We Are All Americans at the Chattanooga Choo Choo
I had to sit down one night this week and let the memories flow over me as a I opened boxes of Christmas ornaments and found three frosted white globes with an old- time steam engine and the words Chattanooga Choo Choo” on them. The Choo Choo is the hotel built in the grand old railroad station in
Before checking in, we would have spent the day at the Tennessee Aquarium, whose stunning twin-pyramid design rivals even the Monterrey Aquarium in
We always stayed in the Choo Choo’s railroad car rooms, 1920’s Pullman coaches fitted out as luxurious Victorian bedchambers. For the children, still young enough to believe in Santa Claus, the Elves were the best treat -- theater students from the University of Tennessee who came to our room dressed as Santa’s helpers, telling bedtime stories, singing lullabies, and leaving candy canes on their pillows.
The hotel staff often blessed us when we signed in, and there were lists of local churches displayed prominently, and even the occasional offer of directions to a Sunday service. But the displays and the offers were made with generosity, not superiority, to us Northerners. Other guests I talked with in the dinning car or on one of the 1800’s steam engines in the snow covered gardens spoke easily of the approaching birthday of their Lord, Jesus Christ. They could tell from my accent I not from the South, but their spirit was welcoming even when we sometimes talked politics from different sides. There was no trace of animosity, even when I spoke of my brother-in-law singing in the San Francisco Gay Mens Chorus or my Buddhist beliefs. We disagreed on some things, but felt the same magic of Christmas and the Choo Choo.
How different this is from the hate-filled words of the Alliance Defense Fund bellowing lies that pubic schools have banned Christmas symbols and even colors from the classroom. How different this is from Bill O’Reilly falsely telling his Daily News audience that store clerks not wishing customers “Merry Christmas” is a plot to force a “a brave new world” on America where gay marriage, partial birth abortion and legalized drugs run rampant.
How different this is from Zell Miller, railing against baby killers and homosexuals from his Senate office in
The Right Wing message machine that gives voice to Zell’s and O’Reilly’s hate and the ADF’s lies and the vitriol of the arrogant Right Wing talking heads has done bone-deep damage to American democracy. It has fooled the media into believing that its version of “morals” – one based on oppression of gays and women – is the only correct one, and fooled us into believing that is why we lost the election, when polls say otherwise.
Progressives must build their own message machine to push back against the conservative hate and lie mongers. We must reframe morals as Christ – the object of the season’s celebrations regardless of one’s beliefs - intended them, that is, the obligation to care for our brothers and sisters. We must repair the grenade holes in the wall protecting church and state from one another. We must expand our constituencies, build new leaders, and take back our nation.
But as we do this, we must also respect and appreciate the values of the staff at the Chattanooga Choo Choo who offer blessings even to Northerners, and the parents who take their children to Rock City after evening church services, and the pride of Frank Thomas, Manager of the Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame, in showing people how daily life was in simpler times. We must appreciate the families and local foundations and businesses who dared to build one of the nation’s finest aquariums in a declining steel town when the Federal government abandoned them. And we must listen carefully to Fred Denson, Chief Counsel of the Tennessee Military Department who welcomes even liberal trial lawyers as volunteers to help fight corporations denying returning National Guard and Reservists their jobs back – volunteer lawyers he needs because the Administration won’t give him the money to enforce the law.
The Right Wing propaganda machine has damaged them also. It has taken their values of hospitality and neighborliness and turned them into tools of hate and oppression. It has robbed them of their open hearts and tried to slam shut their open minds. And it has stolen their jobs, their security, and their futures while it gives them only arrogance and false hopes and promises of Armageddon in return.
But it is hard for Progressives – and Conservatives – to see our common humanity in the face of the daily damage being done to