Friday, November 7, 2014

Unthoughtful in Oregon

That the Republicans are again in control of the Senate cannot be a disappointment to me. I knew it was coming. I accepted it. It was inevitable. It seems like this sort of flip happens at the end of every president’s second term. The country doesn’t think the President has done enough, that not enough has happened, that their lives have not been significantly transformed because they have haven’t. And that’s not the president’s job. But the country uses this midterm election to stick it to a lame duck president who probably wouldn’t have been able to get much done anyway. The country votes against a president who has two more years in office or doesn’t vote at all, effectively saying we’re already done with you and we’re already looking at 2016.

Fine. That’s fine. I expected as much. I’ve accepted that these are the years when nothing gets done. The country will stagnate for a while. And this is the voice of the people, all the people of America, the great expanding shelf of people without an education, without a thought, with strong convictions and little critical thinking. The country is crazy and that’s why I don’t live there. I live in Oregon.

Yesterday we voted to legalize marijuana in Oregon, which is important not only because the modern consumption and perspectives toward the plant have changed significantly in recent decades. Most importantly, there is no reason so many should be penalized, should be jailed for the possession of marijuana, especially since we know that nationally black Americans men are incarcerated for possession at a far higher rate than white Americans.

But I doubt that Oregon voted to legalize marijuana because so many people here were thinking about social injustice. So many out there were probably thinking about ease of access, cost, their own pleasure. This is fine. These are completely valid reasons to vote for something, to support a cause. Yet it seems to me it’s a huge problem that so many of us cannot support causes that have no direct link to us. If it has nothing to do with me, I can’t be bothered, or it can’t matter, or there’s no reason this law should pass, or it must be wrong.

It is completely disheartening that Oregon voted against extending drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants. Enough of us here in Oregon are so illogically stuck on their status here in the States that we can even think about their safety and our own, that we cannot even accommodate their lives here in anyway and cannot seek to sympathize with them.

And it’s disheartening that Oregon voted against labeling GMOs. In a report for OPB, Ryan Haas noted that neither side on this issue openly told the whole the story about the science behind the safety of GMOs, but it’s completely insane that any of us could say to our fellow citizens, no, you don’t have the right to know, to choose. It’s insane that we vetoed a tiny label, something that would cost nothing. And I can’t believe anyone is still falling for that line corporations are feeding us about the price of food increasing. We regulated chemicals to get rid of the hole in the ozone. We regulated the car industry decades ago to ensure that there were seat belts in every car and car makers just cried and cried and said the whole industry would collapse. We required food producers to label ingredients and calorie counts and exposures to allergens but people still shop at grocery stores, we still eat so much crap.

A friend told me he had heard that the GMO bill up before Oregon voters was severely flawed, that it didn’t do enough, that there would still be unlabeled GMOs on the market. And this was an argument I’d heard myself from the anti-labeling campaign spearheaded by our favorite food producers Monsanto and Kraft. Here’s the deal: you sometimes have to start somewhere. I complain a lot about the shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act, but with a fiercely partisan congress, it’s amazing that any compromise was achieved at all. There will be revisions and modifications and reworkings to the ACA but we had to start somewhere.

Oregon needs to hold itself up as an example to the rest of the country, as California and New York and Washington state do. We need to put out bold ideas and have the bravery to vote for these bold ideas. So many progressive projects have been implemented in the past, projects that the rest of country have or will eventually take up, but we need to continue to vote for these projects that improve our communities and aid others, even when at times they may require small sacrifices from us as individuals.

This is perhaps the most disappointing result that was delivered Tuesday: Oregonians are not willing to think of other people. People voted against driver registrations for all as well as their neighbor’s right to know the contents of the food they buy. And while I believe the passage of this marijuana legalization bill will prevent so many from needless persecution from this drug and will perhaps help remedy the injustice of black incarceration rates, I do not believe most Oregonians voted for this issue for much more than their own pleasure.

Having lived in Alabama, I remember driving around with a bumper sticker of a blue dot on a red square. A bright blue dot in a really red state, as the slogan goes. Birmingham was a blue dot in a red state, and not even that bright. Here in Oregon, I’m starting to feel the same way. There are certain places, certain people who are bright blue dots in a sea of apathy and self-centeredness, which is all the sadder when I know how much potential this state has. We are privileged with the resources and beauty and current zeitgeist of Oregon today. Now we really to become more conscious of that and of our community and begin to think about what we can do not only to improve our own lives, but how we can accommodate and be conscious of the lives of others.

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