Words as Weapons

Tempe, Ariz.

Richard Kim, in “Coming Out for Change” [July 18/25], cuts through the political PR to remind us that the gay-marriage victory in New York really belongs to the gay couples willing to “weaponize their personal lives.” And he gives all progressives a new rallying cry.





Richard Kim misses the point. One of the most difficult things to see when you’re not looking for it is an act of nonviolence. We think of it always as something shown in the face of violence, as an act against violence. But sometimes that act is in words. So I understand how Kim missed the act of nonviolence Jose Antonio Vargas committed when Vargas wrote his New York Times article coming out as an undocumented immigrant.

Kim shows his lack of understanding when he suggests that GLBT people and others tell their stories and say, “Are you with us, or against us?” He suggests that New York organizers did the same and said through their stories, “You’re either with me, or you’re with the haters—but you can’t have it both ways.”

The power of Vargas’s story isn’t that it is a weapon, that it divides people into haters and supporters. Its power comes from his act of laying himself bare in front of the American people, making himself vulnerable to the very thing he was afraid of: deportation from a country and people he loves. He didn’t do it so that he would get deported but so that he could show the injustice of the system. This is exactly how nonviolence worked in the civil rights movement of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. People put themselves in harm’s way at lunch counters and on freedom buses to expose the injustice of the oppression.

Never did Vargas say or even imply that his readers either be with him or against him. He said, “Here’s my neck. Cut it if you can. Now reflect on that.”

I refuse to use my own stories as weapons against my neighbors and friends who are not sure how they are going to vote on the Minnesota marriage amendment in 2012. They deserve to have my compassion as they tell me they’re not sure. But I’m going to tell them my stories, which I hope will lay bare the injustice—not to impugn them but to fault the system we all inherited and want to make right.




Saint Cloud, Fla.

I am a moderate independent who leans toward the left, but Richard Kim’s “with us or against us” rhetoric exposes a certain ignorance of the complexity of the illegal immigration problem in this country. For every Jose Antonio Vargas story out there—which every thoughtful person sympathizes with—there is an opposite story that involves contempt for our laws and places a blight on communities across the United States who abide by these laws. The proposed Dream Act is a reasonable solution for people who grew up in this country, and should be made law. I commend anyone working toward that goal.

But your accusations of hate, along with your George W. Bush–like attitude, do not serve the cause of fair immigration. They do, however, expose the rabid nature of the ultra–left wing—which, I’m here to tell you, the average American finds repulsive—and serve only to limit the dialogue necessary for all people to come together and understand one another.




Life Under Austerity


Re “Greece in Debt, Eurozone in Crisis,” by Maria Margaronis [July 18/25]: The politically made debt crisis of Greece, and the EU and IMF’s answer to it, have set in motion a creeping disaster. Other countries could easily follow suit.

Brutal austerity measures are augmenting population vulnerability, fear and want. Young people are fleeing, the middle-aged desperately seek jobs and the elderly watch as a lifetime of effort evaporates. Chronos has finally lost his crown.

Families anxious for their children’s future have difficulty making ends meet, while the elderly are worried about medicines and health services. Some are experiencing hand-to-mouth existence or disruption to life. Unemployment is precipitating mental meltdown in a country where mental health treatment is still taboo. Home loss, homelessness and violence are growing.

Business-as-usual must be scrapped, and the straitjacketed bureaucracy must be re-engineered. We need an effectively governed Greek state and a more socially oriented Europe whose value systems brake political transgressions and hold the EU economic model in check.




Frances Perkins Pride

South Bristol, Me.

As a longtime reader and Nation Associate, I was particularly pleased to see Sasha Abramsky take on Maine’s Governor Paul LePage for his attack on the state’s labor history and the beloved Frances Perkins, FDR’s labor secretary and a force behind much of the New Deal [“Turning LePage,” July 18/25].

It is surely worth drawing your readers’ attention to the Frances Perkins Center (FrancesPerkinsCenter.org), which seeks to honor her by advancing her goals of economic security and social justice through discussion, scholarship and leadership. The center also preserves her place of respite and renewal, the 250-year-old Perkins family homestead in Newcastle, Maine.

Besides removing the eleven-panel mural depicting Maine’s labor history, Governor LePage also removed the educational plaque designating the Frances Perkins Conference Room at the state Labor Department headquarters in Augusta. After meeting with directors of the Frances Perkins Center, local Republican representatives were inspired to write to LePage and secured a restoration of the plaque, if not yet a return of the murals.

Representative Jon McKane told the Lincoln County News, “I am glad we were able to get the plaque back up where it belongs…. It is honoring the individual, not necessarily the labor movement.”

He added, “We should be proud of her…. She was out there, and she wasn’t afraid.”




Stop the Foreclosure Flood

Murrieta, Calif.

The Boston Community Capital program reported on by Sasha Abramsky [“The Boston Home Team,” July 4/11] works for three reasons: the banks expunge the defaulted mortgages; they reduce the home on their books to three-fourths of current market value; and the rescued homeowners remain in their homes/units rebuilding their lost equity.

The Obama administration needs to replicate some version of this formula nationally as soon as possible. Forget mortgage modifications. Without aggressive action this relentless bank-led foreclosure/eviction purge will continue to flood the market with millions of empty houses, further depress home prices, push more homeowners underwater, kill homebuilders’ prospects and devastate more neighborhoods.