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We Live In America

October 4, 2009

By: Carole D. Hicks

The days and weeks following September 11, 2001, gave many Americans a feeling of fear, trepidation and bondage.  I remember thinking, “Our way of life is forever changed.”  My first thoughts went to my son, Jack, and that he would not be free to “be.”   I thought of how I love driving through the mountains, and sitting beside the river and just “going” when I want to go — and I feared that would end.  Even though it was still America, “the land of the free,”  I was fearful that suddenly life as I knew it would change and “freedom” of anything would dissolve into an illusion or ideal of the past.

With that one act of terrorism, I (and probably others) was forced to realize how much we take our freedom for granted.  Suddenly, the threats to life in peace and safety, that many people in other parts of the world experience, became real on the soil of the United States of America.  Fortunately, it has not evolved to an everyday occurrence for us … but hopefully, it has made us more aware and empathetic for those who do live in such states.

In America, one of the great freedoms that we have is the “freedom of speech and expression.”  Ideally, (and on paper), we don’t have to fear being killed or punished for speaking publicly “for or against” political leaders, ideals or practices.  Right?  RIGHT??? 

I remember when I was in Germany in 1982; I met a young German who said that he believed Americans were not as free as we claimed to be.  In fact, he thought that if we spoke against Ronald Reagan we would be killed.  I advised him that this was not the case because there was a man who attempted to kill President Reagan, and he was not even killed. 

Now, I was not old enough to vote for Ronald Reagan the first time (1980), but in high school we did have a debate during that presidential race, and I gladly chose to argue for President Jimmy Carter.  I remember when President Carter conceded the race to Ronald Reagan, he gave a very respectful speech that encouraged Americans to recognize and support the new president.  I hated to lose the election, but I took to heart his words that as Americans we come together and pay respect to the person holding the office of President.  It made sense … it was logical (even to a 17-year old gal from po-dunk) that staying mad and being disrespectful would accomplish nothing.

Four years later, still a staunch Democrat, I voted for Ronald Reagan simply because I felt no confidence in the alternative.  Four years later, I wrote in my vote, because I felt no confidence in either choice (Bush vs Dukakis).  Obviously, I felt the choice was better for the Democrats in 1992, 1996 and 2000. However, even with a loss in 2000, I remembered Jimmy Carter’s ideal about respect and working together … and even though my heart was not as endeared to George W. Bush as so many of my friends and neighbors, I did my very best to pray for him and to refrain from blatant disrespect.  I certainly never engaged in any persecution of others who supported him (though I do have a few friends who enjoy a bit of political banter from time to time).  

In the years of the Clinton Administration (1992-2000), I was often very offended by the “freedom of expression” that is afforded to all Americans allowing folks to display car bumper stickers that read, “Impeach the bitch!” (referring to Hillary Clinton).   Or even, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Dole.”  In the years of the Bush Administration, I would see bumper stickers that read, “I’ve been Bush-whacked!” sported by Democrats, I assume.  Even when I saw this, I thought, “They should not put such disrespect on their cars about the President.”  However, I recognized that “we live in America,” and in order to have and experience freedom of expression, it must be applied to everyone.  I am willing to live under those rules, in order to have my own freedom.  But never, in a million years, would I attempt to accost or persecute someone for expressing their ideals (as long as they are doing it peaceably and not causing harm or damage).

So, imagine my dismay, when twice in the past month, I have been attacked by perfect strangers who held different ideals than my own.

One instance, I was simply waiting for a light to change, when a woman (in a Lexus SUV) behind my car started shouting at me about how much she hated Barack Obama.  I do have an Obama 08 bumper sticker on my car, (and that’s all it says).  Not only did she spout out a whole plethora of hateful diatribe about the President, once the light changed, she proceeded to tail me and continued to scream at me about how he was the anti-Christ, likened unto Hitler and the like.  My 9-year old son was in the car and became frightened and did not understand why she was screaming at us and driving so close on our bumper.

Another instance occurred when I was leaving a local restaurant and was getting into my car.  A bald man with a long goatee-type beard, dressed in leather and obviously riding a Harley Davidson parked next to my car, broached me about the bumper sticker on my car. 

“I see you have an Obama bumper sticker on your car.  I have one of my own.” He said, showing me his helmet.   His helmet sticker read, “Obama SUCKS!”

I replied, “Well, Sir, that’s the great thing about America … we can have our own opinions.”

He started to tell me more of his opinion as I was getting into me car, and I noticed that his sticker had a bit more … so I said, “Is that a Confederate flag underneath the words “Obama SUCKS!”?”  And he said, “It sure is!”  So I replied again, “Well, that’s why its America and we’re free to think whatever.”

Jack was outside the car on the passenger side, next to what I suddenly realized may be a “white supremist.”  The man was just pacing alongside his motorcycle, but I suddenly felt afraid for my beautiful, intelligent and sometimes “expressive” bi-racial son.  I yelled for Jack to get in the car and we hurried away.

I admit I was angry as we drove away.  I was not angry at the man for having his opinion, or for even engaging me in conversation about it.  What did make me angry was that the situation instilled a “fear” in me … a fear that I had to explain to my son.  And that’s simply not right or fair or even American!

In addition to the bumper sticker that reads, “Obama 08”, I also have an Ichthys (Christian fish symbol) and a Berea College sticker.  Depending upon where I am driving or parking my car, these three symbols could invoke an array of conversation topics … for or against.  But regardless of what ideals I express on my car, yard or person (or blog), none should invoke fear of life, limb or right to privacy as long as I am not impeding the same rights of others.

I admit, I do have hope that Barack Obama is able to do a great job as President of the United States.  I want him to do well so that America can prosper … so that my son can continue to live in freedom to pursue his dreams … so that people have equal opportunities and freedom to express and practice the way of life they enjoy.  It is okay with me that I don’t share the same ideals as other people … what is not okay, is when I am attacked, threatened or intimidated by persons who have ideals different from me.   Also, I am not okay when there is blatant disrespect or threats against others, especially the President of the United States.  I don’t understand why someone would even want to be involved in that kind of rhetoric or conduct … but “we do live in America.”  We’re free to be … and that includes me.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Ann permalink
    October 12, 2009 7:19 am

    I absolutely agree with this blog and I too often wonder just what drives Americans to be so hateful and disrespectful to other human beings. There is no logical reason.

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