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Mikaela Shotwell, Senior Note & Comment Editor
This week, Lada Gaga took to defending and defining her role in the LGBTQ community. “¿Por que?” you ask? Me too. Here’s the short version: she just isn’t quite gay enough. Sure, Gaga is sexually attracted to women. In fact, one Top 10 single—“Poker Face”—is purportedly about her trying to keep the guy she’s with unaware of the fact that she’d rather be with a woman. She even self-identifies as “the b letter.” So as far as Gaga is concerned—albeit her “b letter” proclamation is more akin to a child using numbers as euphemisms for bodily functions than a grown woman identifying her sexuality—she is bisexual. To me, inquiry over. She’s bisexual. Fantastic.
But, in a prior interview with Rolling Stone, Gaga explained that her attraction to women is purely sexual, and she finds herself only emotionally interested in men. Since that article, Gaga has received quite a bit of criticism—from none other than the LGBTQ community—for her identification as bisexual and a part of the community. Most of the criticism, as Jezebel points out, is that Gaga uses her affiliation to pander to her fans, even going so far as to “co-opt a subculture to which she doesn’t totally belong.” For this post, let’s put aside the allegation that she is pandering to her fans. In fact, let’s go the whole nine yards and say the LGBTQ anthem “Born This Way” was nothing more than Gaga bulls***ing her way to millions more fans. Fine. Instead, let’s talk about this culture “to which [Gaga] doesn’t belong.”
The contention, from what I can gather, is that to some members of the LGBTQ community, being sexually attracted to both men and women isn’t “enough” to “qualify” an individual as bisexual. Rather, “true” bisexuals are interested in relationships with both men and women. Gaga’s purely sexual attraction to women places her squarely in the merely bi-curious category. I’m going to be honest: I find this argument absurd. In fact, I take issue with so many of the sentences I have written in the last paragraph and a half, I won’t even pretend to adequately address them in this next paragraph.
My big question is this: What the hell are we—the LGBTQ community—doing? Seriously. If there was a meeting where we decided we would create a gayness threshold, where we would define which relationships “qualify” as points toward gayness, and where we decided we would be the arbiters of sexual orientation identification, I must have missed it. Maybe I wasn’t gay enough to be invited to the meeting?
I’ve heard the argument that people like Gaga detract from the LGBTQ cause, that somehow they de-legitimize the community by allowing every experimenting college girl to tell the Sigma Pi guys she’s bisexual. There is also a little more at stake: efforts by the LGBTQ community to obtain certain legal rights can hinge on how the community defines bisexuality. I understand the argument that the Gagas of the world can indirectly thwart the community’s attempts to obtain social and legal recognition.
But, I just don’t think it’s enough to turn people away. The idea that we would doubt the “qualifications” of someone who wants to be a part of the LGBTQ community seems backwards to me. I hate the idea of the community checking I.D.s at the door to the clubhouse, kicking anyone out who’s a “fake” bisexual. The community and the people I know wouldn’t think of policing the legitimacy or authenticity of someone’s orientation. Like I said, I get that there are people concerned that Gaga and the like may damage the community’s cause. But I can’t imagine anything more damaging to the cause—whatever that may be—than telling someone they can’t be a part of it.
Alex Christian, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
It seems as though American greed and lack of accountability has reared its ugly head. Again. I would hope that by the year 2011, people would have more regard for one another. But unfortunately, as I have found so many times, I completely overestimate people; especially large corporations. According to the federal government we are in the midst of the “largest case of alleged forced labor of farm workers in the United States.” www.cnn.com (search for California forced labor).
The accused is Global Horizons Manpower Inc. and eight farms in Hawaii and Washington state. The accusation? Luring over 200 men from Thailand to work at farms where they were subject to abuse,
unsanitary work and living conditions, and little compensation. www.cnn.com. Global Horizon told the Thai men that they would be earning 70-80,000 baht—coming to about $2,340 to $2, 680 per month—and the ability to secure “lucrative jobs” in the United States. What really happened? These men were paid barely $9.00 an hour. Men had to take out loans to get to the U.S. and then pay large “recruitment fees” once they were hooked up with Global Horizon. As it turned out, work wasn’t even guaranteed for these men; one Thai man reported that some days, he didn’t work at all.
How could this even be possible? Wouldn’t we think that after the last huge human trafficking scandal that went on after Hurricane Katrina and Signal International (if you are unfamiliar with the store click here) that corporations would stop abusing human beings in the name of making more profits. Instead of the H2-B Visa that allowed Indian guest workers back in 2006 and 2007 to be trafficked to the United States, these Thai men were ushered here under the H2-A Visa that places foreign workers on farms in the United States. Why are there still such mechanisms that allow people to be exploited? And why doesn’t our government do something to ensure that people who are coming into our country with these Visas are given the same rights and abilities as every other American citizen? When are corporations going to stop the exploitation of human beings just so that their profit margin can be that much bigger?
These are all questions that have been asked before, and that I am sure will continue to be asked for some time to come. I know that some initial reactions will be to ask, “Why didn’t they just leave?” Imagine taking out overwhelmingly large loans to come and work in the United States under a false belief that once here, things will be better. That there will be an ability to make money and send it home to their families. But instead, on arrival, these men were threatened with deportation, met with abuse, and even enduring physical assaults. Something has to be done to remedy this situation, and to ensure that American corporations aren’t exploiting foreign workers just because they can.
Jasmina Popaja, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
Hey Brian! Hey Jessica! Have you ever wondered why your names are so popular in China or India? A surprising number of foreign students and immigrants from cultures without any connection to the Anglo-Saxon heritage introduce themselves by English names. A vast majority of foreigners give up their real names and assume English names for a number of wrong reasons. Some think that the American society will be more likely to accept them. This is a misperception because the American society and institutions value and accommodate diversity in many ways. While the United States is geographically isolated, it is not linguistically or culturally. At least 165 languages are spoken in the United States, attesting to the country’s richness in both cultural and linguistic diversity. A great number of immigrants are attracted to the United States as a place where individuals are valued for who they are and what they can accomplish through their own efforts. So why would Jianguo (learn how to pronounce this name on hearnames.com) want to change her name to Jessica?
The reason might that she grew tired of correcting the continued mispronunciations of her name. Having to correct one’s name every single time it is pronounced is not only time consuming but it also gives a sense that one is a nuisance by constantly insisting on the right pronunciation. At this point it is appropriate to address the reasons why US natives might mispronounce an unfamiliar name. Some might not care to pronounce the name correctly. This is concerning because it shows complete disrespect for the other person and his identity. Others might tell themselves that they are not able to pronounce it properly. While it can be difficult to pronounce unfamiliar sounds, it is not impossible. So it comes down to attitudes toward diversity, including basic respect for persons from cultures other than the Anglo-Saxon. Those who perceive diversity as an integral part of the US society also know that “everyone is proud of his or her name, no matter how ‘foreign’ sounding.”
