Susan Stornetta: Fight for your rights: pursue happiness

Social and political activism were mainstream back in the 1960s, addressing issues such as the Vietnam War, political rights, and rights for workers and women. Some protests even succeeded. This exciting time raised consciousness, and groups formed around service-oriented ideals. With energy and idealistic impulses, hippies and others demonstrated hope, peace, and kindness in 1967’s “Summer of Love.” It almost seemed as if a vigorous resurgence of democracy would bring people-oriented changes to the established order.

Meanwhile, wealthy political elites were busily hijacking the government, tightening control over politicians and bureaucrats, distracting the citizenry with fear of nuclear threats, of strangers and nonconformists of any kind. The media presented content that confirmed conservative values as the standard of behavior.

The crazies got busy early, assassinating President John F. Kennedy in 1963; throughout the decade they murdered civil rights workers, and leaders including Robert Kennedy, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King. But even as police clubbed demonstrators in Chicago, and student protesters were shot in Ohio and Mississippi, the 1970s brought some human rights gains. The first Earth Day celebration was held, the Environmental Protection Agency was established, the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed, the 26th Amendment gave the vote to 18-year-olds, and abortion rights were established.

President Ronald Reagan advanced the agenda of wealthy elites by aggressively cutting top-tier taxes in 1980. The Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress analyzed the practice and found that it didn’t provide growth of the economy, productivity, savings, nor investment, but simply increased income inequality.

Employment and growth are actually driven by tax cuts for lower-income groups. Nevertheless, those of us in the poorer tiers of the population are expected to trust the goodness of the wealthy, and believe that crumbs swept from a billionaire’s table will sustain a wholesome lifestyle for every citizen. Today, however, a full-time job is no guarantee that a worker can afford to purchase a home, right here in Nevada.

Trust is difficult to maintain in the face of the insulting “trickle-down” system. That 1960s hope for beneficial changes to the established order seems impossible. Based on what we see, hear, and read in the media, the economy is seriously dysfunctional, the environment is dangerously threatened, and our political situation is polarized and rigidly controlled by party politics which are guided by out-of-touch policies. According to the furor, we are circling down the drain in a whirlpool of fear and anger.

What can a person do? This seems like a bizarre “reality” show driven by lies, conniving, and scheming, where the camera disallows authenticity. We’re expected to accept each day’s outrage as the new normal, short-term thinking that focuses us on celebrity trivia, ignoring the long-range problems we are facing.

The chief drivers of this mess are greed, anger and fear. We cannot change the attitudes of others, but we can control and transform our own emotions. Despite the Internet’s potential for destructive interactions, it lets us explore ideas, examine their lineage and assess their value. We can be awed by viewing the vastness of the universe and the wonders of our planet. We might feel humble and experience gratitude and empathy. We could even realize that we are each the tiniest bit of unimportant dust in the space of an interconnected existence, our illusory power as fleeting as the wind.

The process of releasing painful hates and prejudices begins by behaving kindly toward others. This is actually a gift to ourselves, for as we help lift another’s spirits, we lift our own. Life is a journey that is actually quite short. Why would anyone squander their one and only life, buy into someone else’s idea of reality, and live in fear, pain and rage? The choice is clear: pursue happiness. It’s our constitutional right.


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