Several months ago, I responded to a relative of mine who sent me one of those viral emails about the state of affairs in America. I had grown tired of receiving the tirade of complaints against what immigrants have done to this country, what Muslims are wanting to do to this country, and how disastrous “a foreign born Muslim” [sic] President Obama was for this country. So I responded and stated that in this country we believe in the American Dream where everyone can grow up to become President, where everyone has the opportunity to forge their own destiny. I further stated that since we held these ideals and values that we needed to do everything in our power to ensure that those opportunities continued to exist for everyone and if they were thwarted in anyway, we had the responsibility and the obligation to right that wrong.
The response I received was that my relative was not his brother’s keeper. In short if he could not have it, then his brother could not either. And the only way to keep his brother from having it was to ensure that laws were passed that were restrictive, punitive against the other from receiving what allegedly was kept from him.
The Biblical story where the brother’s keeper is mentioned is a painful story where two brothers, the sons of Adam and Eve, were at odds. Everything that Abel did was pleasing in the eyes of God. Everything that Cain did was displeasing and so Cain grew angry at God and angry that his brother always got what he did not get. Cain surmised if he couldn’t get what he desired then his brother should not have it either. And so in this story, Cain kills Abel. When confronted by God as to where Abel was, Cain responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God exiles Cain and in order for him to survive he will need to depend on the kindness of strangers, in short other brothers will be his keeper. The answer to this question is yes and so are we all.
A recent article on alternet.org regarding the protests against the Wisconsin Governor’s proposal to do away with collective bargaining of the unions, ends the article with this quote: “The Right has made great political progress getting Americans to ask the question: “How come that guy’s getting what I don’t have?” It’s the crux of the politics of grievance. Progressives need to get Americans to ask a different question: “What’s keeping me from getting what that guy has?”
It is a good question but the question does not go far enough. It is not enough to know that white privilege is rampant in America and is used to keep others from the good life. It is not enough to know that continued tax cuts for the top 2% income earners keeps the financial burden of government on the poor. It is not enough to know that our corporations have moved factories and jobs to other countries where they do not have to comply to our labor laws or environmental regulations. It is not enough to know that cutting spending on health care, human services, education will keep people in poverty. Many people know these things keep them from the same opportunities that the other guy had to fill his coffers.
What they are not doing is demanding a government that lives up to its ideals of being of, for, and by the people. Where the basic needs of the people are met. They have not realized that when we seek for our brothers and sisters to thrive we are seeking for ourselves to thrive as well. When corporations begin to take care of their employees’ basic needs such as a living wage, health care, pensions, life insurance, sufficient vacation and sick time; the incentive for the employee to be loyal, to be productive, to be innovative increases which benefits the corporations. Ensuring the best for our brother helps ensure the best for us as well.
It is time the people begin speaking up on what kind of government we want here in America. Will it be one that only benefits the rich and powerful or one that fulfills our American Creed so that everyone has the opportunity of having life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? We are not living Abraham Lincoln’s dream of being a government of, by, and for the people. We have moved far from that dream to being a plutocracy of corporations whose only use of the people is enslavement to sell their products and to line their pockets with gold. And if you think these words are too harsh, look at the work conditions in the countries where these corporations have set up shop to produce products. Those conditions would be here if they could get away with it. There are already some states that want to do away with child labor laws.
What we are seeing in Wisconsin is only the tip of the iceberg of what needs to happen across this nation. We need to send a strong message that in order for America to fulfill its creed of equality, that we need to begin by supporting the least of these in our nation; the children and the infirmed, the workers and the laborers, the poor and the immigrant. They are our brothers and sisters. To paraphrase Jesus of Nazareth, what you do to the least of my brethren, that you do also to all of us.