by Michael Madshack, DP Assistant Editor
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
(SAN FRANCISCO) —Melody Studebaker stands solemnly outside the Fort Mason Safeway grocery store, alongside her longterm partner, Henrietta. But they are not here to shop on this warm, tranquil summer morning. People pass them on their way in and out of the store, some casting the pair quaint glances, others pretending to ignore them, as the two women stand stoically with extra large T-shirts reading, "Don't Abide By The Divide," and handmade signs, proclaiming, "United We Stand — Dividers We Fall!"
Studebaker, 62, and her partner, 60, are picketing the Safeway store this beautiful morning to draw attention to a most ugly practice within it. After a lifetime of witnessing the use of grocery store checkout line dividers, Strudebaker and her partner have had enough.
"America is more divided than ever, along every spectrum possible," lamented Studebaker, a retired poetry teacher and underwater origami instructor. "We've divided ourselves along ethnic, color, religious, and economic lines, and these checkout lane dividers are a symbol of that division. We have to start with the small things sometimes and work our way up. It's time we say 'enough with the divisions.' It's time we put a stop to grocery checkout lane dividers."
As the day's mediocre trickle of customers pass the two anti-checkout line divider activists, few seem aware their cause is picking up serious steam in the halls of California's State House.
Studebaker and Henrietta (who did not want her last name published) are part of the spearhead of a state-wide movement to ban the seemingly humble, ubiquitous rubber and plastic checkout lane dividers, after providing a fleeting and often unsung convenience to generations of U.S. shoppers.
But humble they certainly are not, according to California State Assembly Member Nancy Skinner (D–Berkeley) who last week proposed the Checkout Line Integration Act (AB 909) in the State Assembly, which would ban the inanimate objects in all grocery store lanes in California.
According to Skinner, the time is right to "improve California's image through such an historic show of unity."
"Most people don't assume rubber or plastic checkout lane dividers are the symbols of our country's history of division and intolerance they really are," said Skinner to Duh Progressive Tuesday. "And that's part of the problem —people don't realize when they're behaving in a way that is promoting segregation. People must know when they are fostering an atmosphere of hate or intimidation."
If passed, the Checkout Lane Integration Act would demand all grocery stores in California surrender them to state authorities by February of 2012. In their place grocery shoppers would have to use a sharper eye and renewed sense of multiculturalism to deem whose groceries belong to whom in checkout lines.
"When you look at how diverse we have become in California —the whole country, really— you see people buying groceries which reflect their unique cultures," Skinner further explained. "You see different people checking out different foods in line, and what message are we sending when we feel the need to shove some obtuse 16-inch chunk of rubber between those differences? It's saying, 'Your food is not welcome among mine...Your food isn't as good as mine, so you're culture isn't as good as mine; it must be segregated...'. Really, that's an ignorant, oppressive mindset of a bygone era, and we don't need that in California anymore."
What may be surprising to many CA grocery store patrons is that enough lawmakers have signed on to Skinner's bill to put it to a vote next month.
Harold Greenly, president of the Sacramento-based non-profit group, "People Against Abstract Symbolism" (PAAS), hailed that the issue of checkout line dividers is at last being settled this summer. Said Greenly to Duh Progressive last Thursday, "Our group has been working to rid California of one of the greatest symbols of intolerance since 2001, or 2007. We've lobbied a countless handful of times and have received several donations throughout the years, and it looks like we'll finally be saying syriana to checkout line dividers, as the Japanese would put it."
“You can’t have these rubber thi...things, or devices, influencing how we behave and still expect us all to get along," said Andrew Louis, a PAAS member outside California's State House Tuesday.
Louis and two other PAAS members have been picketing the State House since May, or the last 45 minutes.
State Assemblyman and fellow Checkout Line Integration Act sponsor Mike Davis (D—Los Angeles) said he decided to support the divider ban after witnessing one too many displays of bigotry at L.A. grocery stores. Said a choked-up Davis Tuesday morning, "I've seen Mexican food divided from Anglo food. I've seen Soul food remain unwanted among Indian food; I've seen the pain on a Muslim kid's face when they see some ugly plastic stick of repression keep their hummus from some gay man's arugula and amyl nitrite --I've seen all...I say: I've seen it all, I tell ya'!"
Davis added that just as the Civil Rights movement took longer to clean up certain aspects of discrimination, such as mortgage loan practices, gay rights, and salary disparity between genders, California, as usual, stands poised to honor the movement's legacy and steer it into uncharted waters. "Just like in the grocery store when you hear there needs to be a cleanup in isle-whatever, that's what we're doing now," said Davis. "We're finally mopping up one of the oldest, most stubborn practices of discrimination in places everyone knows...I know all those who marched in Selma are looking at us with great love. This is in their honor, too."