But one thing Ol’ Cap’n. I am released of you. …No more shoutin’ “Hallelujah” every time you sneeze, nor jumpin’ jackass every time you whistle “Dixie.” We gonna love you if you let us and laugh as we leave if you don’t. We want our cut of the Constitution and we want it now! And not with no teaspoon, white folks. Throw it at us with a shovel!
~ Purlie, Purlie Victorius: A Comedy in Three Acts
The quote above is from a play I saw ages ago when I was in high school. That line has occurred to me more than once in the last couple of weeks, as I’ve listened to earnest activists extoll the virtues of accepting teaspoons of justice, as a remedy to shovelfuls of injustice.
In the previous post I posed a question, without realizing I’d already written an answer to that question.
Its one thing to be an incrementalist and at least be honest about that last sentence. It’s quite another to declare that it is the right thing to do to ask others to continue to suffer injustice without remedy is the right thing to do, that they ought to be glad to do it, and that they are wrong for objecting to it.
…And for movements that are supposed to be about progress and equality, it’s a matter of of a certain degree of concession to the opposite of both.
…Power concedes nothing without demand, indeed. But what do we concede?
What we concede on some level known. It’s the a concession that might — in the form of a presumed majority of American voters — makes right.
I’m not saying, mind you, that an inclusive ENDA would have passed and been subsequently signed into law after passing the Senate. (Not that the current version is likely to become law between now and, say, 2009.) But in working to get ENDA a vote in the House efforts to fight discrimination against transgender persons at the same time as the recent efforts around ENDA seemed sorely lacking, and little more than an after thought. Rep. Tammy Baldwin presented an amendment to add transgender protections, and later expressed disappointment over its defeat.
The importance of non-discrimination laws cannot be overstated. Substantively, they provide legal remedies and a chance to seek justice.
Symbolically, they say that, in America, we judge our fellow citizens by their integrity, character, and talents; not their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, age, or disability.
Some people have asked why I insisted on bringing an amendment to the floor, only to withdraw it without a vote. The reason is simple. Those left behind by this bill deserve to hear, on the floor of the House, that they are not forgotten and our job will not be finished until they, too, share fully in the American Dream.
Those who would practice employment discrimination, who permit bullying or ostracism on the job, who hire or fire based on stereotyped notions of what is masculine and what is feminine, rather than on a person’s skills and ability, need to hear, from the floor of the House, that such practices are not acceptable in our society.
Irrational hate or fear have no place in our society. If we truly believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, if we truly want to protect the most vulnerable in our society, if we continue to profess that all men are created equal, then we must work toward achieving the American Dream for all?not just for some.
Baldwin is right about non-discrimination laws providing legal remedies and a chance to seek justice. Where they do not exist or whole populations are not covered by them, people continue to experience injustice. Even people who are covered by them experience injustice. The difference is that those people have a chance at getting justice. For those not covered by them there is no justice. Not even a chance at any justice other than that which fate may or may not deliver. (I’ve always said that I know people usually get what’s coming to them. It’s just that in some cases I really want to be Karma’s delivery boy.)
What that means is that “those who practice employment discrimination, who permit bullying or ostracism on the job, and who hire or fire based on stereotyped notions” can continue to do so without any tangible or immediate consequences. They may get theirs in the end. Or they may not, but the people impacted by the discrimination do not get justice or any other remedy.
I honestly believe that people on both sides of the inclusive vs. non-inclusive ENDA debate believe that situation is wrong. But what I haven’t heard discussed is how, if we’re not going to pursue an inclusive ENDA, how are we going to address or remedy the existing injustices that are not being addressed or remedied by the current strategy. It’s kind of the same question I asked Nancy Pelosi a while ago.
So I raised my hand, and when the microphone came to me, I managed to get something close to this out:
As a working father of a four-year-old, with another on the way [Ed. Note: At this point the Speaker gave me a big smile and said "Congratulations!"], and as a gay dad I’d like to hear more about strengthening families. How do we do it in a way that strengthens all families, and that recognizes the reality of diverse families; families where both parents work, families where parents aren’t married to each other, families where the parents can’t marry each other, single parents, etc.?
