In December I received an email entitled “Going Forward Together” from my progressive senator, Bernie Sanders. It offered a list of issues that urgently need to be addressed by Congress this year.
His list included wealth and income inequality and growing poverty, the need for jobs, the urgency of raising the minimum wage and providing retirement security for seniors, Wall Street’s “too big to fail” banks, campaign finance reform after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, justice for minorities, women and gays, and the threat posed to American civil liberties by the National Security Agency.
I couldn’t agree more with Senator Sanders. But here’s the troubling thing: I have a slew of additional issues I’m worried about.
According to the latest Shriver Report, “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From the Brink,” an estimated 42 million women, and 28 million children who depend on them, are living their lives on the edge of disaster. They are “one single incident—a doctor’s bill, a late paycheck, or a broken-down car—away from economic ruin.” What women, a large number of whom are head of household and sole income earner, especially in low-income families need is “a country that supports the reality of women’s dual roles as by far the majority of the nation’s caregivers and breadwinners.” Instead what do we get? Mike Huckabee yelping about women’s runaway libidos and a shocking assault by his cronies on women’s privacy and reproductive health.
I worry about our criminal justice system, and the private enterprises with a vested interest in them, running amok. Horrific sentences, deplorable conditions, inadequate medical care, and abusive staff are just some of the issues at hand. So is the fact that juveniles are facing life without parole, despite Supreme Court decisions aimed at curtailing mandatory sentences and ensuring juvenile justice.
In one Florida case, two kids aged 12 and 14 with no prior record attempted to rob a man. One of them fired a gun, accidentally wounding him. He was grazed by the bullet but not badly hurt. The kid with the gun, likely advised to accept a plea bargain, pleaded guilty to attempted murder and robbery, hoping for leniency. Instead the judge sentenced him to 70 years without parole. Clearly the youth who carried out this attempted robbery, gun in hand, needed to be punished. But the case is not unusual in its extraordinary sentencing. Nor are the ones that slap teenage girls in jail for life without parole for accidentally killing their sexual abusers.
Human trafficking is another worrying issue that affects young people in devastating ways. While efforts are being made to address the worldwide epidemic, it happens far too frequently in the U.S. Florida, Chicago and Washington, DC have been described as “hot spots” of trafficking in a report funded by the Department of Justice. And New Jersey could soon be added to that dubious list in the wake of this year’s Super Bowl. “New Jersey has a huge trafficking problem,” according to U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.). “One Super Bowl after another has shown itself to be one of the largest events in the world where the cruelty of human trafficking goes on for several weeks.” Danielle Douglas, a self-described sex-trafficking survivor, agrees. She told The Huffington Post that major sporting events attract sex traffickers looking to make money. “The Super Bowl is a huge arena for sex trafficking. Some visitors come to the Super Bowl not to watch football. They come to have sex with women, and/or men or children.” Is this America’s latest version of “Take me out to the ballgame”?
We all know that gun control legislation – with teeth – urgently needs to be enacted. Shootings in schools, movie theaters, malls, on our streets and in our homes is so out of control one hardly has words. What we do have is compelling facts: 33 Americans are murdered with guns every day. Our gun murder rate is 20 times higher than any other developed nation. American women are 11 times more likely to be killed by a gun than women in other high-income countries. There have been at least 36 school shootings since Newtown. And dangerous people can still buy handguns in 34 states without background checks. What more evidence – how many more fatalities – do we need before the NRA is defeated and sane legislation is enacted?
There’s more, of course – climate change and the state of education in the U.S., for example – but even Bernie Sanders doesn’t have the energy to confront all of our woes in one go. And things aren’t looking good for legislative reform this year as the right and left continue to behave irresponsibly. So what’s a country or a constituency to do?
At the very least, I suppose, we can remind people of the work ahead if America is not to fall behind in ways unimaginable a generation ago. It wouldn’t hurt to send Bernie Sanders a thank-you note either.