A great part of the current divide in our county can be attributed to differing opinions on the role of government. The argument has been and continues to be between states’ rights and the role of the federal government. This dates back to our very founding. It was debated and compromised in the original documents establishing the nation. It then took a civil war to resolve the issues, but the open wounds of that conflict still impact how we are governed today.
Often the distinction is put forward that to be conservative is to lean toward more state and individual control and to be liberal is to lean to federal action. I find this limiting in the understanding of how women of color, especially African American women, view and experience government.
The issues around guns and health care are great examples of this divide. The lines are drawn and room for comprise seems to grow narrower daily.
To clarify my position, let’s take a look at the actions of both state and local government and the impact on my quality of life. Every aspect of my role and status as a full American citizen was a direct result of laws and decisions made at the federal level. The list is extensive, so let’s stick with the big ones.
Emancipation was not granted by a state. The very freedom on which the nation was founded was not the birthright of my ancestors in every state. With emancipation, there came no national standard for citizenship for the former slave. Free in Rhode Island was not the same as free in Kentucky. Almost every aspect of daily living was a matter of geographic location. All the rights that European Americans were granted in the Constitution required additional federal action for me. The right to vote was not extended to my ancestors when women got the right to vote. African American women fought side by side with the suffragettes but did not get the vote because states refused to accept that provision. The right to an equal education took a Supreme Court decision and years of fighting lower courts to implement. The right to eat at a simple lunch counter took federal action. As each right was gained, states took actions to limit their scope and application.
Without federal action, there would be no integrated housing, no higher education at the school of an individual’s choice and ability, no employment based on skill and ability. The list is endless
In the current environment, we have unequal laws by state in the areas of health care, marijuana, gun control and education—to name a few. So the fact that I am a citizen of the United States does not guarantee equal treatment. I may have coverage for a chronic condition in Florida but not Indiana. I can carry my gun in Texas but be jailed in another state for the same action. And in the Denver airport, there are receptacles for my pot so I wonted be handcuffed when I arrive in Ohio.
Given this backdrop, why would I look to states to find a fair and equitable ways to resolve the issues of today when they have no history of working for the good of all in the past?
I expect and support federal leadership and resolution to national problems. History shows us the way forward as a nation is together not as 50 subunits.
Is this liberal or conservative? Or is it the common sense lessons taught by our history?
Smith is former CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana. Send comments email@example.com.
Click here for more Forefront columns.