For you and me – the fight to GIVE our country back


It’s our country, and it’s their country. It’s my country and it’s your country. It’s a Christian country and a Jewish country and a Muslim country and a Hindu country and a Buddhist country and an atheist country. It’s a country where Africans, Asians, Europeans, Latin Americans, Arabs and Persians are as American as the baby born in Cleveland. If the White House is anybody’s house, it’s everybody’s house, white being the unbroken, unrefracted presence of all colors of visible light.

We may not all share the same tenement, the same block, the same neighborhood, or even the same city. But whether we came here from somewhere else or we had relatives on the Mayflower, we are a people who believe that this land was made for all of us.

“This land is your land. This land is my land,” sang Woody Guthrie, in what was once held as a universal truth. “This land was made for you and me.”

Not anymore.

These days, there are many who hear that song as, “This land was made for me and people like me, and we want it back!” It is in that barren, rocky and unforgiving context that all the sad, forced battles over immigration, religion, and sexual rights take place.

Sailors raise their right hands and take the oath of U.S. citizenship during a naturalization ceremony held at Cabrillo National Monument.
U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Juan E. Diaz. (May, 2003)

Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of passing laws like Arizona’s recently quashed SB1070, making immigrants outlaws and turning law enforcement into thugs defending cultural xenophobia, we felt compelled to pass laws which insure everyone, EVERYONE, gets a piece of our country’s “pursuit of happiness” idiom? That would be the greatest show of American unity! But that appears to be too threatening a principle for those who prefer you were more like them before they accept you.

For people like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, it seems states’ rights are necessary to protect those who prefer their own cultural isolation, and who cleave to their right to impose it on their neighbors. Want your country back, whatever that means? Get behind Scalia.

In his dissenting opinion, Monday, to the Court’s decision on the Arizona immigration law, Scalia talked about state sovereignty, and  wrote “Arizona has the inherent power to exclude persons from its territory,” and “the States have the right to protect their borders against foreign nationals.” So, one might infer that had he been a Supreme in the 1950s, Scalia would have dissented in Brown v. Board of Education, since public schools are often properties of the state, and if the state wanted to exclude Negros, it had the power to do that.

It also seems that he would have no problem, hypothetically,  against a state kicking out a minority that went against the principles of the state government, like if Oklahoma decided to expel their Muslim communities because their presence threatened the integrity of the anti-Sharia law amendment that Sooner voters passed two years ago (which has been struck down by at least two courts as violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution). The state, he would argue, is exercising its sovereign authority to “exclude persons from its territory” and “protect its borders.”

Indeed, Scalia seems to lament the nineteenth century laws and decisions, when  “primary responsibility for immigration policy… shifted from the States to the Federal Government,” and he appears to base his opinion on a pioneer ideal of states being able to operate more independently in protecting their territory, like they were still guarding a frontier. They fought to get ’em. They fight to keep ’em.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In a bizarre, glass mostly full kind of reaction, Jan Brewer, Arizona’s finger-wagging, tongue-twisted Republican governor, embraced Monday’s split SCOTUS decision as “a victory for the 10th Amendment and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens.” In ignoring the actual result of what the Court’s majority rejected, Brewer must have concluded that as long as Scalia got their argument, they had won. “We must use this new tool wisely,” she said, as if she were a ruler rallying her troops, “and fight for our safety with the honor Arizona deserves.”

(One wonders, what is it about governors who see themselves as rulers of their own little country? No wonder so many feel they could be president. When they are president, though, they are just as nonplussed about state assertions of power as the current administration.)

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

With Scalia overtly signalling from the bench that he, for one, would entertain a case brought against President Obama for his recent executive order stopping deportations of immigrants brought here illegally as minors, on top of his pushing for the additional arguments that led to the death of campaign finance reform in the decision known as Citizens United v. F.E.C., there is little room for doubt that the justice is aggressively pursuing an agenda that plays into the hands of his monied friends on the right.

When we celebrate the Fourth of July, next week, let’s remember that along with celebrating our independence from Britain, we are acknowledging our interdependence on each other. E pluribus unum –  out of many, one: one nation, with liberty and justice for all.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
– “This Land is Your Land,” lyrics & music by Woody Guthrie

-PBG

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