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10th December
2010
written by Randy

Tomorrow, I will return home from my 11-day tour of the southwestern US, through six states to which I had previously never been. I’ve crossed Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas off of my list, bringing the total up to 46, and leaving just four states unvisited.

When I booked this trip, I had nothing more in mind than visting 6 new states. I chose the cities I wanted to see in each state, and left myself enough time between flights in order to see them. I didn’t have any other intentions than that.

But by the second day of travel, I had already been profoundly affected. There aren’t a lot attractions in Little Rock, so walked over to see Central High School, site of an important Civil Rights showdown during desegregation. In 1954, nine black students were denied entry into a white school, in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. The next day, President Eisenhower sent the 1200-man 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell to escort 9 students safely to class amid a mob of thousands of angry white protesters.

On the next day of my trip, I arrived in Dallas and went downtown, and almost mistakenly found myself in the exact spot where President Kennedy was assassinated. I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you what happened, or remind you about how an entire country was affected — many people still argue about it today. The only particularly interesting detail was that I saw firsthand, standing in the sixth-floor window of the book depository, I saw firsthand how easy it really was to get a shot at the last President ever to walk among the people.

On day five, I arrived in San Antonio and no visit to San Antonio is complete without seeing the Alamo. For those who don’t understand the importance of the Alamo, it goes like this: During the Texas Revolution, 1500 Mexican troops launched an assault on the 200 people at the Alamo mission, and slaughtered all but two of them, brutally killing even those who had surrendered. This one act of cruelty mobilized Texans to fight for their freedom and win their independence from Mexico.

Two days later, I found myself in Taos, New Mexico. I only wanted to go there to see the famous Taos Pueblo, and to get a little taste of what drew so many artists to Taos in the early 20th century. But while I was there, I learned of the hundreds of years during which the Taos Indians led revolts against conquering forces. In spite of our country’s long, ugly history with Native Americans, the Taos pueblo survives.

Yesterday, I visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial, a beautiful — if chilling — reminder that terrorism in the United States started inside the United States. None of this security theater we have today ever resulted from the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Of course Timothy McVey didn’t use an airplane…

And today, I visited the Brown vs. Board of Education museum in Topeka, which is housed inside of what used to be a colored school during segregation, until the Supreme Court unanimously ruled state-sponsored segregation was unconstitutional. Upon entry, I was greeted with a “whites” and “colored” sign, a bold reminder of the progress we made as a society when we finally righted that wrong.

It’s easy to spot a theme here. There’s a lot of tragedy that ties these places together, and that has really weighed heavily on me as the trip has progressed. But there’s also another, less-obvious theme underneath it all. If you look close enough, you see people coming together against tragedy, and you see events that brought Americans together, and positive results from that.

Of course there’s one more theme that I’ve experienced over the course of this trip: security theater. I’ve made six trips through TSA checkpoints, and I’ve got another one tomorrow. I also had to go through a heavy search when I visited the Arch in St. Louis. I’ve been observed by security for the crime of possessing a camera, and even had my camera inspected separately by TSA employees at Little Rock airport. And I came within a coin-toss of my first encounter with the porno-scanner/pat-down dilemma.

Fifty years ago, I have no doubt that Americans would have come together and rioted in protest of the ridiculous onslaught of security theater. Yes, it’s inconvenient. But it’s also an invasion of privacy. It’s potentially a health risk. And most of all, it allows our government to openly declare its distrust of all American citizens.

This is the modern Civil Rights movement. Make no mistake. Only this time they’re not just picking on blacks, or women, or immigrants. This time, they are doing it to everyone. And in spite of the hope that it might one day get better, the fact is that every week it gets worse, and it will continue getting worse until We The People finally rise up and say we’ve had enough.

It doesn’t have to be violent — it would probably be better if it’s not — but it had to be unanimous. It can’t just be a small group of concerned citizens. We need to wake up everyone, before it’s too late. It’s time to stand up for ourselves.

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