StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith


Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on March 22, 2010

Many years ago, when I was working for the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, I helped arrange for Congressman John Lewis, one of the greatest heros of the civil rights movement, to receive the Founder’s Award at our 35th Anniversary luncheon. (Chicago’s own Barack Obama would win it the following year and speak at our luncheon.) I had the honor of being his valet for the day. He was an unaffected, salt-of-the-earth guy with a hearty laugh. But when I sat at a pre-luncheon roundtable with him and 10 other people from my generation, his eyes had a fiery intensity born of bitter experience that people my age, weened as we were on the complacency of an escapist entertainment industry, had rarely if ever witnessed.

Lewis talked about how he’d been hit over the head with a hammer on a march through Montgomery. He talked about the many times his community of activists had been thrown in jail, jeopardizing their already scant prospects to secure rights that the status quo was only too content to withhold from them. He talked about how he’d come through it all to be one of the most influential members of congress.

When he was done talking, he opened the floor to questions. Everyone was too stunned to talk. So he looked around until his strongest eye settled right on me, making it known that, if anyone was responsible for keeping this discussion going, it would have to be me, the guy who arranged it all. I didn’t know what to ask besides: “Well, God, did you ever think about giving up?”

John Lewis looked at me incredulously. He told us giving up was the furthest thing from their minds. There was too much to fight for and live for. If they died, they died, but the fight would go on.

This past Saturday, as John Lewis marched with his fellow congressmen to pull in the last units of support they’d need to pass healthcare reform, Tea Partiers called him n@%ger. Some even spat on Lewis’ fellow civil rights crusader Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver. They screamed “faggot”* at Barney Frank and mocked his lisp. Another congressman and civil rights pioneer, Rep. James Clybourn, said he hadn’t witnessed this level of hatred since South Carolina in the 1960s – and that’s saying something! But all four men soldiered on through Longworth Hall to make history this weekend.

This was a HUGE comeback for Barack Obama. This bill alone – rudimentary though it is – is enough to enshrine Obama’s name in presidential history. As I watched the number of votes tick to 219 last night without a single Republican Yay, I remembered Dylan’s line: “You didn’t know it, you didn’t think it could be done/In the final end, he won the wars after losing every battle.”

I was so afraid Obama had given up on healthcare, just as Clinton had in his presidency. Yet Nancy Pelosi and Al Franken were both instrumental in putting him back on track. At a party retreat at which Obama spoke in February, Franken, the freshmen senator, chastised his fellow democrats for all but scuttling the bill after the Scott Brown election in Massachusetts. Pelosi met privately with President Obama telling him that if she and Harry Reid were going to put their necks on the line for Obama’s foremost priority, he had better muscle through to the finish with them. At long last, Obama was no longer afraid to make waves. He hunkered down, wrangled in every stray bit of potential support, made his most impassioned speeches and, much like on his own election night, he clocked in a victory at about 11 o’clock (EST) last night.

Naturally, losing didn’t keep the Republicans from lying. They disowned responsibility for the Tea Partiers’ behavior even though they’d rallied them, led them in chanting “Kill the Bill” and applauded one protester for breaking into congress and shouting down democrats. Then, after the vote came down, Republicans ran their mouths about how this bill would increase federal funding for abortion, even though it is expressly written all over the bill and the executive order that such funding is strictly prohibited. (For the record, in countries where there is government funding for abortions, abortion rates are at least 20% lower per capita than in the United States. Such facilities provide ample contraception and information on safe sex, free of charge, thus greatly reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies without abortion.) But that didn’t stop the Republicans’ lying gums from flapping.

I would write this off as sore loserhood but it is in fact a calculation to rile Tea Partiers into an insurgency that the Republicans will stamp out the minute their party regains control of congress and/or the White House. (Funny how we don’t hear much about Big Government once Republicans are the big government, much like we didn’t hear a peep out of the Republicans about the deficit once they ran it up with war debts and Bush tax-cuts. Now, it’s just about all they talk about.) The Republicans should be publicly hauled out and censured for the ┬ádistortions they promulgated on the house floor last night.

When Bart Stupak, the Republicans’ great white hope, got up to make his speech in favor of the senate bill – which he demanded be sealed with an anti-choice executive order – a Republican congressman screamed, “Baby Killer!”

I’m glad Stupak cast his vote for the bill after all his vamping on TV this month, but I still want his ass run out of office. We don’t need democrats like him or Blanche Lincoln and Dan Lipinski. I’m waiting for those MoveOn emails to come asking us to drive out these conservative democrats, who stand in the way of progress every bit as much as their Republican colleagues.

All that aside, though…I gotta say, Ms. Palin…this hopey-changey stuff is really starting to work out for us!


* To me, the word “faggot” is just as offensive as the n-word, but unlike the latter epithet, I spell it out in full to avoid confusion with the other word known as the f-word, which I find infinitely less offensive.