2007-12-13

CHRISTMAS IN SOUTH CAROLINA (Post #11)

Greetings all!

A good friend of mine, Donnel Baird, wrote what you are about to read. (The names have been changed to "protect the innocent.") It's powerful and important stuff and a brutal reminder of America's greatest challenge: to be the nation we should be. And, trust me, Brooklyn and South Carolina have plenty in common ...

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Memo from the South Carolina Ground War


I work for Barack Obama's Presidential campaign in South Carolina. As a way of conveying to you what we're trying to accomplish here, I want to tell you about four men that I have recently met.

The first man, Mr. Taylor, is a politician and hospital executive who wears crisp suits, cuff links, and who drives a BMW -- a man with verve. "I didn't have the most education", he told me. "But now 75 people report to me. Black and white, they report to me. And I have been elected for 13 years. I stood up for myself. I don't back down."

"I don't understand what's wrong with the folk 'round here. Here comes a man, Barack -- he wants to help you stand up for yourself. What's it gonna' take for you to help you? Here's a man who wants to help you HELP YOU! When you gonna' stand up?" Fury flashed his face and eased into a slow head shake. "You'll see. They got to stand up." Mr. Taylor told me to call him if I needed anything else and I'll be taking him up on that soon.

Sean is young -- about 23. He wears cornrows, large white tee shirts and baggy jeans. He has expensive sun glasses and gold "grills" or "fronts" on his teeth -- Southern hip-hop. He comes from a town with no jobs, nothing to do, no place positive for young people to hang out ... and he has strong opinions. "Barack can't win. But I appreciate the effort y'all are making."

I pretended not to hear him. I said: "Our effort is what is gonna' make this happen. If people decide to come out and volunteer and work to make this happen, it will happen. We will make it happen." He wasn't buying. He shook his head, grinning slightly, the light glinting off his fronts. I pressed on. "You could be mayor of your town," I said. "I bet you could do it with a thousand votes. I bet between you and 20 of your boys y'all know seven to eight hundred people. You all could take two months, register everybody, get some suits, write down the names and phone numbers of your supporters, and remind them to vote on election day. You could be mayor, and then you could fix your town." He frowned. "Not in my town," he said. "They ain't going to let that happen."

"Who is 'they'," I asked?

Sean glowered at me through his glasses. "The Klan. You ain' know the Klan still marches in my town? They pro'lly come over and burn my mom house down. You ain' know that?" He looked off in disgust. I told him we would be in touch. He asked his mom if she was ready to leave. She looked at me sympathetically, then they walked to their car and drove off.

I sat in one of the comfortable chairs in the third man's spacious office. He was old and rich and stocky. He had one gold tooth and his gray hair pulled back into a duck bill. Ex-Military.

Leaning over the desk, Robinson peered at me. "I might be supporting Obama, but ya'll won't win this state. Tell you why. See, you got some white folks around here, in particular, one family -- the Chandlers. Mill money. They built these towns ... they built them for the people to work in the mills they own. And they control everything. Mill jobs left, but that family still has control. If they say vote one way, that's the way everybody votes." I was not deterred and explained how and why we were going to win the Democratic primary in South Carolina.

Robinson continued. "Niggas 'round here is scared. They afraid that if they vote the wrong way, their boss is gonna' find out or they customers is going to find out. The man at the bank calls them. Here's how that work. The man at the bank gonna' say something like, 'Mr. Johnson, we go way back. I know your mama, 'cus she helped raise my cousin. These northern niggas down here talking politics ... we don't need that. Now, how's that mortgage payment going? And what about that loan for Junior's college?"

"Now this black man jus' terrified that this white man is going to pull the loan at the bank. He's looking out for his family by not voting. That's what you're up against."

"Now listen. I can't come out for you publicly -- I work for the state and we get too much federal money for me to do stuff publicly. But you call me and keep me in the loop." So I call Robinson and I keep him in the loop. He will require some more persuasion, but once he's on board, he will bring along many of his followers to help volunteer for our campaign.

I met an energetic young reverend. Rev. Calvin is handsome and well-dressed with a quick and engaging sense of humor. The purple, double breasted suit with 6 buttons down the front was sharp. His clean-shaven head was sleek. "We got to wake these people up," he told me. He'd grown up in the county but left for Florida as a young man, back when he thought he 'knew everything'. He lived hard, fell far, and the Lord picked him back up.

"One of the problems we got around here is 'the CEO roundtable' -- all the heads of the companies meet and strategize. Few years back, they decided to install a double shift -- fired half the staff at all their plants and had the rest work two shifts back-to-back. That way they pay less money in health insurance benefits. Now, you work a double-shift, then half the week you at work. When you're done, you too tired to parent. So the kids are raising themselves. I want to start talking about this but no one wants to address it. We got to address it. No one fought back when they put in this double shift. Nobody didn't say nothing". He shook his head in frustration.

