Point of View Columns

Rebirth of a Nation

It is rare that we recognize history being made as it happens. Times of great stress and tragedy – Pearl Harbor, the assassinations of Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and 9/11 were all moments that were etched in history in real time. And then there are days like November 6, 2018. While there is the very real hope that some cataclysmic event will not occur, it is also quite clear that there is a very real opportunity for the citizens of this country to begin to divert the United States from what has seemed to be an inexorable slide into permanent division and hopeless conflict inflamed by racism, hate and lies.

When Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, there was a feeling that seeped into the national consciousness that the circus act that resulted in his improbable election was not going to end. And it became clear that the word “circus” was not going to be the benign cavalcade of clown shows, trapeze artists and somnolent lions. The Trump “circus” has turned out to be an affair of which Caligula would have been proud with damage and destruction and mindless outrage being the main events. The Trump Circus has provided very little bread for any but the very rich, but the circus act has entertained and inflamed his base to the point where a Trump-led victory in the midterm elections would certainly send this nation careening into something that would look very much like chaos.

And that is where the opportunity for historic action comes in. There is no way that Donald Trump will not be president on November 7th. But if enough Americans vote, and are allowed to vote, and are able to overcome vile Republican efforts at voter suppression – then Donald Trump will not be able to use the United States Congress as his personal sock puppet. If enough Americans see November 6th as an opportunity to bring some sanity and clarity and minimal decency into the political and governmental processes in Washington, then he will be rudely disabused of his very clear belief that his real title is “king”, and that as “president” he will have to contend with constitutional checks and balances that will occasion the rebirth of this nation.

It is not an exaggeration to state that the current condition of this country, anesthetized by lies, terrorized by presidentially-inspired hate without even a fig leaf of an attempt to be decent could have lasting effects long after Donald Trump is lost on the trash heap of history as a failed president and a miserable human being. However, the rebirth of the nation begins with voting – not necessarily for the perfect candidate, but certainly for the possibility of rebirth and renewal.

This country has always been a nation of second chances. Voters will determine if this is also a country capable of rebirth.

 

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Point of View Columns

The American Fountain of Youth

When we take a closer look at American history, we realize that the youth of America may have been, and may be in the future, this country’s remaining saving grace. Despite their multiple, virtually countless faults, the so-called Founding Fathers devised a form of governance that, when practiced according to principle, is a virtual work of art. And those “Founding Fathers” were primarily men in their twenties and thirties. Similarly, the epic civil rights movement and episodically heroic Vietnam War protest were led by young men and women (Martin Luther King was 34 when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech). And now, this past weekend, we witnessed the youth of America seize the mantle of leadership and take up battle against gun insanity in the United States.

There is no need, and this is not an attempt, to romanticize or rationalize American history or the American present. But it is a truth that in the history of this planet younger generations of any era have translated the change into their lives into the changes of society and the world in which we live. In the current era there has been such an emphasis on self-comfort, self-aggrandizement and just plain self, that there should be no surprise in learning that it has taken the current generation of youth more than a minute to climb out of their digitized rabbit holes and confront the world with their vision of today and tomorrow.

The awful and bloody reality of living in the United States of Gun has been with us for the better part of this country’s existence. But it has been during the past half century that the glorification of the God of Gun has been commercialized to the point that the Second Amendment to the Constitution is seen by too many as an advertisement for gun ownership and more importantly, gun sales.

But the generation of young people with the most potent voices last weekend are the first generation to literally grow up from the cradle to skateboard with regular visitations of mass gun violence in schools. These boys and girls and young women and young men have not known a time when a year could go by without death by automatic weapons fire in some school somewhere in these United States. Theirs is a generation that lives in an America where bullets know no boundaries – from the suburbs to the inner cities to the farmland – and where bullets cannot distinguish between black and white, male or female, rich or poor. Bullets in their world kill without discrimination and seemingly without pause.

This past Saturday we may have witnessed a generation of young people realizing that the world is theirs to change and that they have the power to cast off the painful yoke of endurance and pain and quite simply change the world. With their capacity to communicate globally and instantaneously and their discovery that they have (or will have) the right to vote, this young generation of new warriors may be able to do something that past generations have been unable to do – stop the worship of the gun and revisit the notion of reverence for life and peace.

We should be glad that they are not listening when they are told that they are too young to express their opinion, much less seek to change the world. Of course, that is what was said to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and the generation of war protesters whose voices drove a President from office and started this country on the path of peace and away from useless and bloody war.

Last week we may have watched the dawning of a new day in America and in the world.

Time will tell. As it always does – because actions will always speak louder than words, no matter how noble and eloquent those words might be.

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Point of View Columns

Proof that Past is Prologue

Proof that Past is Prologue

On June 14, 1970 I graduated from Dartmouth College at the age of 20. I was privileged to be one of the Commencement speakers celebrating the 200th graduating class of the College. What follows is that speech which, written 46 years ago, contains themes and emotions that resonate to this very day.

