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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?

Violence in America

tamir rice

Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old boy who was playing in a Cleveland, Ohio park with a toy gun. Someone called 911 and reported that a “juvenile” was pointing a gun at passersby and that the gun was probably a toy. Two city police officers named Loehmann and Garmback arrived on the scene in separate cars. Critical information had NOT been related to them: they were not told that Tamir was a child, nor that Tamir appeared to be playing with a toy gun. It appears, however, that within two minutes of arriving on the scene Officer Loehmann had taken out his real gun, aimed, opened fire, and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

It is unclear to me how anyone, including a trained police officer, can assess a scene in under two minutes. It is unclear how a grown man can not recognize the difference between a child with a toy gun and a threatening adult. It is equally unclear to me how anyone with a conscience can ever again sleep at night after shooting a child to death. Yet two “independent experts” in police shootings stated that this police shooting was justified and/or reasonable.

In South Carolina, a female high-school student refused to leave the classroom, and security was called. The so-called “school resource officer,” Ben Fields, confronted the girl, grabbed her, and then turned over her desk with her in it, throwing her on the floor in the process. He then dragged her out of the classroom while choking her. Of course, everything was caught on a cell-phone video. Another student, who complained about her classmate’s treatment by calling out “Stop! What are you doing to her?” (or something along those lines), was then arrested for interfering. The security guard has since been fired – but was this the best way to handle a teenager?

America is simply too violent. It seems the only way we try to resolve a dispute is with a gun. Shoot first and asked questions later. It’s as if we live in the Wild, Wild West with Wyatt Earp and John Wesley Hardin, who once shot a man for snoring. Where is Wild Bill Hickok? We have to have a better way of resolving our differences.

(more…)

By |2016-04-10T22:57:56-04:00April 10th, 2016|Newsletter, Party Politics|Comments Off on Violence in America

The Sad State of American Politics

There is a famous Bugs Bunny cartoon that opens with Elmer Fudd walking with his shotgun. He turns to the camera to inform us that he is hunting rabbits. Soon he finds Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, who get into an argument about whether Elmer should shoot rabbits or ducks because there is some confusion over whether it is Duck Season or Wabbit Season. There is a famous exchange where Daffy and Bugs are yelling at each other – “Duck Season!” “Rabbit Season!” “Duck Season!” “Rabbit Season!”

Sadly, this is the state of our political debate. There is no middle ground. There is only Black and White. There is Night and Day. Either you are a patriot or a commie pinko, terrorist-loving traitor. There is no compromise.

Not in a cartoon, but in real life, we saw everyone take similar positions after 14 Americans were slaughtered in San Bernardino, CA. On one side, we have Americans screaming that Obama and the Democrats have been soft on terrorism, and if Obama were truly serious about keeping American’s safe, he would have prevented this tragedy. On the other side, we have Americans shouting at the top of their lungs that this event was 100% predictable in a country where it is easier to purchase an assault rifle than it is to buy liquor in most counties.

The arguments on both sides are so routine and predictable they should be written down on the American Tombstone. “Here lies a Once-Great Nation, but everyone stopped listening to each other.”

Within the last decade we have hardened our positions. The Speaker of the House recently resigned his post – and his seat, which he’d held for 28 years – because one flank of his own party forced him out. The so-called “Freedom Caucus” took the stance that compromise on anything was wrong. There was no give. There was only “our way or the highway.”

While Boehner was less than ideal as a congressman or as Speaker, he has been replaced by Paul Ryan, who is even more extreme. We are going from worse to worser. (Yep, I said worser. And I hope and pray we don’t get to worstest.)

This whole political thing is un-American. America was built on compromise.

I don’t hate Paul Ryan. I think that his ideas would move America in the wrong direction and make it even harder for middle-class Americans to get ahead. Turning Medicare into a voucher program will leave thousands of elderly Americans out in the cold.

On the other side, I like Hillary Clinton, but I don’t think she is a saint. I recognize that not everything she says is brilliant, nor worthy of writing on stone tablets. But she’s smart, experienced and capable. We have to stop making some politicians into saints and others into devils. We really don’t need to elect a saint (think how many of them were fanatics); we need to elect a smart, decent human being who’s a good leader, a good listener, and a good judge of what’s right and wrong, what’s possible and impossible, and what is the best way “to promote the general welfare” of the United States and all its citizens.

Let me focus on the idea of compromise. This is the foundation of democracy. James Madison didn’t think that we needed a Bill of Rights. George Mason left the Constitutional convention because a Bill of Rights wasn’t included. Madison noted that without a Bill of Rights that the Constitution might not pass the states. So, instead of finger-pointing and calling his political opponents anti-American, King George-loving, mulletheads, he sat down and wrote the Bill of Rights based on what George Mason had laid out. By writing the Bill of Rights, James Madison made what may be the biggest political compromise in the history of our nation.
(more…)

By |2016-04-06T14:43:07-04:00April 6th, 2016|Newsletter, Party Politics|Comments Off on The Sad State of American Politics
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