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Nobody Asked Me, But...
Ms. Andy Berkowitz JoJoLaPoo@aol.com

Close to 40 years ago, Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia stood on the Senate floor and made speeches that the "Negroes" were asking for too much. Almost 40 years later, in 2001, Senator Byrd again made a speech on the Senate floor stating how he will publicly support the nomination of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Obviously, Senator Byrd's opinions on basic civil and human rights for all Americans have not changed one iota in almost half a century. When will the citizens of West Virginia finally realize that Senator Byrd cares only about a very small percentage of his constituency?

On the other hand, approximately 25 years ago, the Reverend Jesse Jackson referred to New York City and the four million Jews of that city as "Hymie Town." However, almost 25 years later, during November and December 2000, Reverend Jesse Jackson led rallies and marched through the streets of downtown West Palm Beach, Florida. Reverend Jackson was not only accompanied by the disenfranchised voters of the African-American and Haitian-American communities. He was also marching alongside gays and lesbians of all colors and poor disenfranchised whites, but most spectacularly, he marched with the Jewish senior citizens and Holocaust survivors. Not only did Reverend Jackson walk alongside the Jewish disenfranchised community, but Reverend Jackson walked holding hands with the Jews of South Florida.

This sight truly brought tears to my eyes. Reverend Jackson has proven to everyone that he has changed and grown during this past quarter century and continues to keep hope alive for us all, for each and every Democrat, whether young or old, whether black, white, yellow, red or brown. He continues to inspire us that the struggles he fought for alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., remains very much alive. Reverend Jackson continues to give hope to all the poor and lower middle-class, regardless of race, religion, age or sexual orientation that he will not forget us, nor will he abandon the frustrations we deal with on a daily basis. Reverend Jackson continues to remind all Americans that we cannot become complacent. We must not turn back the clock in America and be dragged back to the darker days prior to the existence of Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, civil rights reforms, and that the right of each and every American citizen of legal voting age is our most precious fundamental right of citizenship, and that all our votes must be counted.

There are now 280 million citizens in the United States and we reside in the wealthiest nation on this planet. With the tax cuts proposed by President Bush and endorsed by the Republican leadership, only 5% of our country's population will actually benefit from these proposed tax cuts. The 5% tax cut proposal therefore financially benefits only 14 million Americans, who already are the wealthiest citizens in the country. What happens to the remainder of the 266 million American citizens who will receive basically nothing? What happens to the poor Americans that still cannot feed their families properly, send their children to decent schools, or better yet - improve the schools their children are already enrolled in? We do not need a voucher system, we need a major overhaul of the public school system in America, whether the schools are located in urban, suburban or rural areas. What happens to the parents who cannot afford to send their children to college? What happens to the children? What happens to the single mothers of children that must work two or three minimum wage paying jobs to try to hold their families together, but still cannot get affordable housing or health care for their families? They must resort to homeless shelters, if they are lucky enough to find an available shelter with room left to take them in.

Furthermore, why should unmarried, single, childless women who are educated, but only earning $25,000 annually be punished, and wind up paying for every wealthy American's tax cut? When will the wages between educated men and women, doing the same job at the same level finally receive the same wages? Why is it that women still only earn 67 cents to each one dollar that a man earns? When will the day come that we ever see true wage equalities in America between the sexes?

Although the economy under President Clinton was the greatest in almost 225 years of our country's history, homelessness and poverty levels are still on the rise. The poor get poorer, the middle class is evaporating, and the seniors are paying the highest prescription drug costs of any western nation on our planet. Why do 44 million Americans live without health care? This nation is a disgrace among the rest of the world community. The senior medical costs is a particularly sensitive and painful issue to me, due to what my parents had to endure prior to both of their deaths to cancer in early 2000. They were too "rich" for Medicaid, too "poor" for Medigap, and their HMO and Medicare barely covered the costs for their doctors, their cancer treatments, and their medications.

