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“When the government’s boot is on your throat…”

May 24th, 2015 No comments

A  mourner, believed to be Air Force Reserve Captain Teresa Dutcher lays at the grave of Corporal Michael Avery Pursel at Arlington National Cemetary in Arlington, Virginia.  She visits the cematery at the conclusion of the "Flags In" on May 24, 2012.   Each year for the past 40 years, the 3rd U.S. Infantry or "Old Guard" honors America's war dead by placing American flags at the gravestones of service members buried at Arlington National Cemetery prior to Memorial Day weekend.   The tradition, known as "flags in," is conducted annually by the 3rd U.S. Infantry, the Army's official ceremonial unit. Every available soldier in the 3rd U.S. Infantry participates, placing a small American flag one foot in front and centered before each grave marker over a three-hour period.  During this time, the soldiers place flags in front of more than 260,000 gravestones.

“When the government’s boot is on your throat, whether it is the left boot or the right boot is of no consequence.”

It is an interesting truth in the United States that in large majority Americans agree what characterizes us as a nation is liberty, but that the definition of liberty is so contested that it is in a practical sense meaningless. I’m bringing that up today because this weekend is a time of reflection and remembrance of those who died fighting America’s wars. We like to lull ourselves into a comfortable warm fuzzy by spouting platitudes that they died for our liberty. But I doubt very many of us have spent much time thinking about what liberty means beyond the freedom to pursue our own selfish interests unmolested.

We like to think of ourselves as a wholly enlightened people. We are obsessed with the idea of radical individualism, but at the same time we are prone to every fad of public opinion. And we are not critical enough to realize that often public opinion is manufactured by those who have interest in profiting from it.

Nothing is more dangerous than promoting an opinion as righteous just because the majority agree. It should not be forgotten that the majority public opinion in Germany in the 20s and 30s leaned to agreement with Hitler’s insane and racist ideologies. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that everything Hitler did, propped up as it was by majority public opinion, was legal, and that everything those who courageously opposed him out of principle did was illegal.

In a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1788, during the great debate over the ratification of the Constitution, its principle theorist and author James Madison wrote:

Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the Constituents. This is a truth of great importance, but not yet sufficiently attended to…. Wherever there is an interest and power to do wrong, wrong will generally be done, and not less readily by a powerful & interested party than by a powerful and interested prince. …[1]

What Madison is saying, and warning against, is this same tyranny of the majority. If the majority can enforce its will on the minority, it is in essence mob rule. True liberty safeguards the rights of the minority, even a minority of one.

The Founders produced a document that was wiser than the passions of those who wrote it. Is it possible that their definition of liberty was freedom of each to define liberty in their own way, as long as it did not infringe on anyone else’s liberty? When we look at the range of ideology among those who wrote and contributed to the Constitution, we must conclude something like that had to have happened.

It is probably telling that much of our public debate occurs on the bumpers of cars. There is a bumper sticker that has been popular for several years now that spells the word “coexist” in the symbols of various faiths and ideologies. People put it on their cars, I think, to show the world how enlightened and tolerant they are. I am all in favor of coexistence. That is the price of living in a pluralistic society. But I think we have collectively mis-defined what it means to be tolerant or to coexist. Coexistence doesn’t mean that all ideas are equal. It certainly doesn’t mean deciding what’s right and wrong by majority popular opinion. It means more than anything else granting to others the right to blissful error.

At the end of the Constitutional Convention the ratification of the document they had created was still very much in doubt. The convention itself had been the scene of passionate debate and irreconcilable differences. Benjamin Franklin, delegate of Pennsylvania, who was by then too old and feeble to stand and speak, and who himself had serious reservations about the document, had a colleague stand and read a statement urging its ratification.

I confess that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present; but, sir, I am not sure I shall never approve of it, for, having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise…. On the whole, sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the convention who may still have objections to it, would, with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and, to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.[2]

Franklin’s courageous gesture called upon his colleagues to acknowledge that others might be wrong, but at the same time to concede that they themselves were not infallible. To allow their fellows and themselves the freedom to be wrong.

