The U.S. - A Model of Unity
I donít know what your feelings are about rebuilding Iraq, but, buried deep in a news story on the new Iraqi President was a very important lesson for the United States and its language policy.
Ghazi Yawar has taken over (at least for the moment) the process of creating a free Iraqi government. Yawar is a sheik from the influential Shamar tribe, and dresses like one Ė black cape, edged with gold trim, over flowing white robes. Yawar could be one of those fomenting tribal, ethnic and religious violence, but heís not.
His Shamar tribe, with about 3 million members, is evenly split between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. He argues that tribes must be harnessed to work together, not used to drive wedges that split a society.
His model? The U.S.
He told writer David Ignatius of the Washington Post newspaper: "What makes the U.S. a superpower is that all the ethnicities melt together."
Leave aside everything else about Iraq for the moment, and consider that simple truth. What drives people who want to rebuild shattered countries? Societies where violence is everywhere? Where speech (or speakers) could not survive if ancient divisions linger?
A desire for unity. A belief that we must all work together. That we must put aside differences for the common good. That we must find common ground.
The lesson for the United States is obvious: we must come together around the very, very few common institutions in our society. One of those common foundations of our society is our precious common language: English.
And at a time when others see the value in unity, we are uncovering more and more evidence that our language policies are undermining the foundations of stability in this country. Take one small article in the enclosed newsletter.
The number of non-English-speakers in our Nationís Capital is increasing enormously. And 20% Ė one in five Ė of those non-English-speakers was born in the United States.
For years I have told Members of Congress, op-ed writers, educators and others that to have peaceful discussions of political topics, we must be able to understand each other. And at its core, understanding requires a common language.
For better or worse, in this country, that common language is English. And we should preserve that minimal commonality. We must preserve English as our common language.
Too many of those ignored that advice, preferring instead to believe those ethnic separatists who shouted that government must help "preserve" other languages in the United States. Of course, what they meant was that government must foster the use of other languages in government. And that is what government did, most viciously in President Clintonís Executive Order 13166 Ė which requires multi-lingual government services in any language demanded by anyone asking for government services. At taxpayer expense.
So now we reap what they have sown: one in five who donít speak English were born in this country. Products of failed bilingual education. How can they participate in society Ė how can they earn good wages and engage in meaningful political debate Ė without knowing English?
So we must work together Ė you and I Ė to mend our country before these statistics become a rip in society. We must protect English as our common language. We must end these government policies that keep people away from English.
Everyone born in the United States should be able to speak English. English is our common language. It should be made our official language. It should be protected.
To do that means that you and I must work together to influence our national leaders. If they wonít listen to reasonable discussion at other times, we must make them listen at election time. For that is when politiciansí ears are open the widest. The time when they must listen to the American people who say:
"Heal our country too. Protect English."
This is an election year. It is our time to speak. And we are speaking. Quietly but insistently. ELPAC is a political action committee. It is what we do. And we are doing it this year.
We are visiting votersí on their doorsteps. We have a simple message: make English the official language.
Unfortunately, we donít have a lot of money this year, so we must target our efforts. And we are. We have chosen a few, very special elections this year. Some of them are obvious: for example, Steve King, from Iowa, is a leader in promoting English in Congress. We have given him the maximum assistance the law allows us to give. And we are happy to do so. Because we recognize his leadership and know we will need his help next year in Congress.
And we have taken some chances this year. We are supporting some newcomers. One is Vernon Robinson, a fiery and emotional candidate from North Carolina. Vernon is a charismatic speaker, controversial and very, very active. He is outspoken on behalf of English. And he is African-American Ė and frankly, we need some more support in that community. They, too, have a strong stake in a unified country and the English language (as comedian/actor/activist Bill Cosby Ė who also has a doctorate in education Ė recently pointed out).
But we want to do more in this race, which is important to all of us. So, right now, as I write this letter to you, we have two dozen workers working their way across Robinsonís North Carolina congressional district. Delivering "door hangers," and meeting voters. With a short, simple, to the point message: "make English the official language of the U.S."
All of this is very expensive. Itís an election year, and one in which the major candidates have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, as have their surrogate groups. Itís tough for someone to break through the clutter to reach voters. Thatís why we have to go door-to-door.
And, to be honest, we just donít have the money to do what we really want to do. Federal law requires us to be independent of all the other English-language organizations Ė who do fine work in their own areas, but are prohibited from engaging in politics. We, on the other hand, are permitted to engage in politics; we name names, talk to voters, say "vote for" and "elect" and so on. But the trade-off for that electoral freedom is that we must get all our support from friends like you.
And we need help right now. We can only get that help from you. Itís an election year, and we need your help immediately. The November elections are almost upon us.
Can we count on you for a special gift? Right now?
Please send us a special contribution to support our election year activities. A gift of $100, $75 or even $50 would be great, but any amount will help. You can use the enclosed self- addressed, postage-paid envelope to send us your special contribution. But please, send us your contribution today. We donít have a lot of time.
Because your contribution will be used for federal election purposes, it is not tax- deductible. But we will put it to use right away.
P.S. People around the world know that unity is the source of national strength, and that division is the downfall of mighty nations. So why does our government continue policies that keep Americans from learning English? Itís wrong and we need to stop it. Weíre working on that today, but we just donít have enough funds. Could you please send a special contribution to help our election year activities? Many thanks. Steve.