The line was long, but it kept moving, and although the sun was warm, the air was finally cooler than it had been for so many hot weeks. Thousands of us were entering the outdoor arena by the Mississippi River to hear the president and the first lady. We passed a small group from the opposing political party with their banners. Well enough. But one sign bothered me: "Mr. Obama, this is a Christian nation." You see, I am a Christian, and I was headed in the opposite direction. And the president and first lady are Christians, as were many of the thousands being protested.
And "I am a Sikh," I say, since the August 5 shooting at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, a suburb of Milwaukee, WI, where six were murdered and three more wounded.
Howard Fineman, editorial director of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, in his blog, "Why Obama-Romney Debate Will (Continue to) Be Vicious," gave a list of some of the reasons this has become the most abrasive, personally accusatory presidential campaign in modern times. He said that "Race and religion are sure to surface as corrosive forces." That is so true!
While campaign strategists daily try to get back "on message," I find the issues have a very basic core. Whatever surfaces, underneath are systemic, interconnected issues of domination and oppression. We need not label or avoid, but talk about them. For example, these mid-August days:
A Pennsylvania judge upholds voter suppression laws: Keep the right to vote in the hands of a few and exclude mostly people of color, the aged, and those with disabilities.
A man is named to be a candidate for vice president with extreme repressive views on women's rights and women's bodies: Keep power, or return power, to male leadership (a position held by some segments of Christianity).
Paying taxes to support our common life together in this country is considered only a private matter: The success of the individual is supreme over the welfare of the community.
To point out the growing divide between the rich and the poor in this country is chided as racist or class warfare: Withhold political power from people without economic power. Keep "freedom" for those who have benefited from privilege.
The ones who want to turn Medicare into a privatized voucher system ironically accuse the Affordable Care Act: Healthcare is the right of those who can afford it; the poor, including the elderly poor, can be forgotten.
In these mid-August days, children across this land are getting ready to start school again, and in some places already have, but serious budget cuts leave classrooms with fewer teachers and resources: "I will care about my own children. Your children are not my concern." Voucher systems can replace public or community schools.
The shooting at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin faded from the news, even before the normal "news cycle" ran out. A national news reporter revealed she had never heard about White Supremacist groups. Meanwhile there have been at least seven cases of vandalism and attacks on Muslim mosques, a home and a school since August 6 across this country from Chicago to Lombard, Il, to Joplin, MO, Oklahoma City and Ontario, CA: This country "should be. Mr. President, a 'Christian nation'." Violence against "other" religions is tolerated and hardly newsworthy.
I am a Sikh. I am a Muslim. I am poor. I am rich. I am a woman. I am my brother. I am my neighbor's child. I am the person who will lose my voting rights. I am... I am called to identify with each person in this nation. I am called to free the oppressed.
There was a long line to hear the president speak on the banks of the Mississippi. He said, as he has said before and will continue to say, "This election is not about two presidential candidates, or two political parties. It is about two fundamentally different views of this country."
I passed by the sign which tried to tell me I was not included in that person's view of "Christian." But his sign cannot exclude me. My call to be a Christian in this pluralistic society is to identify with the poor, to work to assure that women are regarded as people, to include the excluded, to work for all to have voice (and vote), to educate my neighbor's children, here and around the world, to assure that people of all races and religions are safe from violence and empowered to live fully in community. Let's talk about it. Let's work for it.