When Congressman Mike Honda was an infant, his family was plucked out of California and placed in the Amache Japanese Interment Camp in Colorado. His family spent four years there before returning to California.
At first, for Honda, the lesson was that the U.S. government and then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt were bullies. Honda’s father, who eventually went to work for the military to teach Japanese, set his son straight. The camps were a mistake, a failure of leadership at the time, he told his son, who has served in Congress since 2000, a Democrat representing part of northern California.
On Thursday, just blocks away from the raucous scene outside the U.S. Supreme Court over it’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act, Honda launched a new Anti-Bullying Caucus. The effort quickly gained 46 members, including a few Republicans, including Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Illinois’ Robert Dold.
“This is a bipartisan and nonpartisan issue,” Honda said during a press conference. That may be, but federal anti-bullying legislation efforts have stalled, in part because of also-stalled efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the current No Child Left Behind law.
Many of the lawmakers who spoke shared their own experiences with bullying. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., told the story of her nephew committing suicide after being hazed while serving in the military in Afghanistan.
“What ends up on the battlegrounds often begins on playgrounds,” she said.
Rep. Laura Richardson, also a California Democrat, said as a child attending a predominantly African-American school, her mixed heritage left her the target of bullies, who asked why she had freckles, why her hair was lighter than theirs, and why her veins glowed green through her skin when the weather turned cold.
She referenced the case of Karen Klein, a New York bus assistant taunted by middle school students who captured their nastiness on video.
Those who see bullying and don’t do anything about it should be punished along with the bullies, Richardson said.
Honda hopes to make the caucus a bicameral effort, and if necessary, craft new, bipartisan legislation if the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act continue to languish, his spokesman Jack D’Annibale said.