Monday was comprised of choices. Three opportunities to stay engaged in community matters lay before me. It was “Progressive Blogger Day On The Hill.” More about that shortly. It was also Graduation Day for 5 women who completed the program at Thistle Farms, or, rather, Magdalene House. I wanted to be there to support them and congratulate them. Finally, there was a press conference at Lowes Vanderbilt for CEI, (Coalition for Education about Immigration), and, since a friend needed a favor, I elected to attend the press conference . (It should be noted that I also support CEI’s goals as well)
I arrived on time and was glad to see some new faces, as well as some familiar ones, from TIRRC. I was amused to find out that a local attorney-friend is, like me, enjoying persona non grata status at the 287(g) Advisory Council. I also had a nice conversation with Avi Poster.
The press conference started a little late (surprise!) and then the usual suspects said a few words. Don’t get me wrong, I think much of what was said needs to be repeated often, its just that I have sat through my share of these and I got a little antsy midway through. Then the Rev Sonny Dixon spoke. The Earth moved. The Angels wept. (Don’t you just love hyperbole?) Seriously, I damn near ran up to the podium and hugged him. It isn’t so much that he offered anything new, at least to me, but that he said it at a press conference. He talked about a larger conversation that must take place first, one that addresses our guilt as a violent nation, and one built on the backs of exploitable labor. He talked about why we are suspicious of others, and that it stems from our shared experiences, our shared history of exploiting and being exploited. In street terms, if you are “gettin over”, you automatically assume everyone else is as well. He talked about the expectation foisted upon us that we accept the exploitation of others as necessary to fully assimilate into mainstream American culture. The African slaves were stripped of their culture and their language, and others learned to make necessary trade offs in the assimilation process. He’s right. Immigration reform may never happen until we have the guts to have a painful nation-wide conversation about our collective guilt.
Before I offer my thoughts on an event I did not attend, but read about in local blogs, I have to mention Bubba Wells, of Well’s Shoe Shine Service. On my way out of the hotel, I noticed a young man tucked in a corner, brushing a leather dress shoe. (Watch, as I deftly weave this together with Blogger Day On The Hill). As someone raised by a father that placed a high premium on personal appearance, I was appalled by the footwear worn by most of the men I met on The Hill. I can overlook a cheap or ill-fitting suit. Oxford style collar with a suit? Forgivable. Lapels that are as big as a hang-glider, or a tie that completely misses the mark, or, probably the most common fashion malady infecting our State’s elected officials, a belt that is a different color than the shoes are all irritating but understandable with this group. But shoddy, unshined shoes? Sorry, I can’t take you seriously.
I decided to sit down with Bubba and commiserate a little over the state of footwear in this country. I was hoping to establish a bond, a, uh, brothers-in-arms camaraderie that two men can form when confronting a shared enemy, in this case, unshined shoes. He was having none of it. He came up in the business under the tutelage of one Herbert Taylor, who shined shoes for two decades at the Belair Barber Shop on 17th ave North. When Taylor died in 2005, Bubba took over his clientele. Bubba has lived here his whole life, and he and his wife Leslie are raising a daughter, Whitney, on what he earns in the shoe-shining business. And business is good. Yes, he admits that shined leather shoes are not nearly as common these days, but apparently that also means that his competition has faded away. I asked him if he worried that the next generation may not wear dress shoes at all. “Nah, I clean up their Timberlands and Air Force Ones’. (A Nike tennis shoe, for those of you hopelessly removed from the street) It seems he has perfected a way to clean suede. “Heck, I clean everything except flip flops and house shoes”. He even offers a pickup service around metro Nashville with a five pair minimum. I had to inquire about his famous clients…the name that he uttered first? Dan Marino. Now, I love football, and Marino is a giant, a legend, a man among men, but I think i might have mentioned first that I shined the President’s shoes. When Barack Obama came to Nashville for the debate at Belmont, an aide brought his shoes (Cole Hahn, size 11) to Bubba to shine. He dismissed me with this: “I don’t care if you buy your shoes from Payless or Gucci….I cleans them the same.” Amen.
It appears there was a little drama on the Hill on Monday. I think I read that some of the Democrats admitted that they had to tack right to stay electable in their counties. My response to that is always the same, then why should I vote for you over the Republican? Hell, if you and Josh Evans are going to vote the same way, I might as well let Josh cast that vote, at least it will keep him from screwing up something important in the private sector. I think I read that some of the local bloggers felt patted on the head. I can relate. And, apparently, one legislator managed to piss off the women bloggers. I can relate. He was probably half-right, but probably shouldn’t have offered his thoughts on the matter without having his words thoroughly vetted first.
He said something along the line of not seeing women activists on the hill except when an abortion related bill is being considered. I know what he was trying to say, but had he asked me I could have told him to avoid that minefield. Nothing good can come from it.
Like it or not, any slice of the public that is not currently in power or at least in the majority IS A SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP. Not by choice, of course. And it is nowhere near fair or just. But it is what it is. In a couple of decades, Hispanics and Latinos will make up the majority of the American population. Chances are good we will still be a special interest group. That will remain true until our concerns are given voice by those that are not Hispanic or Latino, and when their numbers rival ours within our organizations. That will simply not happen when we continue to scream racism when someone who essentially agrees with us utters something insensitive or simply chooses their words poorly. Hispanics need white supporters, lots of them. Women need men supporters, lots of them.
Let me offer an example. Mike Huckabee getting Sotomayor’s first name wrong? Not racism. Perhaps he just never met a Hispanic woman that wasn’t named Maria. Not taking the time to know the full and proper name of the first potential Hispanic member of the Supreme Court? Insensitive, and a bit of a rookie mistake to be sure. But clearly not racism.
Contrast that with this, written by a man named Marcus Epstein:
“Diversity can be good in moderation — if what is being brought in is desirable. Most Americans don’t mind a little ethnic food, some Asian math whizzes, or a few Mariachi dancers — as long as these trends do not overwhelm the dominant culture.”
That is racism, and he should be shamed and ridiculed and never considered relevant again.
Now, as Progressives, we don’t want Epstein’s followers. We do want some of Huckabee’s followers. We are going to alienate Epstein’s people by merely being here, but I know some good people who like and admire Mike Huckabee and I’d like to appeal to their better angels on a whole host of issues. Calling their guy a racist pretty much guarantees an uphill battle on every point. Its politically counter-productive.
Bah. I don’t care to rehash the whole Favreau thing, but dammit it comes to mind. And, I recently discovered some evidence to my assertion that I AM FAVREAU:
This was clearly a teachable moment, missed.
Hah, can you tell I get paid by the word now?