Saturday, October 23, 2021

Can We Save Our Democracy?

Can We Save Our Democracy?

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird November 2021)

 

On a hot July afternoon in 1975, a month after I graduated from high school, I stood at attention on the yellow bricks of Tecumseh Court at the United States Naval Academy, raised my right hand, and promised to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I have administered the same oath countless times over the years at enlistment and commissioning ceremonies as other men and women who, like me, made a promise to their fellow citizens to keep this great nation alive.

We didn’t swear our loyalty to a person or to a party, but to an idea. The idea that the powers of government belong to the governed. As Abraham Lincoln put it, a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The Constitution is predicated on the belief expressed in the Declaration of Independence that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

We should all have the same rights and the same opportunities, and all be equal under the law. And as a democratic republic, we all have a voice in our government through the ballot. 

Throughout the history of this country, the will of the people has been paramount. And the leadership of our country has had a long tradition of a peaceful transition of power in recognition of that democratic principle. Following a contentious and heated election in 1800, John Adams quietly left Washington, D.C. as his political rival Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated. Recognizing the importance of country over party, of loyalty to the Constitution and respect for elections over personal ambition, every loser of the presidential election since then has conceded and peacefully turned over the presidency to his successor. 

Until now.

Donald J. Trump lost the election in 2020. He lost the popular vote by over 7 million votes. He lost the electoral college vote, the process the Constitution specifies for electing a president, 306 to 232 (source: fec.gov). Not a single court challenge has changed this result. And yet, a year later, Trump still refuses to concede. 

Republicans at all levels of government avoid admitting that Trump lost. Through distraction and obfuscation, they allow the Big Lie to continue, undermining confidence in our elections and then using that lack of confidence as a basis for disenfranchising voters. And it is working. Nineteen Republican-led states have passed laws restricting the right to vote this year. 

After the Civil War, following the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment which ensured that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” Southern Democrats worked to prevent Black Americans from voting through a variety of voter suppression laws and threats of violence. It would take almost a century — and the constant efforts of the civil rights movement in the 1960s — before the Voting Rights Act would restore the right to vote. 

But guaranteeing that right didn’t last. In the 1980s, Republicans began a so-called fight for ‘voter integrity’ using a pretext of unsubstantiated voter fraud to restrict voting rights. By 2013, with many of the provisions of the VRA already weakened through hyper-partisan gerrymandering and other state voter suppression efforts, the Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court decision gutted much of what remained of the Voting Rights Act. 

Today, the 33 new laws to restrict voting rights will make it even more difficult for every citizen to equally exercise their right to vote. These laws not only limit who can vote, they make it more difficult for citizens to cast their ballots. Moreover, many of these laws shift the authority to run elections from local election officials to state-level political entities that could overturn election results they don’t like. The cumulative effect of these laws is to ensure that the party in power remains in power.

That puts the United States at risk of becoming a single-party government. And a single-party government that no longer has to answer to the people will no longer be a democracy.

In his 1796 Farewell Address as President of the United States, George Washington warned that allegiance to political parties at the expense of the nation as a cohesive unit were a significant threat and that “the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

It is not hyperbole to say that we are at risk of losing our government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The state of politics today is so divisive that extremists are arming themselves for civil war against their neighbors. Ideologies that were once considered fringe anti-government sentiment are now mainstream talking points on right wing media. We have a significant faction of the Republican Party that will do anything to remain in power, even if that means abandoning the principles upon which this country was founded.

We need a two-party system to provide the checks and balances necessary to reflect the will of all the people. We need an election system in which every citizen can exercise their right to vote easily, safely, and with confidence that their vote will be counted and that the election results will be accurate, regardless of their party affiliation. 

The Fifteenth Amendment gave Congress the authority to ensure the right of every citizen to vote. The so-called voter integrity laws in Republican-led states are a threat to that right. Congress has an obligation to protect that right.

The For the People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act currently before Congress would limit state laws that disenfranchise American citizens. A failure to pass voting rights legislation will allow a minority party in power to hold onto that power, regardless of the will of the people.

