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



Yes We Can

Jan11

by: on January 11th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

In his farewell address, President Obama returned to the basic theme that propelled him to national attention and to the White House – We the People have the power and the duty to make the United States a more perfect union. The audacious challenge comes at a moment when we face a transition of power to a presidency that no doubt will be, charitably put, one of the most unconventional in history.

I say: Now is the time for us to take up this challenge and organize to resist a Congress and a president who will take us backward on any number of issues.

President Obama reminded us that the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness “while self-evident, have never been self-executing.” The work of citizens is to use our freedom to work toward both our own dreams and toward the common good. He spoke of his achievements, and he said they were also our achievements:

“reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, . . . unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history. . . open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9-ll . . . win marriage equality and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens. . . ”

These achievement are a testament to democracy, but President Obama warned of three major threats to our democracy – income inequality, racism, and societal fragmentation along with self-selected facts. He called upon us to stay engaged with the global struggle “to expand democracy and human rights and women’s rights and LGBT rights.”

He warmed us about complacency. He said: “our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” He spoke of the importance of voting rights, of the “corrosive influence of money in our politics” and the problem with gerrymandered congressional districts. He warned against seeing our political opposition as malevolent rather than misguided.

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Santa Says Give Your Children Squeeze Hugs

Dec22

by: on December 22nd, 2016 | Comments Off

It was one of those cold, grey December days that makes me happy that I work from home. Ordinarily, it would have been a day when I made myself a hot cup of coffee or cocoa and snuggled under the covers with a good book or magazine. But, not on this particular day. This was a day when I had to get up and out, cold or not, and buy a gift that I needed to get in the mail if there was any hope of it arriving at its destination before Christmas. The things we do for love.

Getting dressed in the winter is a pain, and the older I get the worse I hate it. To stay warm, you must layer. So there is the long underwear, then the regular clothes, then the sweater on top of that then a scarf and coat and hat and gloves. I drag my bundled up self out to sit in a cold car. I wait a few minutes and then drive slow until the car warms up.

I buy my present, but while I am in the mall, I decide to go to the Hallmark store for more Christmas cards. I walk the length of the mall, get to where the store once was only to discover that it is no longer there. So, I drag my layered self the length of the mall again. I tell myself with every weary step that this is a good for me. I need the exercise. I am way behind on my 10k steps a day. The only good thing is, on my trip back, while I am telling myself that this walk is a good thing, I see Santa. The real North Pole Santa. Not the store helper, the real Santa.

Someday I will tell you the story about the first time I met Santa, the North Pole Santa, but not today. When I pass, he is off the throne talking to a young mother holding a child who seems to be about six-months-old. There are no children in line which is not surprising for mid-day on a week-day. I wave, he smiles and gestures for me to wait.

When he is finished we hug. “What are you doing here?” I ask.

“You know I sometimes visit in person. I like to see for myself how things are going. I’m glad I ran into you because I heard you were not coming north this year.”

I ought to explain that since my children are now adults, I sometimes go to the North Pole to help out. My job is usually to help Santa locate children who have moved. Some years it is a hard thing to do when there have been wars and natural disasters that displace people. This year, I had not planned to go because I am working on a Christmas novel, and I am behind schedule. I did not speak to Santa directly, but I left a message with Mrs. Claus. She understood.

I think part of me was using the book as an excuse not to go because I am just not feeling Christmas this year. I am still suffering serious Trump trauma. I still cannot believe that a vulgar reality show celebrity will be the next president of the United States of America. And worse, when I think I am about to get to a place of equilibrium, I hear the news of one of his cabinet appointees, and the Trump funk returns.

Santa smiled with a twinkle in his eye. “I know you are still getting over the election.”

“Sorry to say that I have not yet recovered.”

“Let’s get some coffee.”

His helper put up the out to lunch sign, and we walked around to the Starbucks. After we ordered our coffees, we talked.

