Tikkun Daily button
Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar studying ethics, peace theory, public discourse, and the civil rights movement.



Juneteenth 2017

Jun19

by: on June 19th, 2017 | No Comments »

June 19, Juneteenth, commemorates June 19, 1865, the day the Major General Gordon Granger and United States troops landed in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War was over and that the slaves were free. The Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect on January 1, 1863, and many slaves had heard the news then and had walked away from slavery. Many of them, my maternal grandmother’s grandfather among them, walked away from slavery and joined the Union army.

The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution that abolishes slavery having already passed the Senate in 1864, passed the House of Representative on January 31, 1865. It was well on the way to confirmation by the time Maj. Gen Granger reached Galveston. Juneteenth has been celebrated from that day to this as a moment to pause and to remember the meaning of freedom. It is a privilege and a responsibility. It is a time to rededicate ourselves to education and to self-improvement.

However, on this Juneteenth, I think it is important to think about the character of freedom. The Juneteenth story is a tale of human beings remaining in bondage because they did not have the information that they were legally free. Masters kept that news from their slaves. Further, even after the enslaved human beings learned the news, military force was necessary to allow the reality of their freedom. This was also the case during Reconstruction, and at the end of Reconstruction, when federal troops left the South in great numbers, a kind of neo-slavery in the form of share cropping  and legal apartheid became common.

Freedom is a determination. It is not only physical, but it is a spiritual effort as well. It is a spiritual acceptance. Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, Jesus a prophet of Islam, Jesus the moral philosopher taught that those who follow his teachings would be free: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36) The Apostle Paul writes: “. . . where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (3:17) When we become aware of the existence of Divine Love in our lives that is not only beyond us but that also dwells within us, we are free.

Such an awareness gave enslaved persons the courage to walk away from slavery before the Emancipation Proclamation or Juneteenth or the 13th Amendment. They recognized that the Creator of All loved them and wanted them to be free. However, freedom is not free. Free people have an obligation to work for the liberation and for the dignity of all of humanity because the image of God lives in humanity. A divine life force lives in all of nature and creation.

On this Juneteenth the United States is still in bondage to gun violence. We have reached a point in the nation where mass shooting happen so often that they barely rate discussion. On Wednesday, June 14, a lone gunman opened fire upon Republican lawmakers, some of their staff members, and members of a congressional security detail. It seems that the gunman targeted this group because they were Republicans. As of this writing, no one has died from that shooting.

On that same day, there was a mass shooting at a UPS facility in San Francisco where an employee killed three of his coworkers before turning the gun on himself. Since that day, there has been precious little discussion about the horror of mass shootings, about the easy availability of guns, about the incredible number of mass shooting that happen in the United States. The discussion has been all about political discourse, how our political rhetoric is too heated and too divisive. Some of us have been making that case for years, especially since congress member Gabby Giffords was shot in January of 2011.

Read more...

On “Crossin’ Over”

Jun15

by: on June 15th, 2017 | No Comments »

I am blackwoman in America.

And, I love being a blackwoman in America. I agree with Zora Neale Hurston when she says:

“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow damned up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world – I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”

I know why I love every drop of my DNA, the African and the European. I love myself because I honor the story of my ancestors. I know what they endured to survive with their humanity in tact so that I could exist.
This past Sunday, I was reminded of this when I attended a sold-out performance of “Crossin’ Over: A Musical with a Measure of Silent Rebellion” mounted by The Black Rep in St. Louis, Missouri. [Full disclosure: My son is a brilliant actor and a skilled carpenter with the Black Rep] This production, crafted by Ron Himes and Charles Creath and directed by Himes, is billed as a musical, but it is not exactly that. There is no libretto, no dialogue that tells a story and provides the occasion for songs and dances. While it is all music, it is not opera. The music is a program of songs, but it is not a choir concert.

With all the dramatic elements of a good play, a tight ensemble cast of four men and four women and African drummers take us through the African American experience from pre-slavery Africa through the hell of the Maafa which includes the horrors of the trans-Atlantic middle passage and slavery. After slavery, we experience the blues and early gospel and then travel through the civil rights and black power movements up to the present day gospel that shouts praises in a way that takes us beyond the pain of the human condition in general and beyond all this pain plus the stress of living in a still racist United States of America. For those of us reared in the black church tradition, many of these songs are familiar and beloved. For me, this is especially true of the Dr. Watts, a kind of a cappella singing, that is as beautiful to my ears as Gregorian chants. It was thrilling and amazing to hear the house sing along with this call and response tradition.