There are millions of graves filled with the remains of mostly young men and women who gave up their youth and their future to defend and extend liberty. If we could ask them, I am convinced they would not all agree on the meaning of liberty they died for. But in the grave they are all equal, and each is consigned to the justice of death. We must conclude that the only thing they certainly held in common was the right to be wrong. They died so that we could be wrong. We dishonor them all when we dishonor each other.

[1] James Madison, The Writings of James Madison, comprising his Public Papers and his Private Correspondence, including his numerous letters and documents now for the first time printed, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900). Vol. 2. [Online] available from http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1934; accessed 5/24/2015; Internet.

[2] Bryan, William Jennings, ed. The World’s Famous Orations. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1906; New York: Bartleby.com, 2003. www.bartleby.com/268/. May 24, 2015.

The Tyranny of Ignorance

May 14th, 2015 No comments

It is a scandal that Americans do not know their history, and do not know how to relate current events to the past. This is true as a general principle, but I am writing today in response to an incident that happened recently in one of my US history classes.

The assignment was to find a media article referring to a current event, and describe how our knowledge of history helps us to understand the present. As the riots in Baltimore are recent and sensational, many of the students wanted to talk about that incident. One in particular found an article that quoted a representative of the police union in Baltimore comparing the rioters to a lynch mob. The student was visibly upset by the accusation and described a recorded lynching as an example of how the rioters were nothing like a lynch mob.

The major difference between the rioters and the lynch mob was that the rioters didn’t lynch the six officers being investigated. But the difference ends there because in my mind there is little doubt that had the rioters possessed the means and opportunity, they would have lynched the officers. Because in the minds of too many and encouraged by social media and an irresponsible mainstream media, these men have already been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.

This is one of the most disturbing features of our mass culture: that large numbers of people make judgments based on skewed and incomplete information to conclude innocence or guilt. But our system of justice, as flawed as it may be, demands due process, the weighing of evidence, and the right to face one’s accusers and defend oneself. Riots, and irresponsible calls for “justice” (i.e., revenge, or retribution for social sins) based on hearsay and emotion, are as far from justice as one can imagine. It is demonstrably true that there have been and continue to be perversions of the justice system, and it is undeniable that certain groups have suffered more from those perversions than others. But the remedy for the flaws and faults and all of the injustice of the past cannot be abandonment of due process.

One area of our history that we should know but are woefully ignorant about is the revolutionary era. We have mythologized the era to the point that it has become little more than a childish fairy-tale provided to motivate an unthinking devotion to the nation. But if we were to look at the events objectively we could see a number of similarities between what happened then and current events such as the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore.

Let’s consider the Boston Massacre. In 1770 a group of Boston colonists calling themselves the Sons of Liberty harassed British guards at the customs house on King Street. The Sons of Liberty were a loosely defined group of people active throughout the Colonies opposed to the imposition of taxes by Parliament. They coined the cry, “Taxation without representation is tyranny!” In the years leading up to the Revolution this group was responsible for a number of mob actions such as the event now called the Boston Massacre, as well as destroying British merchant vessels, burning the Governor of Massachusetts in effigy, destroying his house, and stealing his dishes.

In the case of the Boston Massacre the gathered crowd was taunting a British guard and pelting him with snow covered rocks. Later propaganda would characterize the incident as a snowball fight that turned deadly because of British tyranny. As is true in most highly charged cases there is no way to be completely sure of the facts, but we do know that British soldiers fired into the crowd and five people were killed.

Is it not interesting that the chief instigator of the outcry that followed was a printer: Samuel Adams (no relation to the beer maker)? His published response was an eighteenth-century version of the media circus we are continually subjected to whenever “newsworthy” events occur: incomplete, speculative, skewed information designed to generate outrage.

The outrage among the people of Boston focused on the soldiers who had fired into the crowd. There were immediate and vocal calls for the death penalty. In fact, the popular understanding of the time was that if a soldier fired upon civilians without Royal command it was a capital offense. The people expected no less.

