Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why I am a Libertarian, part 4, Ruby Sue Issa edition ! ! !

Because of reconnecting with old friends on Facebook, I've been doing a series of posts about what makes someone go from political near-apathy to rabid Libertarian.  You can hit the "Why I'm A Libertarian" label down below if you want to see the others. 

From the 3rd grade to the 12th, I was educated in a small private school in north Mississippi called North Sunflower Academy.  At NSA, generations of students learned history and social studies from a lady named Ruby Sue Issa. 

By the time the class of '79 came along, Mrs. Issa had been at it for decades.  She had a list of stories and anecdotes that she used to illustrate the topic of the day.  Most of them had been in circulation for a while, and for the most part we were all too cool to pay much attention.  But some of it, against all odds, sunk in.  Or maybe it sank in.  Sunk? Sank?  Should've paid more attention in English.  I have no idea which one is the past tense.  Mrs. DuBard, please advise.... 

I remember Mrs. Issa talking about the U.S. Constitution, and the issue of illegal search and seizure.  One of Mrs. Issa's stories had the Mississippi Highway Patrol pulling someone over for speeding, and they pumped his stomach because they thought he ingested a baggie of some sort.  Mrs. Issa was outraged. 

Our class, however, didn't understand the outrage.  Even those who had "illegal smiles" knew, just knew that if you were carrying weed or anything else, that's just the risk you take.  Why, if the Highway Patrol can't pump your stomach, how are they supposed to do their jobs?  Plus, regardless of lifestyle choices, we we knew that all badness must be punished by any means necessary. 

But Mrs. Issa planted a seed that day, and it grew into this:  I belong to me, and you belong to you.  I own myself, you own yourself.  We don't belong to King George III, George Washington, George Bush, Barack Obama, or The Mississippi Highway Patrol.  This is mine, dang it.  Keep your grubby little hands off of it.

She did her best to teach us about the Constitution and how it shouldn't be abused, even if intentions were good.  She saw history as a long, long story that kept looping around and repeating itself.  A story where people kept making the same types of mistakes over and over again.  The purpose of the Constitution was to be sure that we avoided those mistakes in the future, regardless of the "emergency". 

Before Mrs. Issa started teaching me, I used to wish that I had grown up in a place where history happened.  Somewhere near Civil War battlefields, or New York City, or anywhere except the Mississippi Delta. 

Mrs. Issa told us about what it was like when her husband's cafe in Ruleville was first integrated, and what a big change that was for her.  She told us about the sit-ins and the Freedom Riders.  This was in a segregationist academy, and Mrs. Issa was a product of her time and place, just like all of us were (and still are) regarding race, but I think she kinda enjoyed holding up contradictions between our supposed ideals and our actions.

Bob Fisher and I both remember the time she told us that "All barbarian invasions come from....The North."
She told us (multiple times) about Bob Dylan coming to Greenwood in 1963, and playing "Only A Pawn In Their Game" at a Civil Rights rally.  We didn't get it.    By 1978/1979, Bob Dylan was as dated as Bing Crosby, and by the standards of the time, Bob Dylan couldn't sing.  (I now own every non-bootleg Bob Dylan has ever recorded, BTW.)

But because of Mrs. Issa, it eventually dawned on me that I was growing up in a place where important things were happening.  I was in The Most Southern Place On Earth, the Ground Zero of our biggest societal change since the Civil War.  I started paying attention to the news, and seeing U.S. history as a story of our progress toward liberty - first for white landowners, then for white men, then for black men, then for women, then for gays, lesbians, people who want to smoke weed, people who don't want to buy health insurance, people who own 200 guns, or guys who want to put on womens' clothing and walk around the mall. 

I own me, you own you.  If it doesn't harm you, it's none of your business. 

So it has taken me about 30 years to figure it out and to acknowledge it.  Thank you, Mrs. Issa.  Some of us really were paying attention.  It sunk in.  Or sank in. 

Mrs. Issa's picture came from Duff Dorrough's Facebook page.  One other thing....Mrs. Issa was a huge fan of Teddy Roosevelt.  Here's a picture of President Roosevelt riding a swimming moose, just in case you ever need one. 


Nick Rowe said...

1. What a fantastic story. Very well told.

2. Sank

3. The police would have to have probable cause for a drug search and a judge would have to issue a warrant for a stomach pump. Evidence could be as weak as "I smelled pot and saw him stuffing something in his mouth," but that wouldn't fly with most honest judges. No matter what protections we have, they are only as safe as the people who enforce them.

Take care, though - sometimes stories are just that. I once told my 7th grade science teacher I had seen a lunar eclipse and he scoffed at me, saying a lunar eclipse is invisible. When I showed him a picture of a lunar eclipse in my astronomy book and he never apologized, I never fully trusted another teacher ever again. Mrs. Issa's story doesn't have to be true, though, to make a point. We know these stories have happened. They've happened to me.

4. Yes, sometimes progress in the right direction takes time. We know that living in a democracy often leads to a better society, but it's not assured.

5. That's some wild picture of Teddy. Are you sure it's not Photoshopped?

6. Thanks.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

1. Gracias.
2. Thanks
3. I think most of us looked at Mrs. Issa's stories the way we now look at sermon illustrations - maybe they weren't true, but were for a good cause.
4. I honestly don't care if a govt. is democratic or not. The most important thing is the degree to which they leave people alone. Compare Hong Kong to Greece.
5. It was in Time magazine, I think.
6. Once again, Gracias.