While I will admit that I am not much of a film buff, I have a soft spot for the old Westerns and Civil War period pieces. There's nothing like gathering a posse to right a wrong or settle a score. It's even better if the stakes are the sovereignty of a nation. “Are you with us or against us?” It's a cry that proceeded many an important battle over our nation's rich history.
I also have to admit that recently I made a real effort to be on the “with us” side, preferring to work towards positives, rather than disparage a negative when it comes to picking my own causes.
This very topic came up earlier this week in a meeting lead by Lynn Weaver and Kathy Allen of the Bay Area Women's Center, in which a small group discussed the formation of a local “Men's Movement” to support the activities of the Center. It is an undertaking that has worked in other communities in raising awareness of the problems associated with domestic violence.
It was a discussion of the idea of being “against domestic violence” that spurred this column. Even though it is a positive concept, it uses such negative words. I felt pretty good about making the point that it would feel better to work toward domestic peace, rather than against domestic violence.
In fact, my original idea was to write about how we should try to reframe our problems, so we can work towards a positive, rather than away from a negative. A goal, if you will. But darn it, reality set in. And I found that, even in my current positive mindset I still fell on either side of the fence on a lot of things. “For” some stuff and “against” some others. And I didn't feel like I sold out too bad on my one man-peace movement in the process. Here's a short list of the kinds of things I am talking about.
For: Domestic Peace
I grew up in a very “physical” household. Luckily, it wasn't the kind of place where men hit women, but it was the kind of place where it was really tough to be the oldest son after your Dad left. Sometimes you are the target and you always end up in the middle of it, even if you aren't. I take the issue of physical, emotional and verbal abuse very seriously. It's one of the reasons that I am now involved with the Women's Center and one of the reasons that I am working on staging a Concert for Peace in October of this year.
This is one that I can easily move to the “pro” side. I'm not against Domestic Violence. I am for Domestic Peace. Most of the key people from my youth are at peace with how things went and what it meant for everyone in the long haul. We are lucky because many families never make that kind of leap. What I'd rather see is that other kids & mothers don't have to go through the kinds of things I did. I'm not talking about Leave it To Beaver. Maybe a little more like That 70's Show. The parents don't seem to hit people a lot on that show. Let's do that.
Against: Foreign Wars
You might think this would follow the same kind of logic as the domestic abuse issue and that I would be “pro peace” instead of “anti-war.” There are a couple of key differences.
War, the way we carry it out, is ridiculously expensive. It's crazy to hear our government tell us we are broke when we never run out of money for optional wars. We are nearing $2 trillion total on Iraq and Afghanistan, with another $1 trillion on the “War on Terror” and chasing down Osama Bin Laden in the fanciest hut in rural Pakistan. I've written about these facts before. We spend over 50% of our discretionary budget on Military Spending and we spend nearly as much as the rest of the world combined on “Defense.”
Our Military Budget is some 20 times the size of our total educational budgets. Our current approach to national defense is too expensive and I am against this kind of spending by our central Federal government.
There is another cost that we need to add in to this equation that equals “against” and that is the physical casualties of war: The soldiers who die in combat or are horrifically wounded. Recently you may have heard story of Travis Mills of Vassar, who returned from Afghanistan as only the fourth quadruple amputee in US Army history. Men like Travis Mills volunteer because they care about this country. You have to wonder what his friends, family and descendants will think about war now.
I can tell you that I am already against the next war, but I can also tell you that I support Travis Mills. (And you can, too. Go to travismills.org to look for information fundraisers and ways you can help.)
For: Minority Rights
I got into a brief and pretty one sided debate in the last week. Despite that big build-up, I thought I would share part of it just the same. The topic was the current inability to same sex couples to marry in Michigan. The other fellow's defense for this situation was “the majority rules.”
Here's the rub. There is a common misconception that the US, being a democratic republic, is based around the will of the majority. The reality is that most of the impetus, planning and execution of the American model centered on protecting the rights of minority interests. There were particularly strong efforts to allow for dissent and difference of opinion to have a place alongside freedom and happiness.