However, the soldiers were entitled to due process. They were entitled to a hearing in court and legal defense. And their lawyer John Adams, the patriot, the man who stood against crown tyranny and pushed for the Declaration of Independence, defended them well. He won acquittal for most of them, based on the evidence. This fact outraged the people of Boston, but Adams himself would later write:

The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right.[1]

Some will no doubt be annoyed that I compare the patriots of Boston in 1770 to the rioters in our cities today. But an objective look at the actions of both prove their tactics to be more similar than different. The difference is that one group we have unthinkingly come to cherish, and the other we have unthinkingly come to condemn.

The riots in Baltimore were triggered by the death of Freddie Gray, but its cause was much deeper. The riots in Ferguson were triggered by the death of Michael Brown and subsequent events, but not caused by them. The cause is much deeper.

Now, I’m not going to take the time to repeat the mountain of evidence that racial segregation remains widespread in the United States. Because, until rudely awakened by the riots in Ferguson, most Americans had lulled themselves into a comfortable snooze wherein they dreamed that the Civil Rights Movement had solved the race problem. How can you say we’re racist, when we have a black President?

But if we were not racist, the color of the President’s skin would not be something we would think to mention. And again, it is easy to demonstrate statistically that what we call “racial” minorities suffer from the ills of society: drug addiction, gangs, poverty, inequality, incarceration, recidivism, etc., at rates disproportionate to the overall “racial” demographics. It is obvious that there is a problem of equity, and that minorities are on the losing end. But as long as we can point to the monument to Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement, and our black President, we can throw our hands in the air and say, “what else can we do? We’re not racist.”

In fact this attitude gives voice to a racism that is much more pernicious than Jim Crow. Jim Crow was codified into law, and it could be defeated by changing the law. Racism in the heart doesn’t leave a visible stain. You can’t point to it and excise it. In fact, you can even deny that it exists. And so it is much more difficult to overcome. But it can and must be overcome if we are to survive as a free nation.

I think the first step in coming to a solution is to stop thinking about the problem in terms of race. In typical American bureaucratic fashion we try to eliminate racism by counting up and categorizing people according to race. But the problems are not endemic to race, rather economic condition. Essentially, all people who live in poverty suffer the same inhuman conditions and resort to the same self-defeating solutions. Dividing them by race only serves to distract from the real problem of poverty. It gives some a false sense of privilege and superiority while fomenting a simmering anger in others.

So to re-imagine the problem as one of economics and not race would be a start. But in the meantime we have to admit that there is a problem of perception on the part of people of all “races” that continues to divide. And that division leads to racist attitudes and responses.

Historians deal with facts. We must deal with events that did occur. It can be interesting and tempting to consider what might have happened, but these inquiries must end in speculation. The revolution did happen, we can only guess what might have occurred had the Parliament been more responsive to the complaints of the colonists. Yet as a historian I have often been presented with the popular notion that history repeats itself, as if there were some mysterious force or rule of history that guides events to similar outcomes.

It is true that the study of history reveals people continue to commit the same blunders given a similar set of conditions. But this is not repetition. It is more appropriately described by a different notion of history, stated by Hegel, that the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. And unless ignorance is a mysterious force, there is nothing mysterious about why we learn nothing from history. It is because we do not know it.

In 1770 the American colonists had what they believed were legitimate grievances against the British Parliament. The British and American loyalists dismissed the protests of the Americans as insignificant and unwarranted mob actions: terrorism. Few could have imagined that these unaddressed grievances would eventually lead to a war of revolution and the breakup of the British Empire, but they did. Shall we sit idly by as history “repeats itself?” Or can we gather from history that it would be to everyone’s benefit to learn to listen to each other?

[1] John Adams, L.H. Butterfield, ed., Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, vol. 2., (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1962), 79.

