Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Monday, July 19, 2010

Let It Go

My maternal grandmother never learned to drive. Being New York City born and bred, she never needed to learn the art of driving. She could always take the ferry, subway, bus, or trolley. Or walk. But then my uncle and his wife and my parents all moved to New Jersey. If Grandma and Grandpa wanted to be where the grandkids were, they’d have to move. And they did.

Now Grandma was stuck in the ‘burbs with no way to get around. The supermarket and post officer were right around the corner, but that was about it. Good luck trying to get Grandpa to take her anywhere, even though he was retired by then. More often than not, my mother would take her where she wanted to go, whether it was shopping or visiting friends back in the city.

Mrs. K. looked perfectly normal at first. When she opened the door, one eye peered nervously out into the hall before she unchained the last latch. That was to be expected. This was New York City, after all.

She sounded perfectly normal at first, too, as she invited us in. Grandma re-introduced Mom and me and my brothers. As she set up for tea, she and Grandma talked. Mrs. K. asked how Grandpa was doing (“What are you still doing with him, E.?” I believe was the exact question, followed by, “And you tell me I’m crazy.”). Then Grandma asked how she was doing.

We children hung back at first, ever mindful of our Momiquette. Wait until you’re asked to sit down, asked if you’d like something to eat or drink, and wait for me to tell you what to say to any question you’re asked.

Mrs. K. was eager to talk to us and she invited us into her kitchen to chat. We got the all-clear from Mom and we went in. She showed me and Big Brother her radio and her notebook. She was on a mission, she told us. Her job was to take down coded messages on the radio.

She read to us from her transcripts. It sounded truly frightening and quite believable. Big Brother’s eyes were wide and he listened attentively. Something bothered me about that notebook of hers, though, with its coded messages. I still don’t know what it was exactly.

I was five, and typical of that age, quite dubious. How did we know she just wasn’t writing things down that she’d made up in her head? Boldly, I asked if the secret spies were on the radio now and if we could hear them?

“Oh they’re always on!” she replied, two seconds ahead of my mother’s frantic efforts to stop me. She produced the radio, an old-fashioned, 1950s style radio (well it wasn’t old-fashioned back then). She invited me to sit beside her as we listened.

Static. She had tuned in between radio stations to a static-filled void. “Well, can you hear them?” she asked. “Those are the Woo-Woos. They’re going to take over the Earth.”

“I don’t hear anything,” I protested. “There’s nothing but static (yes, I knew that word at the age of 5). All I hear is noise.”

“That’s them!”

“That’s noise.”

She jumped up from the table with a cry and started running around the apartment, babbling and shouting about the Woo-Woos. My mother and grandmother gave me a stern scolding. My mother quickly hustled me and my brothers into our winter coats and out the door. My grandmother apologized to Mrs. K. and stayed behind to calm her down.

Back in the car, my brother was howling with laughter. He was nine and knew what mental illness was. I was five and didn’t. I knew what Downes Syndrome was (our neighbors’ adult son had Downes Syndrome – they called it mental retardation back then – he was very sweet and gentle, totally harmless). I felt terrible about upsetting the woman, but I didn’t realize there was something wrong with her. It’s just that she was telling a fib.

She didn’t scold me again, though. Instead, my mother explained how to Mrs. K., the Woo-Woos were real, that her brain had an illness, just the way people can get the chicken pox or measles. It made her see and hear things that weren’t there, somewhat like a delirium when people have a fever.

Whenever I hear people carry on about race, I think of Mrs. K. Groups like the NAACP want to know why we don’t confront such people. Well, it’s because they’re like Mrs. K. and the Woo-Woos. It’s best to just leave people like that to their delusions, unless they actually try to hurt someone. Then, it’s time to dial 911 and let the men in the white coats deal with them.

It’s static. We had one loony tune running around in witch doctor’s garb at one of our tea parties. Everyone kind of gave him a wide berth and sidestepped him. Finally, a friend who was with me, and was a member of the Tea Party’s Intervention Squad, went after him to politely invite him to leave.

A very few may remember that at the very first Morristown Tea Party I warned against this very thing. That it’s very easy to get caught up in past arguments, to lay blame, to be seduced by extremists who tell us we’re in the very danger they predicted (which we pretty much are, in terms of becoming a socialist country), and that now, the only answer is violence. That we’re at war.

I said we had to rectify the situation now, peacefully, politically, before we got to the point of no return and violence would be, by necessity, the only answer. I said we shouldn’t have to apologize for the errors of past generations – and that in doing so, we’d gotten into our present predicament - but that we shouldn’t repeat them, either. Social division is the hallmark of socialist politicians. Both sides were being herded by extremists.

The organizers didn’t like any of that too much. That’s when they pulled me off the stage. They said if they’d known I was going to say that, they’d never have let me speak. I was supposed to be talking about taxes. Not education and history and social problems (which aggravate our tax problems). And certainly not to a few racists who I suspected might be out there, trying to take advantage of our gathering and derail its real purpose of protesting an ever-growing, omnipotent government and restore the values that had made America great, like honesty, integrity, free enterprises, and individuality. I just wanted to make sure they knew they weren’t welcome to the party. In the end, they’re no better than the Liberal socialists we were protesting.

Originally, while we were all still just mulling this tea party thing online, someone had the idea to hold our rally in Newark, which is New Jersey’s largest – and predominantly black – city. Our Queen City (that’s a state’s largest city apart from its capital). My immediate response was: “Are you out of your minds?!”