We talked about the perfect storm that hit Hillary Clinton in the final days of the campaign – ACA premium increases, the Comey letter, Trump acting for a minute as if he had some sense. We talked about the Russian hacks of the DNC and the drip, drip, drip of information that no doubt left many Bernie Sanders supporters feeling as if the system were rigged against their man. God only knows how many of them decided they just could not vote for Hillary and went to a third party candidate.

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The Obama Doctrine and the Limits of Violent Rebellion

Dec19

by: on December 19th, 2016 | Comments Off

I say and say again that the Obama doctrine of foreign policy is just peace pragmatism.

I know that President Obama eschews the notion that there is a theory or a doctrine that provides a structure for his foreign policy and lends it coherence. He sees a messy and unpredictable world in more detail than most ordinary people. He knows that each situation is unique, that as commander-in-chief of the largest, most powerful military of the most powerful nation on earth, he cannot be constrained by the contours of abstract theory. The most he is willing to say regarding a defined doctrine is: Don’t do stupid stuff.

However, President Obama pronounced a doctrine consistent with just peace theory in his 2009 Nobel Lecture. I wrote about that then, so I will not repeat that analysis except to say that the fundamental elements of just peace theory remain evident in his thinking. (http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2009/12/10/an-expanded-moral-imagination/)

In remarks on his administration’s approach to counter-terrorism delivered at MacDill Air Force Base, President Obama explained seven key points in a counter-terrorism strategy: perspective; no over reach; values and the rule of law; fight terrorists in a way that does not create more terrorists; transparency and accountability; diplomacy; and upholding civil liberties.

In my interpretation of just peace theory there are three main pillars – truth, respect, and security. When we keep terrorism and terrorists in perspective, when we realize that terrorism is an asymmetrical tactic of warfare used by the weaker force, we are looking at the situation with true eyes. When we are transparent about our own actions and hold ourselves accountable for our actions, the power of truth becomes a benefit.

Further, in a post-truth, post-fact, political climate, it is more important than ever that we are honest with ourselves and with the world. Facts do not stop being facts because they may or may not cohere with our ideology or the political spin we want to put on an issue. Wisdom teaches us that the truth will out. Thus, policy ought to be driven no only by the right perspective on the capabilities of terrorists, but it is important to recognize facts and the limitations that constrain even great powers.

Respect, the second pillar of just peace theory, means a respect for the dignity of human beings, nature and creation. Such a respect requires us to maintain the best of our values of equal justice and the rule of law. We know what justice is because we know what injustice is. Little children know this when they say: “it’s not fair.” I believe that we could solve most of the problems of the world in the morning if we would only treat every person the way we ourselves would want to be treated, if we allowed everyone a full measure of fairness.

This also means that we remember that the fight against terrorism is a means to an end and not an end in itself. President Obama told us that in using drone strikes against terrorists that there is a possibility of civilian casualties and that precautions are taken to prevent this. Yet, the hard truth is that drones are no different than any other weapon. The missiles they fire do not have a particular individual’s name on them. They are indiscriminate. Sadly, they are sometimes necessary for security’s sake.

While we correctly think about the nation’s security in terms of armed police and military force, security also comes through diplomacy and civil liberties. It is imperative for a nation and its leaders to be secure in themselves in order to stand with confidence before the world and seek peace, not through a power-over logic, but through a power-with logic. Diplomacy, therefore, is not weakness, and the call for universal human rights and civil liberties across the globe is another way to insist upon justice.

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Bravo Hamilton

Nov30

by: on November 30th, 2016 | Comments Off

I stand in solidarity with Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton who made a statement to soon-to-be Electoral College-elect vice-president Mike Pence when he attended a performance of the play.

Bravo Hamilton.

The statement was respectful, and, all things considered, restrained. It was civil. According to the New York Times, the statement said:

“We-sir-are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

Full disclosure: I have not seen the play, but I am a fan. I ride around listening to the sound-track in my car.

The beauty of the production is that it uses Hip Hop, an art form invented by America’s non-white citizens, to present an interpretation of the early history of America with a multi-racial cast. It does what all good art ought to do, make us see the ordinary with extraordinary sight and thus help us know our own humanity better.

