227. An American Sunrise: Joy Marjo

My mother always said that I thought too big.

My voice is this blog and my teaching, both of which are unremarkable (in my mind).  Yet, I remind myself daily of the novels that have no publisher, the teacher recognition I do not earn or the public policy I am subjected to because I dare not run for office and dictate the change.  I am told I make a difference daily, but as my mother notes I think too big for my ordinary life and it makes my heart sad, daily.  I am sad at my own hands.

To that end, I “get” Steve Bannon, one of those behind Donald Trump.  A part of me was that in high school and college–the same fiery consumer of destruction and revolution and rebuilding that followed the rise (and fall) of punk music and Reagan–but my logic that fixed any situation stopped with the heart.  I could not kick anyone in the teeth.  The Machiavellian solution of cutting off the leg to save the body stopped me–I could never cut the leg.  What I have found is that few who want to save the leg make it–on the right or the left.  Instead, most Americans seem to be okay with letting the patient die, in the name of compassion or tough love.  

I write a blog and teach and raise two kids and feel sad that our politics are run by surgeons.

Joy Marjo points out below, “We are still America.”  9780393345438It is, in my reading, acknowledging that each of us holds an ideal.  But, living in the real world, we are frustrated that in a democracy that ideal is one of many, competing and working themselves out.

As such, I offer the following ideas as a declaration (you can skip below for the poem).  It is my token in the fountain, to ease my own need for voice:

Health Insurance: Universal Medicaid. Private insurance supplements to allow “perks” such as doctor choice and the like. Teacher contract negotiations then pivot towards this secondary market instead of the simple desire to stay healthy (or alive) on the taxpayer’s dime.  No one deserves to lose their home or livelihood due to illness.

Flat Tax: The only deduction is the poverty rate.  If you make $30,000 subtract $22,500 (2010 number) and pay flat tax on $7,500.  Earn 1,000,000 pay taxes on $977,500.

Schools and Prisons: Public, run by and paid for by public money (taxes).  The federal government sets guidelines (Common Core) and measures (i.e., SBAC) but lets the states address where they fall short.  When it persists, the feds begin to get involved.

Public school is the strength of our nation.  It is the great equalizer.  And prisons are how we are measured as people–punishing or rehabilitators?  I choose the latter.

Regulation: Like schools and prisons, each department creates a floor, measures and, if necessary, enforces.  Using the Bill of Rights as our model, simple lines are enduring.

Enforcement: Our justice system should be based on the growth of the individual.  It should be geared towards teaching those ready to learn and turn a new leaf.  That said, white collar criminals need to do time instead of allowing their companies to pay fines–if you take the bonus, you take the responsibilities.  Let them grow, but start that process behind bars.

Military: The National Guard should be the centerpiece, with part-time citizen soldiers doing the bulk of the work.  It should be centered around humanitarian work abroad, manned by soldiers with appropriate equipment from areas in America afflicted with similar issues at home.  For example, hurricane relief specialists coming from the Gulf states would respond effectively to disasters in the Caribbean.  Californians might be called on for Asian earthquake relief.  As they experience the worst disasters the world might offer, they bring that expertise home to help neighbors when the unthinkable happens.  Beyond that, we are a republic not an empire–we need to contract a bit.

Abortion and Gun Rights: I cannot help but feel that the battle over abortion is about controlling women, even if many against it are earnest in their beliefs.  Such draconian measures and sentiments would not be public debate if this was only about life.  And if life is precious, why all the guns?  I will trust women and gun owners to be moral in their private lives and decisions, and allow only what is necessary for the individual to defend their own life.

Deficit: Governments are not households, so our systems of spending differ, too.  That said, we have created a system dependent of deficits.  We should live within our means, starting with shoring up the taxes (above) and cutting the military as our obligations shrink.

Immigration: A nation controls its borders.  Our greatest strength is our diversity and those who join us from abroad.  The sweet spot is legal immigration.  Let’s balance taking in a refugee for every illegal immigrant deported.

Data and Facts: The federal government should collect data and make it public.  It should tie funding for schools, the police, highways and the like to data.  Data about race, gender and poverty should be an accessible no-brainer, but we have nothing here.  That NASA and the NOAA have so much trust tells you the power of the truth.

Rule of Law: It should go without saying that checks-and-balances are important, but apparently not everyone seems to agree at this time.  We cannot make exceptions.  Once this is compromised going back is very, very hard.

I could go on, but I won’t.  Each of us has not only a view, but issues that mean more to use than others.

What does America mean to your students?  I am finding that the gap between perceptions and reality are where the learning goes.  In a recent unit on Africa, my students were filled with stereotypes.  But in every stereotype is a kernel of truth.  Finding that truth, and shining light on the rest taught them more than a few maps and current events could.  Honor their experience so far and, like me, have them solve everything.  Your students might be able to cut off the leg to save the body, but they might also find a cure that makes such surgery unnecessary

Note: It is unclear to me if this is a prose poem or if enjambment is intentional.  I tried to respect my source’s formatting, the Poetry Foundation.  Fun Fact: The last word of each line in the poem comes from Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool” (a poem I love, and a technique being called a “shovel poem” hereand more related to Harjo’s “Fun Fact” here.

An American Sunrise
Joy Harjo

We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We
were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike.
It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you were straight.
Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget. We
made plans to be professional — and did. And some of us could sing
so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars. Sin
was invented by the Christians, as was the Devil, we sang. We
were the heathens, but needed to be saved from them — thin
chance. We knew we were all related in this story, a little gin
will clarify the dark and make us all feel like dancing. We
had something to do with the origins of blues and jazz
I argued with a Pueblo as I filled the jukebox with dimes in June,
forty years later and we still want justice. We are still America. We
know the rumors of our demise. We spit them out. They die


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