"Whose side are you on?"
The protest song feels fresh again as we stare across jagged divides that separate us from one another this season - which, by the way, is not the American idea. The American table should always have room for more.
Inclusion is our invention and genius, compared to stuffy, proper Old World society.
The American political process is open to peaceful dissent, which we saw in recent nights from coast to coast. However, the rioting, tear gassing and burning of businesses in Ferguson, Missouri, marred the entire point of the protest.
Violence on the streets made it too easy for most white people to miss the message in the eyes of equal justice under law: a permanent sense of steerage-class citizenship. A bitter reality of "have vs. have not" with the scourge of income inequality.
The contentious grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, set off a howl of anguish, fury and fire in Ferguson's black community. The festering town showed its true colors: black and white, with lines that can't be crossed.
So, to be clear: Are you one of us or one of them? Black or white? And are you a sexual violence victim or victimizer? Police or civilian? Republican or Democrat? I ask because that's the tenor of the times.
The majority of the Missouri town residents are black, understandably frustrated that a white police officer, almost 6' 4", will never face a jury trial. Wilson did himself no favors in an ABC News interview in which he showed zero remorse, few second thoughts, and scant human kindness for the young life he had taken. He referred to the young man as a "hulk" and a "demon." Brown was roughly the same height as Wilson. And isn't it nice to know his conscience is clean?
Even worse, Robert P. McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, did everything he could to avoid an indictment. He failed to give the grand jury any charges over three months. In a way, he acted the part of a Jim Crow Southern sheriff, relying on the word of one law enforcement officer. He is a prosecutor who never pursued a police charge in his career. Even with the nation's eyes watching him, he lacked the supple fairness to encourage a jury trial.
Missouri is sometimes seen as the heartland. Cut to the heart of darkness, and remember, it was a slave state before the Confederacy was born. And it still has a trace of a Southern accent, with the way this went down. Sorry, it felt almost as if the fix was in, with the governor sending the National Guard out and declaring a state of emergency days in advance. Authorities seemed to brace for a war out there, instead of seeking peace.
Neither Wilson nor McCulloch could change their narrow games to allow social progress to happen. (The prosecutor's father was a police officer who was slain in the line of duty when he was a boy.) They let down the country, simple as that.
All at once, a wind has washed up the raw stuff of social power in American life. A churning and burning is set loose.
Fraternities at the University of Virginia have been behaving badly, an open secret which finally exploded when Rolling Stone magazine printed details of a gruesome 2012 sexual assault on a female co-ed. The university president, Teresa Sullivan, finally suspended Greek life briefly, so that's one stone's step up.
These events only hold up a mirror to a common condition: let's call it, the abuse of power. Violence behind closed doors and out in the streets is clearly disrupting our domestic tranquility and setting us apart.
The common ground feels shaky as we sit down to share a fall harvest meal meant to celebrate survival, and just as precious, community in the Cape Cod wilderness. Pilgrims and Indians were the first proof of practicing toleration in the New World. Let's keep it up.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.