Yet others insist on the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon heritage and the following situation arises. I recently met an Asian student at the University of Iowa whose name is a single vowel. As part of her welcome to the University, an employee in the administration told her that it is not a name and that she has to choose a “real” name. To no surprise will other incoming foreign students want to avoid such humiliation and choose an English name.
So no Brian and Jessica, your names are not popular in China or India. They are a popular cover for those foreigners who are tired or afraid of asserting their identity. You can take off the mask and really get to know your foreign friends by insisting to pronounce their names correctly and encouraging other US natives to do the same.
Sophie Doroba, Student Writer, The Jouranl of Gender, Race & Justice
As I watch
the Wisconsin Supreme Court election unfold, I’m immediately transported back to the November judicial retention vote in Iowa. Currently, favored incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser is waiting to hear whether he has been unseated by challenger JoAnn Kloppenburg. Justice Prosser originally has a large lead in the polls, but it appears that democrats have converted their rage at Gov. Walker’s recent collective bargaining law into mass support for JoAnn Kloppenburg. The results of the election are still unknown and talk of a recount is abundant. This brings me to ask the question, “Is Wisconsin the next Iowa?”
I must concede that there are differences between the Wisconsin election and the Iowa retention. The two judicial selection systems are different, with Iowa adhering to the appointment/retention system and Wisconsin to a general election. The two sides mobilizing against the sitting judge(s) are different, with Iowa receiving an in-pouring of money to oust three sitting judges for their decision in Varnum v. Brien to legalize same-sex marriage and Wisconsin seeing a union uprising in response to Gov. Walker’s attack on collective bargaining rights. However, the underlying issue that threatens our judicial system as we know it remains the same in both states, and unless the following questions are answered, judges around the country remain vulnerable. Should the public be allowed to take political revenge on judges? Is the judicial system just as political as the other branches of government? When has the public gone too far? Is there a system that eliminates politics from the judicial selection process?
I had always naively labored under the impression that the judicial branch is completely fair and balanced, free from outside political influences. Of course I realize that this isn’t exactly true. Most informed citizens know where our Supreme Court Justices fall on the liberal-to-conservative spectrum. I’m sure many of these citizens are also well aware of the ideologies of the justices sitting on their state supreme courts. If their state follows an appointment system, they ask which governor appointed the particular justice. If their state has a general election, they ask which political party backed the judge. But is this ok? At a moment when our country is so polarized that our government might be shutting down over a lack of compromise, it would be nice to know that we still have a check on our actions (ie. impartial justice). However, when judges are forced to participate in elections and campaign for their jobs, do we really benefit? The best person for the job becomes obsolete and instead the best campaigner runs our court.
Should the public be allowed to punish judges? I’m going to answer this question with a swift and deliberate NO. I was heartbroken when the three Iowa Supreme Court Justices were not retained in November. I simply couldn’t understand how there was a system in place that allowed judges to be removed for something other than misconduct, i.e. not performing their jobs. Instead, I saw a system that punished judges for making a legal decision that some people ideologically disagreed with. I kept thinking that even if Varnum has turned out differently, I still don’t think I would have voted to not retain if the justices had applied the law to the best of their ability.
Iowa went too far in November…and Wisconsin went too far this week. I realize that there isn’t a perfect system for judicial selection. Proponents of a general election argue that it is the most fair, allowing the public to control the system. This argument feeds into the inherent public distrust/dislike of lawyers and the judicial process. The appointment/retention system has the public grumbling about insider appointments and political game playing behind closed doors. However, I will argue that it is the public that is playing, or being played, the most in judicial selection. Ponder this example, if your company was hiring a new boss, would you let the public vote on who to hire or would you consult within your company? The clear answer is to trust your employee/employer’s expertise in selecting a proper boss. The same logic supports the appointment of judges by a committee of other lawyers and judges. Judges need to be able to do their job without the distraction of campaigning or worrying about keeping their jobs. Judging is about applying the law fairly, not popularly. The moral of the story: whatever side of the political spectrum you fall on, please stop retaliating against our judges.
Mikaela Shotwell, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
Every April, I think about an old friend of mine, Heather. It was a friendship characteristic of many for me at that early teen age—we were teammates; our interests overlapped on the softball field and we bonded over a shared love of David’s Ranch Sunflower Seeds.
In April 2001, at the age of 13, Heather participated in the murder of a man. The details of what happened aren’t particularly important, but you can read about it here. I remember Heather as bright, fun, energetic. I also remember her as immature for her age, with a tumultuous past and a truly unsettling relationship with her mother. Her mother, who was the mastermind of the murder, could barely be called such. She was verbally (and I suspected physically) abusive, more of a “friend” than a parent, and a psychological minefield all her own.
In January 2002, Heather was sentenced to 22 years for her role in the
murder. She had been tried as an adult—for a crime she committed at 13. I was—and still am—appalled at the decision to try her as an adult. I know this topic has been extensively discussed and written on, but it still resonates with me, especially every April. I often hear sound-byte criticisms of the policy of trying some juveniles as adults: “They can’t vote, but we can try them as adults?” I remember saying to my dad at the time, “Dad, she can’t even be unsupervised in hotel hot tubs.”
And that’s why I have to ask: aren’t there just some ages that should be too young? Even if I were to concede (I’m not) that some juveniles should be tried as adults, isn’t there a point where we have to just say “No. Not that young.”? Every state permits juveniles to be tried as adults for certain crimes. In some states, transfer to adult court is mandated by statute for some crimes, in others, transfer is discretionary. More than half of the states currently have automatic transfer to adult court for commission of a violent felony by a 14 year-old. Perhaps the automatic transfer is what’s most disturbing—there is no evaluation of the juvenile’s individual capacity to understand his actions; there is no foray into the juvenile’s susceptibility to the influence of responsible adults; there is no consideration that the juvenile could be quickly “rehabilitated.”
Despite the rational questioning I do about these policies (Does the research support their efficacy? Do they have racially discriminatory results?), there is a kneejerk reaction I have to Heather’s sentence that will always control my stance on the issue. She’s just too young. Just months before the murder, the softball team had to sneak Heather into Miss Congeniality. Miss Congeniality. It was PG-13, you know.
Photo Credit: Dan DeLong/Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Al Smith, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
Usually, when I read JGRJ’s blog, I encounter opinions from other student writers that are similar to my own, and I find new and interesting issues that I hadn’t thought about. If I have a slight disagreement, I usually don’t take the time to quibble over minor points. But I disagreed with a recent post about how hate speech should not be protected speech, and I thought our audience could use a different perspective.
