With Labor Day Weekend (LDW ’13) officially behind us, so ends one of the more interesting political summers that I can remember. The summer of 2013, for good and bad reasons, will be known to me, as “The Summer of Liberation”. This summer we saw court cases, political battles, PR blunders, and feature films all surround this idea of liberty; the right of a person to control their own actions. As we look back on this summer, it’s not so monumental because everyone fighting for equality, freedom and justice won, but rather the fact that so many of these battles for justice occurred so publicly and in such close proximity to one another.
We, as Americans, started the summer by taking a major step forward in protecting the right of all americans to love. With Section 3 of Doma being found to be unconstitutional, it kicked open the door for all Americans to enter into marriage, gay or straight. The idea that any two people can be denied the right to be married seems archaic, and it was amazing to see the outpouring of public support for this basic right. Facebook profiles fluidly changed to red equal signs in support of the effort to repeal Section 3 of Doma. R&B star Frank Ocean, who already came out of the closet earlier in the year and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis who’s song Same Love, challenged the public consciousness to understand that being gay is no different than being of any particular race or gender. It is just a part of a person, in a way an important part of who they are, but not a part that should be forced to define them. They are people first, Americans second, and have the same capabilities and deserve the same rights as all of us. People forget that it was not long ago that this country legally viewed women and African Americans as inferior.
Which brings me to a movie I saw last night, Lee Daniel’s The Butler. The movie centers around the story of White House butler, Cecil Gaines and his 34 year term of service in the position. Loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, the movie adds a lot for dramatic effect, but uncovering how far and long our country had to travel between the end of the Civil War, and the election of Barak Obama to office is astonishing. I don’t think people really understand that, for the overwhelming majority of African Americans over 50, the idea of a black president was beyond fathomable. The chains of racism that held back black America, which went from being overt and inhumane to subtle but still unjust, are something that our younger generations (both black and white) just can’t fully understand. If you’re under 30, I’m sorry but you just don’t fully understand what your parents and grandparents went through unless you’ve really taken the time to understand it. Watching Cecil, played by Forrest Whitaker, fight with his son over his job as a Butler was really, really eye opening. The idea of loving and taking pride in his job as a “servant” was incomprehensible to Cecil’s son; who saw his father as a glorified ‘House N—r’. Fact is, this was a situation that was a no-win for father or son. Cecil wasn’t being an ‘Uncle Tom’ by having a job – even as a butler – and Cecil’s son wasn’t wrong for thinking or wanting his father and every other black American to have the opportunity for more. ‘Opportunity for better’ and ‘hope for the future’, are the two most important things that define what it is to be an American. Watching Cecil cry at the election of Barak Obama was the symbolic moment that showed that the opportunities now matched the hope. But what happens when hope is cut short?
Both in real life, the Trayvon Martin case, and on film Fruitvale Station, the idea of hope in the form of youth being extinguished too early is something that set the tone for the entirety of this summer. How could two young adults, Trayvon Martin (17) and Oscar Grant (22), be gunned down so early in life and seemingly no justice brought in return? Without trying to carelessly speed through these two very different but equally tragic cases, let’s just view them very much on the surface. The fact is both individuals were flawed, they are not saints devoid of criticism for many of their life choices. However, that doesn’t deny that their race, unfortunately, played a major part in the reason they are no longer alive. Say what you will about the circumstances that immediately surrounded the death’s of both boys, but one thing that is known for sure is that NEITHER gunman in either case, knew the backgrounds of those two kids enough to claim anything less than predominantly using race and attire to summarize their status as “threats”. Michael B. Jordan, in Fruitvale Station, did an absolutely unbelievable job at showing how a flawed and even troubled person, can still truly be a victim of injustice. Fruitvale Station, the story of police shooting victim Oscar Grant’s last 24 hours alive, showed the true dichotomy that exists between the two people that every kid can become. Inside all kids is the potential to be the person that is inside of them or the person that exists in their surroundings. I’m sorry but growing up in the hood, even with seemingly a loving and positive family life, does not change the fact that the surroundings can still take a hold of your life. However the benefit of being a kid, (at age 22 you are still a kid) is that nothing is set in stone. We can still change – for better or worse. That is the hope that is extinguished when any child is taken too soon. The hope for better, for innocence.
One of the best examples of hope and change I can think of actually comes through in the midst of a story that is just as problematic. It is the story of Michael Vick, which I think came full circle during the Riley Cooper situation. Riley Cooper, who was caught on tape making vicious racial comments to a security guard at a Kenny Chesney concert, was and still is under the microscope in Philadelphia. He is a pariah, and his actions make him potential cancer on the Philadelphia Eagles football team. But where this story intrigued to me, is not in Riley Cooper’s actions or apology, but in the way in which Michael Vick handled that situation. In the midst of his own battle to secure his professional future, Vick, a former pariah himself for his role in an egregious dog fighting ring, stuck out his neck before everyone else to say that he accepted Riley’s apology as a man and a teammate. He acknowledged the ability for any man to make a mistake – intended or unintended – and the ability for that man to change. Vick didn’t have to do this, and I can’t help but think that a pre-prison Vick absolutely never would have come out and defended Riley let alone so eloquently and thoughtfully. If the Eagles come together this season to win some games and do something special I believe it will be 100% because of Vick’s leadership. A quality that many will admit he never possessed before going to prison the way he does now. He has changed.
In order for people to change, they have to want to change. You have to want to fight for change. Watching the marches on Washington, New York, and other cities around the US this summer, for a variety of different reasons, made me believe that we, Americans, still have that fight left in us. This summer may not have seen all of our liberties protected and every injustice rectified, but what it did symbolize to me was our desire to fight for them. It is through the willingness to stand up and be counted that liberty is first won. I’ll remember this as the “Summer of Liberation” because this summer we stood up and said we will fight for what we believe, and we believe in the right for all Americans to be treated equal.