Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bin Laden’s dead. Party over here. Party over there.

“Wake up! Teresa … You want to see this!”

I’d fallen sound asleep on the couch – I often do – and my husband JB was tapping me.

“Open your eyes,” he told me. “Obama’s on TV. They got bin Laden.”

I jerked awake, and tried to take it in. Yes, under the President’s orders, they had killed Osama bin Laden. My visceral response was elation. “YES!” I blurted. “That is AWESOME!”

But wait a minute. I’m a peacenik. I mean, just check out all the bumper stickers on the back of my car! How did it come to this?

When the Twin Towers fell, I feared U.S. retaliation and a spiral of payback violence. That winter, JB organized a “peace walk” of Christians, Jews and Muslims. And the night of March 18, 2003, my family marched with 5,000 people, singing “Give Peace a Chance,” to protest the proposed invasion of Iraq. The next morning, I cried as I watched the start of our “shock and awe” operation on the news.

Meanwhile, as the US was “spreading democracy” abroad, we were losing it at home. The PATRIOT Act passed with only Sen. Russ Feingold voting “nay.” Untold millions were being spent on the war, recorded in no one’s ledger. And the economic crash of 2008 would radically alter the future for most Americans, including me.

The day Barack Obama was elected was one of the most exiting days of my life. I’d gone door-to-door for him because I believed that he would usher in a new era. But I grew more and more disillusioned when he kept capitulating – abandoning a single-payer health plan, appointing notorious cronies, and extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The President had thrown me under the bus so many times, I was feeling like a speed bump.

But I live in Madison, Wisconsin, now known as “Ground Zero of the Labor Movement.” My friends and I went to the Capitol in opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill” that wouldn’t simply affect unions – it would result in massive cuts to education, transportation, and health care for the low-income, disabled and elderly.

I don’t know anyone in Iraq or Afghanistan. But I know people who teach in our schools, and children who attend them. I know people here on Medicaid and BadgerCare – people who could get sicker, or even die, without these programs.

As if to put a sharp dot under the exclamation point, Rep. Paul Ryan – also of Wisconsin (is it the water?) – released his Roadmap of America’s Future. And Ryan’s vision of tomorrow scared the living hell out of me, like nothing ever has.

Obama came out with his own budget plan. I realized that they were “just words,” but they were better words than what was being proposed by the other side of the aisle. Politics became a matter of life and death for me and people I love.

If my government chooses to give more tax breaks to millionaires – and the price of that is that millions of Americans will go homeless and without medical care – that matters. An American who dies from complications of lupus or diabetes because they couldn’t afford treatment is just as dead as an Iraqi civilian that has been blown to bits by a Mark 84.

So when bin Laden’s death was announced, I have to be brutally honest. My first thought wasn’t of my Christian duty to avoid schadenfreude. It was, “Maybe now the Right will take Obama seriously.” A win in 2012 seemed possible, and with it, Obama’s stated commitment to the poor, the sick, and the elderly here in the United States.

I didn’t go out into the streets to dance, and it’s a good thing – because by the time I would have gotten my shoes on, the halo effect was already fading away. First there were the Deathers, who believed it all was an elaborate hoax like something out of “Capricorn One.” Then there were those who credited George Bush, even though he’d closed the CIA investigation of bin Laden in 2006.

So it looks like we’re back where we started when I laid down on the couch that night and fell asleep. Is the world a better place because bin Laden is dead? I think so; but it’s up to God to judge the man’s soul.

The soul I’m most concerned about is the soul of my nation.