Culture · Human Rights · Politics · Repatria


When I was growing up in Asia and Africa we had limited choices in the products and services that were available. Supermarket shelves were small and sparse, with only a few options of each item, if even that.

I find a lack of consumable things comforting. It’s one less thing to worry about. There’s only two kinds of soap? Okay, I’ll take the rose scented one. The drink options are water and Fanta? I’ll take water.

Coming to America, I walk around the supermarkets, my eyes bugging out. A simple chore like buying shampoo becomes anxiety-inducing. Who needs fifty different bottles and brands and ingredients of what is essentially the same product?

I’m thankful to be gluten and preservative free. I’ve already figured out the few areas of the local shops with the things I can eat and I avoid all the rest.

Having lots of choices is a big thing here in America. When you order a salad in a restaurant they offer a litany of different kinds of dressings — ranch, Italian, Thousand Island, ceasar, honey mustard, cool ranch…the list goes on. This is tantamount to a right. Give us a variety of choice in what we can consume or we will go to the shop/restaurant/mall that does.

Ironically, this right to choose does not extend to human rights.

While choice in a restaurant or supermarket is a given, a woman’s right to choose whether or not she will have a baby, take birth control, take a morning after pill, is not a granted. There are even states in America that prosecute women for having miscarriages.

You can choose from 100 different kinds of shaving creams or breakfast cereals, but a major life decision like choosing who you want to marry is not a given, unless you are in a heterosexual partnership. There are even some places in the USA where it is still illegal to marry someone of a different race.

The moment a baby is born, whose right to life has been defended by the religious fundamentalists, it no longer matters: education budgets are cut to spend more on the military industrial complex, universal health care proposals are vetoed, citizenship is not granted if the parents are not nationals, welfare mothers are vilified, if the baby is gay then the child only has the right to marry in six of America’s fifty states.

Basic human choices are blocked at every turn by politicians whose main goal is to make a profit. The average Congressperson makes significantly more than his or her constituents because of kickbacks based on legislation they do or do not pass.

This is the democratic state we “choose”?

But when hundreds of thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters choose to speak out against a corrupt system that caters to the wealthiest 1% of Americans, they are arrested, pepper sprayed in the face and beaten to silence the voices that are, in theory, protected by the US Constitution.

Yes. The right to choose is very important in the USA.

Scratch that. The right to consume is what’s vital. The right to choose, not so much.

On a day that honors Dr. Martin Luther King, what would he say about the ironic state of choice in America?

©2011 Sezin Koehler

6 thoughts on “Ironic

  1. So true! Shopping for something as simple as toothpaste can definitely be a chore. We spend way too much time making decisions about what to buy.Reminds me of a quotation by Zimbabwean-Malawian author Stephen Lungu: “You Americans have been blessed with wristwatches but you don’t have much time. We Africans have no wristwatches, but we have plenty of time!”

    I also like how you connected the idea of too many choices to the fact that human rights are not included in this right to choose. So true!

  2. Dear Sezin,

    Your incredibly broad definition of violence plays right into the hands of the 1%. I am a pacifist and don’t chant ‘fuck the police’, but certainly share the sentiment. Perhaps the police in Boca Raton are not as violent and corrupt as they are in Oakland, but as you are probably aware they have been murdering, maiming, and brutalizing African-American and Latino/a Oakland residents for decades. They are also on the verge of being taken into receivership by the Feds for their unwillingness and/or inability to follow court orders.

    Yours in peace,


    1. Dear John,

      There is no “broad” definition of violence. Violence is violence. If you’re a pacifist then you of all people should understand that a slogan like “Fuck the police” is far from peaceful. I agree that the Oakland police are excessively violent and corrupt, but how is screaming “Fuck you” at them going to make them change? Violent actions and violent speech only result in the same, there is no peaceful resolution to be found. The occupiers could benefit from a refresher course in what a peaceful and non-violent protest actually entails, looking to the history of the Civil Rights movement as a template of one that worked.



  3. Dear Sezin,

    I couldn’t find any other way to contact you as I do not have a Twitter or Facebook account.

    If you consider ‘fuck you’ fighting words, perhaps you should look into your own soul and ponder your apparent willingness to fight at such minor provocation.

    I do not participate in the Fuck the Police marches, but the marchers have my support as long as they don’t start hurting people or breaking things.

    Yours from Oakland,


    1. Dear John,

      I think you need to look/read more about the principles of non-violent communication and peaceful demonstrations. The words “Fuck you”, “Fuck the police”, and other slogans like “We are people, the pigs are not” are all part of the violent conservative rhetoric that dehumanizes whole groups of people — something the Occupy protestors claim to be against. A protest cannot be considered non-violent or even peaceful when such language is being utilized. Non-violence is not only constrained to not hurting others or breaking things. It seems to me like those protesters were passively-aggressively encouraging violence.



  4. I was talking about this very thing yesterday, Sezin! Too many choices makes it so confusing and hard to decide. And to add to the problem, once you have decided on a shampoo or cream or whatever that you like, when you go back to the store to buy it again, it has been discontinued and you have to decide all over again!

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