And when the will of the people is no longer reflected in the results of our elections, the power of the people guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States will no longer exist. 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Mutually Assured Destruction

 Mutually Assured Destruction

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird October 2021)

 

We moved to Okinawa, Japan, when I was eleven years old. It was my second time living in Japan, my father having been previously stationed near Yokohama when I was just starting grade school. I have many fond memories of my time in Japan. I remember friendships with Japanese families, exploring the jungles and the beaches as a child, and even learning enough Japanese to be conversant and get around the island on my own. 

It was during the height of the Viet Nam war. We were also in the middle of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. War was a part of our everyday lives. I remember playground jokes about A-bombs and H-bombs, duck and cover drills, and military jets and bombers flying daily on their way to Viet Nam. As a child, war was an abstract concept of heroes and enemies. We were the good guys fighting against those who wanted to destroy our country, taking the fight to the enemy to protect us from the evil of communism. I was lucky to be an American. 

Shortly after my twelfth birthday, a fully loaded B-52 bomber scheduled for a bombing mission over Viet Nam crashed at the end of the runway on Kadena Air Force Base as it aborted takeoff. The explosion of its 30,000 lb. bomb load rocked the island, left a huge crater, and damaged homes and structures for miles. I remember seeing that crater every time we drove past the runway. It was very close to the fence line between the base and the local community and clearly visible from the road on the civilian side. 

We didn’t know it then, but an ammunition depot with chemical, conventional, and nuclear weapons was less than a mile away. Imagine the devastation and loss of innocent lives that would have been caused if the B-52 had become airborne and crashed into that depot. 

After my father’s tour of duty in Okinawa, we moved to Morocco for a couple years and then to Homestead, Florida where I finished high school. As the son of an enlisted military man, I was eligible for a presidential nomination and appointment to a service academy — a way to pay for my college education. I attended the US Naval Academy, graduated, and received my commission as a naval officer. Having done well academically, I was selected for the nuclear power program, and after a year and a half of additional training, I joined the crew of my first submarine. As a fast attack, our mission was to protect battle groups from enemy submarines and to conduct other missions in support of national security. 

For my next submarine assignment, I was the chief engineer of one of the early fleet ballistic missile submarines. Our mission throughout the Cold War and continuing today was euphemistically called strategic deterrence. More realistically, though, it is the concept of deterrence through mutually assured destruction. Our job was to prevent nuclear war by hiding in the vast ocean, ready to launch our nuclear weapons within minutes after receiving an authenticated order from the president. We trained and practiced following the secret, encoded protocol to verify that the order to launch was valid. We practiced entering the targets into the missile’s computers. We practiced maneuvering the submarine to the correct depth and position for launch. And we ran drills on how to respond if something went wrong. As the third in command, I had a significant role in ensuring we were always ready to carry out our mission.

And I knew that if the order ever came, it would mean that our mission had failed. That somewhere, our nuclear arms deterrence had turned in to nuclear war. That Armageddon had arrived. That the science fiction fantasy of a post-apocalyptic world had become a reality. 

And I know that I would have carried out the order and done what I was trained to do: unleash a nuclear nightmare, ending the lives of millions of innocent people. If such an order came, it would certainly mean that millions of Americans had been targeted and our own families likely killed. I would have played my role in mutually assured destruction.

But I also believed that that day would never come. I believed that the checks and balances in government would prevent the unthinkable. That strategic deterrence would be successful because the alternative was so horrible. That in both the United States and the Soviet Union, our governments would never actually start a nuclear war. So far, strategic deterrence had worked. I also knew there was no guarantee that it always would.

When I left active duty to start a civilian career, my experience in nuclear power gave me the background needed for the environmental cleanup work here at the Hanford Site in Southeast Washington. Before moving here, I rarely thought about the Manhattan Project or where the material for the nuclear weapons I deployed had come from. After that tour on a ballistic missile submarine, I didn’t think much about the possibility of nuclear war. It was abstract and unlikely.

But art has a way of reframing how we think about things.