There is good reason for a diverse America to feel alarmed and anxious after a divisive campaign of fear and lies that Donald Trump and Mike Pence inflicted upon the nation to win the Electoral College and thus to win the presidency and the vice-presidency. Let us be clear: Trump and Pence are minority winners. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than two million votes. More than seven million people voted for a third-party candidate. Nearly half of Americans who could have voted did not. Most citizens of the United States do not want Donald Trump to be president, yet, he will take the oath of office in January, becoming both head of state and head of government, representing the United States in his person to history and to the world.

Since his campaign that emboldened white supremacists, violence against people of color, immigrants, and Muslims have risen. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 867 incidents of harassment in the first ten days after the election. (https://www.splcenter.org/) The Trump/Pence response to such hate has been tepid at best. Trump has made Stephen K. Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News Network, a news organization that caters to white supremacists, his chief White House strategist. His other choices for cabinet positions, including Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions and his choice for the person to head the transition of the Environmental Protection Agency indicate that he will not protect voting rights or the planet.

Since we value a peaceful transition of power, what is the majority of citizens of the United States to do? We ought to resist in every peaceful way imaginable. We ought to stand up and boldly state what the shared values and beliefs of our society are.

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In Memory of Gwen Ifill

Nov16

by: on November 16th, 2016 | 4 Comments »

There is so much bad journalism running helter-skelter through the land that when the world loses one of its premier journalists, it is a moment to pause and to grieve.

Gwen Ifill, co-anchor of the “PBS Newshour” and host of “Washington Week”, died November 14th from cancer. She was 61-years-old. Many journalists who were her colleagues and friends have spoken and written about her as a person. They have commented on her excellence as a journalist, about her no nonsense approach to the work of giving the public solid information with which to understand the world around us. They have shared their memories of her faith, of her smile, laughter, singing, and hospitality.

I did not know Gwen Ifill personally, so I can only write about her from the perspective of someone who invited her into my home nearly every week-day evening for seventeen years. I quit network news decades ago, deciding that bad journalism is a waste of my precious time. I watched the “MacNeil/Lehrer Report” in the late 1970s and continued watching when it became “The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour” in 1983. My children were reared on this program because I wanted them to be aware of the world around them beyond our street and city.

When Gwen Ifill joined the program, I welcomed the presence of a more than competent journalist. Over the years, I have found little to complain about in her work. She was always respectful and friendly with the guests on the program. She moderated difficult discussion with aplomb, with an even-handed fairness that, in the end, left me with a better understanding of both sides of an issue.

 

I especially appreciated the respect she gave to ordinary people when conducting focus group discussions or town hall meetings. She never made anyone feel small, uninformed or illogical when she could have. For example, in a town hall meeting in the wake of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, one young man complained that he had voted for President Obama twice, but that he was still facing police harassment in his community. She did not ask the young man whether or not he had voted in local elections. She resisted the urge to tell him that President Obama does not appoint the police officials in his town.

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The Day After Election Day

Nov9

by: on November 9th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Now we know the face of the United States of America: Donald Trump.

Trump has been elected to serve as the 45th president of the United States. The president is not only chief executive and commander-in-chief of the military, the president is both the head of government and the head of state. To be the head of state means that this person represents the United States in his or her person.

As of this writing, Secretary Hillary Clinton received more votes than Trump, meaning more Americans wanted her to represent the nation to history and to the world, but Trump won the Electoral College math. So, here we are.

Not only did voters make Donald Trump our next president, but they gave the Republican Party majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Grand Obstructionist Party will interpret these results to mean that obstructionism works. However, I would like to take a moment to warn the leaders of the GOP.

Now you have to deliver.

In the first two years of his first term, President Obama, working with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, made significant progress for this country. His policies brought the country out of the great recession, saved the auto industry, put consumer protections in place and passed the Affordable Care Act which gave health insurance coverage to millions of Americans.

