Here are two things I’d thought I’d never do: 1) Watch an entire Hollywood Awards show from beginning to end, and 2) Hear something in an acceptance speech that’s stayed with me weeks later. The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards aired on January 30. I sat through the whole thing, partially because the winners were so predictable I was amazing the household with a string of picking winners despite not having seen any of the nominated performances. In fact, in the three hours of the telecast there were only two surprises. The first was that the telecast FINISHED ON TIME (amazing). The second was at the end of the acceptance speeches by members of the cast of “Spotlight” winners of the Best Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture. “Spotlight” is the powerful dramatization of sexual abuse of children by Boston Diocese priests, and the work of Boston Globe reporters uncovering the cover-up. Actor Michael Keaton spoke last, and in 36 seconds spoke volumes:
Keaton: “It comes down to two things: There’s fair and then there’s unfair. I’m always gonna vote for the fair, I’m always gonna pull for the good guys.”
The classic South Dakota ethos is big on fairness. Prince or pauper, town or country, governor or hard-scrabble farmer, no one is better than the other. We stand tall, talk plain, take action when necessary and do the right thing. If history holds steady, the coming TV election commercials will be full of candidates of all stripes and genders sporting flannel shirts and well-worn boots and jeans stressing their “ordinariness” and embodiment of South Dakota fairness.
I probably romanticize the past, but back in the day, though we differed greatly on the solutions, we seemed to be in more agreement on the problems. Better said, regardless of our politics we shared the same goals. Today? For generations there was no goal more important than the education of our kids, and we sacrificed if need be to make sure quality stayed high. Now? Even after watching schools struggle, graduation rates fall teachers first going into their own pockets to provide the basics for their students then leaving the state they love just to feed their families, we’ve watched in utter disbelief as huge majorities in Pierre say, “Problem? I don’t see a problem”. Only now is the problem being recognized, and forgive me for my hesitance but I’ll believe it when I see the bills passed and signed into law.
Have nearly 150 years of reservations brought us any closer to fairness for Indian Country? As the nation, including the US Supreme Court, moves proactively toward fairer treatment for GLBT citizens, is SD honoring our tradition of fairness by bringing back Jim Crow to our bathrooms, and allowing discrimination against same-sex couples, unmarried pregnant women and the transgendered while still enjoying state contracts?
Everyone in Pierre from the Governor on down say they want our best and brightest to stay in South Dakota. They also are trying to recruit the same researchers, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs and capital that most other states are also courting, and tout our natural resources and traditional values. I’m just an unemployed song and dance man, but I’m pretty sure the celebration of ignorance, discrimination and bigotry may not be our best recruitment strategy. There’s fair and there’s unfair. Let’s be the ones who vote for the fair and always pull for the good guys.