Recently I spent my Saturday afternoon at the Veterans Day event hosted by the City of Wilton Manors, a fitting tribute to the many men and women who have served in the military of our great nation and deserve our unequivocal gratitude and respect. No one should ever overlook, minimize, or forget their bravery, sacrifices, and service to protect our essential American values, freedom, and way of life.
Looking over the diverse crowd and listening to the impassioned speakers, I felt a sense of anger and contempt towards the radical rightwing fanatics who falsely claim a God-given ownership over patriotism. These fascists wrap themselves in the American flag and chant, “Make America Great Again.” In reality, the only way we will make America great again is to realize that every one of us makes America the great nation it already is.
Our brave veterans come from very different backgrounds. Some are wealthy, poor, white, black, Latino, gay, straight, male, female, transgender, and some not even U.S. citizens when they volunteered. They were Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, liberal, socialist, conservative, and more. They all came together as Americans willing to serve a country they believed in, to defend the dream of freedom for all! Only when we begin to recognize ourselves as a nation of many, instead of a select privileged class, will we truly make America great again.
Our Mayor selected verses from Maya Angelou’s poem, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” to talk about defending our freedoms. Perhaps a more appropriate choice would have been a poem written by Langston Hughes, “Dream of Freedom,” part of which reads:
There are those who claim
This dream for theirs alone--
A sin for which we know
They must atone.
This dream knows no frontier or tongue,
The dream no class or race.
The dream cannot be kept secure
In any one looked place.
It must be saved for ALL-
Our dream of freedom!
Looking at those who make life better for the many here in our Island City of Wilton Manors, I would like to move the subject to last week’s SFGN edition and the selections for SFGN’s Best of 2017. Having spent the past week pondering or perhaps actually channeling the spirit of Emma Goldman, a political activist, union organizer, and writer, while reviewing her influence during the first half of the 20th Century, I feel the need to share my thoughts and Emma’s wisdom, on who should be our local Wilton Manors choice for Best Local Politician and Best LGBT Activist.
While Debbie Wasserman Schultz might qualify as best politician for being able to hold on to elected office after her actions over the past few years, her failure at the helm of the Democratic Party paved the way for the Trump Presidency. Her backing of the payday loan industry was a slap in the face for many Florida working families struggling to get out of the vicious cycle of debt. A far better choice for Best Politician would be Congressman Ted Deutch, who represents Wilton Manors and serves as Chair of the Congressional LGBT Aging Issues Task Force and as Vice Chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.
It is often said that all politics are local, so perhaps we should look right here in our Island City where we can choose any one of our City Commissioners for doing a great job, Vice Mayor Justin Flippen and with Commissioner Scott Newton could both be our hometown favorites. Looking outside our borders, Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis would be a formidable contender. Sorry, Debbie!
Now let’s look at the selection for Best LGBT Activist. Doing a spectacular job, one that pays you a six figure salary, does not make you a great activist, it makes you a great CEO. A true activist is someone who fights for a cause about which he or she is passionate, someone willingly accepting the personal costs and unpopularity that advocating for a controversial issue may bring.
There are many in our wonderful city who are committed and who struggle to bring about the change in which they believe, but no one fills that role better than our own Michael Rajner. On many occasions Michael reminds us of the issues that we as a city and a community need to address, rather than remain silent or ignore. Activist Rajner does not win a lot of friends along the way, but activism is not a popularity contest. Love him or hate him, but always respect Michael’s commitment to make our community better, even though we would rather him shut up at times. Activists like Michael Rajner force us to consider and make hard choices about what it means to stand for equality, justice, and freedom for all! That is the work of a true activist.
Thank you, Michael, for making life just better here -- and Emma thanks you too.