Donald Trump was elected because his voters want jobs. They believe his promise so much so that they are willing to overlook his erratic behavior. Never mind his “locker room talk” and the women who say that he made unwanted sexual advances.Never mind his failure to release his tax returns saying not paying taxes is smart. Never mind his treatment of the Khan family, the moment in this election that I thought would sink his candidacy. I was wrong. Never mind his characterization of African-American communities as horrible, dangerous places; never mind his characterization of undocumented workers as murders and rapists. The list goes on.

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Election Day 2016

Nov8

by: on November 8th, 2016 | Comments Off

“It’s really something every two years we get to overthrow the government.” Aaron Sorkin through Amy Gardner, a character on “The West Wing”

Election Day is the day We the People take our power back.

(It ought to be a national holiday, but that is another essay.)

It is easy to feel powerless in this world. We watch our Congress engage in unprecedented obstruction, and it seems there is nothing we can do about it. For the better part of a year, the Supreme Court of the United States has functioned with only eight members because Republicans in the senate decided to ignore their constitutional responsibility and refused to give President Obama’s nominee to the high court either a hearing or a vote. It does not matter to them that President Obama was elected to a four-year term and that it is his constitutional duty to nominate justices to the court. They claim they have the right not to give Judge Merrick Garland a hearing or a vote because of their fidelity to the voters who elected them.


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Donald Trump: The Picture of the GOP

Nov7

by: on November 7th, 2016 | Comments Off

In the Oscar Wilde novel – “The Picture of Dorian Gray” – a young handsome man looks upon a portrait of himself and wishes that the picture would grow old instead of himself. Mystery grants his wish, and he never grows old. Not only does his face never reflect the corruption of aging, but the physical effects of his sins show only on the picture. His cruelties, debaucheries, depravities, vulgarities, and even murder turn what once was a representation of youth and beauty into an ugly grotesquery, a witness to his sordid monstrousness.

As this much too long presidential campaign comes to an end, I say that Donald Trump, the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, the man elected by Republican voters and half-heartedly supported by the GOP leadership, is not some stranger from a strange land that has kidnapped an innocent political party and turned it into something that it is not. I say: Trump is the Republican Party. He is the picture of the GOP that shows a party that has traded its soul for votes.

Slavery and racism are the original sins of the United States, a nation, as Lincoln says in the Gettysburg address, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” They became internal contradictions of a country that wanted to preserve both freedom and equality, both equality and property. This is especially difficult when there are millions of human beings who are neither free nor equal under the law, and, at the same time, considered to be the property of citizens. They are, according to the Constitution, counted as only three-fifths of a person.

In the 1850s, the question of the spread of slavery to territories carved from land taken from Mexico after the Mexican-American war led to protests in the North. A group of citizens from the dying Whig Party, the Democratic Party, and the Free Soil Party gathered in Ripon, Wisconsin and decided to form a new Republican Party if the Kansas-Nebraska Act became law. The founders of the party chose the name Republican to honor Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican Party of the 1790s. They wanted a party to promote civic virtue, to stop the spread of slavery, and to provide opportunities for small farmers and the common person.

Immigration was also an issue in the 1850s. The suspicious groups were Irish and German. Many of them were Catholics in a predominantly Protestant country. The Irish were accused of not wanting to assimilate and to become American. There was worry about their influence in the electoral process. Later, during World War I, the problem would be the loyalty to America of German-Americans and any other hyphenated groups.

The Republican Party, like every other institution in the United States, could not escape race prejudice, and it found itself having to live with its own internal contradictions. During and after the Civil War, it became a party that not only saw itself as a party for the ordinary person, but it also became identified with big business interests in the East and in the Midwest. The party of Lincoln accomplished many great things at its inception and since — the end of slavery, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments that ended slavery, provided for equal protection of the law for citizens, and guaranteed equal voting rights for men, respectively. Yet, the party that today claims to be the party of small government expanded the role of the federal government with the income tax, a national bank, a give-away of public land in the West and the transcontinental railroad.