Not every American benefited from the booming economy of the '90's. There still are far too many people working minimum wage paying jobs who have no health care, pensions or retirements plans. Even worse, if they have children, they are either at or under the poverty level of this nation. Again, why do these families, and especially their children - which equals approximately 44 million people at a low ballpark figure - have to live without adequate health care in the richest nation on earth? What is this country doing to ensure - especially after the promises made by President Bush - that no child should ever be left behind in the educational and health systems?

Furthermore, what has our country done to ensure that hate crime legislation will be passed in all 50 states to include the protection of civil and human rights of all Americans, regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation? Although these rights are enjoyed by civil service workers in the executive and federal branches of our government, why are they not extended to every American, including the private sectors doing business in our country? I am not referring to the 200 companies on the Fortune 500 list that have already extended these rights. However, I am referring to the privately held businesses, along with various state run businesses, such as many of the country's teacher unions that refuse to grant these rights to their employees. Laws should immediately be enacted that any company receiving federal or state funding, whether in the public or private sector that refuse to provide these necessary rights to gays, lesbians and same-sex couples should be denied any further funding until they change their company human resource policies. In the 21st century, these rights must also be included among the fundamental basics of human and civil rights for every American.

When will our government realize that our basic civil and human rights issues have far from ended? When will teachers be hired on the basis of their merits and qualifications, and not fear for their jobs, if, in fact, they are gay or lesbians? When will our government, along with the United States Supreme Court realize that equal protection extends to every American who chooses to vote, and that includes having their votes counted? When will the government protect the rights of all citizens who wish to vote without fear of police interrogations? Whether these citizens are on their way to the voting polls to cast their ballot, or are subjected to further police interrogations after casting their ballot, when will they no longer be accosted by police for being seen in the "wrong" neighborhood, when all they were doing was administering their constitutional right to vote? When will full voter education reforms be enacted, no matter the age of the voter or the language they choose to speak or vote in? When will this government finally stop the practice of racial profiling, rather than having continuing debates on the topic, and placing the blame on everyone else for these ongoing problems? Let me remind our federal government that based on the most recent census conducted last year, there is no longer a "white" majority in this country. Americans are truly the world's melting pot, and come in all colors, sexes, ages, races, religions and genders.

Rather than our government using Two Trillion Dollars to give tax cuts to the 5% of the wealthiest people in our country, would it not be more practical to use our surplus funds to overhaul the entire voting system in all 50 states? Each state should be given a huge chunk of federal funds to match their own state funding, so by the year 2002 there will be a totally uniform system of voting throughout the nation. There should never be another repeat of the Florida 2000 general election voting fiasco. In particular, the Democratic residents of Florida surely will never forget what took place in their state on November 7, 2000, along with the 35 days following that election.

While President Clinton and Vice President Gore began building the bridge for the 21st century, in one fell swoop, President Bush burned that bridge in less than one month since he took the oath of office. How much longer will it take for the Republicans to realize that President Clinton is no longer in office? Whatever Clinton did, right or wrong, it is now time for the Republicans to finally get over it. How often since November 7, 2000, have the Democrats heard that very same line from the Republican leadership, telling us "to get over it" and that Vice President Gore "lost" the election? The Democrats will never get over it, and we will work our butts off to ensure that what occurred in Florida will never happen again, be it 2 years from now, 4 years from now, or another 120 years from now.

However, it is about time for the Republicans to put their own house in order, rather than continue to focus on past actions of the Clintons, thereby not having to focus on themselves. I am still waiting to see the proof of President Bush becoming a uniter, not a divider, because he certainly got his administration off to a rocket load of divisive fireworks.

Accordingly, if Senator Trent Lott feels that the 25th constitutional amendment needs reforming regarding Presidential pardons, then I also agree that constitutional amendments need to be reformed. However, my difference with Senator Lott is that it should be the 22nd constitutional amendment that limits Presidential terms that needs a reformation act. If that were to happen and President Clinton was able to run for office again in 2004, I can almost guarantee that he would win that election by an absolute landslide.

