Posted in Commentary, Desert Life, Lessons Learned, Politics

Stranger in the strangest of lands

If you follow the news at all, you will no doubt be painfully aware that my state is doing its damnedest, on many, many fronts, to win “Douchebag State of the Century” (this being our centennial year), and for my money, I think Arizona is a serious contender.

The state is utterly, utterly broke, because no one here thinks they should have to pay taxes for services.  We had to pay some federal income tax this year on top of paycheck withholding (as we usually do), but we got a nice fat refund from a state that has cut everything possible in terms of human services.  Back when we were still teaching, 11 years ago, it was Career Ladder, a teacher development/merit pay scheme that many teachers worked hard on and counted on when budgeting for their lives.  Since then, they’ve cut public health care (if you’re poor, and have the audacity to be sick, you should expect to die, because no one here, in this supposedly rabidly pro-life state, wants to pay for you to live–life is for those who can afford it), mental health care, public education budgets from preschool to college, and frivolous spending, like fire and police department staff, and road maintenance.

And it’s not just financial issues, and it’s not just the government.  The people of Arizona (people who do not live in my house, anyway) twice voted down equal marriage rights for gay and straight folk, and in the case of gay partners who have children, only the birth mother or a single adoptive father of record are legal parents of the child; the other parent cannot legally adopt their child in this state.

But those same people think it’s an absolutely groovy idea to allow pretty much anyone to carry a gun anywhere at any time, including on school campuses.  Because why give kids who fight detention when you can just riddle them with a few well-placed holes?  That’ll learn ’em.  Scott informed me last night that in addition to the traditional state motto, state bird, and state flower, we actually have a state gun.  I had no idea.  I was repulsed, but not really surprised.

I had no idea what a bizarrely anti-human state I was moving to when we came here, probably because it wasn’t like that when we moved here.  13 years ago, no one had heard of  Jan Brewer the Lunatic.  We had Republican Jane Hull, who was not awesome in my opinion, but I didn’t think she was nuts, and then Janet Napolitano, a sane, sensible Democrat who managed to get quite a bit done in a very Republican state until Obama poached her, and the whole state’s gone down the toilet since.  It’s getting worse lately, with a raft of laws aimed at allowing a bunch of crazy dudes (and the aforementioned Lunatic) to be eyebrow deep in my lady business without cause or invitation because the party of small government (and no appreciation of irony) thinks its purview includes my uterus, and that of every other woman in the state.  It started with these, and this year there’s been a bumper crop of new laws, including one that allows doctors to lie through omission about the status of a fetus, lest the parents decide to avail themselves of a LEGAL PROCEDURE because they may not be emotionally or financially prepared to care for a severely disabled child, a child that will no doubt need the very same human services that the state has slashed.

And dog help you if you’re Mexican, legal or otherwise, because in Arizona, we don’t really have the time or mental capacity to differentiate.  Law after law exists to harass first, ask questions later, to outlaw a language that has been spoken in this part of the country since before there WAS a country, and to rob you of your due process rights, where you are guilty of being an illegal alien until proven innocent.

Tucson made the big time on The Daily Show the other night, because Tom Horne, formerly the State Superintendent of Schools, and now State Attorney General, has been gunning for the TUSD Mexican-American Studies course for years, and has finally been successful in killing it.  The argument made is that teaching oppressed peoples explicitly about their oppression (whodunnit, and to what lasting effects), tends to make those oppressed people angry and animated, and this is deleterious to the “democracy,” where “democracy” doesn’t mean that all voices are heard, but rather refers to the privileged majority, which would just as soon continue to enjoy its privilege and not have to deal with any difficulties like social justice.

Yeah, that is indeed what happens.  But these kids take that information and get politically active.  They work hard to go to college to make things better for themselves, their generation, and their people.  Such is the way of social justice movements.  And then there’s a little matter that oppressed peoples have a right to be angry; they’ve been systematically done wrong.  But we’re afraid of righteous anger; it requires that we fix things and make amends, and that’s, like, work.

But take a look at this little interview with TUSD school board member Michael Hicks and Al Madrigal of The Daily Show.   G’head…I’ll wait.