The Problem is Deeper than Racism

May 10th, 2015 No comments

Racism is so engrained in American life and culture that it has become in some ways hidden from sight. In a very insightful essay titled “An Unthinkable History” historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot considers the question of how an event that is outside of the realm of common consciousness can be assessed historically. In describing how the incomprehensibility of the events now encapsulated within the framework of the Haitian Revolution were inconceivable to the colonists who were its target he writes, “Indeed, the contention that enslaved Africans and their descendants could not envision freedom – let alone formulate strategies for gaining and securing such freedom – was based not so much on empirical evidence as on ontology, an implicit organization of the world and its inhabitants.”[1]

Let’s wrestle for a moment with what that last phrase. To grasp its meaning we have to consider the word implicit. What does it mean? The word brings to mind something that is implied, but not stated. It this case it is, in effect, something that is known without empirical evidence. One definition of implicit is “with no qualification or question; absolute,” as in “an implicit faith in God.” One does not need empirical evidence of God to believe in God. Though the ancillary explanations are multitude the answer to faith in God always resolves on a practical level to the circular argument “I believe because I believe.” That doesn’t make it wrong, untrue, or incorrect, but neither does it allow for rational proof.

So when Trouillot tells us that the colonists’ knowledge of slaves’ desires and capabilities was based on ontology, he is proposing a worldview shaped by a fundamental belief in the order and relationship of people based on faith rather than evidence. In other words, if you were to ask La Barre, Trouillot’s colonist, why he was confident slaves could not imagine freedom, he might reply, “Well, everybody knows that.” (In French, of course.) So really, and I know this is a little sticky, it may be possible to know something is true without knowing that you know it. It’s just there, fundamental. And, as the particular case Trouillot discusses demonstrates, we may be motivated by fundamental knowledge that is entirely untrue. Because it is so deeply engrained, we don’t question it. Until some event, like a revolution, calls it into question, and forces us to consider its validity.

I propose that our attitudes about race and racism are ontological. We proceed from assumptions we may not even know we assume. And I will further propose that the assumptions we hold are flawed. One of these is most probably that there is such a fundamental category as race. And secondly that racism has always existed, at least among white Americans. So it may be informative to consider when race actually became a distinguishing factor in American life. And interestingly, we can point to a particular event that leads to the beginning of deliberate segregation of white and black. That event is what is known in history as Bacon’s Rebellion, a class uprising that occurred in the Virginia Colony in 1676.

The rebellion was a rising of working class blacks and whites against the planter class in Colonial Virginia. It demonstrates a number of things about the first few decades of the Virginia Colony. The first is that there was no practical separation of whites and blacks other than economics. There are recorded instances of wealthy blacks owning or controlling black and white slaves and indentured servants in Colonial America. There is nothing noble about owning and controlling other human beings but it does indicate a very different perception of race.

And that was the situation in Virginia at the beginning of Bacon’s Rebellion. Nathaniel Bacon, a white man who felt alienated from the elite and professing concern about Governor Berkeley’s perceived inaction in protecting the colonists from Native Americans, led a group of approximately 1000 white and black colonists against the Berkeley administration. Bacon died of disease and the rebellion was eventually put down by loyalists and British troops, but our concern here is the consequence. In the aftermath the British colonial authorities began to pass laws that separated blacks from whites, a process which would eventually lead to the Black Codes, and ultimately Jim Crow.

It would be a mistake to propose that racism can be traced solely to this incident. In fact the causes and history of racism are quite complex. White/black racism more likely developed as a justification for European use of Africans as slaves from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Although not as rigidly defined as in British North America, privilege in all American societies came to be associated with whiteness. The more “pure” white one was, the more privilege afforded. “Pure” blacks and natives were at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, the place associate with peonage and slavery. In North America the British invented the “one drop rule,” defining as non-white anyone who had “one drop” of non-white blood. Thus, one was either white or not white, with all privilege reserved to whites.[2]

Yet it is significant that the first traceable instance of racial segregation in what was to become the United States occurred as a strategy to prevent whites and blacks from presenting a unified front against the dominant class. It is significant because that has been the practical consequence of segregation in America since. Poor whites, who are little better off or not better off than their black counterparts, can claim at least the status of not being black. It is interesting to note that in the United States, racism is rampant among lower class whites even while the ruling class is thoroughly integrated.[3]

The tragedy here consists in the fact that the false perception of privilege on the part of poor whites leads them to act in ways that are detrimental to their own interests. It convinces them to support a status quo that keeps them at the bottom: excluded from wealth and power. They trade the benefits they might receive from common cause with others in their same situation to maintain an illusion of privilege. Who benefits from this are those in the dominant class.

