What does it mean to have a good death? Few people long to spend their last hours with their bodies stuck full of tubes, listening to the hum of high-tech equipment under fluorescent lights. Yet every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans die in hospitals, where doctors’ aim is to cure at all costs, using expensive and often invasive treatments to prolong their patients’ lives by days, weeks, or months.
Nikki Giovanni is one of America’s most famous poets. She is a New York Times bestseller, a one-time Woman of the Year winner from Mademoiselle and Ebony magazines, a recipient of the first Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award, and a holder of a Langston Hughes Medal. She wrote that “writing is … what I do to justify the air I breathe.” Below is a poem she penned for the Prospect, reflecting on the March on Washington 50 years later.
Since he beat longtime incumbent Babette Josephs in the race to represent Philadelphia’s Center City, Brian Sims has made a name for himself as a strong supporter of LGBT rights. As one of the first openly gay representatives in the state—shortly after he was elected to office, Republican Mike Fleck also came out—he has introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage as well as an employment nondiscrimination bill protecting LGBT workers in the state. But Sims is also a strong progressive across the board: He’s voted against privatizing the state’s liquor industry, which he says would kill “good union jobs”; spoken against Republican efforts to restrict access to abortion; and fiercely criticized current Governor Tom Corbett’s massive cuts to education spending.
He most recently made headlines after a scuffle on the Pennsylvania state House floor in which he was blocked from speaking about the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, which a Republican colleague said would violate “God’s law.” The Prospect recently sat down with Sims to talk about where things are headed in Pennsylvania.
This isn’t my last piece at The American Prospect, but it is my last post—if you follow me on Twitter, you probably know, by now, that I’m leaving The Prospect to join The Daily Beast as a staff writer. I’m not the best at goodbyes, so I’ll say this: Not only am I grateful that The Prospect hired me three years ago—despite not having any journalism or professional writing experience—but working for the magazine since has been a great pleasure and privilege. And the same goes for working with everyone who makes The Prospect what it is: I honestly can’t imagine a better team of people, or a better group of friends.
I’ve been writing about marriage since 1993—two decades now. I expected these decisions, like everyone else. And yet I was still grinning like a fool when, with one fist, the Supreme Court smashed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—the 1996 law that banned the federal government from recognizing my marriage in Massachusetts—and with the other hand waved away the Proposition 8 case like a gnat. In practice, that means same-sex couples will soon marry again in California, the most populous state in the nation. And it means I am married not just in Massachusetts, but also in the United States (although not necessarily in Virginia, Texas, or any other state that bans same-sex marriage) for such exciting purposes as filing federal taxes, Social Security claims, immigration, and insurance.
It’s March in America, and if you are any kind of average citizen in this plugged-in, un-buckled, vegged-out nation, you’ve been soothing your winter malaise with a tsunami of television watching. You might even be seeking a little insight into the human experience, tuning into HBO and Showtime for their critically lauded helpings of suspense, hard-to-watch sex, and pathos.
Watching the Republican and Democratic conventions, with the stark visual contrast in the kinds of people on those different floors, always gets me thinking about how we vote, in part, by tribe. Those people just don’t look like my people, I can’t help thinking, and I’m sure those people think the same thing about my people. Large swaths of the country trust and identify with the convention of those who are overwhelmingly white, blond, neatly suited, perfectly coiffed, and highly shaved. Others find those faces terrifying, and trust the multicolored, untucked, multi-patterned hordes, many of whom appear never to have met a razor or a hairbrush, who will gather next week.
No question, riding out even a minor hurricane makes for an agreeably stimulating feeling of bravado, especially if it’s your first and you’re a relatively sedate gent like myself. But then again, these days, there’s an element of bravado involved in living in New Orleans at all. In my experience after going on two years down here, it’s more charming and less obnoxious than the average New Yorker’s berserk pride in urban life’s stresses. But it’s the corsair side of NOLA’s communal identity nonetheless—our Jean Lafitte mode, you could say.