A Rising Tide of Hate: Domestic Terrorists in the Gates.

I’m not gonna pray to God to bless Barack Obama. This is my prayer tonight to Barack Obama…I like to pray God’s word. This is the only prayer that applies to him, Break his teeth, oh God, in his mouth, you know as a snail that’s melted, let him pass away.

This is an excerpt from Tempe, AZ Pastor Steven Anderson’s, “Why I hate Barack Obama,” sermon.

A community leader, a man of God, has called for the death of the president, this disturbing message is one more example of the hate that is also spread by many talk radio hosts and found in the blogosphere. Consider the comments from the blog FreeRepublic.com regarding Sasha and Malia, President Obama’s school aged children: “A typical street whore. A bunch of ghetto thugs. Ghetto street trash. Wonder when she will get her first abortion.”

A brief search on Quantcast.com reveals that FreeRepublic.com receives 1.6 million visitors a month, 57 percent of whom are men and 80 percent white. The real eye-opener, as the Vancouver Sun reported on July 14th, was the equally shocking comments that followed. The site may have provided a de facto endorsement of the messages as it failed to remove them for nearly 24 hours and only after a researcher filed a complaint.

While the current national debate is being influenced by hate rather than reason, the Christian right wing movement has been polluted with racism. Further examination reveals a racist, anti-Semitic and fascist effort that has created a sinister undercurrent in American society that has been stirring for the better part of the century.

Many of our current day militias share forerunners who sought to emulate Hitler and his Nazi movement.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center the current political climate is inspiring an increase in militia activity. The tone of the current debate, as it did in the Clinton era, can prove to be extremely dangerous for our citizens and the militias themselves. Consider the following events: Ruby Ridge (1992); the Branch Davidian standoff (1993); Oklahoma City Bombing (1995) and the Montana Freeman standoff (1996), all resulting in significant loss of human life.

These homegrown challenges defined terrorism for many Americans in a country that found itself largely insulated from foreign attacks. The tragedy of September 11th eight years ago changed all this. Through the actions of our law enforcement, military and enhanced national security, the United States, has protected its people from foreign and domestic threats.

In April 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published an assessment with the goal of further understanding rightwing extremism in the United States and to assist law enforcement officials on the federal and local level combat terrorism. The SPLC intelligence report and the DHS assessment attributes the recent increase of right wing recruitment and activity to the economic downturn, election of the first Black president, the rise of multiculturism and immigration. Many of these issues parallel the driving forces of the 1990s militia movement, and should serve as a warning to America’s leaders.

DHS reports that many of the recruits are being drawn from the same sources as those of the 90s for their military skill sets. A 2008 FBI report claims veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan are joining extremist groups. The threat to our national security is real. The potential for domestic terrorism will grow as the flames of discontent are fanned the rhetoric of the radio waves, the spread of hate and recruitment tools on the Internet and the promotion of murder and intolerance from those in leadership positions.

Researching the various media sharing sites, one finds a stockpile of videos glamorizing the militia lifestyle and promoting an anti-government agenda. All of this activity is completely legal and protected under the Constitution. It might be legal, but it most certainly is part of a movement that inspires lone wolves like Timothy McVeigh, a United States Army veteran, responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing and consequently the death of 168 people. That was 14 years ago, but the past year has seen the murder of a security guard at the National Holocaust Museum, the murder of three police officers in Pittsburgh, PA driven by racism and anti-government ideology, the murder of a 10 year old Hispanic girl by a former member of the Minuteman Project and finally Christopher Broughton, a member of Pastor Anderson’s flock, carrying an AR-15 to President’s Obama’s VFW address at the Phoenix Convention Center, which turned out to be a publicity stunt.

The hate remains strong and has been woven into the national discourse. Each time a radio talk show hosts pollutes the airwaves with their “anti” rhetoric, each time a blogger makes racist comments about the first family and each time a pastor calls for the death of the president, the flames grow higher. If unchecked the flames of hate will consume our great nation, in loss of life and principle.