Mothers and Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, Mr. President, Faculty and Guests:

We are gathered here this morning to celebrate what is supposed to be a great day, a day of significance, and a day of meaning for all those involved. But what does this day mean for us, what does this day mean for us, the Black students who have survived the Dartmouth College experience?

This day means that we recognize ourselves as being the result of years of labor and sacrifice, the labor of fathers, the sacrifice of mothers, the encouragement and help from brothers and sisters, the support of friends. What we owe for this labor, this sacrifice, this encouragement, this help, this support, we can never pay back in material terms no matter how hard we try. For what we have been given can never be measured in terms of money, the god of fools. For what we have been given was given in the spirit of love and we must return in the same that love, otherwise we have not survived the Dartmouth experience, but rather we have been crushed by it.

If we are to make the years of labor and sacrifice meaningful, then we must dedicate ourselves to our people. We must dedicate ourselves to Black freedom and Black peace of mind, no matter what the obstacles, no matter what the barriers, no matter what the side alleys that lead to dead ends of frustration and negation. We must dedicate ourselves to putting an end to the sad humor of the contradiction of a Black man in a white man’s school trying to learn how to free himself.

We were made to be free, Black men and Black women were not meant to be anybody’s hand servants or slaves, we were meant to stand tall and proud under the sky of liberation without any clouds of oppression or injustice on the horizons of our minds. And if we are to be free once more, then we must not be surprised by whatever America tries to do to us. Three hundred years of oppression, three hundred years of blood, three hundred years of brutal and inhuman treatment should have taught us that much.

But, when we were first put in chains, our ancestors were surprised; when Reconstruction was found to be a sick white joke we were surprised; when Marcus Garvey was railroaded to prison, we were surprised; when Emmett Till and Mack Parker were murdered, we were surprised; when Malcolm X, the prince of blackness was murdered in cold blood we were surprised; when Martin Luther King, the prince of peace, was killed were still surprised; when Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed by the animals that masquerade as Chicago police, were we were still surprised; and even last month, when more of our brothers and sisters were shot down in August and Jackson, we were surprised.

Well, we can’t be surprised any longer. What goes around comes around, and it’s time for the other folks to be surprised.
We have been told to believe in America, to believe that there was something deep down inside America that was good. And what has happened?
Black brothers die daily in the Indochina madness that is just another example of the sickness of America spilling out all over the world, and still be try to believe; Nixon tells Black people that he doesn’t give a damn about us, that he would rather put a white man on the moon than put food into a Black (or white) child’s stomach, and still we try to believe; the Congressional Records of the United States detail the construction and planned use of concentration camps and still we are supposed to believe.

The time has now come for us to believe in ourselves. The time has come to make ourselves free. Our stars of freedom still shine and our saints of righteousness do live. You only have to look around.

The stars are in the eyes of little Black babies and children who were born destined only for freedom, the saints of righteousness are the mothers and fathers, the brother and sisters who have provided the strength for Blackness to survive in the face of the forces of evil.
The time is coming, the time has got to come, when freedom will be seen in our smiles, and our Blackness will mean freedom. We have to believe this, because this is the only reality left to us.

That is what we are about, that is what today means for us. To best sum up our feelings though, I would like to quote a poem written by Brother Herschel Johnson, of this class, as this poem speaks for the souls and spirits of all of us:

For you mothers with dirt-rough hands
For you with backs aching from bending
And flushing and scrubbing
For all you women on transit
You with brown bags under your arms
Bringing home the leavings of white folks
Bringing it to your children
For all you Black mothers and fathers
Who had to live with humility
And yet have had the pride to survive
For you Black mothers and fathers who raised up
Your men are now with you.

Thank you and may a beautiful Black peace always be with you.

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Point of View Columns

Really Remembering Malcolm X

February 21, 2015 will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Malcolm X. This means that more than half of all Americans were not even alive on that day, and an even larger number of Americans have no real time memory of the man whose name now adorns schools, street signs and countless birth certificates. Historians and biographers will debate the details of his life, as is the case for the narratives of all great lives. But it is also important to know and understand what Malcolm X meant in real time.

It is important to know that during his ascendancy onto the national stage in the latter part of the 1950’s until his assassination in 1965 Malcolm X lived and spoke truth to power at a time when a black person could be killed for defending his life or his wife. But it was also a time when a black person could be denied a job or fired because that could not abide by casual slurs, incidental degradation or careless bigotry.

Malcolm X gave a voice to a people who saw their brothers hung from trees while their killers walked the streets with arrogant impunity. He wove into his rhetoric the frustration of mothers and fathers who knew that at birth their daughters and sons would never drink from the fountain of unbounded opportunities and that instead they would have to be satisfied with a few drops of beneficence tainted with condescension.

