Without thinking enough about what I was doing, in the early days of my employment I used pencils festooned with Barack Obama's name, celebrating his inauguration. I had been given a box of them as a gift. There are certain forms that require pencils only at work. The cheap mechanical pencils they supply fall apart and break, and we are always in short supply. So I grabbed a handful of my gift pencils and put them in my pocket one day. I used them and lent them without thinking much about it. After all, if you are desperate for a pencil, who cares what is on the outside?
One day a co-worker, in a voice shaking with rage, told me to get that pencil out of her sight. "How dare you bring that to work!" she exclaimed. "It disgusts me to see his face. And this is no place for political statements!"
"But it's just a pencil. And he's already elected, it's not like I'm using them for a campaign promotion." I tried to calmly explain.
"Just keep it out of my sight." she said still shaking with anger.
I kept using the pencils until that handful ran out or disappeared. I've brought in a few more now and then, but also purchased a box of plain yellow pencils to carry too. This co-worker will occasionally make comments about how she watches Fox News constantly because she wants to know the truth. She tried to engage me once on the topic---"Did you see that story on Fox News about (whatever the drama of the day was at the time)?"
"I don't watch Fox News" I said.
"Why! Don't you want to know the facts?"
Refusing to engage, I just told her that I didn't have a television. I don't. I obtain all of my news on the internet. I watch programs and movies online. Then I moved my work to another area.
Of course the recent controversy over the Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from ground zero is all the rage now. Recently that same co-worker, accompanied by two of her conservative pals, ambushed me in the break room.
"We are talking about those Arabs trying to build a mosque by Ground Zero. Surely even you understand how wrong this is!" she told me. "It's an insult to all Americans and it is like they are spitting on the families still suffering from the tragic deaths of 9/11."
"I guess that means the terrorists have won," I answered. I could see that I confused them. I couldn't decide which part to point out first.
The irony that our country was settled by people running from religious persecution. That a firm separation of church and state was one of the first amendments to the Constitution. That if we used the same logic, then no Christian churches should have been built in the South after the Christian men in the KKK started burning crosses on the lawns of Catholics and Jews (they didn't just hate Blacks).
Or should I point out that the Imam of that mosque is known for preaching moderation, and should be encouraged? Or that New York is a huge city and there are probably countless things within two blocks of 'ground zero' they may find offensive? Or that they don't live in New York and will probably never go there so it really isn't there business...
No, what upsets me the most, and what I finally said was this:
"A few weeks ago Congress rejected a bill that would provide health care for all the men and women that helped rescue people at ground zero, that helped clean up the mess. And no one in the Conservative media cared. A few Republicans were on TV griping about the cost. The cost of giving them health care. That was not very patriotic. All the flag-waving, all the moaning about the tragedy of 9/11--but really no one cares about the survivors, or the rescuers. Except when trying to promote their own agenda.
Suddenly, instead of trying to fix a real problem so many people are all excited about building the Muslim equivalent of a YMCA. Really? This deserves more time and attention that the lack of health care for those 9/11 workers? I think that is way more important. And that if this represents a majority view, then our American ideals are just a sham anymore. Since the real goal of the terrorists was to rip into our society and economic system--and both seem to be collapsing around us--I guess that means that they already have won."
I got up and left without giving them a chance to respond. Because I don't care what they will say, it will just be more nonsense they are repeating because it reinforces their prejudices, and their belief that they are exceptional and more important than anyone else.
I'm just glad that we do have a Bill of Rights in our Constitution. Even though eight years of the Bush Administration and their eager followers just about destroyed a good chunk of it with the "Patriot Act". It's still there to cling to, especially that very first amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...