American flagThe other morning, Christmas Eve morning, we went out for some milk to make sure we had enough for the holiday. We went to a local grocery store, and like many times before, we ran into someone who works in my daughter’s school. We exchanged greetings and little pleasantries and then we said our goodbyes, wishing each other Merry Christmas. Outside in the parking lot I happened to see them get into their car and remarked to my wife that theirs, like ours, was an American-made car. This led me to remind my wife that this was the person I’d had a chat with once before outside the school one day. That chat had turned political and we’d discovered that we shared similar political views. In the midst of the chat, that person had asked me to speak quietly because our shared political views weren’t popular there and they might be chastised if their views were publicly known. They refers here to the person, and is used here to not identify a gender.

Déjà Vu.

I worked for NYCDOE for twenty—two two years. I worked in the Bronx, but I’m not so sure that matters much here. I’m retired now, happily retired, but in order to maintain my medical benefits as they are, I am required to keep membership in the UFT. I belong to the retired chapter and so the monthly dues are less—about twenty bucks a month. When I retired, the union dues were fifty-three dollars per paycheck, one hundred-six dollars per month. Now all of that is what it is, mafia-style payoff on some level, if you want to look at it that way, but the point for here is that for all those years of paying dues and even for the rest of my life, I have been and still am actively contributing to the support of a political party that I don’t want to contribute to and that I don’t agree with on most things. And that, I think, is fundamentally wrong, even immoral and improper in a society that purports to be a free one.

Personally, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t have the union support any political parties, platforms or organizations. None. Such things should be completely up to the members individually. If unions wanted to take up collections and/or organize on behalf of one organization or party or the other, they could certainly do so, but on a voluntary basis.

That said, for most of those twenty-two years I had to listen to my liberal colleagues who could freely tout their points of view while I had to stifle mine if I wanted to seek promotions, overtime, or any of the normal perks that came with the job. I had to find the small pockets of colleagues who shared my views and we had to converse in code. In one way, this was kind of funny actually, but truly it was rather sad in reality. The Jews had to hide like this in Russia. Of course that comparison, while analogous, isn’t real in terms of the magnitude and the severity of the consequences to the Jews.

I believe I was let go from one college teaching position because I was not a devout liberal and I know I was let go from another because I did not teach feminist interpretations of literature as were being compelled by the fashionably politically-correct chairperson at the time. And so it goes. Of course I was laid off, not fired, and of course, there was no recourse.

And there it is. A holiday reflection in a free country where you can’t say Merry Christmas without fear of offending someone, where some schools won’t let a parent in the military wear the uniform into the school, where you have to fear repercussions for flying the American flag in front of your house or for openly supporting the police.

To everyone, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and may 2016 bring us back toward the freedoms this country was founded upon.

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