It’s unfortunate that I’m the one doing this. Hate speech has never been a problem in my life, and I cannot imagine the pain and the hurt that it causes. Nevertheless, I think I am correct when I say that hate speech should be protected speech. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not valuable speech. But we still don’t want to censor it.
My colleague seems to be worried that there aren’t any Muslim voices that can counteract people that hate Muslims. That’s not a problem with the free marketplace of ideas, that’s the problem when you have a marketplace of ideas. But the profit problem in our news media can’t be fixed with laws against hate speech, and it’s honestly an entirely separate issue that the nation needs to deal with.
The post mentions Muslims and Jews as examples of religious groups that are subject to bigoted speech. I recognize that the Jewish people are an ethno-religious group and that Muslims are becoming increasingly racialized. While the hate and slander that these groups receive are unacceptable, a religious belief is less of an immutable characteristic and more an idea that one group has. Some Christians claim persecution when we challenge their views on homosexuality. Is that criticism hate speech? Are atheists that argue that God does not exist engaging in hate speech? Glenn Beck is not having a reasonable debate about the issue, but my concern is that soon we won’t be able to have a reasonable debate at all. Religions are only packages of ideas. They deserve protection and their believers should be protected from slander, but there is a way to go too far.
To be fair, my colleague didn’t say that, and Glenn Beck is a biased person who causes bigotry against Muslims. The harder argument for me to make is that we should still protect hate speech against women and racial minorities. John Stuart Mill makes a few arguments in his book “On Liberty” when he justifies free expression of opinion. He doesn’t use his harm principle (“the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”) Probably because he knew that speech can be harmful. Instead, the first argument he makes is that we’re not infallible, and so the opinion we’re trying to censor might be true. I highly doubt Glenn Beck is right and Navid and I are wrong, so let’s move on to a stronger argument. Let’s assume Navid and I are right, and hate speech is morally wrong. Mill says “if the  opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds…[T]he meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.”
Racism and sexism still exist in our society. We can’t hide them behind hate speech laws. That’s the opposite of what we want. While we socially shun racists, we can see that the anonymity of the internet allows people to share their inner bigotry that they do not want to share in public. We have to know where those opinions are so that we can convince them they’re wrong, so that we can arm others with the knowledge of why racism and sexism are wrong, and so people will think about racism and sexism without reverting back to the “colorblind” or “I don’t see gender” arguments.
Plus it always helps to know where the crazies are.
Whitney Smith, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
During my studies of law in the Muslim world I was confronted with many social and governmental differences that had a profound effect on my appreciation for my personal liberties. The most striking and pervasive cultural difference that I experienced was the stark disparity in treatment of women in Egypt. I traveled through Cairo and Alexandria, visiting courthouses and historical areas. Women in these areas were hard to miss. Traveling in groups, women in Egypt looked like a sea of veiled shadows, floating through the streets. It was an uneasy feeling that I moved through their world as a western woman, with fewer restrictions and knowing that I could go home to the United States when I wished. I left Cairo with a heavy heart, wishing for improvement in the realm of civil rights for women in Egypt.
For the greater portion of this year Egypt has been consumed with political protests and labor strikes. With the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, Egypt gained new hope for political change and progress. I shared this hope and welcomed the thought that progress would be made. However, Amnesty International reports that female protesters were arrested, beaten, tortured, and forced to submit to “virginity tests” earlier this month.[i] For women, it seems that hopes for a “New Egypt” have been premature.
On March 9th at least 18 female protesters were arrested in Tahrir Square and transported to a military prison in Heikstep, Egypt. During this ordeal the women were beaten and given electric shocks before being strip searched and forced to undergo a virginity test. The women were stripped naked and held in a room where male soldiers took photos of their naked bodies, before being herded into a room where a male doctor examined them. The women were told that if they were not found to be virgins they would be charged with prostitution. Women who “failed” the virginity test were reported to have received additional beatings and electric shocks as they were called prostitutes.
All of the women were brought before a military court and eventually released on March 13. However, several received suspended prison sentences of one year. One woman was even convicted of “disorderly conduct, destroying private and public property, obstructing traffic and carrying weapons.”
Additionally, after the female protesters were released the Egyptian Cabinet ordered a new law criminalizing protests and strikes.[ii] The new law mandates fines and possible jail time for anyone initiating or even participating in a protest. Although the Cabinet says the law will only be enforced during times of Emergency Law, this offers little comfort as Emergency Law has been in effect in Egypt since 1981. Egypt’s Emergency Law suspends constitutional rights, legalizes censorship and extends police powers. Although the Egyptian Military claims that Emergency Law will be removed when protests end, the military has not been trustworthy thus far as proven by the recent torture of female protesters.
The hopeful who thought the revolution ended with the decline of Mubarak’s pres
idency are realizing that the revolution has just begun.[iii] Now under the control of the military, Egypt has simply traded the dictator for his like-minded militia. Journalist William Fisher of The Public Record explained “I know this sounds like something out of Torquemada in the 15th Century or Mengele in the 20th. But it’s neither. It’s post-Mubarak Egypt in the second decade of the 21st Century.”[iv]
Amnesty International maintains that “Women and girls must be able to express their views on the future of Egypt and protest against the government without being detained, tortured, or subjected to profoundly degrading and discriminatory treatment. The army officers tried to further humiliate the women by allowing men to watch and photograph what was happening, with the implicit threat that the women could be at further risk of harm if the photographs were made public.” Amnesty International is also demanding that “Egyptian authorities … halt the shocking and degrading treatment of women protesters [because women] fully participated in bringing change in Egypt and should not be punished for their activism.” Such action is not only demanded, it is necessary. The “New Egypt” owes such action to its mothers and daughters, who have been repressed and ignored for far too long.
Amber Fricke, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
Representative Peter King, who has ties to the IRA (a terrorist organization), held hearings earlier this month to investigate radicalization in the Muslim American community.[i] Fellow member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of the U.S. Congress, chastised Representative King for going on a witch hunt into the Muslim American community and failing to be concerned with violent radicalization in other communities.[ii] Representative King’s unwillingness to expand the scope of the hearing demonstrates the bigoted nature of his endeavor, as well as his disregard for the safety of our country, particularly if the radicalization is of a group that is more likely to vote Republican.
