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Archive for the ‘Justice’ Category

Take a Stand

October 11th, 2017 No comments

“You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.

Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 1968

Wretched in the Generality 

October 9th, 2017 No comments

I am dumbfounded by my fellow citizens. As I watch social discourse I am reminded of the epigraph of William Shirer’s massive The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, where he quotes Goethe, “I have often felt a bitter sorrow at the thought of the German people, which is so estimable in the individual and so wretched in the generality…”  Shirer set out to record how a nation sure of its civilization and humanity could succumb to the siren-song of Nazism and carry out the most gruesome lawlessness the world has ever seen. As I see Americans respond to tragedy after tragedy, I fear that my country may be sliding down the same slippery slope. 

How can people who profess to believe in the principles of the Enlightenment on which this country was founded, principles that call for life, freedom and equality for all, blithely, almost blindly, argue in favor of inequality and injustice? How can people who claim to subscribe to the idea that all men are endowed with the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness act as if that right is resaved to only some men, those who “look like me?” And how can people who give nod to the right to life enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, a landmark product of the Age of Reason, advocate life-denying policies justified by fictions, lies so blatant a mere glance at the facts would vanquish them? 

And yet this is what drives our national discourse. Otherwise estimable individuals parroting ideas planted in their consciousness by greedy and power-hungry interests seeking to profit from their gullibility, creating a mass of ignorance propelling the nation toward oblivion.  

Dr. King prescribed a solution: a revolution of values. In a speech denouncing the war in Vietnam, he differentiated between the outlook of a thing-oriented society vs. a people-oriented one. What defines our sense of value? Is it really economic well-being? Or is it commitment to the liberation of the human spirit? 

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. 

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. 

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. 

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. 

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood. 

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. [1] 

[1] Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence” (lecture, Riverside Church, New York, New York, April 4, 1967), accessed October 9, 2017, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm. 

The right side of history

September 24th, 2017 No comments

Those who make nonviolent revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” – John F. Kennedy


With the exception of committed white supremacists, almost every American holds the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in high regard. This is partially because his legacy has been, to use an ironic term, whitewashed. Few realize how radical King really was. He was radical enough to believe in and try to create a beloved community in which all people could live in peace and harmony. We may tell ourselves this is what we all want, but our history indicates this is far from the pursuit of the American Dream, marinated as it is in solipsism and radical individualism. What may be surprising to some is that after King delivered his most revered address, the “I Have a Dream” speech, he was labelled “the most dangerous Negro” in America by the head of the FBI’s domestic intelligence division.[1] Anyone who has ever heard or read the speech would be hard pressed to find much in it very dangerous, unless you are invested in the idea that equality and brotherhood are dangerous.

In the 1960s George Wallace, Governor of Alabama and Presidential candidate, announced his support for running over protesters along with his call for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” He also pronounced the Civil Rights Movement a “fraud” and a “hoax.” Richard Nixon invented a war on drugs to criminalize black opposition to his presidency.[2] Right wing politicians and groups were busy trying to associate the Civil Rights Movement with international communism.[3] White clergymen responded to civil rights protests by denouncing King and urging black citizens to “unite locally in working peacefully” to solve racial “frictions.”[4] As if such a thing were possible in the Jim Crow South. In the 1960s America’s cities were aflame with riots ignited by incidents of brutality against the black community. White Americans looked on in horror as political leaders denounced the riots while at the same time remaining silent on the systematic cruelty that enflamed them. The fires were eventually quenched, but the cruelty remained.

In 1968 two black athletes: John Carlos and Tommie Smith, raised black-gloved fists as the Star Spangled Banner played at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City in what came to be known as the Black Power Salute. They were protesting racial inequality and injustice in America. They were vilified. They were ousted from the Olympics. Their medals were taken away from them. Their careers were ruined. Family members were harassed.

Today, Martin Luther King, Jr., is a hero to most. The Civil Rights Movement is seen as a great victory in America’s quest for its potential. White racists are roundly condemned. White moderates who urged caution and patience are viewed as timid and ineffectual. Even the action of Carlos and Smith is considered, in hindsight, heroic.

But the problems that instigated unrest in the 1960s have not gone away. In the 1960s Civil Rights activists used the tools of technology to draw attention to blatant racial injustice. The nation condemned those those injustices, but the racist poison that animated them continues to work under the surface today . This is not hyperbole or conjecture. There is plenty of solid evidence to identify and prove systemic racism. And new technologies can now bring to light what has long been accomplished in secret. Smart phones with video capabilities now catch racists in the act and publish it on social media, where it provides, as coverage of the Civil Rights Movement did, undeniable evidence of atrocity.

The response to demands for equal justice is essentially the same today as it was in the 1960s. Those who stand up for equal rights are painted as agitators, disloyal or worse. They are told they have a right to protest, but only if it doesn’t inconvenience or offend me. I am familiar with a clever cartoon that shows a historian in his study speaking to a younger student saying, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it; but those who remember the past are doomed to watch others repeat it.” As a historian I can see society assuming patterns as if they were formulaic. Perhaps they are. In context, it is astonishing to watch people on the one hand revere the Civil Rights movement and its leaders and on the other condemn today’s Civil Rights activists.

The question is, who was on the right side of history? Was it Nixon, Wallace, J. Edgar Hoover and the John Birch Society? Or was it Dr. King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Jackie Robinson, John Carlos and Tommie Smith? In the Twitterverse I ran across this thought provoking tweet: “[I] Remember sitting in history, thinking ‘If I was alive then, I would’ve…’ You’re alive now. Whatever you’re doing is what you would’ve done.” There is a right side of history. It is the side, not of law and order, but of justice. Are you on it?