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Remembering History

Oct22

by: on October 22nd, 2016 | Comments Off

When Donald Trump asks his supporters to go to certain neighborhoods to “watch” at the polls on Election Day, he clearly has never known, has forgotten, or does not care about the painful, tragic, and racist history of voting in the United States. He does not remember the days when African Americans faced torture and terrorism for exercising their constitutional right to vote. He does not remember that the franchise was restricted to white citizens in many states where slavery was against the law. Remembering history, we as a nation will not go back to those days.

It is important to remember that the founders did not trust ordinary people. To this day, the president and vice president are not elected by the popular vote. When the Constitution was first adopted, qualifications for voting rights was a state matter. In most states, the franchise was restricted to white men who held property. In the early 1800s only five state allowed free black men to vote – New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina. Later as voting rights for white men expanded with some states dropping the requirement that voters own property, the property requirement remained for black men. After the Nat Turner rebellion, blacks lost the right to vote in North Carolina.

African Americans were second class citizens throughout the United States both before and after the Civil War. Between 1820 and 1850 blacks in Philadelphia and other cities were the targets of mob violence with their offense being “uppity behavior.” Thus, whiteness carries with it social, economic, and political privilege.

In the PBS documentary “Africans in America”, historian Margaret Washington comments on racism in the north.

“So it would seem as though the nation itself had an attitude that African Americans were inferior. And if you look at some of the laws that were in existence in the northern states, African Americas were not supposed to ride on streetcars; African Americans were not supposed to ride on steamers. The whole idea of Jim Crow and segregation of the races really originates in the north. African Americans couldn’t vote in the north. African Americans couldn’t vote in most states, even if they owned property.”

Any white immigrant coming into the country had more rights than blacks. Washington says: “So while immigration became a form of economic and social mobility for whites, it became a form of degradation for African Americans.”

Because social, economic, and political privileges were reserved for white people, whiteness becomes an important category. In the same documentary, historian Noel Ignatiev observes:

“So definitely white people gained from the system of racial supremacy. Without that whiteness itself would have been a meaningless category. It would have only been a physical description like tall.”

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Peace Day 2016 and Blood on the Street in Charlotte, North Carolina

Oct14

by: on October 14th, 2016 | Comments Off

September 21 is the United Nations International Day of Peace and Global Ceasefire – Peace Day. It is a day that reminds us of the hope of humankind to make a world where everyone lives a life of sustenance and joy. Peace Day coincides with the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly, but it is also a day when ordinary people do various acts and things to promote peace. Yet, every year, Peace Day dawns with some awful tragic reality to remind us of how far we have to go to arrive at the goal of peace.

On Tuesday afternoon, September 20, Keith Lamont Scott, 43, was sitting in his S.U.V minding his own business. Police who were on the scene attending to another matter say they saw him rolling what seemed to be a marijuana blunt with a gun on the front seat. When Scott exited the S.U.V., police say he had a gun and did not follow their commands. Despite his wife who was on the scene telling the police that Scott was unarmed, that he was not dangerous, that he suffered from traumatic brain injury and had just taken his medication, the situation escalated to where Scott was shot and killed by the police. He was another in a long line of African-American men who had been shot and killed by the police under questionable circumstances.

Peace Day saw protests in the street of Charlotte, North Carolina. Protestors wanted the police to release video tapes so that the public could see what happened to Mr. Scott. The night of Peace Day, during the demonstrations, 23-year-old Justin Carr was fatally wounded. There was blood on the street in Charlotte, North Carolina on Peace Day.

When we see only the blood on the street, we see the essential liquid of a living being. We cannot tell just by looking from which of the animal species it comes. When we only see the blood on the street, we do not know if it is police blood or protestor blood. We do not know whether the bleeding body was black or white or brown or yellow or red; whether the person was Muslim or Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or atheist; whether the person was young or old, male or female, transsexual or pansexual; whether the person was rich or poor. We do not know if the blood is related to us. There is no party affiliation or class distinction evident in a pool of blood on the street. All of the things that would make us hate a person, that would make us want to kill a person are gone. There is nothing left in a pool of blood, but the life force wasted, something to be washed away and forgotten or remembered with either the will to revenge or the will to forgive.

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