Late one evening in April 1963, Dick Gregory came crashing through the door of his Chicago apartment – drunk – and was informed by his wife that the president of the United States was looking for him. As Diane McWhorter related in her 2001 book, Carry Me Home, about the drive to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, the comedian returned the phone call to the White House and spoke with John F. Kennedy, who reportedly told him, “Please, don’t go to Birmingham. We’ve got it all solved. Dr. King is wrong, what he’s doing.” Gregory, a celebrity at 30 years old, replied – “Man, I will be there in the morning.”
Kennedy and his aides were hardly the only ones pleading for racial calm in that place, 50 years ago. Birmingham’s liberal white clergy and even its black newspaper had urged Martin Luther King Jr. (who died 45 years ago, on April 4) to jettison plans for a campaign of nonviolent direct action. They feared that an escalation of tactics would only make the segregationists angrier.
by: Thad Williamson on March 15th, 2013 | 3 Comments »
After graduating college, many students lose sight of civic engagement as they focus on moneymaking.
Many college students today feel themselves to be under immense pressure to secure their own professional futures – to be able to repay loans and to avoid falling on the wrong side of the deepening economic divide. Others want to acquire money and comfort, or power, because this is how a successful life has generally been portrayed to them. But many also have a concern with community and social problems and have experience doing various kinds of volunteer work; others are interested in politics and public service.
However, the ideas that getting serious about social change requires more than just volunteer work, and that democratic action is not simply about campaigns, elections, and the deeds of politicians, remain relatively novel to college students. As a college teacher, it is easy to get frustrated when confronted with students who are clueless, disengaged, or unwilling to see beyond the moneymaking definition of success. But in my experience many students are in fact eager for an alternative definition of a good life, and eager to learn more about social movements and social change. This is true whatever the self-described political leanings (if any) of students.
I must confess that forgiveness is difficult for me.
I think about it, speak about it and write about it. (See: http://justpeacetheory.com/files/Thoughts_on_Forgiveness.pdf) When the time comes for me to forgive, I pray the prayer of Jesus on the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 KJV) I pray this prayer until I am able to say inside my own soul: “I forgive.”
President Obama continues his “charm offensive” this week with trips to Congress to speak with members about a compromise on various important issues – the federal budget, immigration, gun control to name a few. On March 6, 2013, President Obama invited a group of Republican senators to dinner at a fancy Washington DC restaurant at his own expense. He wanted to speak with them in an informal setting about how to move forward on various pieces of legislation that would benefit the country. This is the kind of effort that I advocate in my work on just peacemaking. I say that just peace requires the ethics of commensality, the ethics of the table meal where the bread and wine of communion not only help us to remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but also become symbols of sustenance and joy which are the ethical goals of life.
The senators came from the dinner with good things to say about the evening and prospects for a better working relationship with the president. I trust and believe that this will be the beginning of a less toxic atmosphere in Washington, the beginning of a new and better working relationship between the president and Congress.
Anyone who has failed to note the complete capitulation of American progressives to the Obama line should consider the dramatic contrast posed today on the question of the president’s “right” to assassinate American citizens. On the one hand, Rand Paul, a Republican icon, has mounted a one-man filibuster to protest the appointment of John Brennan, one of the architects of Obama’s assassination policy, as Director of the CIA. As Paul argues, the current “guidelines,” drawn up by the Obama “team,” would have allowed President Nixon to assassinate Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Staughton Lynd, and others during the Vietnam War. Why has it taken a rightist to point out what progressives should have been screaming about for years? Where have such figures as Maddow, Dionne, Herzberg, Chait, Tomasky, Edsall, and others have been?
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has argued that President Obama has the legal authority to use predator drones such as this one for targeted strikes against U.S. citizens. Credit: U.S. Air Force.
An answer to this question can be found by reading Michael Moore’s encomium to the film Zero Thirty Hours, which appeared recently in Huffington Post. The film is a highly sophisticated ratification of the whole set of assumptions that Americans hold regarding 9/11. As is frequently repeated in the film: we were innocents, attacked from outside, 3000 fellow citizens were killed. True, the film portrays America as using torture, but in a context that makes that usage understandable, though not necessarily wise.
by: William Bole on March 5th, 2013 | Comments Off
On Monday of this week, the police chief of Montgomery, Alabama, formally apologized to Georgia Congressman John Lewis, for what the police did not do in May 1961 – protect Lewis and the other young Freedom Riders who arrived at the city’s Greyhound Bus station and were summarily beaten by a white mob. The day before the ceremony (the first time anyone had ever apologized to him for that particular thrashing, the congressman noted), Lewis, Vice President Joe Biden and 5,000 others joined in an annual reenactment of the 50-mile March from Selma, which led to passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. On that occasion 48 years ago, state troopers took a less passive approach and brutalized Lewis and others themselves. A few days before the reenactment, President Obama unveiled a statue of Rosa Parks that will stand permanently in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, making her the first African American women to be so honored.