Most of my Hanford work has been just a few miles from the B Reactor, the first large scale nuclear reactor. Built in 1944, B Reactor produced the plutonium that was used for the bomb dropped over Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. As a significant part of American history, B Reactor is now a part of the National Park Service, Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

As a part of the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers, in 2016 I participated in the first concert held inside the B Reactor facility. As we prepared for this significant event, two of my good friends, Artistic Director Justin Raffa and composer Reginald Unterseher, carefully selected the music to reflect on the technology and legacy of this historic place. Human beings using the alchemy of science and engineering to produce the plutonium for an atomic weapon that would forever change the course of human history. We wanted to tell the story and stimulate reflection, not pass judgment.

The concert included songs about time, technology, life near Hanford, and the legacy of radioactive contamination. It also included a song by Seattle composer Karen P. Thomas with lyrics from a poem called “Over the City” by Molly McGee. While living in Japan, McGee had visited both Nagasaki and Hiroshima. In poetic metaphor, she recalled the horror of the bombings, our tendency to forget the horrors and atrocities of war, and the importance of remembering. “Over the City” concludes with a refrain in Japanese:

wasurenai koto ga        the act of not forgetting 
ikiba no nai shi no        the dead without homes
yuki tokoro to naru       can become shelter

Although we had been rehearsing the music for many weeks, I was not prepared for one of the most profound experiences of my life.

Seventy-one years after the bombings that killed over 200,000 Japanese civilians, standing in front of the face of the B Reactor, singing in Japanese about the importance of not forgetting, about the homeless dead, I wept. Five years later, I still weep when I think about that experience.

Military strategists and historians debate whether using atomic weapons to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved lives. Clearly, the war ended sooner than it otherwise would have. But we must not forget the cost. Whether we blame the Japanese government for starting the war or the U.S. decision to use nuclear weapons, those innocent Japanese civilians did not deserve to die. We must never forget that.

War is ugly, cruel, and violent. Thinking of war as noble or heroic in the abstract belies the realities of lives lost and families destroyed. War should always be the last option — never the first.

It is much too easy for the United States to go to war. The wars in Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan cost trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. Since World War II, we have avoided the use of nuclear weapons, but there is no guarantee they won’t be used in the next war. 

Current estimates say there are 15,000 nuclear warheads in the arsenals of the nine countries known to hold nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia hold the vast majority. We each have enough weaponry to destroy the world many times over.

And yet we continue to fund the war machine. How much more effective would it be if we used those resources to address the conditions that lead to war? What if instead of so readily taking the fight to our enemies, we helped them become our allies, our friends? What if we worked together with our allies to promote human rights, eliminate human suffering, and promote peace?

I know there is no simple solution. I recognize that we need a military to ensure the common defense of our nation. I understand that there are those who would attack and destroy the United States if they could. But I think we go to war too quickly and end war too slowly.

I want to live in a world of peace. I want us to eliminate the threat of nuclear war. And I want us to work together to find alternatives to violence so we never have to execute our capacity for mutually assured destruction.

Friday, August 20, 2021

It's All About Love

It’s All About Love

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird September 2021)

 

In late September 2016, I was making a purchase at Adventures Underground in Richland, my favorite bookstore, when I noticed what appeared to be a pamphlet on the counter. The cover had the title “Tumbleweird” in an interesting handwritten font over a cartoon mocking our local architecture. It was Volume 1, Issue 1. The entire zine was just 3 pieces of copy paper folded in half and stapled in the middle. 

I read a few of the articles and it piqued my interest right away. The tone was a bit irreverent, but good natured and fun. It was different, and weird. 

Tumbleweird was created by Logan and Henry, two friends who wanted to provide an alternate voice for the Tri-Cities. In Logan’s inaugural editorial he wrote, “There is power in finding community within a town that often doesn’t feel very inclusive.” A note on the back cover asked for contributors of art, culture, and writing on a variety of topics. 

I had written speeches and letters to the editor of my local paper before, but I had never written essays on topics that were important to me. I thought I would give it a try. Amanda, the owner of Adventures Underground, put me in touch with Logan. 

The rest, as they say, is history. I wrote my first column the next month and have been a part of the zine ever since. Tumbleweird has grown in both size and distribution, now a 32 page (or more) 10-inch by 14-inch full color newsprint with regular subscribers across the country and thousands of readers each month. Logan and Henry’s vision of a zine that makes a difference in the community has become a reality.