I’m not sure if the way I opened my question disarmed her, but I’d swear the Speaker blinked and even stammered for a minute, like she wasn’t expecting that one. (Even though my question came close on the heels of one about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which the speaker favored getting rid of.) But it was only a minute. She quickly righted herself and gave an answer that basically, and I’m paraphrasing here until the transcript is up, that boils down to this: we should already be there, and we can get there by supporting the current agenda. Put another way, we can get to a more progressive place where we will strengthen all families, but not yet.
And “Not yet” is not sufficient. It’s not sufficient to me so long as my family and others like it remain vulnerable, and it shouldn’t be sufficient to anyone that another transgender person is denied a chance at a “straight” job, and ends up the victim of a hate crime as a damn-near-direct result of employment discrimination.
I understand incrementalism, but incrementalism is not an excuse as far as I’m concerned to leave immediate injustice un-addressed and un-remedied. The reason I asked Nancy Pelosi the question I did and ask it of every other Democrat or progressive that I can is because if we believe that this type of discrimination is wrong and shouldn’t happen then we’re obligated to fight it here and now, and if one tactic isn’t effective, then try another, but try something, and try it out.
If Democrats and progressives ar convinced that righting for legal marriage isn’t effective right now, then we need to find another way to protect our families right now, not ten or twenty or thirty years down the line. We need to do more than shake our heads and say it’s a shame that happens. If civil unions are the answer, then great. Let’s craft legislation, or pour resources into states where it’s achievable. But let’s do something besides “just wait.”
If we believe that employment discrimination transgender persons is wrong and shouldn’t happen, and an inclusive ENDA isn’t gongi to work right now, then we need to find another way to protect transgender persons right now, not ten or twenty or thirty years down the line. We need to do more than shake our heads and say it’s a shame that happens. Let’s start educating Congress on transgender issues now, get a panel of transgender persons who’ve experienced workplace discrimination in front of a committee hearing, or sitting down with key members of congress, or pour some resources into public education campaigns in key states or districts where legislators might be influenced. But let’s do something besides “just wait.”
In truth, I think if something from the above had been presented when the non-inclusive version of ENDA was introduced — and presented after the organizations involved had engage members of transgender communities and organizations in meaningful dialogue, at least some of the strife of the last few weeks might have been avoided because the message would have been, “We are not including gender identity in ENDA right now, but here is what we are doing right now to remedy today’s injustice, rather than just hoping for a remedy to tomorrow’s injustice.
Because otherwise we concede some degree of victory to the unjust. Because otherwise we leave transgender people to the tender mercies of the kind of people Jim points out when he posts excerpts of letters some of them have written in opposition to a gender identity non-discrimination law proposed in the county where I happen to live.
I am writing to you about the above mentioned bill. It has come to my attention that this bill will allow transgender people to enter the opposite genders bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers. This is absolutely ridiculous!! How can a county pass a bill that will allow men to enter changing areas with little girls and women and women to enter changing areas with males!! This is an absolute way for pedophiles to reach their intended targets in a legal manner! It also is a way for other sexual predators to reach their intended targets in a legal way!!
I am outraged!!! I understand that parts of this bill are intended for non discriminatory housing units. This is fine, however, please read your bill carefully and make sure that you are not the subject of a public disaster. I have lived and worked in Montgomery County for 17 years. I will not be proud to be a resident here if you pass this bill.
I ask that on November 13th you vote NO to this bill.
~ ~ ~
Allowing men who think they’re women into women’s bathrooms and locker rooms?
ARE YOU PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MINDS?
Hopefully, it will be one of your daughters who gets raped first!
Furryllama Media Productions
Because teaspoons of justice are not sufficient against shovelfuls of injustice.