The rise in membership in white supremacy groups preceded the 2008 election cycle, particularly targeting non-white immigrants. The election of the first black president accelerated membership in white supremacist organizations.[iii] Since the election of President Obama, the Department of Homeland Security released a report warning of a possible rise in right wing domestic terrorism.[iv] However, much of the coverage of the report included criticism that it was targeting “good, patriotic Americans.” So much criticism arose that DHS head, Janet Napolitano backpedaled her support of the report. Nevertheless, the report doesn’t seem to be that uncalled for considering some of the events that followed the release of the report in early 2009[v]:
· Earlier this week, a cross was burned outside the house of a black family in a predominantly white community in central California. As a hate crime, it is currently being investigated by the FBI.[vi]
· In February, a man with ties to white supremacist and Neo-Nazi groups was caught before he could execute his plan to set off a bomb at a MLK day parade in Spokane, Washington. [vii]
· Also, last month, a South Dakota state representative introduced a bill that would make murder of an abortion provider justifiable homicide.[viii]
· Justifiable homicide is the same reasoning that anti-choice extremists have used in killing abortion providers, such as Dr. George Tiller who was gunned down while at church in May 2009. [ix]
· Only a month after the murder of Dr. Tiller, a white supremacist murdered a guard at the Holocaust Museum.[x]
· Furthermore, anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes are astonishingly high. The past couple years have included a plan by a Christian pastor in Florida to burn Korans in in commemoration of 9/11,[xi] bigoted opposition to a community center in New York City because it was being built by Muslims, and various incidents of vandalism and even plots to bomb a mosque.[xii] Finally, earlier this month, citizens and political leaders protested a fundraiser for battered women and homeless persons earlier this month, verbally and physically harassing Muslim attendees, including children, in Southern California.[xiii]
The list certainly isn’t exhaustive, but it is a glimpse into the current climate. The harassment, hate crimes and terror plots against religious minorities, racial minorities, undocumented immigrants, and women are important issues that are a threat to all of America and the future of this multicultural nation. We need to speak out against people like Representative Peter King, who’s harassing a group for political gain, and focus on the rhetoric and mentality that is fueling domestic terrorism, hatred, and the harassment of discrete and insular minorities.
Andrew Mathern, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
On Monday, President Obama issued an executive order calling for the periodic review of individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay. This issue is confusing to me, and I’m sure to others, so my purpose here is to explain the “Who, What, When, Where, and Why” of this executive order.
Who: The order applies only to the 172 individuals currently detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The vast majority of these detainees have been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002.
What: The order authorizes the creation of a “Periodic Review Board” (PRB) to periodically review the status of detainees. The PRB is to be composed of one representative each from the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security, and the Offices of Director of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The PRB is to conduct a review that will involve a hearing to determine whether the detainee’s continued detention is warranted “to protect agains
t a significant threat to the Security of the United States”. At this hearing, the detainee is allowed a government-employee “representative” as well as a private attorney that is not paid for by the government. At the hearing, the detainee can make a written or oral statement, call witnesses that are “reasonably available”, and introduce evidence. The review will also involve the PRB examining information provided by the Secretary of Defense regarding the potential danger that the detainee poses to the security of the US. This information will be provided to the detainee’s government representative. The detainee’s private lawyer is less able to view this information, and in many circumstances the government will only give “summaries” of this information to the lawyer instead of the underlying information.
If the PRB concludes that the detainee does not present a “significant threat”, the PRB is to recommend his transfer to a foreign country, after obtaining assurances that the detainee will not be subject to inhumane treatment.
When: The first such review is required to occur within one year for all detainees. After the initial review, additional “full” reviews are to take place every three years, with “file reviews” every six months.
Where: Presumably, these will all be held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. However, the order states that if the detainees are relocated, this periodic review process will continue.
Why: Obama has been politically thwarted by critics of his initial plan to close Guantanamo Bay and try many or all of the detainees in civilian courts. This order reflects his concern that there might be innocent people being held in Guantanamo, as well as his political concern that a civilian trial would lead to significant backlash and the revelation of systematic torture on the part of the American government.
There are many serious flaws with this program:
1. The PRB is composed of members of various government agencies. Ideally, the PRB should at least have some members that have independent credibility, such as a judge or professor. The fact that incriminating information is not being provided to any independent party is a due process problem. If we compare this to a civilian trial, the U.S. government is acting as the judge, prosecutor, and about 2/3 of the defense counsel in this process. The fact that the decisions of the PRB are to be “consensual” also means dissenting voices will not be heard.
2. The detainee will have to arrange for his own private counsel or rely only on the government representative, whose impartiality cannot be guaranteed. There may be some private counsel willing to take on the case for free, but if not, it will be very difficult for these detainees to obtain counsel since the government does not provide any funds for this purpose.
3. It essentially allows for indefinite detention of suspects deemed security threats. While the review process provides for transfer to another country if the detainee is deemed not to be a security threat, it is likely that very few will in fact be transferred. No doubt there has been an informal review process going on for some years concerning these detainees, so the government has already made its mind up whether these people are dangerous. So, while a few detainees may be transferred under this policy, the likelihood of a large number is very, very low. The result is therefore indefinite detention, unless they are brought to trial.
President Obama should be criticized for his failure to go through with his plan to have full-scale civilian trials of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The PRB plan, while offering at least a scrap of due process rights, fails to live up to the high democratic principles that the international community demands of the United States. By doing so, Obama has failed to act with principled leadership. He has succumbed to the will of the majority. Obama should realize that true leadership often requires one to take the minority position, as well as the courage to act on an unpopular belief.
Jessie Spoden, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
In September, the House of Representative approved a bill, called Rosa’s law that would eliminate the words “retarded” and “retardation” from education, health, and labor laws. The bill, which was passed by the Senate in August, moves next to be approved by President Obama. The bill was proposed in honor of Rosa Marcellino, a girl with Down Syndrome. She was labeled by her school as “retarded,” which her mother did not approve of because she does not allow her other children to use the r-word in their home. The bill proposes to change the term “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability” and “mentally retarded individual” to “an individual with an intellectual disability”. I agree with this change because it is a disability and the r-word carries with it a bad connotation.
Growing up my mother worked for Abbe Center for Community Care which is a care facility for the mentally ill, mentally retarded, and developmentally disabled. While she was there, I attended some of the parties held for the pat
ients. At these, I was able to interact with them and become more aware of how a person with a mental disability acted and to better understand their disability. Because of this experience, I feel that I am more sensitive to when someone calls one of these people the r-word. It is very hurtful and most people don’t even know what they are saying is harmful. Thankfully, this bill has prompted many across the country to take up the challenge to end the r-word.