With the 2016 election imminent, my first column was about the importance of voting. Democracy is something that can’t be taken for granted, and I wanted to encourage everyone to participate. The presidential election was one thing, I wrote, but local elections and initiatives had a much bigger impact on our daily lives. Like many, I assumed Hillary Clinton would win and didn’t want local voters to skip the election because they thought it didn’t matter.

And then Donald Trump won. In disbelief, I realized that the divisiveness we had experienced during the campaign was bigger than I had imagined and that I had taken too much for granted. So, the next month I wrote about how we need to come together to find common ground and get past the divisiveness. But it has only gotten worse. As we have become even more divided in the last five years, I’ve written about disinformation, objective truth, free speech, and the importance of using our vote to make a difference. 

I’ve also written about racism, LGBT rights, poverty, gun violence, capital punishment, and climate change. 

Over the last five years, I have written 51 essays for Tumbleweird. As I was thinking about what to write this month, I wondered to myself whether there was a common thread — something that guided my opinions and perspective on the issues of the day. As I reread my columns, one common underlying philosophy comes through. 

Love.

The idea of unconditional love has always resonated with me. As a teenager I remember reading and listening to the teachings of Jesus. Most religions have a similar core belief — what many call the golden rule. I wrote about this in my February 2019 column “I Believe in Love.”  

My mother had a huge influence on my feelings about love. We lost her to cancer at a young age, but she is always with me. On her birthday this year I wrote:

Happy Birthday, Mom. Today you would be 86, but I still think of you as a mother of teenagers and this young man trying to figure out his place in the world. I imagine the conversations we would have, sitting on this bench where I snap my daily running photo. We talk about the joys of family, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. You are so proud of all of us. And then we talk about life and how to make the world a better place, one day and one relationship at a time. And always, always, it comes down to love. That’s what I learned from you. To view everything through a lens of unconditional love. Love of nature, love of others, love of family, and love of self. If everyone viewed the world as you did, we could eliminate hunger, poverty, divisiveness, hatred, and war. And we could work together to save our fragile earth. Love. The greatest gift we humans have.

And so, whether I am writing about systemic racism, the politics of division, citizenship, equality, poverty, health care, or the devastating effects of climate change, how I feel about what should be done is viewed through the lens of love.

We have the means to feed the world. We can eliminate poverty. We can provide basic housing and health care for all. We can resolve our differences without violence, without war. We can accept each other as we are — as unique human beings worthy of the same dignity, equality, and love we give to ourselves and our families. Love gives us the power to empathize with those who are different from us.

But I’m not na├»ve enough to think that living in a world of peace without suffering is easily achieved. I recognize there is evil in the world. There are those who use their power for themselves, to consolidate that power no matter how it may impact others. 

Although love is something we humans can use for good, we also have a capacity for hate, fear, greed, and selfishness. For the whole of human history, conflict and violence has been a part of our lives. Protecting our own and demonizing others as our enemies is part of our human nature. Fighting over scarce resources ensured the survival of our group. We evolved to take care of our own at the expense of others. 

But today we have the technology and the means to move beyond the worst parts of our human nature. The challenge is in overcoming the fear of others — the fear that we will not have enough, the fear that those who are different will do us harm. 

I believe, collectively, we can work towards a better world. That’s why I believe in our democratic republic. I believe the framework of our Constitution and our government is a path to a better future. A government of the people… of all the people. 

Government has a role in leveling the playing field — in ensuring equal treatment under the law, and in providing for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and the sick. We can take care of each other with social safety nets while growing the economy. We can regulate business to protect consumers while promoting a free market. We can provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare. We can be leaders and an example for the rest of the world.

But none of that is a given. If we allow it, we can lose our government of the people to those who believe every voice isn’t equal, who believe their truth is the only truth and that those who believe differently should not have the right to participate. The attempts to overturn our democracy this year prove just how fragile our government is. 

To save our democracy for all the people is also an act of love.

I believe in the power of love to make the world a better place. And no matter what issue I’m writing about, it really is all about love.