One name that doesn’t figure notably in these various commemorations is that of Lyndon Baines Johnson. But it should. At least that’s my feeling after reading Robert A. Caro’s The Passage of Power, the latest in his magnificent series of Johnson biographies. The writer makes it clear that Johnson wasn’t just a pragmatic politician who acceded to the prophetic demands for action on civil rights. LBJ made it happen, partly out of a visceral identification with the “dispossessed of the earth,” as Caro puts it.
by: Rick Staggenborg on February 12th, 2013 | 3 Comments »
I swore I was not going to write about the gun debate that has followed the latest mass murder. It seemed an exercise in futility. Trying to convince people that they are wrong on gun control is like trying to influence their views on abortion. Attitudes and opinions are fixed on the issue. There is little chance that one more opinion will change them. Recently, the conversation took an interesting turn, one that is new to the ongoing debate on gun control. The idea that we have to have personal weapons to fight our own government went from being a fringe idea to a mainstream argument, defended by conservatives and many pro-second amendment liberals.
It has been obvious to every thinking American for some time that something is terribly wrong with our current government. If we could agree in what that was we might be able to fight it without resort to guns. The nation is nearly evenly divided between those who fear a socialist takeover and those who believe that the problem is growing corporate dominance of government to the extent that it is leading to fascism, if it has not already arrived. If we do not come to a common understanding of what has gone wrong with the US system of government, it is likely that the incidence of political violence will continue to increase until we are subject to a violent crackdown by the very police state that so many of us fear.
by: Lita Kurth on February 6th, 2013 | Comments Off
I just came back from a superb meeting on affordable housing at Sacred Heart Community Services, an agency known for practical, street-level work. Then I started talking about the issue with friends. Here are a few jolts that stuck with me:
photo by Darafsh Kaviyani
- In Silicon Valley, the greater San Jose area, the list for subsidized housing is around 40,000 names long; it would be longer, but they aren’t taking names any more, so we can’t know the true extent of need.
- Even veterans have been bounced from one agency to another with no one making help a priority. One of them, an articulate person not immediately recognizable as homeless, attended the meeting. He said he had been homeless “only a couple years.”
by: Claire Bohman on January 22nd, 2013 | 16 Comments »
I first heard of the horrific attacks on First Nations people by the Canadian government from Clyde Hall, a Shoshone elder. I had seen a few things on Facebook but I did not understand the potential to strip Canadian First Nations people of their sovereignty until Clyde laid it out in plain English. As he explained in detail the implications of the law that was on its way to passing in Canada, the danger of this legislation began to sink into my body. If this legislation passes, the Canadian government will cease to recognize First Nations treaty rights. The potential of which is that Canadian First Nations potentially could lose the rights to their land, among other things. Furthermore, ceasing to recognize the treaty rights of the First Nations is a move towards an erasure of indigenous identity and another attempt at genocide. If this legislation passes in Canada, it’s just a matter of time before this kind of legislation comes to the United States.
Native people across North America have been organizing a peaceful movement of resistance called “Idle No More”. A lot of my friends have been asking me, what is this movement about? Idle No More was founded by First Nations women and has gained significant momentum through the leadership of Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskit First Nation, who has been on a hunger strike since December 11, 2012. Her demand is that the Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov David Johnston meet with First Nations leaders to discuss treaty rights. The resistance is spreading like wildfire and I recently had the honor of joining with hundreds of First Nations people and their allies in Oakland for a Round Dance in solidarity with Chief Spence and Idle No More.
by: Timothy Villareal on January 19th, 2013 | 8 Comments »
In the wake of the tragic suicide of Aaron Swartz, much has already been said and written about what a sympathetic character the freedom and democracy-lover was. There is now a citizen-led petition before the White House calling on President Obama to remove U.S. District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office. The petition, which has gathered 36,000 signatures so far, asserts that
“A prosecutor who does not understand proportionality and who regularly uses the threat of unjust and overreaching charges to extort plea bargains from defendants regardless of their guilt is a danger to the life and liberty of anyone who might cross her path.”
The outpouring of public sympathy for Swartz is moving, especially in an era when large swaths of the American public are perfectly content to have vast amounts of information withheld from. So long as the trains are running on time, such a mentality goes, who cares if our own government is engaged in cyber wars and drone attacks with little oversight, and absolutely nothing in the way of public consent? That so many are honoring Aaron Swartz, and recognizing his noble aims for a more open society, is a heartening testament that at least some of us still believe there’s more to citizenship than showing up to the train platform at the right time. Yet the question must be asked: What about the victims of government persecution who aren’t so sympathetic?
Around the country, people are polarized about whether gun control or widespread ownership of guns would make us safer. I have written earlier about the U.S. culture of violence and the growing economic inequity, which is violent in itself and is linked to increasing violence. Today’s post addresses the violent “myth” that underlies our culture:
In his work on the Powers [the institutions that rule our world], Walter Wink claims that the primary myth of our time is the “Myth of Redemptive Violence.” This myth, which is so pervasive in contemporary U.S. culture, has its roots in the ancientEnuma Elish,a Babylonian creation story about the struggle between cosmic order and chaos. The idea is that force must be used to bring order out of chaos and that the only way to conquer evil is through domination and violence. This story has been played out around the world for generations, and continues to be played out today.