The r-word campaign’s slogan is: “When you say ‘retarded’ someone hurts.” Their campaign focuses on making people understand that when the word retarded is used to imply that something is stupid or bad, they are also implying that someone with an intellectual disability is stupid or bad, which is not the case. It made me happy to read a recent article in local newspaper discussing how local high school students are joining the campaign. The Gazette included an article recently about Prairie High School students who decided to wear stickers stating “I pledged to spread the word to end the word.” (http://thegazette.com/2011/03/02/the-word-is-out-teens-pledge-to-close-the-book-on-the-%e2%80%9cr-word%e2%80%9d/) Prairie has a Best Buddies program that pairs students from the general student body with a student from the special education program. The students in this program are the ones leading the campaign and are the ones who likely understand the necessity of the change. The fact that national campaign has reached and affected local community high school students to act makes it clear to me that the change is necessary and is supported by those across the country.
The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice promotes equality among all and encourages each individual to feel comfortable with their unique identity. This change will help those individuals with an intellectual disability to feel more comfortable with their identity. They no longer have to feel the hurt from overhearing a person using the r-word to imply a bad or st
upid thing. These people can now have the confidence that others support them and are willing to stop saying a word that is known to be harmful. This campaign is a step in the right direction, but Stephanie Klein, a special education teacher at Prairie said it best, “The bigger picture is watching your language and being aware of the words you use and that they can hurt people whether you mean to or not.” http://thegazette.com/2011/03/02/the-word-is-out-teens-pledge-to-close-the-book-on-the-%e2%80%9cr-word%e2%80%9d/) We should all try to make everyone feel welcome and equal. This is the message of JGRJ that should be adopted by all.
Ghassan Harb, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
I find myself deeply disappointed with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s selection for the three open positions on the Iowa Supreme Court. This past Wednesday, Branstad announced that Edward Mansfield, Thomas Waterman and Bruce Zager would replace the Iowa Justices ousted from office this last November. Although I do not contest the experience and competence that these new Justices will bring to the Court, I cannot help but recognize that these candidates have quite the commonality: all three are white, male and registered republicans.
ently opposed the outcome of the justice retention vote last November. I thought that this event was a misguided political attack on one of Iowa’s principal democratic foundations. This is why I was truly relieved when I heard that the Judicial Nominating Commission selected Professor Onwuachi-Willig, a fellow member of the College of Law community, as one of nine final candidates for Governor Branstad to choose from for the Iowa Supreme Court. Having been a student of Professor Onwuachi-Willig in the fall, I believe that Professor Onwuachi-Willig, a remarkably distinguished and experienced legal scholar – and a woman of color – would have been an ideal addition to the Iowa Supreme Court. I knew that Professor Onwuachi-Willig would bring a unique perspective to a position that demands unique perspective. Instead it seems that Governor Branstad concluded that a Supreme Court embodying diversity in race, gender and experience were not important attributes to assist in interpreting the Iowa Constitution.
I cannot help but think that Governor Branstad’s decision was guided solely on political grounds. After all, if the people are angry, it seems logical that you must give them what they want. What is the point of ousting three justices from the Supreme Court if the persons replacing them might have similar beliefs? It seems safe to assume that three white republican men would not interpret Iowa’s Constitution to provide the right of marriage to all of Iowa’s people, as this was the catalyst behind the judicial retention vote in the first place. Whatever his reasons were, Governor Branstad’s decision has its consequences. The Iowa Supreme Court is now represented solely by white men.
I believe that an all white male Supreme Court cannot adequately represent Iowa’s interests. A Supreme Court that lacks racial and gender diversity damages the abilities of the judicial system itself. As we all learned in Constitutional Law, judicial interpretation is by no means black letter law. Different people hold different viewpoints, often shaped by their background and life experiences. Even though all justices seek to interpret the Constitution as it truly stands, diversity shapes how judicial interpretation is approached. For this reason, the Supreme Court of the United States represents several aspects of our “melting pot” society. A homogeneous Iowa Supreme Court is deprived of variation in insight and experience, healthy characteristics necessary for the role of judicial interpretation.
Furthermore, I fear that Governor Branstad’s decision has other consequences. Despite our reputation, Iowa is a state which is rich in diversity and values it. Looking around the coffee shop I am writing this post in, I see people of all colors, of all ages, and of all backgrounds. I appreciate the fact that The University of Iowa was the first public institution to admit men and women on an equal basis and was one of the first to award a law degree to a woman. The Iowa Supreme Court’s first decision in 1839, In Re the Matter of Ralph, prohibited slavery in Iowa decades before the Civil War was fought. Iowa is proud of its history of progressive tolerance and civility. Iowa consists of a highly educated populace that takes politics seriously. With Governor Branstad’s decision, Iowa’s Supreme Court fails to recognize and embrace its diversity and history of tolerance. This decision sends a negative message to the people of Iowa – that only white males are the ones who should hold such important positions of power in this state.
Michelle Wolf, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
This week, a grand jury found that a police officer should not be charged for the death of Pace University football player D.J. Henry, Jr. The accounts of what happened on the night of Henry’s death differ. What is undisputed is that Henry died as a result of shots fired by police.
Pleasantville and Mount Pleasant officers responded to a brawl outside of Finnegan’s Grill in Thornwood on the night of Henry’s death. Henry was parked outside of the bar when an officer walked up to the vehicle and knocked on the window. Some claim that Henry tried to drive away, while others say that he was only under the impression that the police wanted him to move his vehicle, because he was parked in the fire lane.
When Henry accelerated, the mirror on his car struck the officer, who fell onto the hood of the car. After this happened, the officer shot at the driver, and an officer who was standing in front of the vehicle also began to shoot.
If the police account of the story is true—that Henry was trying to get away from police—their behavior still seems out of line, considering the standard used for excessive force by police. Prosecutors may charge police officers for their use of force if that officer “uses more force than is reasonably necessary.” “[T]he force that is beyond what would be considered reasonable is called excessive force.” It is this finding of excessive force that can lead to criminal charges.
The Supreme Court has outlined when it is unreasonable to use excessive force—specifically deadly force. It said, in Tennesee v. Garner, that using deadly force to prevent all suspects from escaping is constitutionally unreasonable. The officers must be under in immediate danger or must have “probable cause to believe the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm.”
If the use of force in this case was not excessive, I am not sure what is. There were 50 officers present at the scene, which makes me wonder how much of a threat one person, who was leaving the scene, was really posing. Admittedly, I have not seen and heard all of the evidence. Even if I believe the officers’ accounts of what happened on the night of Henry’s death, I believe these officers should be subjected to some kind of criminal charge, especially considering how they treated Henry after they had stopped him and taken him from the car. Officers allegedly handcuffed him and left him laying face down on the ground for fifteen to twenty minutes, not checking for injuries, even though they had knowingly fired shots at him.
