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Progress Can Be Painfully Slow

(I wrote this for the Urban News for February 2021)

Well, it seems to me that we witnessed kind of a miracle. The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris went off without a hitch. There was no violence. There was no sign of the Proud Boys or the paramilitary group Oath Keepers. Lady Gaga’s performance of the national anthem was so good. It just made you smile.

I might be mistaken, but I think the stage was stolen by 22-year-old who I’d never heard of before, Amanda Gorman. She was the poet. She was marvelous. Here are just a few lines from her thoughtful, timely, moving poem.

We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice

First Actions

After all the pomp and circumstance was over, Joe Biden went to work. Within hours of his inauguration, he was signing several executive orders. He signed a proclamation ending the Muslim ban that was imposed by Donald Trump. He signed an executive order to promote racial equality—and he wants the government to reallocate resources to advance this directive.

Biden directed the United States to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. He signed an executive order requiring mask wearing on all federal properties. He then signed an order coordinating a government-wide Covid-19 response. This is just a partial list of his executive orders he did on Day 1.

On the one hand, if you are a proponent of democracy, and I am, I kind of cringe at seeing all of these executive orders. I would rather all of these actions come through the legislative process, but our legislative process is broken. It is going to take us a while to fix the Senate. So, if you wanted to get something done, we need to do it through executive action. I’m ecstatic that President Joe Biden took these measures.

January 6th

The insurrection at the United States Capital was quelled when thousands of National Guard troops were deployed to Washington, DC. On that fateful Wednesday, there did not seem to be any arrests. These domestic terrorists forcibly entered the Capital. They were allowed to rummage around Nancy Pelosi’s office and desecrate the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

I was looking for a robust response. Whatever the opposite of a robust response is, that’s what we saw. It seemed to be weak and timid. It actually appeared as if law enforcement didn’t know what to do. Then, as the days wore on, the shock of what we saw seemed to wear off and law enforcement seem to wake up. Finally, as of this writing, over 150 domestic terrorists have been arrested.

Let’s be clear, the slow response was deliberate. It seems the Acting Secretary of Defense—appointed by Trump only weeks before—ordered the Army to hold back on letting the National Guard assist the Capitol Police. The National Guard were initially hamstrung. No protective gear. No guns. No nothing that would help quell an insurrection. The National Guard as originally authorized by the Trump administration was ready for a pillow fight and not much else.

It also appears that the FBI has been investigating who funded the rally before the riot. The name of the extremely dangerous conspiracy minded maniac, Alex Jones, has popped up. And we know that a number of people whose names were on the planning permits had been employed by the Trump reelection campaign as late as mid-December.

A recent indictment charged two members of the Proud Boys with conspiracy. The Washington Post is reporting that many of the members of the insurrection carried a map of the interior tunnels of the Capital. It is clear that this insurrection was not spontaneous. Some people planned for weeks if not months for this awful day.

(more…)

By |2021-02-04T13:19:52-04:00February 1st, 2021|Newsletter, Race|0 Comments

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

(I wrote this for the Urban News in August 2020.)

In 1971, long before the Sugar Hill Gang made rap popular with “Rapper’s Delight,” there was a poet, philosopher, and jazz artist named Gil Scott-Heron who spoke more than he sang. With a jazzy beat in the background, he stated:
The revolution will not be televised
The revolution will not be brought to you
By Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon blowing a bugle
And leading a charge by John Mitchell, General Abrams, and Spiro Agnew
To eat hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary
The revolution will not be televised
The point of the song was that the revolution was going to be live. Everyone was going to have to participate.dd

Portland, Oregon

After the death of George Floyd, protests rang out throughout our country. Portland, Oregon was no different. The protests started in late May and continued into June. While the rest of the country was settling down, Portland continued to protest. The protesters identified Kendra James, Erin Campbell, Patrick Kimmons, and Quanice Hayes as Black residents who had been killed at the hands of the Portland police over the past several years.

In July, some of the protests turned violent. At about the same time, Donald Trump decided to send in federal troops. It is unclear from the reporting whether there was any consultation with the mayor of Portland or the governor of Oregon. The pretense that Trump used to send in federal troops was to protect “federal buildings.”

These federal troops were wearing no identifiable emblems. For the people of Portland, the stakes were now ramped up. Instead of a couple of hundred protesters, thousands were showing up. The troops—including some from the border patrol with no training in domestic policing—began shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. Arrests were made, sometimes without reason or probable cause. Cellphone footage of protesters being stuffed into unmarked cars began to circulate on social media. In late July, the governor announced that she had reached an agreement with the White House to withdraw these troops from Oregon.

I’m not sure what was accomplished. I’m not sure why we needed federal troops in an American city. I’m not sure if the whole ordeal was constitutional. I find it sad that Donald Trump’s first instinct is to use force and not to negotiate, or even talk, with protesters.

John Lewis

Congressman John Lewis died of pancreatic cancer on July 17, 2020. Although many textbooks do not point out the work that John Lewis did during the civil rights movement, he was there, and he was a major player. He was, in fact, considered one of the “big six” leaders of the movement, and the last to die.