In her poem, “What Do We Tell Our Children Who Are Black?” Dr. Margaret Burroughs reminds us that it is our responsibility to tell our children the truth of our history. Our children need to know the truth of global black history so that they will be “confident in the knowledge of his(her) worth.” According to Burroughs our history gives us strength. It gives our children the strength to survive. She writes:

“And survive he(she) must! For who knows?
Perhaps this black child here bears the genius
To discover the cure for. . . cancer
Or to chart the course for exploration of the universe.
So, he(she) must survive for the good of all humanity.

It is in this truth that “Crossin’ Over” returns theater to its origins in ritual and homage to the gods, creating sacred space in the Emerson Performance Center at Harris-Stowe State University. In the beginning of theater humankind wore masks to allow the gods to speak to humans through humans. Later, individuals would perform the various parts of a ritual in a theater like setting before audiences to allow humans to speak back to the gods and to each other. In this event, the lines between the sacred and the secular, between the human and the divine, become porous and we are able to cross over. This is its own transcendence. It is a deeply spiritual moment.

Read more...

Remembering May 28, 1917 in East St. Louis, Illinois

May28

by: on May 28th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

In February of 1917, 470 African-Americans were hired to replace striking white workers at the Aluminum Ore Company in East St Louis. On May 28, white workers expressed their concern about African-American migrants at a city council meeting. After the meeting, rumors of an attempted robbery by an African-American man of a white person inflamed whites who formed mobs that attacked African-Americans on the street. Blacks were pulled off trolley cars and beaten. The state’s National Guard was called in to maintain peace, but racial tensions continued to simmer.

There were no actions taken to recognize union concerns or to provide assurances of white job security. There was no reform of the police force that had largely stood aside during the mob violence. The Illinois governor withdrew the National Guard on June 10th, and on July 2nd, one of the bloodiest violent attacks of whites against blacks in the 20th century erupted. (http://www.blackpast.org/aah/east-st-louis-race-riot-july-2-1917)

Memorial Day weekend 2017, the East St. Louis 1917 Centennial Commission and Cultural Initiative sponsored a conference -The City that Survives: Commemorating the Past, Preparing for the Future – at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville East St. Louis Higher Education Center. The conference featured scholars, artists, activists, and ordinary people sharing their research, poems, artistic creations, family histories and urban planning to remember the tragic events of 100 years ago and thinking of how that history can inform our vision of a resurrected city.

East St. Louis was not the first episode of white mob violence against African-Americans and it would not be the last. Mob violence in Springfield, Illinois happened in 1908 after news that two white women had been sexually assaulted by African-American men. Two black men were arrested, but a mob wanted them lynched before trial. When this did not happen, the mob found two other black men and lynched them, attacked the African-American community killing and beating black people, and burned their homes and businesses. When the mob violence ended, several African-Americans were dead, more than a hundred injured, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage had been perpetrated against the African-American community. As a result of this outrage, a group of white philanthropists and Black scholars and activists in New York founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – NAACP. (http://www.blackpast.org/aah/springfield-race-riot-1908)

After East St. Louis, the Red Summer of 1919 started in Chicago when a young African-American man drowned in Lake Michigan after having been stoned by white beach goers for having violated an unofficial color line. Violence erupted when the police refused to arrest the people responsible for the young man’s death. After days of violence, some 15 white people and 23 black people were dead, more than 500 people were injured, and at least a thousand black homes were burned to the ground. http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/chicago-race-riot-of-1919) In the wake of this violence, various commissions were formed to determine the cause of such violence, but nothing real happened. Chicago remains, as of this writing, one of the most segregated and one of the most violent cities in the United States.

Read more...

Draining the Trump Russia Swamp

May15

by: on May 15th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

With the dismissal of Former FBI Director James Comey, the smell from the Trump Russia swamp is becoming more and more malodorous. Something stinks in Washington D.C. At first, President Trump and his supporters wanted us to believe that the reason he unceremoniously fired James Comey was because of his actions regarding the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server. Most people never believed this rationale. Trump has since said that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he was thinking of letting Comey go. However, that is not the subject of this essay. The subject is the plausibility that Trump and his campaign colluded with the Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Let us consider what we already know. We know that Trump is a liar and that liars lie. He moved into the realm of politics with birther madness. He claimed for years that President Obama was not born in the United States of America. He said that he had hired investigators who had found information about President Obama’s birth. We have seen neither an investigator nor any information that they uncovered. The list of his lies is long, too long for this essay.