I wish I knew more about the circumstances surrounding this incident (because obviously my judgments would be sounder if I knew more facts). I would like to know what you all think about this situation. Should the standard for use of excessive force be stricter? Should there be a special committee of prosecutors who investigate and prosecute police use of excessive force?
Judy Hails, Criminal Evidence 315 (6th Ed., 2009)
Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985).
Matt Hulstein, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
Our journal, as its name suggests, is dedicated to exploring gender, race, and justice. What is meant by the word “justice?” For many people, the concept of justice is informed by their most deeply held convictions, including, for many, their faith. This week, I would like to explore the concept of justice through a faith (and particularly Christian) perspective. I do not presume to claim that one must believe in a god to be able to believe in justice, but oftentimes in the legal community, faith perspectives are passed over in favor of more sectarian ideals. [i] I would hope this post could be a starting point for a rich conversation about what justice means to you. Please consider the following questions: What is a just society? And what are our respective roles in bringing it about? I will seek to answer these questions in what I have come to understand to be the Christian perspective.[ii] I would invite anyone reading to contemplate their own concept of justice and share it on this blog.
Social justice is a Biblical ethic.[iii] Throughout the Bible, God rails against extreme material inequalities and the economic oppression of the poor. The Christian Gospel is one of both personal and communal salvation,[iv] and throughout scripture, Christians are charged to “do justice.”[v] But what does it mean to “do justice?” What is a just society according to the Bible?[vi] The Bible really describes three different societies: a just “secular” society, the Church, and God’s eventual Kingdom which he will bring about at the end times. Obviously the second two are revelatory and unique to the Christian faith, but I believe the first is an ideal both Christians and non-Christians can work together to achieve.
I believe this just society is one where everyone has equal opportunity and their choices yield meaningful results. This ideal is probably best understood by contrasting it with our society today. In our society, countless people are suffering from abject poverty as a result of a complex combination of their circumstances and the choices they make within those circumstances. Societal and institutional barriers such as racism, sexism, and classism, etc. hold these people down and render any positive choices they might make effectively meaningless. Many people in poverty can make all the right choices and work as hard as they can but cannot succeed as our society is tilted against them. In a just society, people’s choices and work yield actual results. Perhaps not everyone will achieve prosperity, as not everyone will make positive choices, but should a person choose prosperity, that person should be able to achieve it.
We all have different roles in bringing about this just society.[vii] Although we are all called to do what we can, people’s roles generally break down into our modern concepts of charity or justice. [viii] Charity is about caring the poor in a very personal, individualized way. Justice is about dismantling the institutional causes and perpetrators of poverty. Within the Christian community, charity-minded persons typically lean to the political right while justice-minded persons typically lean to the left. At times, there has been a great deal of infighting and misunderstanding between these two groups, but I believe neither is mutually exclusive and both are required.
I’ve reconciled the two using the following conceptualization: Imagine a horizontal line separating social justice below and charity above. This line represents the point at which people’s choices yield actual results—it is the just society. Below the line is the work of persons who fight social justice issues. Here, the structural injustices described above hold the poor back from making constructive choices. People who labor in this area work to dismantle these structures through law and policy. The work is general and far-reaching but not personal or relational. Ultimately, law and policy cannot encourage people to make healthy choices—it can only enable them to make them. Once the poor arrive at the line, persons called to charity take over and make personal, individualized, relational investments in them. Both roles must be active and respected to make a real difference. Underlying all this work is the Christian precept that all people are equally valuable before God, and that we truly are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.
Again, what I’ve laid out is what I understand to be the Christian view of social justice. The goal of bringing about a just society, though profoundly spiritual for me personally, is not limited to persons of faith. The ideal I have shared can be the common goal of persons and faith and secular persons alike. I hope this post will prompt you to consider your own notion of justice and share it here.
[i] This is entirely understandable as “Christian ideals” have been used to justify unjust actions. For example, the recent ouster of three Iowa Supreme Court justices in the name of upholding the “Biblical” concept of marriage. Figures such as Terry Jones and the Westboro Baptist Church have also given the Christian religion a black eye.
[ii] I readily admit I am not a theologian, philosopher, or even moderately capable Biblical scholar. What I present comes from my own understanding and experience.
[iii] Some commentators, i.e. Glenn Beck, have claimed that social justice is communism in disguise and should be abandoned as a Christian teaching. For a compelling examination and refutation of Beck’s claim, see Tobby Grant, Glenn Beck, FRC Shift Focus From Social Justice to Jim Wallis, Christianity Today, March 19, 2010, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/marchweb-only/21-51.0.html.
[iv] “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.” Luke 4:17-18 (NIV).
[v] “He has shown you O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 (NIV).
[vi] Biblical justice is a really a huge combination of retributive, compensatory, and economic justice, as well as grace and righteousness. For the purpose of this post, I will be focusing on the economic justice facet.
[vii] See 1 Cor. 12:12-31 (describing different roles and the need for cooperation).
[viii] For an in depth exploration of these two concepts, see John M. Perkins, Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development (1993).
Navid Zarrinnal, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
American public discourse has recently been quite accepting of open bigotry against Muslims. Both the so-called liberal media and the conservative media have aired their bigoted comments. On the so-called liberal side, Juan Williams recently stated that he becomes “nervous” when on a plane with people in “Muslim garb.” On the conservative side, the television host, Glenn Beck, declared that ten percent of the world’s Muslim population is composed of terrorists; a percentage that amounts to 157 million Muslim terrorists worldwide. Today, bigotry against Muslims may be the most obvious form of prejudice and intolerance. However, other racial, sexual, and religious minorities like blacks, gays, and Jews have historically been subject to bigoted speech. Since bigoted speech is deemed to be protected under the first amendment, these vulnerable minorities have often been deprived of much needed leg
The lack of legal measures to deter and prohibit bigoted speech has been partly rooted in the powerful concept of the “free” marketplace of ideas. This concept posits that allowing all sorts of speech, including hateful and bigoted speech, is the most effective way to deal with unwanted speech. The perceived effectiveness is based on the assumption that society comes to reject false and harmful ideas in favor of true and beneficial ideas.
The acceptability of the “free” marketplace of ideas may be based on its employment of a conceptual apparatus that soothingly appeals to a value we hold so dear: freedom. However, freedom is not always distributed equally. In the case of bigoted speech, there is much more freedom for the bigots to speak against minorities compared to the victims’ freedom to speak against the bigots. Racial, sexual, and religious minorities are almost always politically disempowered; a trait that denies them the same degree of freedom to express their opinions and rebut bigoted speech.