The man who raised a black power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games

You’re probably not familiar with the name John Carlos. But you almost certainly know his image. It’s 1968 at the Mexico City Olympics and the medals are being hung round the necks of Tommie Smith (USA, gold), Peter Norman (Australia, silver) and Carlos (USA, bronze).

[1] Charles Blow, “‘The Most Dangerous Negro’,” New York Times, August 28, 2013, accessed September 24, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/29/opinion/blow-the-most-dangerous-negro.html?mcubz=1.

[2] Frida Garza, “Nixon advisor: We created the war on drugs to “criminalize” black people and the anti-war left,” Quartz, March 23, 2016, 1, accessed September 24, 2017, https://qz.com/645990/nixon-advisor-we-created-the-war-on-drugs-to-criminalize-black-people-and-the-anti-war-left/.

[3] Rachel Tabachnik, “The John Birch Society’s anti-civil rights campaign of the 1960s, and its relevance today,” Political Research Associates (January 21, 2014): 1, accessed September 24, 2017, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/01/21/the-john-birch-societys-anti-civil-rights-campaign-of-the-1960s-and-its-relevance-today/#sthash.YNZP9OPe.dpbs.

[4] Statement by Alabama Clergymen, in the Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle Encyclopedia, accessed September 24, 2017, http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/kingweb/popular_requests/frequentdocs/clergy.pdf.

 

Welcoming the Stranger

September 7th, 2017 No comments

Excerpt from Paul VI “Populorum Progressio” (1967) 

Wake Up!

August 18th, 2017 No comments

You see how it works? Heavily armed nazis marching through the streets with torches spewing hate against Jews and Blacks and you guys are all defending Confederate statues. Wake up people!

“We understand justice very differently…”

August 18th, 2017 No comments

Text of a letter from the Great-Great-Grandsons of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson concerning the removal of a statue to their progenitor in Richmond, Va.

“Last weekend, Charlottesville showed us unequivocally that Confederate statues offer pre-existing iconography for racists. The people who descended on Charlottesville last weekend were there to make a naked show of force for white supremacy. To them, the Robert E. Lee statue is a clear symbol of their hateful ideology.”

“The Monuments Must Go”: An Open Letter From the Great-Great-Grandsons of Stonewall Jackson

Dear Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and members of the Monument Avenue Commission, We are native Richmonders and also the great-great-grandsons of Stonewall Jackson. As two of the closest living relatives to Stonewall, we are writing today to ask for the removal of his statue, as well as the removal of all Confederate statues from Monument Avenue.

The “Lost Cause” should not be glorified

August 16th, 2017 No comments

Statues are not erected to educate, they are erected to glorify. Taking down statues that glorify a lamentable past is not erasing history. It is claiming the present. In a way, it represents the best outcome of a critical understanding of history, because it indicates we have learned that who we once were is not who we want to be. The mythos of the “Lost Cause” is historically inaccurate. It is an invention. The Confederacy did not come into existence to defend liberty but to perpetuate slavery.[1] There was nothing glorious about it. And it’s about time we accepted that.

Analysis | How other countries have dealt with monuments to dictators, fascists and racists

The waning days of the Confederacy did not look so different from the last hours of Nazi Germany. As Matthew Schofield of McClatchy Newspapers explained: “Flags were torn down while defeated cities still burned, even as citizens crawling from the rubble were just realizing that the governments they represented had ended.”

[1] Please don’t take my word for this; read the words of those who moved to destroy the nation: The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States

Enough

August 13th, 2017 No comments

This country was born with an open wound. The pain of this open wound caused so much division that eventually the nation tried to commit suicide. Then the wound was closed but the infection remained. That infection festered until it burst the skin, and the nation covered it with a band-aid. With the band-aid it looked like the wound was healed for a time but it continued to fester.

The election of a black President exposed the putrefying sore, and eventually the band-aid was completely ripped away, leaving a mass of stinking bloody pus.

Covering it over never really helped. In fact, it just allowed the wound to get worse, continuing to cause damage to the whole body. Now it is completely exposed.

Racism is not a political issue. Do not be confused or distracted by apologists for hate pointing fingers at the “other side.” It is not a left vs. right issue. It is a right vs. wrong issue. We do not have to agree on anything else to agree that the symbols of the hateful ideology Americans sacrificed to vanquish have no place in our public discourse. If you are not willing to condemn them, you are with them.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” – Desmond Tutu

“The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict…[an individual] who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it” – Martin Luther King Jr.

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented” – Elie Wiesel

Amen.

February 22nd, 2017 No comments

 

San Diego’s Catholic bishop urges citizens to be ‘disruptors’ and ‘rebuilders’ in Trump era

Even before the White House announced stricter immigration policies Tuesday, there were signs of opposition. Addressing people “of all faiths and no faith,” San Diego’s Roman Catholic bishop on Saturday urged Americans to be “disruptors” and “rebuilders.” Donald Trump, Bishop Robert McElroy noted, had campaigned for the presidency as “the disruptor.”

#NoBanNoWall

January 29th, 2017 No comments

I am a history professor who because of the lavish pay I receive (that’s an alternative fact) moonlight driving for Uber. Tonight I had a request from a young man who works in San Diego but lives in Tijuana. He was born in the United States but can no longer afford to live here. He commutes from the border to his work 1 hour each way each day. He is the kind of hard working citizen who made this country really great. As he got out of the car to walk across the border I stopped him and shook his hand and said, “Trump doesn’t represent me. He’s a dick.” And the kid replied, “Man, I’m glad you said that.”

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