We know that several US intelligence agencies reported the following: “We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

No one expected Trump to win, but the goal was to “undermine public faith” in the democratic process. We know that nearly every day during the campaign, Trump stood up before his cheering crowds and talked about how the political system was “rigged.” He refused to say whether or not he would accept the results of the election. Saying this, Trump was helping Putin to reach his goal.

Now the question is whether or not there is some smoking gun that shows us that Trump and the Russians coordinated their efforts. This is what investigations will tell us. We do know that there are many people close to the Trump campaign who had contact with the Russians that they did not share with the general public. Witness: General Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

It is possible that Trump’s declarations of a “rigged” system was coincidental to Putin’s goals. It is possible that the Russians found Trump to be simply a useful idiot. Yet, it is also possible that there is collusion on some level. This is dangerous for the country.

Read more...

A Traditional African-American Christian Prayer

May2

by: on May 2nd, 2017 | 3 Comments »

May 4 is National Day of Prayer.

In advance of that day, I offer this traditional African-American Christian prayer. My ancestors used their faith to survive the horrors of the Middle Passage, slavery, Jim Crow and every manner of institutional and structural violence with their souls in tact. This was not only a political act, but it was a revolutionary act.

Faith and prayer were, and still are, means of resistance:

 

O God, It is once more and again that we come before your Throne of Grace humble as we know how, head bent and body bowed, empty vessels before a full fountain asking you to be mercy because mercy suits our case.

O God, we know that you are the One who sits high and looks low. You know our down-sitting and our up-rising. We are weak and you are strong, and we ask you to prop us up on every leaning side. Put a hedge of protection around us to keep us safe from all hurt, harm, and danger.

O God, we thank you for another day’s journey. We thank you that you woke us up this morning clothed in our right minds, that our bed was not our cooling board and our sheets were not our winding sheets. We thank you O God for one more day to raise our voices and to give you praise because you told us in your Word to let everything that has breath to praise the LORD. We thank you God for new mercies morning by morning and that you supply our every need every day.

O God, we ask you to order our steps in your Word. Help us to do your will your way. Give us the wisdom to know your will and the courage to do it. Help us to treat everybody right, to treat everybody the way we want to be treated. Give us more love, and help us to live diligent to the full assurance of hope until the end. For it is given once for us to die, and after death the judgment.

And when our time on this earth is over, when we have run our race and finished our course, when we come to the chilly waters of the River Jordan to lay down our sword and shield and study war no more, shape your Word and take us safely to the other shore where there is no more pain, no more sorrow, where every day is Sunday and sabbath will have no end.

Gather us to our people where there is only howdy howdy and never good-bye, where we will sing and shout and can’t nobody put us out.

World Without End.

We pray it all in the matchless mighty name of Jesus. Amen.

 

 

Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”

The Cost of Crazy

Apr4

by: on April 4th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

If Donald Trump was not bound by the limitations of his own ego and by alternative facts, if he was not obsessed with seeing crowds of people that do not exist or insisting that two to three million people voted illegally in a desperate attempt to avoid the reality that he did not win the popular vote, if he was truly the deal maker that he claims he is and not just someone who played one on television, the country could solve some big problems and move forward.

Instead, we are where we are with a president who is not only stuck on stupid, but on crazy and very possibly beholden to a foreign government.

Imagine if Trump had admitted in his inaugural address he did not win the popular vote. Imagine if he said that his mission was to unify a divided country and that he was willing to work with Democrats to solve the nation’s problems. Where would we be now? Remember, coming into office, Trump owed the Republican establishment nothing. They were lukewarm at best with the prospects of him becoming the 45th president of the United States. He could have claimed a mandate from the people to be independent.

Imagine if Trump had said that he recognized that he gave a list of Supreme Court picks generated by right wing groups and many people voted for him because of that list, but because of his status as a minority president, he felt an obligation to bring the country together. He could have nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court seat that the Grand Obstructionist Party and its Senate leader Mitch McConnell stole from President Obama. All the Democrats with enough sensible Republicans could have confirmed Garland easily.

We would not be facing, in my opinion, a justified filibuster in the Senate. The GOP would not be looking at the nuclear option to blow up the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. McConnell and his minions will do it. I say good riddance. The GOP abused it during the Obama administration, and it is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. There is worry that this will make the Senate more like the House of Representatives, that the filibuster is what preserves minority power. However, this is not true.

The length of terms in the Senate is what makes it different from the House. Senators hold terms that are even longer than that of the president. Senators elected in 2016 will be in office two years after Trump has to stand for reelection. Members of the House of Representatives must face the voters every two years which means they are held to accountability more often.

Read more...