Take Muslims, for instance. Unlike many bigots who exert noticeable influence in politics and “mainstream” media, Muslims hold very little, if any, political power and are seldom granted airtime on “mainstream” media. Of course, Muslims can always express their opinions through alternative channels of communication (e.g., blogs), or can rely on more enlightened television hosts and commentators to speak out against anti-Muslim comments. However, the former is hardly an adequate solution, since these alternative channels of communication often have a very small audience. The latter solution is also inadequate because those who speak out against bigotry on the “mainstream” media, like Keith Olbermann and Fareed Zakaria, are few in number. Therefore, it is hard to find adequate empirical grounds to claim that bigots and those subject to bigotry have the same freedom to speak and influence public perceptions.
In addition to the empirical observation that the politically powerless does not enjoy the same freedom as the politically powerful in influencing public perceptions, there are other important grounds for prohibiting bigoted speech. For instance, bigoted speech not only creates a sense of social distrust between the victims of bigotry and rest of society, but it often empowers private and public actors to subject victims to harm in the form of social, economic, and civil restrictions as well as physical assaults and psychological torture. Laws should prohibit bigoted speech and offer remedies for its victims to prevent these harms, and in appropriate cases, compensate the victims.
I must finally add that I do concede to the premise that it is usually social changes that transform laws, and not vice versa. Nevertheless, laws certainly influence social beliefs and practices, and often help render morally problematic practices unacceptable. If law condemns bigoted speech, it may help society eventually realize that bigoted and hateful speech is unacceptable.
I am convinced that for the law to properly deal with bigoted speech, it must cast it outside first amendment protections. In doing so, the law will not only signal to society that bigoted speech is not a socially permissible practice, but it will also remedy minorities’ lack of political power in addition to the harm they may suffer because of bigoted speech.
Michael Arleth, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
Last semester I wrote, “Perhaps feminism’s greatest adaptation is the power to take formerly objectionable concepts like the pin-up girl and turn them into a source of pride.” I wrote that in the context of pin up, which is about the exhibition of the female body as that source of pride. However, sometimes a horrible disease challenges that pride. Breast cancer is ever present in the world of women and sometimes men. It is important to inform people that this disease can attack anyone—without warning.
A few organizations found a way to use formerly objectionable terms to introduce the disease in a fun way
. Enter Save the Tatas,  Feel your Boobies, and Save 2nd Base.
Save the tatas is perhaps the most recognizable of the three. With its line up of fun products such as Boob Lube (soap and lotion with breast self-check instructions on the bottle) and an array of swag with witty slogans, Save the tatas promotes breast-cancer awareness among young people. I first saw tatas Brand shirts at Iowa Book—a college bookstore.
(photo credit Save the Tatas)
However, the message getting to people through another means—theft. With every order of thirty dollars or more, Save the tatas sends a free bumper magnet for the purchaser’s car. People report the theft of tatas bumper magnets across the internet. Therefore these strategies work to some extent.
However, the real point of this blog post is that these organizations show people that it’s okay and maybe healthy to talk about the disease in the context of the body without person-first language. Some people say that tatas, boobies, or second base makes the breast more important than the person. I disagree. The disease attacks the body not the person. Putting the person first makes the disease an afterthought. I don’t tell people that I’m a person who survived brain cancer. I say I’m a brain cancer survivor. Tatas, boobies, and second base just put the disease into the proper context.
These words also have the power to make people smile. They keep the discussion light and fun. If you can use these words to educate people about the need for breast-cancer research, self checks, and mammograms, I say lets save us some tatas!
 http://her2support.org/vbulletin/archive/index.php/t-29839.html, http://www.8thcivic.com/forums/inside-out/234763-sticker-bomb-pic-thread-3.html , http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/savethetatas, http://sunshineandlemonade.blogspot.com/2008/11/weekend-winners-in-pink.html
Rachael Jensen, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
In case you missed it, last Tuesday night, the President gave a State of the Union address. Originally, I was planning to write about the speech. But at this point I can’t imagine what comments I could possibly add to the endless analyzing, criticism and de
bate that hasn’t already been said or written about.
Instead, I want to focus on a different part of the White House - the Office of the First Lady. And no, I do not want to talk about what designer Michelle Obama wore that night. While the policies of the Obama administration are often the subject of controversy, Michelle Obama has taken a more unifying approach. In doing so, she is making progress in addressing major issues, like childhood obesity.
Michelle Obama is genuine, graceful, likeable, and smart. And although I don’t know personally, it looks like she gives great hugs. She gives off the impression that when she targets a problem, she is not going to back down. She doesn’t have to go “mama grizzly” to let people know she’s tough. Even though at times she has indicated the life of politics and Washington, D.C. would not have been her first choice, she has brought new meaning to the role of First Lady.
One of her major initiatives is the “Let’s Move” program. It is aimed at eliminating childhood obesity by teaching kids and their parents healthier lifestyle habits. She has made it clear that the program is not simply about telling people what to do. It’s about education and encouragement. Michelle Obama planted her own garden at the White House. And she opened the doors to kids and to new ideas.
The First Lady’s fight against unhealthy eating habits is not just limited to kids and school lunches, either. She is taking the revolution to one of the largest food retailers in the U.S. – Wal-Mart. The New York Times reported that thanks to talks with the First Lady, the retail giant committed to improving the healthy quality of its food offerings. It is no secret that Wal-Mart is not afraid to lean on its suppliers to get what it wants. Decreasing cost as a barrier to healthier eating will make a significant impact.
While the President addressed the nation and shared broad ideas about how to “win the future”, Michelle Obama listened and applauded in support. But it would be a mistake to characterize her role as merely a figurehead — perhaps an accurate description of First Ladies past. She shines in her own spotlight. And Michelle Obama uses that spotlight admirably, for the benefit of children and families.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images North America
Brad Biren, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
Like most atheists, I seem to always get a smug glimmer of appreciation for public figures who extol the virtues of atheism by poking fun at dogmatic tradition. Last week, Ricky Gervais made headlines for both insulting a minority religion and lavishing praise on atheism. In many ways this modern version of religious dissention is not well-placed and in many ways requires a revisionist view of history.
Religion is to blame for many of the world’s woes, including war, famine, and many forms of discrimination against gay people. Yet, in reaction to the rise of well-organized and well-funded Christian movements, such as the Moral Majority, many atheists and fellow liberals, such as myself, have placed any and all blame for shortcomings in civil rights on religious fundamentalists. This includes Sharia law in Afghanistan, Evangelical doctrine in the United States, and Canon law in much of Europe. Mind you, it is easy to blame these religious groups for all of the foot-dragging and blatant ignorance when it comes to holding our society back, but it would require us to be ignorant of reality in order to come to that conclusion.