In the meantime, and well before 2002, I would suggest to the Republicans, along with the Democrats who voted for the confirmation of Attorney General John Ashcroft, that they should update their resumes. I have a feeling they will be doing a lot of job hunting in the private sector. Although I cannot see through a crystal ball, I am confident enough to predict that the Democrats will rise again and take back the majority of Congressional and Senatorial seats, plus have a majority of Democratic governors throughout our 50 states. In addition, the days of the Florida Republican stronghold at the state level will finally come to a blessed end.

While I wind this essay down, there are a few items I must stress. To begin with, I sincerely beg all the voters who are already 18, and the future voters who will turn 18 prior to November 2001 - please do not give up! I will continue working with the "get out the vote drive" and hope to meet you while I visit as many communities throughout Florida as possible. Do not allow the disappointments of the 2000 general election dissuade you from voting again. Changing the face of the nation begins with you, and be proud to be a citizen that can affect those changes. Be proud that your right to vote is the most important constitutional right you hold, and your voices will be heard. Regardless of your party affiliation, we must never again have a repeat that we witnessed during the 2000 election. You, our youth, are the future of our nation, and our country desperately needs to hear your voices. Although you have every right to feel disgusted and fed up because of this past election, turn that negativity around so your vote can make positive changes that we so desperately need. If you abstain from voting in forthcoming elections, you will have "let them win again."

As for the baby-boomer generation, of which I belong, we can no longer remain complacent and sit on the laurels that brought us to where we are today. For the past half century, we demonstrated, protested, marched, rallied, held civil disobedient sit-ins, even rioted, all in the name of the basic civil and human rights we now afford. Although we have gained plenty of ground throughout the years, sadly, there is still so much more ground that needs to be covered.

Every American of all races, ages, genders, religions and sexual orientations cannot forget how we got here, how many lives were lost for these struggles, how many people were jailed for these struggles and the 2000 election proved how much work is still left to be done. We must continue to be the role models for the youth of our nation, just as there were role models for us when we were young. Now more than ever before, we must all stand together. We may agree to peacefully disagree regarding our ideologies, however that is healthy and normal, and leads to further dialogue with which to promote change and growth.

Although our angels, including Dr. King, JFK, RFK, Malcolm X, Audre Lorde, Bella Abzug, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm (to name but a few) are no longer here to continue to lead us, we cannot disappoint them. Yes, they are now on top of that mountain looking down at us and cheering us on. We must continue to give the short time they spent on earth with us the reverence they are forever due. We must continue to make them proud of us, and prove that all the work they gave their lives for were not in vain. We must continue to be proud of ourselves and earn the right to have the youth of this nation look to us for guidance and leadership. We cannot stand still with contentment.

We live in the greatest and most powerful country on this earth, but that does not mean it is perfect. The most fundamental and basic rights we have are human rights, civil rights, freedom of speech, the right to vote and to make sure those votes are fairly counted. Yes, it takes a village, and that village is our grass roots efforts to continue to change our country, always for the better. We must take these basic rights as a blessing and remember the hard days our predecessors had to live through to give us these rights that we now seem to take for granted. We have much work left to do in the areas of stamping out poverty, giving every American access to health care, and have every child in this country receive the best education possible. Most of all, we must treat each other with respect and remember what Dr. King said was on the inside of the person, and not by the color of one's skin. Furthermore, we must respect the sexual orientation of every individual.

Yes, we can agree to disagree, but through intelligent dialogue, we may eventually realize we really are no different from each other. There is no individual in this country that should ever be left behind, no matter what the reasons.

As I write this, it is with the promise that I will never give up fighting for these most basic and fundamental human rights that every American citizen deserves. My only prayer is that all of us will continue this journey together, in peace, as we have always tried our very best to do in the past. Those up on that mountaintop are watching us very closely, and their prayers for peace are with us.

In freedom, peace and solidarity,

West Palm Beach, FL
February 10, 2001