Randolph Gonzales is a graduate of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He hopes that his contributions provoke interest for republicans, democrats, libertarians, socialists, everyone; after all he comes from a mixed-partisan family.

Signs of a Dangerous Undertow

Is it more than coincidence that what sparked a Congressman to yell at a black president were his feelings about brown immigrants?

The evidence is circumstantial, but the same might have once been said about the tip of the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

In the midst of President Obama’s speech to Congress on health care reform, after the president denied that legislation would provide free coverage for illegal immigrants, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) shouted disruptively, “You lie!”

Is it ironic or predictable that such anti-immigrant sentiment would spew forth from a representative of the state boasting the country’s fastest growing Hispanic population? Either way, it speaks volumes about what it’s like to be Latino right now, legal or not.

Funny that Wilson is from the Old South, land of the stereotypical “southern gentleman.” Unfortunately, he chose to embody a less favorable stereotype, one substantiated by his membership in what MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann described as “a radicalized, insurrection-glorifying group, accused of harboring white supremacists, called ‘Sons Of Confederate Veterans.’”

I wonder if he’d rudely heckle a white president? I wonder if he’d be so concerned about immigrants benefiting from health care reform if those immigrants weren’t changing the complexion of South Carolina?

I ask because if the health care debate has become heated to the point of hostility, what lies ahead for the immigration debate, given its obvious racial and ethnic overtones?

Wilson’s explosion foreshadows the combustible nature of our nation’s ongoing culture war. He and his ilk don’t want to pay for health care for those who can’t afford it, nor for illegal immigrants not paying taxes. Really, they just don’t want immigrants, period. They won’t admit the real reasons behind their stance because they know racist sentiment is political suicide. They’ll try to claim justification in the rule of law, but in moments like Wilson’s accusation, their true motivations are revealed.

Veins throbbing, skin flushed red, finger pointed in judgment, Wilson flashed his true colors. Publicly calling our president a liar, his actions exposed the nexus of opposition to both health care and immigration reform as a force motivated by fear, anger and hatred. His finger was really aimed squarely at people of color, who comprise nearly all of the immigrants in question and a disproportionate segment of the uninsured, not to mention those swept up in the current, including our president.

I can speak to this first-hand because when I’ve advocated for immigration reform, I’ve received comments like: “You’re lucky we let you stay in the country.”

Well, I should hope so since I was born and raised here and am an American citizen. However, the feedback illustrates the current I’m talking about. Anti-immigrant fervor fosters a general anti-Latino climate because beneath the surface lurks the same fear of cultural change. Tragically, it all swirls with the potential for a continuing rise in menacing hate crimes.

Wondering how Wilson’s hateful outburst played in South Carolina, I reviewed press coverage in his district, finding a mixture of surprise, disappointment and pride. Most disturbing was the pride.

One Wilson constituent, sitting among patrons at a diner near Columbia, told the Associated Press: “He’s the only one who has guts in that whole place. He’ll get re-elected in a landslide.”

If so, I’ll understand why the Southern Poverty Law Center ranks South Carolina third among the Top 5 Hot Spots for Hate Groups. At least 45 such organizations exist in Wilson’s state.

In his mea culpa, Wilson confessed: “I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill.”

But the apology doesn’t mean that “emotions” like Wilson’s won’t resurface. In fact, if the subsequent increase in contributions to Wilson’s campaign is any indication, the Congressman is backed by many like-minded supporters. We must keep a keen eye on Wilson and his allies, because the waves he has made are a sign of dangerous undercurrents threatening to drown civil, honest and safe discourse in America.

We cannot tolerate rage that threatens civil discourse and public safety over national debate.

We must aggressively ascertain and expose the true motivations of immigration opponents so we can respond with a corresponding moral force that lives up to our ideals as a people.

We should be aware that anti-immigrant sentiment leads to anti-Latino sentiment as many fail to distinguish between Latinos born and raised here, legal immigrants, and those here illegally.

We must stop negative emotions from fanning fires of hate that could unleash more heinous crimes.

