. We no longer sit together at one table with the intent of exchanging openly, and leaving with warm affection at the door. There are some, especially those in power, who never look beyond that door, we are so divided politically. And we have divisions between those who have and those who have not.
Let’s start with the haves. They live in palaces and their children are in elegant schools shaped like castles, and their cars are luxurious. They congregate only with each other, often at elite golf clubs and expensive cocktail parties.
In what we call the Middle Class, there are many who must strive and strive just to have a simple car and a house. They send their children to cinder block schools where bake sales are the source of book and equipment money. They are alienated from each other and meet infrequently, perhaps at a tee ball game to root for one of their children.
Then there are still others, more than we can count, who live in their cars or sleep in wretched housing. These people work in endless shifts of tedium and meager salaries. These children’s schools are ancient and dark. At these schools, books are shared and the playground is a hard and crumbling blacktop. Many of these people, young or old, are ill, or addicted, or dying from polluted water or air. Many have lost a baby at birth, or a son or daughter in a fight or a robbery, or in an overdose, or in a foreign war.
This is rough, we say. That’s true. But you know what’s even more rough? That we have yet to seriously face and seriously commit to changing these factors called “Quality of Life.” If we really cared that those on the bottom two-thirds are suffering, we would want to end that suffering. If we really cared that our country should be safe within and outside our borders, we would do the following things immediately:
Choose honest, decent leadership, in every level of governance. Choose people who come to us and ask us what we humanly need and then do all they can to get it. Abolish the Electoral College, there should be only one vote in the national election – not two. Make Voting Rights the rights of every citizen. Revive the legal system with new judges who are learned, fair and young. Make Congress into two houses of honorable women and men, who will listen to us citizens of all backgrounds and who will create productive budgets that are fair. In their fairness these lawmakers will tax the wealthy more stringently. End the filibuster, again, a vote is a vote. There should not be any manipulation of that vote.
Make peace within our country a testament to our love for our self-respect, our care of our neighbors and our nation. Retrain police and our National Guard members to protect our safety and our right to protest. Empty the prisons, take the prisons away from corporations, and let the unfairly incarcerated and the incarcerated elderly out. Reform the prison system so that the people who run them and the people who must live in them are truly rehabilitated. Give the incarcerated a chance to learn skills and paths to a better way of living, and then release them into jobs and new lives.
Our relationship with the world must change, no more embracing of dictators. We must respect our partners in the free world, and rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. We must support the Iran Nuclear Deal, and immediately recommit to the Human Rights Commission, the World Health Organization, the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces and Open Skies Treaties. Let’s put the word “humanity” back into our vocabulary.
In these ways, and many others, let us become more just, more caring, more supportive of people and nature. Let us be be more charitable to every one and every living thing. In other words, let us be more UNITED.