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The Bully is Back
by John Crabtree-Ireland
November 3, 2004

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The playground can be a dangerous place when you are different.  Over the past four years, our nation has taken on many of the same characteristics of an unsupervised schoolyard, where the majority rules. And that group is often controlled by a bully. As a gay American, I have been waiting, and praying, for the bell to ring.

George W. Bush has used the politics of division to solidify his control over this country.  With a charismatic smile and gentle delivery, he has “appealed to his base” and laid down a plan to separate out the “different”.  The instructions are clear: in order to be safe, Americans must report any suspicious people to the authorities, authorize wide-scale surveillance as permitted by the Patriot Act, and permanently disenfranchise gays by amending the U.S. Constitution. All of the pundits agree that his re-election hinged on issues of security and morality. Clearly, this was his strategy.

Now that John Kerry has lost his bid for the presidency, I find myself back in the schoolyard of my youth. I remember it vividly. Daily, I navigated a minefield of dangers -- cafeteria cliques, touch football on the field, jump rope and dodge ball on the blacktop -- where exclusion was the name of the game.  I negotiated the periphery, as do many kids who find themselves in the minority, skirting the action and gently avoiding any direct contact that could pull me in as a probable victim.  Someone always gets hurt and generations of children have discovered their place, inside or outside of the pack.

In the classroom, we could let down our guard, hang up our jackets, and settle in for life lessons guided by the teacher. My fondest memories are of story time. We were all equal during this exercise. We would hear stories of adversity and diversity, which resolved into equality and pluralism. Gathering together on the classroom rug, we could close our eyes and imagine ourselves in those stories, chatting with a spider in Charlotte's Web or holding tight with the three little pigs as they sought protection in their straw hut.

As we grew, the stories became more explicit lessons, expanding into non-fiction and introducing us to the heroes of our own American story. We could imagine rowing across the Delaware River in a boat with George Washington, testing out Thomas Jefferson's newest invention at Mount Vernon, hearing the crack of the gun and smelling the  sulfur in Ford's Theatre as Abraham Lincoln fell.  We hid under cover of darkness with Harriet Tubman as she spirited us to safety through her Underground Railroad.

We cast our votes alongside Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth. We sat at the front of the bus in the empty seat next to Rosa Parks.  These stories shaped us and helped us to claim ownership of our history, to feel confident in the present, and to see our future full of opportunity. We were inspired by the stories and proud to be a part of this “American Experiment,” a lesson of strength through diversity.

My classmates and I went through this together, short and tall, wealthy and not, girl and boy, popular and unpopular, every shade of complexion-what happened to  us between then and now?

Despite my vote and my strong hope for change -- for protection from those who would exclude me -- I lost.  As I close my eyes to conjure up consoling memories of past victories, I find little comfort. Instead, I find myself standing alone in the  schoolyard, unsure of where to go.

John Crabtree-Ireland is a writer in Los Angeles.  He can be reached at