American Heroes

This is a Bleeding Heart — my favorite flower.

Last week I officially committed my first gaffe. Like so many others, I joined the Resistance last year on November 9. This year, on November 7, I will either be elected a member of my town’s City Council, or I will graciously concede to my opponent, who will have won by declaring that the gaffe proves I’m unfit for office.

The gaffe was that I owned being a radical and disrespected the law. Longmont, CO, my home town, has a tradition where, in municipal elections, every interest group you can think of holds its own “Candidate Forum,” in which the hopefuls for municipal office are impaneled to answer questions in front of a live audience. My gaffe happened at an event called Perspectiva, co-sponsored by the Latino Task Force, Out Longmont, and the League of Women Voters.

Now, I’m good at extemporaneous speaking. My opponent is not. I was pretty much wiping the floor with him in these debates-lite. But I do get wound up about discrimination and cruelty, and last summer I did a little organizing to help the DACA children. So the questions at the Perspectiva event pushed all my buttons. A gaffe is telling the truth in the wrong context, and my gaffe was admitting a) that I would use extra-legal means to protect the undocumented members of our community if necessary, and b)that I didn’t care who knew it. The respected opponent added a post to his blog the next day asserting that I had disqualified myself, because a council member’s oath of office involves swearing to uphold the law. This is my rebuttal.

The Candidate Forum season is over. There were SIX of them, plus one full-on head-to-head debate. I enjoyed the opportunity very much. It was a great experience learning that not all politics are divided with a bright line, red on one side and blue on the other. It was great remembering that I can like people who hold views opposite to mine. The one big disappointment was that I never had to answer a “favorite” question.

I was warned, as a newbie to these events, that they would be there, and it was best to be prepared for them. They are intended to humanize the candidates. It clearly is best not to be stumped by one of these softballs. What’s your favorite color? Your favorite book? Who’s the greatest American hero?

That’s the one I really hoped to be asked, and I spent a long time thinking about it. I have my heroes in American history, though it would be hard to pick just one. All my heroes were part of a movement. Different movements for different times. They all threw their anonymous, individual weights against the arc of history and, together, bent it toward justice. They were hated, reviled, imprisoned, sometimes even killed. And today we celebrate them, even if we don’t remember all their names.

They fought at Lexington and Concord. They ran the Underground Railroad. They were Suffragettes. I like to think, if I had lived in their time, I would have stood with them. Unremembered but unafraid, they did the right thing. They defied the odds, they defied their neighbors, and sometimes, they defied the law. They persisted, and at last, they prevailed.

We may not know their names, but we honor their memory and their courage. We owe what is best in America to them.

We live in a time when the forces of injustice are strong. The oil and gas industry wants to despoil our land and pollute our water and air to profit from obsolete technology. Our president incites his followers by making scapegoats of our good neighbors, even though the moneyed interests who put him in power also brought them here to profit from their labor. These are the injustices that I stand against. I am not a hero, and I won’t be remembered. But I will stand.