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Monique Ruffin Headshot

President Obama Is His Brother's Keeper, Indefinitely

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The other day I was at a volunteer meeting where we were each asked to introduce ourselves. There were about twelve of us in the group and I was the only person of color, or so I thought. The young man just two seats away said "Hi, my name is Tumi, I'm from Iran but I'm not a terrorist." I turned my head toward him, saying "That hurt my feelings." The room was silent. No one laughed. The introductions continued after a brief awkward silence. Later on, after the meeting, Tumi and I found ourselves alone, and he offered me an apology. "It's just my way of saying what everyone in the room is usually thinking," he explained. He went on to share with me that he is a performer and believes that humor is a way to get people to relax. I listened and then I accepted his apology. I then shared that I remember America before September 11, 2001. I remember when America was a safe refuge for thousands of Iranians to come and create successful lives, escaping religious and political persecution in their homeland. I told him it hurts me that he feels the need to defend himself when he's committed no crime and done no harm. But what hurts even more is the fact that he's now an increasingly likely target for indefinite detention by our government.

When then Senator Barack Obama started campaigning for the presidency, I was leery for many reasons. One of them was I didn't believe a black man could be elected president, so I decided to wait until I knew he was electable before throwing all my support his way. At home caring for a newborn, I had some time on my hands, which allowed me to sign up for many campaigning events. I hosted house meetings, did phone banking, blogged, donated money, knocked on doors, and did any other thing I could to assure Obama's win. In addition to my more conventional efforts, I also started a nation wide morning prayer call. The daily call asked participants to pray for the best candidate to win and for the American people to keep their eyes and hearts open as they prepared to vote in a very important election. My deepest intention for the prayer conference call was to pray for everyday citizens to have a spiritual awakening and begin to feel empowered. There were many reasons I supported Obama, but being the sentimental person that I am, each time he'd say, "I am my brother's keeper" something within me simply felt aligned. "Finally a candidate who could relate to the people," I thought.

On December 31, 2011, President Obama officially became his brother's keeper indefinitely after signing the National Defense Authorization Act. While most Americans were toasting the New Year, our president signed into law the NDAA, allowing American citizens who are suspected of any type of terrorist activity to be detained indefinitely without a trial. With the signing of this law President Obama also included a Presidential Signing Statement, which says that there are parts of the bill that he neither agrees with nor intends to act upon. However this statement is virtually meaningless and does not inhibit the president or future presidents from detaining everyday American citizens under the suspicion of terrorist activity.

This new law is scary; it actually frightens me for all Americans. For me, it is reminiscent of McCarthyism, except that those who were suspected of being communists had the right to defend themselves and could not be held indefinitely without legal representation. The NDAA fundamentally changes the fabric our nation. As terrifying as this new law is, what is more chilling is the silence surrounding this legislation. Where are Americans with our protest and rage about our liberties coming under attack? Where are the political pundits, media, viral videos and the Occupiers? The silence is deafening.

As I stated earlier, I have been a die-hard supporter of President Obama. As a single unemployed mother, I have donated five dollars here and there when I am able to for his re-election. Now I'm questioning if I have made a mistake. How can someone who says "Yes we can" and "I am my brother's keeper" also deprive people of their basic rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights? How can someone we've come to trust so deeply and support so widely be the same person that has dealt the most profound betrayal?

An attack against our constitutional liberties is not a democratic or republican issue. The divisive nature of our politics is a problem -- and we've become so disenchanted with the behavior of our elected officials that we are no longer actively paying attention or participating in our government. The result is that the carpet is being pulled from beneath our feet. Actually, it's more like getting clobbered over the head with a heavy mallet, Tom and Jerry style. It's time to wake up and stop overeating, football cheering, and housewife judging. What was unique and special about America has vanished with President Obama's signing of NDAA.

I accept that my feeling betrayed by the president's action is my personal response, for which I am accountable. However, rather than simply feeling outraged, I choose to see this in the context of a spiritual awakening. Betrayal offers the betrayed a monumental opportunity to dig deep and to discover more of themselves. A spiritual perspective asks us to look for the lessons, growth, and opportunities to use every experience to expand the divinity within us. There is no need for blame or victimhood, only the commitment to courageously show up and see ourselves as intrinsically connected to and reflective of one another. Accepting that who we are as individuals matters and impacts the whole profoundly is the opportunity at hand. We truly are our brother's keeper and when our brother steers off-track, making a choice that will impact the whole in a manner that might not serve, we must come together united and act as shining lights toward the better path. Yes, I am my brother's keep and I am my brother.

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