This isn’t exactly new. When the writers of the Constitution affirmed the will of “We the People” they meant “we the wealthy, property owning people.” Familiarity with US history will reveal that most people were excluded from the franchise either by race, gender, or property ownership until the 1820s. Even then “Universal Manhood Suffrage” indicated only white men. In the model of the Greek democracies it was thought that only those who had a material stake in the polity would act for the benefit of the polity. It was acknowledged that everyone acted in their own interests, and so it was assumed that only if one’s interests and the state’s aligned would people act in a virtuous way. Thomas Jefferson, perhaps the most radical of the founders, promoted middle class property ownership as a way of expanding democracy and creating a “republic of virtue.”

The elitism of the Constitution as it was originally understood was very much in keeping with the liberalism of the day, which, if it considered popular participation in government at all, assumed that only the wealthy would be able to make good decisions about the common welfare. The founders, along with liberals in Europe and later in Latin America, had an aversion to and a fear of the masses. It goes almost without saying that the assumption that the wealthy could and would govern for the benefit of all rather than their own interests was as flawed as the also common assumption that Kings would protect the people rather than milking them. It was sometimes true, but more rarely than not.

The story we like to tell ourselves about American history is a continuous progress away from this original elitism toward more and more democracy. And it is true that as time passed more and more groups who had once been excluded: poor people, blacks and other ethnicities, and women, were enfranchised. But early on, beginning with the creation of machine politics in Jackson’s Democratic Party of the 1820s, it was known that the way to make the popular vote count was to create voting blocks. In other words, the solidarity of the masses was the only way to promote the welfare of the masses. And this was the beginning of what came to be known as “machine politics.”

Machine politics is successful in creating effective voting blocks but it tends toward corruption. Voters in the voting blocks become convinced that their welfare depends on the election and continuation in office of their preferred candidate. But history shows us that the politician rarely has the welfare of his constituents uppermost in his mind. The organization of the vote into political machines served only to create an alternative elite, who often had more in common with the original elite than with their constituency. The unity of Democrats and Republicans against Civil Service reform in the Progressive era provides a telling example.

So it remains a truism in American politics that the interests of those who rule are separated from and often at odds with the interests of the masses.

This difference, as seen going as far back as Bacon’s Rebellion, is caused by class interests. But, also demonstrated by the same event, race has been the primary instrument by which the elite maintain their hold on power. The ruling elites of Colonial Virginia deliberately used false privilege to drive a wedge between lower class blacks and whites, and were spectacularly successful. Since then racism, along with justifying a brutal system of chattel slavery, has provided different groups of the lower classes with the illusion of status. In the South, whites who should have had common cause with blacks aligned themselves with the planter elite because of a false solidarity based on whiteness. In the industrializing North and West white workers focused their discontent and fear on Hispanics, or Asians, or immigrants, when uniting with them would have favored the interests of all.

The popular narrative of American history is that the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s created a profound change in race relations, opening up opportunities that didn’t exist before and moving the United States toward a race blind utopia. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did make profound changes in law. They did, eventually, make possible the once unthinkable fact of electing a black President. But the popular narrative hides that race relations got worse as a result of the changes in the law. In 1968 over 150 cities in the United States erupted into flames following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Civil Rights Movement in some ways made things worse for blacks by creating an expectation of change that was painfully slow in coming, if it came at all.