It would be like committing suicide. How would we like it, indeed, if say, the Black Panthers came and demonstrated on the Morristown Green? It was too dangerous, too inflammatory. It was also too far away. The rally was scheduled for noon on a workday. Who was going to make that 45 minute or so trek from, say Morristown (it’s a big county; some people would be closer to Newark)?

Most of the online tea partiers agreed and we decided to stay in Morristown, where we belonged. Morris County was our home (or in my case, where my employer was located). We also knew that we had a problem with white supremacists as well as Liberals who would try to disrupt our events (did they ever).

I knew they were out there. I’ve known some of them, I’m sorry to say. But it’s like my father said, you have to listen to the enemy to know how to counter him. They make a compelling case for white, European culture (about how it’s being suppressed) – until they come to the part about throwing everyone else out of the country, or worse, killing them.

Hitler’s Mein Kampf (My Struggle) is said to have made precisely those kind of arguments and seduced many people into belief in an Aryan supremacy. The idiots. That was the one book my father told me not to read. National socialism is no better than liberal socialism or communism. They’re all fancy words for the same thing – Big Government.

These are people who judged not just the color of someone’s skin, but the degree of its shade, the precise color of the eye. They measured the distance between the eyes and the size of a person’s skull. They believed wholeheartedly in eugenics.

Hello? Calling the Woo-Woos.

One particularWoo-Woo believed that welfare should be entirely cut off, blacks and Hispanics barred from employment, and all sent back to Africa. He knew the whole white supremacy creed by heart – white America for white Americans, said he. I agreed that welfare was wrong; that it was an unfair burden on taxpayers. However.

“Just send them all back to Africa, just like that?” I cried. “Are you crazy? And don’t hire them, either?”

“No, absolutely not.”

“Just let them starve in the streets?”

“I don’t care.”

Reasoning with this man was impossible. I would have had a better chance talking to the Woo Woos. Whether you like them or not, I told him, the black people are here. They’ve been born here for the last 200 years. This isn’t the 18th century. You can’t just put them on a boat and ‘send them back’ like used baggage. They’re not aborigines in loincloths with painted faces, carrying spears.

I don’t know, I went on. I’ve seen them. I’ve worked with them. Except that their skin is dark, they look just like everyone else. They sure look and act like normal people to me. They’ve got all their arms and legs. Maybe I don’t like their politics, particularly, but I know an awful lot of white people who are voting the same way. As for their music (we were all musicians), I’d much rather listen to Michael Jackson than the Grateful Dead.

In my job, I have to deal with all sorts of people, and I don’t have time for, and can’t afford, a racist attitude. If you stand in front of my studio camera, I’ll take your picture. My concern for your skin color goes only so far as it is affected by the lighting, and that’s it. If you have a company event, I’ll cover it (especially if there’s food involved). If it happens to involve dancing (we’re not supposed to be talking about those kinds of events in this economy but we do have holiday parties), I’ll do the dance with you. Whether those other guys like it or not (and the “other guys” know it, so they never bother me about it).

Still, the racism is out and about, in my neighborhood and still among friends. I just try to bring them gently along. They’d simply dig in their heels if I fought with them. They’re appalled when sometimes my work brings me into dangerous neighborhoods in the City. For that matter, so are the residents. Their eyes pop wide open (what’s a blonde, blue eyed suburban gal – well, now my hair is more or less gray – doing HERE? Is she out of her mind?).

My dad wouldn’t like it if he knew I was writing this. In fact, I have a picture of him and Mom (Mom’s wearing her leopard skin dress and he’s looking very pleased about it) at my desk, and I think he’s scowling at me. When HE was five, he was beaten up by a gang of black teenagers. He never recovered from the trauma, as I’m sure many black people who suffered from abusive discrimination will never quite recover from their experiences. It’s seared into their minds and who can really judge them? One would hope they could learn to forgive, but that’s between them and God.

My philosophy is, leave them alone. As long as they don’t behave like lunatics like Mrs. K, with her Woo-Woos, or the guy in the witch doctor get-up, let them be. That doesn’t mean they have, pardon the expression, carte blanche to go out and hurt and kill each other. However, it’s not likely that they’ll just get over it, that their minds will be changed.

The radicals, on the other hand, are a different story. My father wasn’t a radical. He kept what he felt to himself. Neither was the black lady at the water fountain. She just wanted a drink of water from a working fountain – that her taxes helped pay for. The radicals have more on their minds that skin color. They’re concerned with power, and if racial division will bring them to that power, they’re more than happy to build the bonfire.

That doesn’t mean any of us, black or white or whatever, have to volunteer to be the kindling. Even now, with this recent NAACP business, we’ve got stokers busy fanning the flames, challenging one another to a racist duel. The NAACP finally backed down, but now we’ve got the Tea Party Patriots, I believe, calling them out. That’s one of the reasons I never thought a national Tea Party organization was such a good idea.

We don’t really have an “official membership card” and so it would be impossible to elect such leaders, for one thing. Remaining relatively independent also offers the groups protection from group think (we all have to think the same thing the same way at the same time – i.e., some town in California is in favor of abortion, some group in Kansas is against it), brush fires (like the North Iowa Tea Party billboard), and centralization, the very thing we’re fighting against!

Really, guys. Give it a rest. We’ve got better things to do and better ways to do them. Let it go. Reach out to every American who believes in individual freedom and liberty, who believes in the U.S. Constitution, and the principles of the Founding Fathers. This is a political battle and there are enemies of all stripes. You won’t need to identify them by the color of their skin or their eyes or even their tee shirts. All they need to say is the secret password, a word America’s enemies are unable to utter without choking on their contempt.

Freedom.

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