Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lest we forget

Recently in my home school district members of the board have been rallying to "study special education" to make sure it is "cost effective." Members of the community, alarmed by the violent cuts proposed to the education budget by our so called governor have been calling for cuts to special education.

How predictable that under stress communities would go after the weak and disabled as scapegoats. This same community that twice has refused to tax itself to pay for the education our own children. Are our citizens taking their torches and pitchforks out to the homes of the baby boomers who have benefitted from prop 13 all these years? Many of them paying less in property taxes all year than many of our young families pay in mortgage each month? Are they going after the governor, who proposed the cuts, or our Republican legislators who have taken a blood oath to not raise any new revenue, no matter what? Do they think that, maybe, under the circumstances that athletes could pay for extra curricular activities so that children with disabilities could have nurses, aides to change their diapers or speech therapy?

No, they go after children with disabilities. "Get the gimps! They cost to damn much!"

Americans after WWII love to vilify the Nazis. What has always scared me about Nazi Germany is not how alien it is, but how human they were, how recognizable. In that great Christian democracy (yes, Hitler appealed to Christians, especially Protestants, AND he was elected. Look it up) in that great democracy, when times got hard and Germans were standing in bread lines, it was the disabled they went after first. The tens of thousands of people with disabilities who were murdered were just the rehearsal for the Jewish Holocaust. They are not even remembered. And, it began here, in the States, in California. What scares me about Nazi Germany is how human they were, and how human we all still are. 

The following is from the National Holocaust Museum site:

Popular films such as Das Erbe ("Inheritance") helped build public support for government policies by stigmatizing the mentally ill and the handicapped and highlighting the costs of care. School mathematics books posed such questions as: "The construction of a lunatic asylum costs 6 million marks. How many houses at 15,000 marks each could have been built for that amount?" (emphasis added).

Nazi Germany was not the first or only country to sterilize people considered "abnormal." Before Hitler, the United States led the world in forced sterilizations. Between 1907 and 1939, more than 30,000 people in twenty-nine states were sterilized, many of them unknowingly or against their will, while they were incarcerated in prisons or institutions for the mentally ill. Nearly half the operations were carried out in California. 

A last thought from EUGENE V. DEBS

"Now my friends, I am opposed to the system of society in which we live today, not because I lack the natural equipment to do for myself but because I am not satisfied to make myself comfortable knowing that there are thousands of my fellow men who suffer for the barest necessities of life. We were taught under the old ethic that man's business on this earth was to look out for himself. That was the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of the wild beast. Take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man. Thousands of years ago the question was asked; ''Am I my brother's keeper?'' That question has never yet been answered in a way that is satisfactory to civilized society.

Yes, I am my brother's keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality but by the higher duty I owe myself. What would you think me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"The generosity of the voters"

Yesterday I went to Sacramento to speak to the legislative budget committee on what the committee chair sarcastically called "the governor's revised revision of the May revise" of the budget. 

The room was packed, standing room only, and the line went out the hall. During the public comment period, which lasted well over an hour, I joined citizen after citizen in appeals to our legislators. Each of us begging them not to cut education in our state further, describing the crippling blows our local schools and services have taken. No one spoke in favor of smaller government, less taxes or more cuts to education or health and human services. Yet the majority sat powerless to act, because of the tyranny of a few ideologues who have sworn a blood oath with their party to raise no new revenue, no matter what. 

In California, it takes a two thirds vote to levy any new tax. In spite of a 59% vote in favor of new taxes in our district, we cannot raise money to stem the hemorage created by the violent slashing of the state budget. People are literally jobless, homeless and hungry,  yet they sit smug and satisfied to do more harm.

One Republican member asked about the fraud, waste and abuse in In Home Supportive Services for the disabled that were, in his words "taking advantage of the generosity of the taxpayers." To him, I say this:

  •  These services are so hard to get, I can't imagine fraud waste and abuse in the system. If there is, you risk killing the patient trying to excise the last of the cancer. Seriously, how much more can you spend trying to prevent unnecessary expenditures? 
  • Second, charity and generosity are neither if they are given with resentment and used to shame the recipient. Generosity and charity exalt the giver and the receiver. That which you do unto the least of these...
  • Third, and most importantly, programs for the disabled are not built by generosity, they are built by wisdom. You are likely to need these one day. 
As one great legislator once said, you will never be black, you will never be a woman, but you may easily become disabled on your way home

Many people have told me that my daughter was born so that I could learn-- if there is a force out there that guides the life experiences we have in order that we may learn compassion, humility, and generosity first hand, may that force bring those lessons to the Republican party of California. And may no one else need suffer while they are learning.