 

Friday, July 30, 2021

Should Every Vote Count?

Should Every Vote Count?

by Ted Miller

originally published in Tumbleweird August 2021

 

At Gettysburg, when the nation was at war and faced the greatest threat to its existence, Abraham Lincoln called on us to honor those who had died in that great civil war so “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

If we are truly a government of the people, and every citizen’s participation is considered equally important, then every citizen should have equal access to the ballot, every vote should be counted, and certification of the results should be without partisan influence.

And yet, a coordinated effort in states across the country is working to undermine that very principle. And the most aggressive changes to voting rights are occurring in Republican-controlled states that saw Democratic wins in the 2020 election. The new laws in Georgia, for example, allow massive purges of voter registrations, make it much more difficult to cast a ballot, and shift power away from local election officials to allow the state legislature to make decisions on election results. Instead of making it easier to vote, these new laws are designed to suppress the votes of those most likely to vote against Republicans before, during, and after an election.

This strategy is not new. After the Civil War, the Constitution was amended to abolish slavery (13th Amendment), guarantee citizenship and equal protection under the law (14th Amendment), and prohibit discrimination in voting rights based on “race, color, or previous conditions of servitude” (15th Amendment). This was the period of Reconstruction. By the mid-1870s, thousands of Black Americans had been elected to local, state, and federal office. The nation had its first Black senators and congress members. But following the disputed 1876 presidential election, the Compromise of 1877 allowed Southern states to enact Jim Crow laws to severely limit the ability of Black Americans to vote until the Voting Rights Act was passed almost 100 years later.

Today, voting rights are again under attack. In 2013, the Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder gutted the Voting Rights Act, eliminating the preclearance requirement and making it easier for states to change voting laws that have a disparate impact on voters. Texas and North Carolina immediately passed restrictive voting laws. In the federal court ruling that overturned a portion of the North Carlina law, the judge said it had been designed to suppress the African American vote “with almost surgical precision.” This year, the Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee decision makes it even more difficult to challenge voter suppression laws. The courts have been making it easier to disenfranchise voters.

To justify voter suppression laws, Republicans claim they are necessary to ensure voter integrity. They cite unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, even though investigation after investigation has failed to turn up any credible evidence of election fraud. The Associated Press reported on July 17 that Arizona election officials have identified fewer than 200 cases of potential fraud out of more than three million ballots cast, only four of which have led to charges. In other words, the claims of widespread fraud in Arizona are completely without merit. The same is true everywhere fraud has been alleged.

And yet The Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 election continues to be used as a basis to restrict voting rights. 

Some argue that the federal government shouldn’t interfere in how states run their elections. That was the basis for the Shelby County v. Holder decision. But Jim Crow showed us that state’s rights must be balanced with individual rights as citizens of the United States. And when any state infringes on our individual rights, the federal government must step in to protect those rights.

The For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act together would limit the power of the states to suppress the right to vote. But unless the Senate filibuster rule is altered, there is little chance either will pass. And Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema have both said they have no intent to vote to change the filibuster.

So if Congress isn’t going to save us, what can we do to protect the right to vote? 

In Washington State, our election system process is fair, secure, and easily accessible. If you are a Washington voter, make sure our system is protected and maintained.

If you are a voter in one of the dozens of states that are making it more difficult to vote, support efforts to organize and get out the vote. Elect representatives who will protect our democracy. The Texas Democratic legislators who left the state rather than allow voter suppression laws to pass showed how it makes a difference who we elect. 

Voter turnout is typically low in non-presidential election years, and even lower for local elections. Each of us has the ability to influence others to vote. A majority of voters want to protect the right to vote, but they have to exercise that right in order to preserve it. If our votes weren’t important, there wouldn’t be such a concerted effort suppress them.

It took almost 100 years to overturn Jim Crow and restore the rights guaranteed by the 14th amendment. It has taken opponents of those rights decades to undermine the protections in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And it may take years to restore equal voting rights to all citizens regardless of their race, color, or party affiliation.

I believe in democracy. I believe our country is worth fighting for. I believe that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people is worth saving. A government of all the people — not just those who look and vote like me. And I will do what I can to ensure this nation does not perish from the earth.

