by Michael DeLang
(Swans - December 18, 2006) Towards the end of each year it has become my habit to look back on the year and try to determine the one thing that may have produced the most profound impact on my understanding of the world in which I live. It could be a book I've read or just a single powerful passage from a book. It could be a conversation or argument I had with a friend or a stranger. It might be connected with a public or private event of which I was either an active participant or merely witness to. Whatever it turns out to be, it must be an experience that has altered my awareness in some fundamental manner, changing the way in which I view the world. Once retrieved, I try to take the experience apart and analyze it towards a better understanding of the perspective, so that I can then internalize it and carry it with me into the coming year.
In early May of this year, I was driving downtown to the library to return some material I had on loan when I noticed a group of some seventy to eighty individuals walking together, carrying signs and chanting. On an impulse (I've always harbored an unconditional affection for anyone who cares enough about something to gather together in public demonstration of their feelings), I pulled to the curb, parked my car, and fell in with the march. It turned out that these folks had gotten together to protest HR-4437, better known as the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act; a bill that they, among many others, felt was designed to implement several unnecessarily draconian measures to address and resolve what its sponsors evidently perceived to be an urgent and growing problem. As I discovered later, the demonstration had been coordinated to coincide with similar protests across the nation. Walking along for a couple of dozen blocks with these demonstrators and then hanging around the park talking with them at the end of the march, I began to realize that I was gaining a startlingly fresh sense of what was at stake with regards to this legislation. Having only followed the immigration debate indifferently, up until that day, I had never focused on the people whose lives were most directly affected by the legislation. I knew and understood that immigration law must somehow affect the lives of real people, but that awareness of the actual human consequences involved was always pushed below the surface of consciousness by a careful framing of the debate on the issue in other terms. All of the arguments to which I had been exposed fell within a framework that confined the debate to a cost/benefit analysis, alternately identifying the subjects of the legislation, on the one hand, as a quantifiable labor resource, and on the other, as a quantifiable burden to social service resources. This incessant commodification of human lives never allowed the subjects of the legislation in question to be acknowledged as people; people with faces and names, people with families and histories, or people with dreams and aspirations of their own.
Concluding that it is a tragic flaw in the organization of our social structure to continue to permit factors pertaining to the generation and distribution of capital to push aside and drive from the field of debate any considerations of the human consequences of our public policies, I have resolved to take to heart and defend, in the coming year and beyond, the slogan People First. I hope to take each issue I encounter, probe it carefully for its purely human consequences, and respond exclusively to those criteria when formulating my own stance on the issue. I intend to offer my support and allegiance to any elective candidate and social or political movement or organization that convincingly demonstrates a sharing of these values and goals. And I will refuse to accept any categorization or argument that attempts to strip myself or any of my fellow global citizens of our humanity by reducing us to ciphers laid out on a balance sheet in some cloistered bureaucrat's formulaic obeisance to capital.
I concur with Mr. Lincoln's interpretation of the founders' intent to form a lasting government "of the people, by the people, for the people." It must be people first always. And I now see it as our civic duty that should we accept nothing less.
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