The famous Freedom Rides that started in 1961 were an extremely simple concept. Thirteen people (seven Whites and six Blacks) were going to ride a bus from Washington, DC, to New Orleans. The whole purpose of this ride was to pressure the federal government into enforcing the 1960 Supreme Court decision (Boynton v. Virginia) that held that segregated interstate bus travel was unconstitutional.

The bus encountered angry mobs. The Freedom Riders were arrested. They were beaten. They were jailed. John Lewis was one of the original 13 riders. He was there.

A couple of years later, John Lewis became the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was among the leaders of the marches from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. He was severely beaten while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge—beaten by cops with batons, blackjacks, you name it. Again, John Lewis was there, and once again he risked his life for his country—for us.

In 1963 John Lewis spoke at the March on Washington in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. At 23, he was the youngest speaker on the dais. Once again, he was there, and he was an inspiration to the half-million people gathered on the Mall.

John Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986, representing metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia. In that role, over the next 35 years, he became known as “the conscience of the House.” He called on his fellow representatives, and his fellow citizens, from the most humble to the most exalted, to seek justice, and do the right thing. Whenever he spoke, whomever he encountered, whatever the issue at hand, no matter the anger, frustration, or rancor in the air, he spoke with love, and with joy, and with hope. For he loved his fellow human beings, and believed in his heart that they, too, were capable of that same love.

From my standpoint, John Lewis was a great humanitarian. He fought against injustice everywhere. He worked for equality, and put his life on the line for democracy. He lived as we all should live, making “good trouble” for a cause greater than ourselves. We can take a page from John Lewis’ book. He seemed to always be on the right side of history, and he was always there when and where we needed him to be. (more…)

By |2020-09-23T20:07:00-04:00September 23rd, 2020|Domestic Issues, Newsletter, Obama administration|Comments Off on The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Now What?

(I wrote this for the Urban News in July 2020.)

So, protests have swept the nation. There were protests from California to Texas to Florida and everywhere in between. There were protests in large cities like New York, Washington DC, and Chicago. And there were protests in small towns throughout the United States like Canton, MO, Morgantown, WV, Potsdam, NY, and Woburn, MA. More than a hundred protesters even showed up for Black Lives Matter in Pen Argyl, PA (population 3,600). The majority of the protests were peaceful. Unfortunately, there was some looting, though whether connected to protesters or simply opportunistic is in question. Lately, it appears that the protests have been centered around Confederate monuments.

This whole movement, whatever you want to call it, must be about more than pulling down Confederate monuments. There must be something tangible that comes out of all this heartache and pain.

I grew up in the South. I have lived more than 90 percent of my life in the South—from Dallas, to Shreveport, to Atlanta, to Asheville. I live and breathe southern culture. We glossed over the Civil War in high school. I did read Battle Cry of Freedom, an 800-page monstrosity written by James McPherson. It is incredibly detailed; it even appears to me that McPherson told it like it was. Like it still is.

States’ Rights v. Slavery
When you grow up in the South, you are taught that the Civil War was fought because of “states’ rights.” That is, the southern states simply wanted the right to do whatever they wanted without Washington telling them what to do. And because of this, young men took up arms against those bad old Yankees. And, the argument continues, Southerners just wanted to be free. They were rebels against too much government power.

Unfortunately, this is a nice, innocent, and utterly dishonest retelling of history. The South wanted to own slaves. The Civil War was about slavery.
Now, when I look back at it, it was almost funny, if not criminal, the way the Civil War was taught in high school. We only really covered three things: we learned about a few battles; the North won; and Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.

That was mostly it. Oh, and there was this thing called Reconstruction, but it didn’t last.

But when you delve deeply into the War Between the States, you see something different. South Carolina was the first state to withdraw from the union. Their leaders wrote up this very nice document that resembles the Declaration of Independence in some ways. They laid out their grievances. They opined that the Constitution of States that were the original 13 states were to be “free, sovereign and independent states.” (They did write this in CAPS, just to make sure that nobody misses it.)

The truth
But toward the end of their declaration they began to rail against the “non-slaveowning states,” writing, “They have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies whose avowed object is to disrupt the peace and to eloign [take away] the property of the citizens of other states. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes, and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”

It would be heartwarming if South Carolina were the only state that openly stated they left the union because of slavery. But, almost every one of the states that seceded had something like this in their declarations of secession. More importantly, in the Articles of Confederate States (Constitution of the Confederate States), the document that the seceded states put together, clearly delineates in Article 1, section 9 that the South was about slavery. The clearest section is subsection 4, No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in Negro slaves shall be passed.

To me, this is pretty clear. The Civil War wasn’t about honor or virtue. Now, did honor and virtue occur during the war? Of course they did. Honor and virtue appear during every war. So does noble sacrifice, and even heroism. All of these are noble qualities.

But that’s not what the Civil War was about. The Civil War was about slavery. It was about the South’s right to keep human beings enslaved as personal property; as chattel. That’s what the Civil War was all about.

Until we, as Southerners, understand this, embrace that truth, make it become one with our souls, we are doing everybody a disservice. (more…)

By |2020-09-23T19:32:15-04:00September 23rd, 2020|Civil Rights, Newsletter|Comments Off on Now What?
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