Friday, June 18, 2021

History and Truth

History and Truth

by Ted Miller
(originally published in Tumbleweird July 2021)

 

History was not my best subject. I thought it was boring. The homework always involved a lot of reading, and I could never stay focused. I preferred math and science, which for me were easy to get through as quickly as I could comprehend the concepts. History just seemed so irrelevant. What did something that happened so long ago have to do with what was happening today? How could history have any impact on my life? I wanted to think about the future of science, space, technology.


I grew up in a military family and attended many different schools, many of them overseas. I don’t remember a lot of the details in my textbooks, but I learned all the grade school stories about Columbus, Plymouth Rock, the struggling colonies, taxation without representation, the Declaration of Independence, and the writing of the Constitution. Great men doing great things. I remember memorizing the Gettysburg Address in the fifth grade, but the details I was taught about the Civil War were less about slavery and more about state’s rights. I don’t remember learning much at all about how indigenous people were treated, or how official government policy resulted in the deaths of millions as we ‘conquered’ the land upon which they had lived for millennia. Slavery and westward expansion were something I hardly paid attention to.


If any of the darker side of U.S. history was mentioned when I was in school, I would have thought it tragic, but irrelevant to America today. In my young mind, all the problems of the past had been resolved. I lived in the land of the free, where everyone had equal rights and equal opportunity, and anyone could achieve the American Dream through hard work and just a little bit of luck. I was lucky to be an American. 


And to be honest, the biggest reason I didn’t learn more about our complicated history is because I didn’t have to. 


I certainly recognized disparity in the United States. I witnessed abject poverty firsthand in many of the places I lived. I knew that white supremacy was real, and that racism existed, but in my insulated world of a military family, I didn’t have to think about it. I never considered how the systems of society and government that were explicitly racist in the past continue to have an impact today because they didn’t impact me.


But those systems do affect millions of Americans. Consider the continued racial disparity in almost every measure: wealth, income, poverty, education, health outcomes, incarceration rates. Whites, on average, are better off in every category. And the continued racial inequality is both stark and persistent. (For specific examples, visit inequality.org.)


Why is there so much inequality? To paraphrase Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, there is either something inferior about those racial groups that fare worse in our system, or the system in which we live created these disparities and has allowed them to continue for generations. The truth is, there is nothing inferior about any race. The system is to blame, not racial differences.


History shows that systems of oppression in America existed long before John Hancock’s famous signature declared how he and his fellow Americans were being oppressed by King George. The founders were both oppressed and upholders of their own systems of oppression.

 

Our history is complicated. The ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are worth striving for. But the men who wrote the founding documents of our nation were not perfect. They were wealthy, land-owning white Europeans who believed they alone should govern the country they were establishing. They did not believe that women, the poor, Black people, or Indigenous people were their equals. Many of them owned slaves. Did they really believe that all are created equal?


The United States has a history of strength, opportunity, and achievement. But it also has a history of violence, oppression, and racism. Our nation has managed to survive, and in spite of setbacks and uneven progress, it has worked towards a more perfect union. Through amendments to our Constitution and updates to our laws, we have become more democratic, more equitable, and closer to achieving those ideals the founders wrote about but didn’t live.


When I was younger, I believed that the strength of our democracy was unshakeable. That, no matter how messy and imperfect, the system would always work to uphold the Constitution. But history tells us that no government is perfect or permanent. We are not immune from those who wish to use our government for their own gain.

 

Democracies can slide into autocracy and fascism before the people realize what is happening. It happened in Germany and Italy less than one hundred years ago. It has happened countless times in history. The reasons the people don’t see it coming are complacency, ignorance of history, and not understanding how their own government works. 


The people of the United States are tired of the divisiveness. They are tired of Republicans and Democrats claiming the others are destroying the country. They are tired of the constant rhetoric and tired of hearing about politics, about racism, and about how our country is threatened from within. Like my younger self, they don’t recognize how fragile our democracy actually is. We really can fail.


Our history, in all its conflicting narratives — the good and the bad — should be taught to our children and young adults. The principles of how our government works, its strengths and its weaknesses, are essential to a well-informed electorate. If we are truly a government of the people, the people must understand and participate in their government. 