While the White House graciously accepted Wilson’s apology, the damage is done with the hate-mongers in our society, who are emboldened by reckless leaders like the Congressman from South Carolina.

I believe in forgiveness, but not in forgetting – or ignoring – what lurks beneath the waters that lie ahead.

Rudy Ruiz has been hailed as a cultural visionary. A published author and multicultural advocate, Ruiz is an acclaimed multicultural communications entrepreneur. He founded Red Brown and Blue as well as Interlex, one of the nation’s leading advocacy marketing agencies ranked by Ad Age as one of the Top US Agencies across all disciplines. Prior to that, Ruiz earned his BA in Government at Harvard College and his Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

A Changing Tide

I used to have as the wallpaper on my computer this great picture of Coach Bear Bryant leading his team onto the field with an unfiltered cigarette in one hand and his rolled up roster sheets in the other. I finally replaced it with a current season photograph because I got tired of the frustration I felt every time someone looked over my shoulder and asked if “that old man” was my grandpa.

Growing up in a family that worships the Alabama Crimson Tide, I have revered Coach Bryant my whole life. When the people looking at my computer asked me that ridiculous question, I simply replied “yes”. I did so because it amused me, but also because few people will sit still long enough to hear my history lesson of the man, Coach Bryant, and his true legacy: the one where he, a loudly outspoken man, quietly helped to finally defeat one university’s tradition of athletic segregation in a program that was not quite ready for it.

Coach Bryant coached at the University of Alabama for 25 years (1958-1982). At that time, my Uncle, Sam Chalker, both an Alabama native and a Crimson Tide fan, lived in Birmingham. When I asked him what football at Alabama was like back then, he said, “At the time SEC football was a cultural thing. We were the South. We’d lost the Civil War, we were considered to be backwards, ignorant, racist rednecks by people in the Northeast and the West. Football was our point of pride. Football was our revenge for the Civil War. The general attitude at the time was ‘You may be smarter than us and maybe even have more money and class, but by God we can play football’”.

In the fall of 1970, the University had already been integrated for seven years (see the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, courtesy of then Governer George Wallace.) Bryant and the Tide had long been playing integrated teams, and Bryant was well known for his insistence that his players treat ALL of the opposing team’s players, black or white, with class and integrity. It was equally well known that throughout the years that Bryant had been trying to figure out how to integrate his football teams at Alabama, he was met with constant, stiff resistance from Governor Wallace, who was in charge of the University’s (and thus the athletic program’s) funding. Where Coach Bryant was constantly frustrated by talented black football players being recruited out of his state to go North and West to play on integrated teams, Governor Wallace just saw their skin color.

All of that changed on September 12, 1970, when Coach John McKay and his integrated USC Trojans came to Legion Field in Birmingham to orchestrate perhaps one of the most lopsided defeats in Alabama history.

My Uncle Sam, who was in the stands that day, recalls the entire home crowd being absolutely stunned by a black USC running back named Sam “The Bam” Cunningham, who, as my Uncle puts it, “ran around us, over us, and through us, just like a turkey through the corn”. The Bam was joined on the field by another talented black running back, Birmingham native Clarence Davis. Cunningham, Davis and the rest of the Trojan’s offense left the ‘Bama fans both shocked and humiliated as they carved through the vaunted ‘Bama defense like “a hot knife through butter”. USC won that game that day with an easy 42-21 victory.

I realize that it’s a simplistic and romantic view of a complicated situation to propose that Sam Cunningham and his team’s victory was the reason that Alabama football was finally integrated. But, what few people know about that day is that there was already a black player on the Freshman team roster named Wilbur Jackson, who actually signed with the Tide in 1970 but couldn’t yet play varsity ball. Moreover it is worth noting that USC came to Birmingham that day on invitation from Coach Bryant himself. It has been part of the Coach’s mythos that he asked his friend McKay to come to Alabama and deliver a lesson in the form of a sure loss at the hands of an integrated team. From everything I have ever learned about the man, I do not believe this to be the case. Coach Bryant didn’t know how to be anything but a winner, and would never have gone into a game expecting to lose. I do believe, however, that he saw an opportunity in the loss to USC, and he took it and set about integrating his team. My Uncle called it “serendipity”. Several sports writers in the ensuing years have called it opportunism. I call it genius.