Here is my thesis: religion has done nearly as much to progress this country’s civil rights movement as it has to hold it back. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a minister, was instrumental in helping to bring about the Civil Rights Act. He consistently identified his religious upbringing as the source of his moral compass and determination to foster equality. Another example is King’s mentor, Mahatma Gandhi, a social revolutionary (and lawyer) who identified his dual Jane and Hindu upbringing as the inspiration for much of his will to change India.
Yet it was over 100 years before Martin Luther King that religion may have had the greatest impact on social change in this country. Many abolitionists and members of the Underground Railroad were Methodist and Lutheran ministers, rabbis, and priests, willing to put their lives on the line for social justice. Their belief in god, was their wellspring of progress.
During my brief time here in Iowa, I have met many religious figures that are proud supporters of my right to marry. For example, a devout Catholic hosted the rehearsal dinner for my wedding. Another example is the minister at the First Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, whose car proudly dons the Human Rights Campaign logo. Recently I began to work part-time at a synagogue in Iowa City. The rabbi there energetically supports my husband and me, and is constantly giving his blessing.
In conclusion, though much of the discriminatory rhetoric and bigotry in our government can be sourced directly to several orthodox religious groups, there are many if not more religious groups who support social progress. Therefore, although I will probably continue to enjoy watching proselytizing herds cringe at the sharp-tongued wit of atheist comedians, I must remember to restrain myself from stereotyping religious people with as broad a stroke as many are willing to paint my sexual orientation. Thus, I will work harder to show more gratitude to religious devotees of equality in the law.
Christine Boeckholt, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
There are some historical events that are so momentous, you always remember where you were when you found out about them. I’ll always remembering being on vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks when Princess Diana died; being in first period pre-calculus when Sean Vick called his house to ask his mom to bring the lunch he forgot and finding out about 9/11; driving down the street in Ann Arbor and hearing people screaming in their houses and watching them pour into the street and around my car because the media had called the 2008 presidential election for Barack Obama. Another of these moments for me was when the Iowa Supreme Court handed down Varnum v. Brien , the decision legalizing gay marriage in Iowa – I was stealthily watching the One Iowa press conference at my office job in Michigan and trying to contain my excitement .
I was fairly res
olute about coming back to Iowa after moving away after college, as I appreciate the State of Iowa’s ability to fill pot holes and drivers’ general avoidance of creating gridlock (ahem, Ann Arborites…you are the worst about this, and you know it!) Varnum v. Brien was just the icing on the cake because I knew I was coming back to a place that believed in what I believed in and that I could be proud of for its stand.
The political climate in Iowa has undergone a shift since I returned in May of 2009. The November 2010 election brought in a Republican governor, a Republican House, and the people of Iowa voted not to retain three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices because of the Varnum decision.
This week, the Republicans in the House of Representatives announced that they would be introducing a resolution to amend the Iowa constitution to ban same-sex marriages and also domestic partnerships and civil unions. The resolution will state, “Marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal union valid or recognized in this state.” This bill would go beyond overturning Varnum and would deny all civil rights to anyone besides married heterosexual couples. And it seems that that is the point: Representative Dwayne Alons, R-Hull, was quoted in the Des Moines Register saying, “’I think the biggest issue is that if that (a same-sex marriage ban) is carried forward, and then Iowa does civil unions and recognizes that as a substitute status, then, from what I’ve seen in other states,’ people would come to consider same-sex civil unions as equal to marriage.” Essentially, to these Iowa House Republicans, it is not enough to take away marriage from same-sex couples – they also have to take away any semblance of equal rights that these couples might enjoy in Iowa.
It’s not that I think the House Republicans will actually be able to lead the charge to change the Iowa Constitution – I do not. The Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has already said he’ll block the action in the Senate. Even if it did manage to pass the Senate, the process for amending the Iowa Constitution does not end there. The resolution has to pass both houses again in the next legislative session and go to a popular vote in the next general election. I do not think the amendment could get the necessary majority of the popular vote. I know that those who oppose gay marriage have already won a popular vote in ousting the Iowa Supreme Court judges, but since that election, many have come out to say they did not take the threat seriously enough. If it comes to the point of there being a popular vote, I believe there will be increased mobilization for those who support the Varnum decision and same-sex marriage in Iowa.
I love Iowa and I’ll always consider it my home. Actions such as these make me sad and disappointed that this great state might come to be known for a legacy of intolerance rather than one of valuing the civil rights of its citizens.
Jacqueline Langland, Student Writer, The University of Iowa College of Law
I knew something had happened. Something wasn’t right. My boyfriend, Enes, got into the car and switched the Sirius Radio from a football game to MSNBC News. Not that listening to the news was uncharacteristic of Enes, but I had never seen it happen during a football game at any other time than halftime. And it wasn’t halftime.
MSNBC was reporting on the tragic news of the shootings in Arizona.[i] I have to admit that I struggled with the news. I struggled because I wanted to believe it wasn’t true; I wanted to pretend it hadn’t actually happened. I tried to go about my day, instructing Enes to turn the radio back to the football game muttering something about how I wanted to hear the Seahawks beat the Saints. But in reality I just wanted something to take my mind off of the shootings. I didn’t want to have to ask myself the never-ending series of “why” questions. “Why would someone do this? Why these particular people?”
I wasn’t able to insulate myself for long. Upon arriving home I checked Facebook and was bombarded with status updates and news articles encompassing sentiments from both sides of the political spectrum. From what I gathered, some news outlets believed that the shooter may have been motivated to commit these violent acts because of his political beliefs[ii]; other news outlets vehemently denied that the shooter’s political beliefs had anything to do with it, opting instead to blame it on the shooter’s love of videogames and the age-old “videogames incite violence” argument.[iii]
Although I a
m more persuaded by the former rather than the latter argument, the truth is we may never know exactly what motivated the shooter. And it’s likely if any other person chooses to do something similar in the future that he/she will be motivated by something different than the person responsible for Saturday’s shootings. Instead of trying to figure out what motivated this particular shooter, it may be wiser for us to broaden the scope of our analysis and consider how we got here in the first place.
How did we become a nation where violence is viewed by some (albeit probably a small minority) as an appropriate means of political rhetoric? Where did we go wrong?
American history is awash with examples of individuals using politically related violence. From the American Revolution to the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy and to the assassination attempts on Presidents Jackson, Roosevelt, F.D.R., Truman, Ford, and Reagan, Americans have almost continuously been exposed to violence as political rhetoric.[iv]
With this information in hand, I have to think that maybe we didn’t become a nation geared toward political violence, but rather maybe we’ve always been. If this is true, we must ask ourselves how we can change as a nation so as to prevent what appears to be an inevitable repeat of history. Where do we go from here?