Hiding the ugly side of our history so that we can feel better about our country is a disservice to our children. Not facing the truth is unpatriotic. 


History is complicated. Multiple narratives and perspectives are important to gain a better understanding. We should hear them all. 


It is only through understanding the history of our past that we can create a better future for all.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Our Transgender Friends and Family Deserve More

Our Transgender Friends and Family Deserve More

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird June 2021)

 

If you had asked me twenty years ago how many transgender friends I had, I would have said I didn’t know anyone personally who identified as transgender. Actually, I’m not sure I would have even known how to answer the question. Twenty years ago, I had only a general understanding that some people express their gender differently than the sex assigned to them at birth. It was something I just didn’t think about.

 

Today, I have so many friends, family members, and loved ones who are transgender or non-binary that it would be impossible for me to tell you how many. I think that’s partly because my social circles have expanded over the years, but I think I just didn’t know how many transgender people there are. Until recently, gender identity was not something we read about in the news or saw portrayed in popular culture. And crimes against transgender people were never front-page news. Transgender people were not even acknowledged as an integral part of our society.

 

As trans visibility has increased, attempts to marginalize and criminalize our transgender siblings have intensified. Violence against the LGBTQ community continues at an alarming rate, with violence against transgender Women of Color being particularly egregious. On November 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Human Rights Campaign reported that 2020 was the worst year on record for transgender violence and murder. This year is on track to be even worse.

 

Why? Why the hate? Why the violence? How does someone’s gender identity threaten anyone else? 

 

Being transgender is as much a part of someone’s identity as any other characteristic. The American Psychiatric Association stopped referring to Gender Identity Disorder as a mental illness in 2013. Science tells us that gender identity is not a choice any more than sexual orientation or left handedness is a choice. 

 

Several years ago, a young friend I had known since he was a child reached out to a mutual friend in an LGBTQ support group for help. Although my friend had known since his earliest memory that he was a boy, he was born in a female body. He spent his entire childhood suppressing his gender identity because his family, his church, his social circle — everyone in his life — told him that what he was feeling was wrong, was sinful, and was something to be ashamed of. When as a young adult it became clear that living at home created more stress than he was able to handle, my wife and I invited him to move in with us.

 

Through many deep conversations, I learned first-hand that his gender identity was not a choice. Thinking back on how we just assumed he was a girl when he was a child, we now understand many of the signs of the trauma he was dealing with. 

 

Coming to terms with his gender identity and coming out to his family and friends wasn’t easy. Struggling for self-acceptance was difficult, and things got worse before they got better. He has learned to love himself, and is now on his own and doing well. I’m thankful that he is in a much better place today, but I know that every day of living as his authentic self is a challenge. 

 

My friend’s story is just one of thousands, and not every story has a happy ending. Many are ostracized or disowned by their families and have nowhere to turn. Youth suicide is highest among transgender youth. 

 

Awareness and support for those who are transgender is improving, but gains in acceptance of the LGBTQ community are being countered with anti-LGBTQ attacks in local and state governments. HRC reports more than 120 anti-transgender bills in state legislatures across the country. These bills have no basis other than irrational fear and a lack of understanding. The reality is that transgender people aren’t a threat to society; society is a threat to the lives and well-being of transgender people.

 

There are no credible reports of a man pretending to be transgender in order to assault women in a public restroom. We already have laws against sexual assault and any predator following women into a bathroom can and should be prosecuted. A law preventing people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity will do nothing to prevent those assaults. To the contrary, such anti-transgender bathroom legislation only emboldens hate and encourages assaults against women who look ‘too masculine’ in the bigoted eyes of the ‘bathroom police’.

 

Similarly, there are no examples of transgender girls having an advantage in school sports. After signing West Virginia’s anti-trans youth sports ban in April, Governor Jim Justice could not name a single example of a transgender child having a competitive advantage in sports. When Stephanie Ruhle of MSNBC kept pushing him, Governor Justice said, “For crying out loud, Stephanie, I sign hundreds of bills. This is not a priority to me.”