The very next year, when the Tide went out to California to play the rematch, Coach Bryant brought his first black starter, junior college transfer John Mitchell, along with Bama’s newly installed Wishbone Offense. The Tide won 17-10 in a major upset.

This year on Friday, September 11th, my fellow Alabama fans will have noted that it was Coach Bryant’s birthday. And in honor of his birthday, I’d like us to think about this:

While some may say that Coach Bryant’s legacy rests in rock solid numbers like 6 national titles, 13 SEC titles, and an overall record of 232-46-9, I believe that to be the less important part of it. The most enduring part of his legend is the fact that now, today, like Bryant back then, Bama fans don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, or orange with yellow polka dots; as long as you can play championship football, you’re our guy.

On opening weekend, when Bama’s star running back Mark Ingram was running ALL OVER Virginia Tech’s defense? Every Crimson Tide fan in the world was on his side and nobody cared about the color of his skin…

Thank you for listening and Roll Tide.

Shanna Hinton is a columnist for redbrownandblue.com and a lifelong Alabama Crimson Tide Fan striving to represent the ‘Bama fanbase in Texas.

Public Option: Much-Needed Insurance for Latinos

Most people today are focused on health insurance reform. I’m concerned about ensuring that the Latino community’s needs are fully met by such a reform.

There are approximately 46 million uninsured Americans. About 1/3rd of those are Latinos. And according to the White House, 34% of Latinos lack health insurance.

“Latinos are by far the largest group of uninsured,” President Obama said. “Passing reform that addresses the vulnerability of this community is a critical pillar for a new economy.”

So how do we ensure reform meets not only the exigencies of reluctant Republicans and balking Blue Dogs but also the urgencies of the Latino uninsured?

Digging into the numbers and my experiences as a public policy communicator, I believe the Public Option is crucial to meet the needs of underserved communities.

Our privately-run health care system has failed minority groups dismally for generations, contributing to deadly health disparities among Latinos and Blacks. I’m not convinced regulating the same old health insurance providers while squeezing their budgets will create the paradigm shift required to radically alter this industry’s approach to the unique challenges Latinos face. According to the Office of Minority Health, “Hispanic health is often shaped by factors such as language/cultural barriers, lack of access to preventive care, and the lack of health insurance.” Making matters worse, Corporate America faces cultural obstacles of its own in tackling minority health needs.

My skepticism is informed by my experiences at Interlex, the advocacy marketing agency I co-founded in 1995, through which I’ve worked with the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, numerous State health departments, and over a dozen hospitals.

At one point, Interlex was engaged by an insurance company specializing in illnesses that severely impact Latinos. The company – devoid of Latino executives – required assistance connecting with our community. We flew into action. The first obstacle was that they had not allocated time for developing culturally relevant materials, forcing us to merely translate their CMS-approved copy to hit their launch date. Accustomed to creating in-culture communications, we were chagrinned but determined to introduce Latinos to this important resource for their prevalent conditions. We overcame the content challenge via imagery and a grassroots team penetrating barrios and churches with the potent air cover of a multimedia campaign. Response exceeded the client’s goals. Then the second obstacle emerged. Insufficient leads were converting into customers. Among those enrolled, retention suffered. What was wrong? We discovered the answer speaking with patients. The health insurance company with the plan designed and marketed for Latinos had failed to hire bilingual salespeople, customer service representatives and clinicians to sell the plan and deliver the care. How did they correct this? Did they hire and train new personnel? Did they regroup and reengineer their approach to be more culturally relevant? No. Instead they pulled the plug on their Latino effort altogether. Servicing Latino customers – given their special needs – was more costly than projected and the returns less lucrative than anticipated. Latino patients were simply not “good business.” So, adios, amigos.

