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.

Hank Aaron and How Far We’ve Come

Baseball great Henry (Hank) Aaron has died at the age of 86. Hammerin’ Hank Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1937. Growing up in Mobile, racism was a part of life. Aaron told a story of his mother telling him to go and hide under the bed as the Ku Klux Klan was outside his house. They set his house on fire. Somehow his family escaped alive.

In 1947, Aaron had a chance to meet the first Black man to play in Major League Baseball, the great Jackie Robinson. It was at a grocery store. Hammerin’ Hank said that meeting changed his life. He stated that he “knew” he was in the presence of greatness.

In 1973, Aaron was close to breaking the record. Now, just remember, baseball was and is a game. It has never been life-and-death. Yet, Hank Aaron received death threats for daring to break the great Babe Ruth’s home run record. He didn’t receive just one or two death threats. Instead, it was tens of thousands. Several Atlanta police officers were assigned to guard Aaron because some of the threats were so specific. His daughter was in college at the time. She received death threats and needed to be protected by the FBI.

The US Postal Service gave Hank Aaron a plaque for the American who was not a politician who received the most mail—over 930,000 pieces of mail in 1973. Then, on April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron hit a rocket to left centerfield that was homerun number 715.

The Commissioner of baseball, Bowie Kuhn, did not attend the game. Seriously, what else does a Commissioner of baseball have to do? Over time, the hatred and animosity slowly resolved. Hank was humble, thoughtful and finally embraced by the sport that he loved. President George W. Bush, former owner of the Texas Rangers and baseball lover, presented Hank Aaron with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.

So, the question is how far have we come? How far we have come as a nation? I think the answer is complex.

We just elected a white man to the highest office in the land. This man pledged to end racial inequality. He appointed an Asian-Black woman to be his vice president. Amanda Gorman, the inauguration poet who was also Black, has recently signed a contract with one of the largest and most prestigious modeling agencies in the world. There are rumors that the Atlanta Braves may change the name of the team to the Atlanta Hammers. Black Lives Matter has been nominated for a Nobel Peace prize for starting a worldwide movement.

I think even Martin Luther King would say that were making progress.

Throughout our long history, Black Americans have been told, “Don’t ask for too much too fast. Slow down; take what you can get at the time. Don’t push too hard. Be patient.”

But as the great Frederick Douglass reminded us: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Unfortunately, despite whatever gains we have made, the progress is still slower than we would like—and we have to continue to push America forward.

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Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.


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