 

Not a priority? How callous and arrogant to sign legislation that will cause harm to vulnerable children without any valid basis, thinking such consideration isn’t worthy enough of his time to make it a priority.

 

Every anti-transgender discriminatory law is actually a non-solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Their only purpose is to score political points with the part of our electorate that believes some members of our society deserve contempt. Like every law that treats one class of citizen as somehow less than another, they are harmful and hurtful. 

 

Those of us who believe every human being is of equal dignity and worth should continue to speak out against these laws and discriminatory practices. Every human is unique, with their own sense of self, their own racial, sexual, and gender identity. Our government should not be dictating who is worthy of protection, and who should be marginalized just for living their lives as their authentic selves.

 

I love my transgender friends and family members. I want them to feel just as safe, just as loved, and just as accepted as I have always felt. Is that too much to ask?

 

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, call The Trevor Project for LGBTQ youth and young adults at 866-488-7386, or Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Houselessness is not a Crime

 Houselessness is not a Crime

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird May 2021)

 

A few weeks ago, a local police department posted on social media that they were performing “extra patrols” to deter criminal activity[1]. The post said that they “frequently find people loitering or sleeping at the closed businesses” and that they usually ask the individuals to “move along.” In some cases they will cite them for trespassing. In other words, they treat them like criminals.

 

I found many of the comments from community members on that post to be cruel and heartbreaking. The assumptions and stereotypes of the homeless are yet another example of how we view “others” as somehow not worthy of human dignity. And we want them out of our view and out of our community.

 

Nicole Cardoza in Anti-Racism Daily recently wrote: “Like many issues in our society, houselessness is frequently positioned due to an individual’s actions. If you believe stereotypes depicted in media, a person’s addiction, violent tendencies, lack of academic commitment, money mismanagement, etc., led them to lose their homes. But really, the story of houselessness highlights the failings of a system, not its people.”[2]

 

Blaming the unhoused rather than the system doesn’t provide a solution. 

 

Although we do have a few shelters locally, lack of transportation, limited space, and restrictive requirements to be admitted make local shelters unavailable for some of our unhoused. And if a shelter isn’t an option for them, where are they to go? Telling them to move along or writing them a ticket for trespassing doesn’t address the underlying problem of poverty and houselessness.

 

According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, in January 2020 nearly 23,000 Washingtonians were homeless. More than a third of those are families with children or unaccompanied youth. In Benton and Franklin Counties, there were 190 homeless individuals, with 32 of those considered chronically homeless. And these numbers were from before the pandemic. 

 

Using law enforcement as a way to manage the houseless is expensive. A 2014 study in Central Florida found that each chronically homeless person cost the community $31,000 per year, primarily due to the cost of arresting and transporting them for nonviolent offenses, jails, emergency room visits, and hospitalization. The cost to provide permanent housing and case managers to address their chronic problems was estimated at only $10,000 per year[3]

 

Providing a solution rather than criminalizing homelessness makes economic sense. 

 

Recognizing the need, there are some local and state initiatives underway to help the unhoused. The Kennewick Housing Authority is building a community of tiny homes that will provide housing for families, veterans, and people with disabilities. Resources including a case manager and access to employment services will help the homeless become independent[4]. And at least five bills have been introduced in the Washington State legislature for various initiatives to combat houselessness. That’s encouraging.

 

Expanding the resources to house those in need and providing access to services to allow them to find permanent housing and independence is the right thing to do, both economically and because every human being deserves adequate food and shelter. 

 

Blaming the homeless for an inadequate system isn’t a solution.

 

If you are struggling with houselessness in Benton or Franklin County, there are resources available to you at the Benton Franklin Health District Building, 7102 W Okanogan Place in Kennewick, 509 737 3946.



[1] https://www.facebook.com/Kennewickpolice/posts/3940895632644089

[2] Anti-Racism Daily, April 1, 2021, “Protect the Unhoused Community.”

[3] Orlando Sentinel, May 21, 2014, “Cost of homelessness in Central Florida? $31K per person.”

[4] Tri-City Herald, January 4, 2021, “3.8M tiny house project will give Tri-Cities homeless a place of their own”