Welcome to traditionally underserved communities. If they were easier to serve and if corporations better understood how to profit doing so, they wouldn’t be neglected. Health disparities might become a distant memory of vanquished social injustice.

That’s why the Public Option is vital. It will provide a recourse for those not adequately – or equitably – served by private insurers. Through my work with government health agencies, I’ve found they’re largely comprised of fair-minded civil servants with a genuine concern for traditionally underserved audiences. They draw on extensive experience conducting outreach and purveying assistance to low-income Latinos. In Texas, when Interlex served the Department of Health, 66% of WIC’s client base was Latino. You better believe we were developing in-culture, in-language materials and they were providing service in Spanish. Public health professionals with this base of experience can build on the effectiveness of programs like Medicaid and WIC to cover and serve the 15 million uninsured Latinos. And they don’t operate under the pressure of hitting profit goals to earn bonuses at the expense of patients.

The President – buoyed by Latino leaders – should champion a Public Option within health care reform.

According to the National Hispanic Medical Association’s president, Elena Rios: “Hispanics have the worst record in terms of [health disparities.] We have the most to gain in terms of health reform.”

I couldn’t agree more. While I’m fortunate enough to be covered, I’d welcome a little insurance that health reform will truly help all people in need, including Latinos.

Rudy Ruiz has been hailed as a cultural visionary. A published author and multicultural advocate, Ruiz is an acclaimed multicultural communications entrepreneur. He founded Red Brown and Blue as well as Interlex, one of the nation’s leading advocacy marketing agencies ranked by Ad Age as one of the Top US Agencies across all disciplines. Prior to that, Ruiz earned his BA in Government at Harvard College and his Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

What This Border Boy Saw in Ted Kennedy

I met Ted Kennedy one breezy autumn afternoon in Boston’s North End. I was surprised to see him alone, striding across the street with one hand in his pocket and his trademark jaw jutting up towards the slate grey sky, looking every bit the sartorial Senator.

Without hesitation, my pulse quickening with my pace, I changed course to intercept him as he reached the corner and waited to cross. In my early 20’s, probably wearing my school uniform of torn jeans, who knows what he might have expected me to say as his curious, twinkling blue eyes pierced mine.

I offered my hand and blurted out, “Senator Kennedy, my name is Rudy Ruiz and I’m a student at the Kennedy School of Government. I just wanted to meet you and thank you for all that you and your family do.”

There. I’d said it. My cheeks were probably flushed redder than his, but we were both smiling. He warmly replied in that classic accent, “It’s good to meet you, Rudy.”

For him I was but one of probably hundreds of thousands of people he met throughout his long and illustrious career, eager to shake his hand, admiring of his towering achievements, frankly in awe of his family’s legacy. But for that moment, he paused and genuinely fulfilled my wish to converse with him, granting me a lifelong memory I’ve always cherished.

With his passing, I’ve remembered that moment poignantly. And I’ve marveled about how much Ted Kennedy and the Kennedy legacy has meant to me in my life, a phenomenon that at first glance I found rare but upon further reflection makes perfect sense.

Born on the US-Mexico border – in Brownsville, Texas – what could a small town boy who didn’t speak a word of English when entering kindergarten relate to within the persona of Ted Kennedy and the mythos of his wealthy, powerful family of New England aristocrats?

As a child I was first drawn to the Kennedy mystique while devouring biographies in my elementary school library. Somewhat of a nascent policy geek, I appreciated and admired the stories of great American heroes much like any other child growing up anywhere in our nation. When I read the book about Teddy’s older brother, John, I was moved to tears. I must have been about 10 years old and – like many full-grown adults to this day – I could not understand how someone with so much promise could be so ruthlessly cut down in his prime, robbing all of us and the world of his vision, charisma and heart. John F. Kennedy’s formula for success, though, shared a variable with several other Presidents who also made an impression on me, including John Adams, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The common denominator was Harvard, one that Ted Kennedy shared as well. In the pages of those books, the seed was planted in my mind that in order to achieve my fullest potential and contribute to my country I should start at Harvard.