A Modest Proposal

Apr1

by: on April 1st, 2017 | 1 Comment »

We know that President Donald Trump says he has the safety of the America people in mind when he imposes travel bans from first seven then six predominantly Muslim countries. Both bans have been held up by the federal courts. Let us presume that Trump is serious about the safety of the American people. Thus, I offer this modest proposal.

Write an executive order and support legislation in Congress that would prohibit men from buying a gun until they are at least 65-years-old. Studies show that nearly 90 people in the United States die from gun violence every day God sends. Nearly 55 of those deaths are suicides. Women who live in households with a gun are more likely to be injured or killed by a gun, and children are often not only victims of accidental shootings by other children, but they are the shooters. In contrast, no one from countries who are subject to the travel ban have perpetrated terrorist attacks in the United States. We are killing ourselves.

I can hear the howls of “what about our second amendment rights?” echoing across the land. I say: “what about them?” We have a Congress, especially the United States Senate that does not give a hoot about the Constitution, especially if there is a president in the White House not of their party. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell led his party in stealing a Supreme Court seat from a duly elected president who won with a majority of the popular vote as well a majority in the Electoral College, to make way for a pick by a president who did not win the popular vote. Never mind the Constitution.

Supreme Court Justice Scalia writing for the majority that said people have a constitutional right to bear arms apart from military service, read words into the text that were not there. So much for strict constructionism. Further, whenever there is a mass shooting pro-gun people say that the problem is not guns, rather we ought to think more carefully about treating mental health and keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental health issues. Since Trump has been president, the Republicans in Congress have made it easier for people with mental health issues to own guns, and their healthcare replacement plan would have dropped the requirement for insurance companies to cover mental health.

Read more...

Hidden Figures

Mar11

by: on March 11th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

For me, the most splendid moment of the 89th annual Academy Awards was the surprise appearance of Katherine Johnson, one of the NASA mathematicians portrayed in the movie “Hidden Figures.” The 98-year-old wheel-chair bound Johnson was beautiful in a sky blue dress as she graciously received a well-deserved standing ovation with a simple “Thank you.” She has lived to witness the world’s appreciation. However, as Black History Month – February – becomes Women’s History Month – March, and as we have witnessed International Women’s Day demonstrations, it is important to recognize that at this moment in time, the story of Katherine Johnson and her colleagues inspires us to keep our grace through this moment of madness.

The movie is an excellent portrayal of women working in the early space programs as computers doing the mathematics necessary to get a man into space and back safely. It takes place at a time in American history when apartheid ruled the land both in overt and covert ways and when the space race was a visible aspect of the Cold War. In the movie we see the inconvenience and stupid waste of time of an apartheid system where African Americans were assigned to certain bathrooms in certain buildings. In the movie, Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, has to run across the campus to use the rest room. Here the movie takes dramatic license because the real Johnson did not do this. She simply ignored the rules and used the nearest women’s rest room.

There is another example of the way the women maintained their dignity and grace in the midst of a dehumanizing system that is described in the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly. (Do not walk, but run to your nearest bookstore, library, e-reader and get your copy of the book. It fills in details that the movie did not have the space to include.) Shetterly describes the persistence of the women in the lunch room to remove the sign that designated the “colored “section. The woman would remove the sign, but some unseen hand would place another. They kept removing the sign. Another sigh would appear. Until one day, they removed the sign and the sign did not reappear. These women were confident in the knowledge of their own worth, of their own humanity, and they acted accordingly.

They found their humanity not only in their own excellence, but they found it in community, in family, church, sororities, and other civic organizations. They were not only encouraged by their parents, teachers, and husbands, but they also lived the maximum of “lift as you climb.” They were leaders and mentors in their communities.

The story of these women reminds us that the only limit to what we can achieve is the limit of our own imaginations. Their story helps us and young people to see beyond the stereotypes that seek to limit us and who we think we are or can be.

Read more...

Craven, Contemptible, Political Hackery

Feb8

by: on February 8th, 2017 | 5 Comments »

craven: having or showing a complete lack of courage

contemptible: not worthy of respect or approval

political: involving, concerned with, or accused of acts against a government

hack: a person who works solely for mercenary reasons

–ery: the practice of

–Merriam-Webster Dictionary

 

Let us be clear. When Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority in the United States Senate voted to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren as she attempted to read from a document that had been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee and kept out of the Senate record, they showed their true colors as craven, contemptible, political hacks. Under the cover of Senate Rule 19, using the same tortured, twisted hermeneutical logic that led him to think he and his party were not acting against the US Constitution when they stole a nomination to the Supreme Court under President Obama, McConnell trashed the first amendment to the Bill of Rights on the Senate floor.

