Monday, January 28, 2013

It Gets Better, on So Many Fronts

Barack Obama announces first presidential run in Springfield, IL.

I'm amazed at the breakneck speed of civil rights in this country in the past four years. Let's run down the breakthroughs:
  • The U.S. elects its first black president.
  • Congress passes the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
  • The president nominates, and the Senate confirms, two more female Supreme Court justices, one the first Latina justice.
  • Health-care reform marks a move toward real inclusion, especially of the needy, in our society.
  • The "It gets better" campaign, while not a change in law but in custom, does have a continuing impact on societal acceptance of gays, especially gay youth.
  • Don't ask, don't tell ends in the armed forces.
  • Cracks in the wall of marriage discrimination moves forward in spits and starts, then with support for gay marriage by Joe Biden, followed quickly by Barack Obama. Several states uphold legislative ending of marriage discrimination.
  • Movement toward decriminalization of marijuana -- more common sense than civil right -- picks up steam (may run into federal wall).
  • First black president re-elected, proving that it's a real, lasting change.
  • Pentagon moves to end job-assignment discrimination based on sex, especially focusing on combat.
  • Boy Scouts of America on the verge of admitting gays to membership and leadership positions (may not affect the 25% of membership in Mormon or Roman Catholic chapters).
  • Real immigration reform -- with a path to citizenship -- is at least on the horizon. 
Yeah, women got nuttin'.

I'm probably leaving something important out, but you get the idea. It's almost breathtaking. Why is it happening? I can't help but attribute it to pressure from the millennial generation. American youth are simply not prone to the old prejudices earlier generations were heir to. When you join that powerful force -- one that is a somewhat marginal voting bloc -- with those in other generations who were ready to accept change, however unexpected, you can reach critical mass pretty quickly.

Dan Savage said "It gets better." Holy crap, dude was right.

I don't know where this train pulls into the station. I hope it rolls on and on. Although not outright civil rights issues, there are other areas that could be affected by this urge toward change:
  • Gun safety, long a bugaboo for conservatives, conspiracy theorists, and gun fetishists, has a real chance of moving forward in coming months and years. (I consider freedom from gun violence a human right.)
  • Violence in football is being questioned in unexpected but very necessary ways. Expect some common-sense reforms soon.
  • Growing possibility of ending the War on Drugs, with attendant reduction of prison over-population.
  • General reduction in overly punitive prison sentencing (see California repeal of three-strikes laws).

Perhaps we shouldn't forget international progress, as well. The jury is not in on the prolonged Arab Spring, but when the smoke clears, I can see Western democratic values making great headway in the near term. Hot spots around the globe such as Indonesia have quieted down, though others, like Pakistan, have been roiled. Burma has, tentatively, asked back into the family of nations.

Barefootin' it in Yangon, Burma. Didn't see that coming.

I admit I'm an unrestrained optimist, but I see changes south of the border that can aid the environment in the Western Hemisphere. I anticipate a tamping down of the drug violence in Mexico; the socialist-populist movements in Venezuela and Bolivia will relax their anti-American vehemence; and don't be surprised if we manage a breakthrough with Cuba. The impasse between such neighbors makes no sense in the 21st century. Come on, folks, communism? Seriously. Open trade, open travel, at least.

Last but not least, there's a least a slow boil building towards what many consider a near-lock on Hillary Clinton ascending to the presidency in 2016. That's getting a little ahead of ourselves, but think on this: back-to-back presidencies of a black man and a woman (up to sixteen years, holy crap!). The opportunity for continued societal reforms and cultural transformations and a continued movement toward expanding inclusiveness are, well, self-evident. I, for one, am, for now, exhilarated.

Side by side, back to back? Whoa, don't get crazy.

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