When I asked my mom about John F. Kennedy, she mournfully recalled the day he was assassinated.

“I was working as a teller in a large bank in Mexico City the day it happened,” she said, a faraway look in her eyes. “When they announced in the lobby that President Kennedy had been killed, everyone stopped what they were doing. It was completely quiet. And then everybody broke down crying.”

I asked her why people in Mexico were so affected by his death. To which she explained, as if I should have known at birth, that the Kennedys had always been loved in Mexico, that they were also great friends of immigrants, and they were simply good people devoted to helping others. A devout Catholic, my mom naturally attributed much of this commitment to serving humanity to the Kennedy’s faith. She then told me that John F. Kennedy had faced great challenges overcoming prejudice against Catholics to win the presidency.

I was stunned. I had learned in school about the struggles of African Americans to gain freedom and equality, but I had no idea Catholics or Irish Americans had faced prejudices as well. When I asked her why people were afraid of having a Catholic as president, she replied it was because they worried that he would be subject to the Pope’s influence and thus undermine American sovereignty.

I found it hard to believe, but my appreciation for the Kennedy family was only heightened by the discovery of those two commonalities: their experience as an immigrant minority and their religion. The fact that they had overcome prejudice in ascending to prominence also fueled my own aspirations to rise beyond the circumstances of the border, with Harvard as the gateway to that future.

When Teddy ran for President in 1980 I was twelve years old but followed it as closely as I could, enamored with the possibility that the shattered dream of Camelot might be poetically restored via the youngest brother.

And when the Senator’s fatal flaw doomed his candidacy, I found him strangely more compelling a figure, tragic in his own right, enigmatic. He was a sobering reminder that – regardless of our childhood dreams – not all of us can be President. Most of us probably do not manage to reach the pinnacle of our dreams. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on doing good for the world. That’s a lesson to be learned from Ted Kennedy. For despite all of his name recognition, family wealth and connections, Kennedy failed to capture the brass ring of the Presidency. And, while he wavered at times, in the end he persevered in his efforts to quietly, consistently deliver on the idealistic promises embodied by his clan.

Looking back at his most famous speeches, two seem to stand out: his eulogy at brother Robert’s funeral and his concession speech at the 1980 Democratic Convention.

At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, he said of his brother Bobby: “My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it…”

Later when conceding defeat to Jimmy Carter, he electrified the crowd with his rousing sentiments as he proclaimed that despite his defeat, “…the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”

As memorable as his words were in those moments of loss, more memorable is the manner in which he forged those values into law in the decades that followed, touching millions of lives via his authoring and support of far-reaching legislation in the areas of civil rights, immigration reform, health care and social services.

He failed. He wavered. But in the end, he persevered in doing good work.

Coincidentally, those were his parting words to me that crisp, cool day in Boston’s version of Little Italy. As he stepped off the curb, he looked back at me and cheered me on: “Keep up the good work!”

Speechless, I stood there with a goofy smile plastered on my face as I watched one of my heroes walk away.

When I graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School I was inspired by the Kennedy legacy to apply myself to the betterment of society, to serving diverse communities and individuals in need, and to search for creative, entrepreneurial ways of doing so.

Since I didn’t reply to the Senator then, I’ll do so now as I join the world in watching him walk away with his head held high:

Senator, thanks to you and your family’s inspiration and accomplishments. In transcending race, religion, class and nation of origin, your ideals and spirit were truly the essence of America. For that reason, they resonate with people from Boston to the border, from Latin America to London. And regardless of whether I realize the fullness of my dreams, whether my shortcomings slow my progress, whether I waver at times, I will keep up the good work. Hopefully, thanks to your example, many others will do the same.

Rudy Ruiz has been hailed as a cultural visionary. A published author and multicultural advocate, Ruiz is an acclaimed multicultural communications entrepreneur. He founded Red Brown and Blue as well as Interlex, one of the nation’s leading advocacy marketing agencies ranked by Ad Age as one of the Top US Agencies across all disciplines. Prior to that, Ruiz earned his BA in Government at Harvard College and his Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.