Somewhere along the line, though, we ended up with the current idea that there were winners and losers in everything. Majority - winner. Good for you. Minority - loser. Sorry about that. Get more votes next time. Be careful what you wish for “Majority.” Something tells me that a lot of “them's” might show up at the November polls and show all of you “us's” that we are headed in a new direction.
Against: The Right to Work
Wait a second. That can't be right. How can he be against the right to work? We all should be able to work, correct? This is one of those places where one side has really won the battle of the catch phrases. Right to Work is the name adopted for the most modern version of union busting. And, though many people have an idea of some fictional factory worker when they think union jobs, this is aimed squarely at the construction trades that provide a sustainable economic base for many Michigan craftsmen and their families.
There are some misconceptions about current rules surrounding unions. First of all, you don't have to join one, even if your workplace has one. You do have to pay fees equal to dues to the union, which is still required to represent you in many matters, such as negotiating pay and benefits. The union may not use dues or fees for political purposes or lobbying. Basically, the union is still required to protect the rights of these minorities. Very American, this model.
The Right to Work really does two things. First, it eliminates the need to pays fees to the union if you don't belong. Let's forget that they are still going to work to make sure your pay, benefits and workplace are equitable. This is really just an effort to reduce the financial power of the unions. Supporters of Right to Work are hoping that many people will make the economic decision to forego the union to keep a few extra dollars in each paycheck. In the short term this might help an individual's dinner table budget, but in the end it will further erode one of the only standing entities that counterbalance the size and power of private corporations or private political lobbies.
This is one place the “positive” people have smacked it right back, however. The “Right to Work” has quickly and correctly been dubbed the “Right to Work for Less.” Workers in states with Right to Work laws earn significantly less than their counterparts operating under traditional labor rules. Part of this is that collective bargaining power is gutted in these states, so every contract negotiation is another chance for a workforce to take a punch in the economic gut. The second part is that union dues have been factored into most contractual pay rates. Once workers aren't required to pay dues, employers are going to look to roll back wages to reflect this new reality.
Someone recently pointed out to me, correctly I might add, that American wages and benefits had gotten out of whack and were extremely high by global standards. Even though I agreed, I had to admit that I didn't feel like I should work very hard to correct that fact. Personally, I think I deserve a raise. I'll bet you do, too. Rick Snyder? He thinks we are being greedy.
The second thing that would change under a Right to Work law would be how unions are organized to begin with. Currently, this is required to be in an open ballot, with each employee signing a card if they wish to unionize. Under Right to Work, these votes could be conducted by secret ballot. There is concern that the current method leaves employees open to strong arming or shaming if they do not join a union movement. I can see that in some instances. My experience is that transparency usually creates honesty and not the other way around. I'd keep this the way it is, too. In general, plant me firmly against the Right to Work.
Balance - Finding a Center
I occasionally run into people who take great pride in describing themselves as a “stalwart conservative” or a “bleeding liberal.” While I hate to personally label myself, more and more I find myself feeling like I am smack in the middle of a new emerging center. Maybe it's the crowd I hang out in. Maybe it's the ascent of a younger and progressive generation. Maybe people are just becoming more aware, as we enter an age when common sense is valued and nonsense is outed in our public dialogs. But the fact is, even on some positions that might have been really “out there” not long ago, I am finding people who not only hold them, but openly admit them. That's new and that's cool.
In the end, it is probably about gaining balance. It's hard to find balance if you are not centered. And that's why I think I am going to have to default back on occasion to utilizing both pros and cons. Being positive does a body good and you have to love the feeling of progress that comes with working toward a big, positive goal. But sometimes you just have to draw a line in the sand and say “No. We are not going to take it. Even if we used to, that doesn't mean we will now.”
Civil dissent. Civil disobedience. They are rights. American rights. The kind that keep us from having Civil Wars. Feel free to use them this summer, so you will be in good practice by the time we get to Fall.
Just do it with a smile and a copy of the Constitution in your pocket.