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GOP Antics in an Eighth Grade Classroom

05/19/2010 01:18 pm 13:18:23 | Updated May 25, 2011

Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

By: William A. Nelligan--PORTLAND

Last night, 2010's first Super Tuesday, was a victory for the Tea Party and a victory for the Democratic Party, largely for the same reason: Rand Paul.

Every time the Republican Party puts forth a fringe nominee, every time they lend their microphone to an extremist political player, our country shifts towards widespread public disgust. We haven't experienced the level of outrage I see coming since the days after John Lewis was attacked marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, or after Dr. King was arrested in St. Augustine. The Civil Rights Movement unmasked another extremist, in that case segregationist, bloc for what it truly was; not a political ideology, but a group bent on perpetuating hate and civil unrest. The Tea Party isn't that bad, but I think another unmasking, another mass realization, is underfoot.

And I've proud to say, at least in Maine and around New England, it all started at my very own middle school.

A little over a week ago, Republicans convened their state convention in Portland. Knox County's delegation, the same one that launched the extreme platform in our state, decided to do something even more out there than the opinions in their platform. After being welcomed to caucus in one of our local middle schools - my alma mater - they apparently took it upon themselves to make some "corrections" to the walls of an 8th grade class.

When school resumed after the caucus, gone was 8th grade teacher Paul Clifford's poster of the American labor movement, substituted with the replacement: "working people vote Republican." Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz also notes that a closed box, filled with copies of ACLU-donated - gasp! - copies of the Constitution, had been opened. At least Mr. Clifford found a nice little note when he got back to his classroom. According to Nemitz's article, it said: "a Republican was here, what gives you the right to propagandize impressionable kids?" How original.

It's truly hard to know what's worse. The vandalization and victimization of young middle-schoolers and their learning environment? The violation of a school's - and a teacher's - private office space? Of course, it's all of that. But what really gets me is that this comes from a party that continually frames itself as the party of the patriot. The newly-minted State Republican Platform pledges "unwavering allegiance, not to a political party, but to the Constitution of the State of Maine and the Constitution of the United States of America." It's noble - indeed admirable - but it's become so clear that the Constitution to which millions of Americans pledge is not the same one by which some Maine Republicans stand.

After all, what part of the First Amendment says you can tear down a poster displayed by children and their teachers in a public school? What part of the Fourth Amendment says you can rifle through the contents of a private citizen's desk? What part of the Fourteenth Amendment are Knox County Republicans protecting when their platform amendments limit the right to marry to certain qualified couples, when they argue for a voter identification system that puts minorities and the poor at a disadvantage, or when they argue for the enforcement of unilateral "arrest, detain, deport" system for every individual in the country illegally, no matter what the circumstance?

The extremists who've hijacked the party of Eisenhower and Lincoln don't so much support the reality of our Constitution, as they do their interpretation of it as a means to defeat legislation and laws that they dislike. They don't so much support free press for all, as they do free press for those who agree with them. They don't so much support freedom of religion, as they do freedom to proselytize certain religions.

In watching the state party pass this new platform, in reading about their grossly inappropriate behavior, in listening and reading about candidates like Rand Paul, it's become abundantly clear to me that the Republican Party is shifting and changing even farther to the fringe. And with each passing day that Tea Party Republicans are strengthened, I see respect for the Republican Party as a whole weakening. Because, as John Lewis crossed a bridge towards tolerance and equality, the Republican Party is crossing a bridge away from it, and Americans are watching. Americans are watching as moderates are pushed out of the party; as it is overrun by those who, often being marginalized by poverty and lack of education themselves, seek to further marginalize others. The GOP can elect to turn itself back, to revert to the party of which Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt were proud members, or it can keep walking forward, eventually falling off the bridge altogether.

Either way, we can find satisfaction in the words and actions of that same middle school teacher, Mr. Clifford. "What we're studying are the fundamental rights we all have as Americans. We're looking at [Knox County's behavior] as an educational experience for everybody, and an opportunity for everyone to take a look at the First Amendment and the Constitution." Whether or not cooler heads prevail and the Tea Party movement shrinks back into the darkness, I'm picturing Mr. Clifford standing on the other side of that bridge, hand-in-hand with thousands of other Americans just like him, ready to take his poster - and his country - back.

William Nelligan is a graduate of Blunt Youth Radio, in Portland, Maine.

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