Fortunately, this nonsense only had authority on the Senate floor, and Senator Warren was able to continue to read a letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 by Coretta Scott King in opposition to the nomination of Jeff Sessions for a federal judgeship. If it is true that past is prologue, the concern then, as if is now, was that Sessions would not uphold voting rights for all citizens of the United States.

Coretta Scott King said in her letter:

“Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”
In a written statement to the Judiciary Committee, King testified to “politically motivated voting fraud prosecutions” on the part of Sessions and “. . . indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws.”

Unfortunately, her words still resonate in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act with a number of states instituting laws that make it more difficult for citizens to vote, especially minorities, the poor, and the elderly. The current president of the United States has made unfounded claims of voter fraud that only feeds the myth that widespread voter fraud exists and that laws that actually restrict legal voting are necessary.

King wrote of the importance of the Voting Rights Act to our democracy:
“The Voting Rights Act was, and still is, vitally important to the future of democracy in the United States.” She wrote about voter intimidation and Sessions’ participation in it:

“The actions taken by Mr. Sessions in regard to the 1984 voting fraud prosecutions represent just one more technique used to intimidate Black voters and thus deny them this most precious franchise.”

She wrote of the long way we as a nation have to go “before we can say that minorities no longer need be concerned about discrimination at the polls.” She says further:

“Blacks, Hispanics, Native American, and Asian Americans are grossly underrepresented at every level of government in America. If we are going to make our timeless dream of justice through democracy a reality, we must take every possible step to ensure that the spirit and intent of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution is honored.”

More than thirty years ago, then chair of the judiciary committee, Strom Thurmond, wanted to keep Coretta Scott King’s words out of the Senate record. In February, 2017, Mitch McConnell tried and failed to do the same thing. After he silenced Senator Warren, some of her male Democratic colleagues completed the reading. He did not silence them. In the end, Coretta Scott King’s words were heard.

Political pundits are reading this event within the context of presidential politics. Are the Democrats still angry about the outcome of the 2016 election? Is this the first step by Senator Warren on the road to a presidential run in 2020? Neither of these questions gets to the heart of the matter.

Read more...

Carrie Fisher: A Woman of Many Parts

Jan14

by: on January 14th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

On December 27, 2016, Carrie Fisher died days after suffering a heart attack on an airplane flying from London to Los Angeles. She was sixty and known primarily for her role as Princess Leia and later General Leia Organa in the “Star Wars” movies. However, it is important to note that Carrie Fisher was much more than her portrayal of one fictional character. She was much more than a child of celebrities – Debbie Reynold and Eddie Fisher – living her life and, in the end, dying her death in the light of her mother’s star. (Debbie Reynolds died the day after Carrie Fisher.)
She was a woman of many parts, and she was more than the sum of those various parts.

In her one woman show – “Wishful Drinking” – she describes her birth. The hospital personnel were star struck with her movie star mother and her crooner father. They paid little attention to her.

She says: “When I arrived, I was virtually unattended.” She says she has been seeking attention from that moment. But Carrie Fisher was more than a Hollywood child seeking attention.

She started acting as a teenager with a role in the movie “Shampoo.” At age 19, she landed the role of Princess Leia in the movie “Star Wars.” These movies became cult classics, and people relate to Princess Leia as a brave warrior princess general, mother of a Jedi knight who has been seduced by the dark side of the Force, but even Princess Leia is more than that. She is the feminine divine in the realm of the Force.

In her most recent book, “Princess Diarist”, she writes about her experiences with fans who want her to still look like and to be a young princess. Yet, she is more than this. She knows after all these years that people see her and Princess Leia as one. She reflects upon this in the HBO documentary, “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.”

“They love her, and I’m her custodian; and I am as close as you’re gonna get. She’s me and I’m her. They talk to me like I’m Princess Leia who happened to have all these difficult experiences to go through and it’s like me fighting for the Force.”

She has had difficult experiences that many other people have also had except she spoke openly about hers. In the “Princess Diarist” she writes about her relationship with Harrison Ford when they worked on the early Star Wars movies. He was older and married and she was wise enough at that young age to know there would be no happily-ever-after with him. She writes about a love that takes her breath away and of wanting her breath back.

She writes: “If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond I shall be posthumorously embarrassed. I shall spend my entire after life blushing.” I suspect that she will not be blushing, but laughing at her young self. I image her free of the pain and embarrassment and filled with nothing but joy.

Read more...