Welcome back.  So Hicks has been all over the press in the aftermath of a performance that I can only characterize as abysmally dumb, explaining that the interview was edited to make him look stupid, and he didn’t know that the Daily Show wasn’t a real news organization, and he was tricked!  And while there are without a doubt some obvious edits at the beginning, it’s pretty clear to anyone who watches it that he did that all on his own.  I have to say, if you’re not smart enough to Google something before you grant a televised interview, then a) that’s on you, and b) you have no business sitting on a school board.  And you’re still responsible for the words that you speak.  Hicks argues that he was misrepresented; however, I offer him as Exhibit A:  Arizonus tipicus, because he displays the particular melange of ignorance, unexamined privilege, and fear that are the genesis of these laws.

The antidotes to ignorance and fear are knowledge, outreach, and compassion, not desperate and increasingly weird attempts to control and outlaw people who scare you, particularly when the reason you’re afraid is because you know you’ve historically behaved badly to those people, and you think they’ll be looking for payback.  The latter is always doomed to fail, because you’re in the wrong, and soon enough will be shown to have been on the wrong side of history.

As someone who believes in the dignity and rights of all human beings, an abundant world rather than a scarcity mindset, and that knowledge is at least a first step towards power, it’s getting harder and harder to live in a state where inhumane policies are churned out at an alarming rate.  For the first time in 13 years, Scott commented the other day that he wasn’t sure that he could keep living here, as it was just getting worse by the day.  My usual argument is that we must stay, for balance, lest the entire state descend into complete madness.  And frankly, I don’t know where we would go that would truly be better; the world is changing every day, and there are plenty of folks all across this country who believe they can go backwards to a time and place and social construct that they imagine safer through the sheer force of their wills and loud voices.  We can’t.  It is the nature of all things to evolve; better to go forward with hope and a beginner’s mind, to learn to do this life thing better, for ourselves and everyone else.  In Arizona, or in a single frightened heart, it is the only way through to anything worth having.



I've been doing some form of creative writing since 9th grade, and have been a blogger since 2003. Like most bloggers, I've quit blogging multiple times. But the words always come back, asking to be written down, and they pester me if I don't. So here we are. Thanks for reading.

6 thoughts on “Stranger in the strangest of lands

  1. Everything about that is scary and just downright wrong. And here I’ve spent all these years thinking Arkansas was a backwards state. Of course it is, but I’ll have to cede douchebaggery to Arizona for morally corrupt legislation. Frightening, outrageous, hypocritical… the list goes on and on.

    1. Yep. The latest? The legislature just passed a bill saying that life now begins at up to 2 weeks before conception. The gov hasn’t signed it yet, but I wouldn’t put it past her.

  2. Yeah, in our 3 and 1/2 years here in AZ, Pam and I have been unpleasantly surprised at the racism, ignorance and regressive nature of things in this state. We do love the sunshine, but will be exploring other states and places. It may be worth giving up all these sunny days to live in a less sunny but more enlightened place. Oh, and I think Hick’s name says it all!

    1. I had the same thought about his name. I’ve lived a lot of places, and I don’t know that the average person here is half as bad as the average state legislator. I don’t know how that happens.

  3. I am outraged by his words, and though I was only able to view the :60 version of the Daily Show because the clip has been removed, the fact that Mr. Hicks never even ATTENDED the classes just shows that he is a dumb-ass. How dare he criticize a curriculum and a class that he has no first-hand knowledge of. Radical ideas? Yes, of course. This is America. Think of all the radical ideas that have shaped our country: That all men are created equal. That African-Americans deserve the same schooling as whites. That women deserve the right to vote and to control their bodies.

    You know what? Just the fact that they are outlawing Mexican-American studies means that MORE kids are going to want to know about it. Teens love anything that is considered forbidden. Telling them they can’t just makes them want to do it more. So, Mr. Hicks watch as the backlash hits you in the face.

    As far as living in a painful conservative state, I feel your pain, Kristie. I understand what it’s like to be in the political minority. However, I agree that you should stand firm and be a voice in your state for all that you believe in. I’m not planning to move from Nebraska just because of politicians like Jon Bruning and Dave Heineman. I’ll stop at nothing to blast my view on immigration and gay marriage and women’s rights. It’s just getting harder to find a worthy candidate to vote for…. And I tell all my ESL students, that knowledge is power and learning English is power.

    1. Amen, Sheryl. I chuckled ruefully at your examples of radical ideas…they have definitely shaped this country, but there are so many people who still think those ideas are wrong. It never ceases to amaze me that in this so-called freedom-loving country, there are so many people willing to restrict other people’s ability to just live their lives. They don’t really know what freedom is all about.

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