Because he presumed and preached that black Americans were endowed with, and entitled to, all the pride and glory of manhood and womanhood to which they were entitled by the Creator, he was branded a radical. That he demanded this pride and glory caused many to term him dangerous. And it was not only white Americans that branded him a dangerous radical, many black Americans joined in the chorus of caution and denial, afraid of what real freedom for black people might mean.

For the white Americans who bathed in this soiled pool of fear, they were afraid that by achieving opportunity black Americans would take opportunities away from them, opportunities that were theirs simply because of the hue of their skin. For black Americans who also wallowed in this pool the fear was plain and simple – if black Americans achieved real freedom their role as intermediaries, interlocutors, translators, conciliators and bridge builders between the white bastion and the blacks on the other side of the walls would evaporate because the gates would be open.

Even a casual student of history knows that in looking back we find ourselves looking through the prism of whomever his holding the looking glass. And so some may be surprised to learn that although Malcolm X preached self-defense he was passionate in his calling for an end to crime in the black community and he simply never called for or led an attack on white Americans.

Some may be surprised to learn that while Malcolm X did indeed preach the virulent anti-white rhetoric of the Nation of Islam for a number of years, he did evolve into a man who understood that definitions of good and evil transcended race. And he evolved into a secure black man who could and did embrace anyone who advocated and believed in justice.

Everyone appropriates historical figures for their own purpose. This is why the radical side of Martin Luther King is conveniently forgotten and erased from the common memory bank. It is also why the passion for justice that fueled the shooting star that was Malcolm X is also a footnote instead of the headline.

Malcolm X believed in justice and spoke out against injustice when black Americans felt the cold breath of racism in the North and the South. He called for justice when it was inconvenient for many to hear. And when he died the New York Times opined that he was an “extremist” who spoke with “bitter eloquence against what he considered to be the white exploitation of Negroes”.

Perhaps what the writers at the Times didn’t understand is that Malcolm X was not bitter nor was he an extremist. His message was bitter for the exploiters to hear and he was only extreme to those who thought that full justice and real freedom for black Americans were extreme notions.

Fifty years later we can only wonder how far we have really come since February 21, 2015.

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Point of View Columns

Special Weekend Edition – December 14, 2012

IT’S STILL THE GUNS STUPID!

As you are reading this the final body count after a shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut is being finalized. Because we are all so anesthetized and acclimated to gun carnage I will repeat: “As you are reading this the final body count after a shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut is being finalized.

Like every parent with a pulse when I first heard the report of the shooting at a school my very first thought was of the life and safety of my child. Then, learning that my son was safe I tried to comprehend the news reports of the inevitable suicidal lone gunman shooting twenty small children with an assault rifle typically used by urban SWAT teams.

We have to wonder about what this country will look like in another decade without some dedicated strategy to control the amount and type of guns that are available in this country. It is unthinkable that a third grader cannot go to school safely without body armor – but Kevlar may be part of the 2022 school dress code at the rate we are going.

The gun-loving maniacs of the National Rifle Association have their canned response to this tragedy at the ready. That’s because in the NRA universe there is no need for gun control. The daily tragedy of bloodshed on American streets has nothing to do with the readily availability of lethal weapons. After every Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and now Newtown, the NRA and the supporters of gun madness would have us believe that rational gun control would not have saved a single life.

But I wish that the NRA representatives would fly to Connecticut and explain to the bereaved mothers and the anguished fathers in Newtown that there is a constitutional right for private citizens to have .223 caliber assault rifles. And then they can do a national tour to Brooklyn and Chicago and Washington and Oakland and New Orleans and explain to the mourners of gunned down Americans why it makes sense to have even limited controls on gun ownership.

House Speaker John Boehner was quoted as saying that he “stands with the citizens of Newtown”, whatever that means. But it is a safe bet that neither he nor any of his Teapublican colleagues who moonlight as NRA lapdogs will do anything about gun control.

President Obama was quoted as saying that it is time for new strategies without a concern for politics. One can suspect that this is a call for gun control in Obamaese. But in these United States of the Gun, President Obama is going to have to be a lot clearer and a lot more vocal.

One wonders what is the body count in a single incident that will finally turn this country in the right direction when it comes to guns. In 1911 146 people (mostly young women) died in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. The enormity of that tragedy led to workplace safety laws that have saved millions of lives during the past century.

We know that 27 people died in Newtown. We know that 32 people were slaughtered at Virginia Tech. We know the numbers in Columbine and Aurora and in the streets of urban America. John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X., John Lennon and so many more iconic individuals have been swept away in gusts of gun smoke. Incredibly and sadly the numbers and the horror have not been enough to bring about any kind of reasonable restraint on guns.

And so we close the day and the week with the wails of sirens and the weeping of parents as fresh blood is washed away until the next massacre. And while it is horrible to say, it is true, there will be a next massacre and another and another until this country becomes sane on the subject of guns.

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