Fueled by rage against very real injustice based on race that continued, and in many ways still continues, black people looted and left a path of destruction in their own neighborhoods. Whites were quick to shake their heads and mutter at the folly of destroying your own neighborhood in anger. But some were able to put the action in perspective. While condemning the violence of rioting Martin Luther King at the same time warned that rioting was the inevitable outcome of economic and social injustice. In a speech delivered a month before his death King decried the economic plight of black America in 1968, when unemployment was officially 8.8% (in 2015 it was 9.6%[4]), but in reality as high as 50% among young black people. He decried under-employment, large numbers of black people working full time for part time wages that kept them in a constant state of economic depression. And then he noted:

Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.[5]

Over the years I have come more and more to regard Dr. King as a prophet, both in the sense that he was able to speak the truth of God, and in the sense that he was able to clearly see the future. When he spoke here about riots, did he not correctly observe the response? “[A] riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt.”

Now, many of my friends will reject the notion that they have anything to feel guilty about. They’re not oppressing black people. They’re not practicing segregation less blatant but more insidious than Jim Crow. They cling to the illusion that the only impediment to the advancement of black ghetto dwellers is their own ignorance, lack of motivation, and laziness. Never having had to experience the anguish and despair of the black community they deny that it exists, or insist that it only exists because of indolence.

So from afar we consider the riots an aberration. Only the work of fools and thugs. We talk in the same way as Dickens’ refugee Marquis the Monseigneur in A Tale of Two Cities spoke of the French Revolution:

to talk of this terrible Revolution as if it were the only harvest ever known under the skies that had not been sown—as if nothing had ever been done, or omitted to be done, that had led to it—as if observers of the wretched millions in France, and of the misused and perverted resources that should have made them prosperous, had not seen it inevitably coming, years before, and had not in plain words recorded what they saw.

And we turn our backs on Baltimore and Ferguson, somehow relieved that it wasn’t worse than it was, smug in our assurance that the riots were the only harvest ever known under the skies that had not been sown.

Nothing changes. The 1% continue to control 90% of the resources and buy the political system to maintain their oligarchy. The politicians use their power and influence to divert attention away from the grim reality. The masses remain divided. The status quo prevails.

[1] Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, ©1995), 73.

[2] The Color of Money: Colonialism and the Slave Trade, (BBC, 2007).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Patrick Gillespie, “Black Unemployment Finally Falls Below 10%,” CNN Money, May 8, 2015, accessed May 9, 2015,http://money.cnn.com/2015/05/08/news/economy/black-unemployment-below-10-percent/.

[5] Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Other America” (lecture, Grosse Pointe High School, Grosse Pointe, Mi., March 14, 1968).

VE Day

May 8th, 2015 No comments

victory

 

They disembarked in 45
And no-one spoke and no-one smiled
There were too many spaces in the line.
Gathered at the cenotaph
All agreed with the hand on heart
To sheath the sacrificial Knifes.
But now
She stands upon Southampton dock
With her handkerchief
And her summer frock clings
To her wet body in the rain.
In quiet desperation knuckles
White upon the slippery reins
She bravely waves the boys Goodbye again.

And still the dark stain spreads between
Their shoulder blades.
A mute reminder of the poppy fields and graves.
And when the fight was over
We spent what they had made.
But in the bottom of our hearts
We felt the final cut.

– Roger Waters, Southampton Dock

We can run from each other but we cannot escape each other…

May 2nd, 2015 No comments

“We cannot play ostrich. Democracy just cannot flourish amid fear. Liberty cannot bloom amid hate. Justice cannot take root amid rage. America must get to work. In the chill climate in which we live, we must go against the prevailing wind. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust. We must dissent from a nation that has buried its head in the sand, waiting in vain for the needs of its poor, its elderly, and its sick to disappear and just blow away. We must dissent from a government that has left its young without jobs, education or hope. We must dissent from the poverty of vision and the absence of moral leadership. We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.

The legal system can force open doors and sometimes even knock down walls. But it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me. Afro and White, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, our fates are bound together. We can run from each other but we cannot escape each other. We will only attain freedom if we learn to appreciate what is different and muster the courage to discover what is fundamentally the same. America’s diversity offers so much richness and opportunity. Take a chance, won’t you? Knock down the fences that divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison. Reach out, freedom lies just on the other side. We should have liberty for all.” – Thurgood Marshal, 1992

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