But the Reverend was still curious. "What kind of door-to-door voter contact operation would I be running?" I told him. "Some guys came by," he recalled. "Asked me to train 40 young people to go door-to-door for a survey on issues that people cared about. These were Republicans asking me, mind you, and they paid our kids to go around a year and half before the election with these palm pilots to collect data on the issues. And I helped them because they were paying, and they were organized, while the Democratic Party here in this county just wants to hand out fried chicken every election ... and that's why they lose and lose."

"But I'll tell you," he continued, "after I ran that canvass, I got a call from the bank. They asked me if I need a loan to build a new sanctuary for my church. See how that works?"

I said that I understood and I told him how we work. Rev. Calvin doesn't call me back -- but I haven't given up on him.

The fourth man is a Vietnam veteran -- twenty five years in the service, which he signed up for right after high school. Burton is graying and retired and he's got warmth, humor and humility. He represents his church congregation at the AME lay person's conference. I asked him if the lay congregation was composed of church radicals whose sole purpose was to terrorize AME preachers and make sure they stayed in line. He laughed ... and didn't say no. He is very concerned about how the war in Iraq is damaging the mental health of our soldiers. Too many of his fighting buddies from Vietnam have yet to recover.

As we headed to our cars after one meeting, Burton told me of his attempt to organize a labor union at a plant where he worked.

"Soon as management heard," he said, "they started calling everybody, threatening them. ' We gonna fire you. We gonna come to your house.' And people were scared. They stopped taking my calls, started hiding from me at work, started dropping out."

"Why weren't you afraid?" I asked. He stopped walking. "They called and threatened me, said they were coming to my house. Looking for my family." His voice got quiet. "But I knew them and I knew that they might come, but they might not. And I'm ex-military. If they came, I knew I'd try to be ready for them." He asked if I had directions to my next meeting, smiled, wished me a good night, and walked to his car.

My team's job is to find people like Burton all across South Carolina and bring them together for meetings where we can plan to get ourselves together, get Barack Obama elected, change South Carolina, and change our country.

There is great leadership potential in my region. Every day we search for new leaders and talk with the ones we have recruited about how to find more. My team has found several dozen serious people; the majority of them are African American women. When they come together, we call them Obama Teams. They will change this state.

To expand our efforts, we need pre-paid cell phones and wireless pre-paid cards. We need them now, as soon as we can get our hands on them. These cell phones will allow us to take our campaign outside of our regional Headquarters, directly to the counties where our leaders live, so that they can make the phone calls necessary to create more Obama teams.

We consider ourselves to be on the front lines out here.

We will make it happen.

Donnel Baird

Regional Field Director, South Carolina

P.S. -- We need ten Verizon pre-paid cell phones which cost $40 each. We need forty Verizon 500-minute wireless pre-paid cards. They cost between 10 and 20 dollars each. We need them now, as soon as we can get our hands on them.

If you'd like to help and are considering making an in-kind contribution of phones or cards to our region here in South Carolina, please contact me at
dbaird@barackobama.com -- or write a check directly to Verizon and mail it to my office:

Obama Campaign Headquarters
407B Main Street
Greenwood, SC 29646
Attn: DB Field

Click here to download the form you should send along with your check in order to comply with the Federal campaign finance laws. The maximum amount of funds an individual can contribute for a Presidential candidate to use prior to the nomination is $2,300 -- either direct or in-kind or both together.
Please remember that your contributions are not tax deductible.

Thank you and have a
safe and happy holiday season!


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2007-02-10

OBAMA VS. GIULIANI: AMERICA'S REAL STRUGGLE (Post #10)

I am watching Senator Barack Obama's announcement of his Presidential candidacy on C-Span. He is so smart, so sensible, so easy to listen to ... and so impressive! My kids are bored -- they've had a bit too much politics in their lives lately -- but I want them to see history unfolding.

Yes, today is definitely historic for America and I am happy to witness it.

But, as a Black American, I wanted goosebumps ... and I didn't get them. (I didn't get them in 2004 when Obama spoke at the Democratic Convention, either.) Maybe it was the use of U2 as the introductory music. I have nothing against U2; I like their music and I have incredible admiration for Bono (whom I have had the honor of meeting in person). But a U2 song, while intense, does not often "lift you up" with a transcendant and memorable melody. In 1992, Bill Clinton used Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" and we couldn't stop singing it. No one should think that today's generations don't appreciate a strong melody with an inspirational message. (Ever hear of gospel?)

Oh! Now I hear "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" -- maybe that should have been the lead song! Is it too Black? (Too tired? Maybe. Next we'll hear "We Are Family" ...) Yes, Obama does not wish to be seen as the Black candidate for President, but as the Presidential candidate who happens to be Black. We all know why that is; race is the ultimate third rail of politics today -- and don't let anyone tell you different. In the end, however, what is good for Black America is good for all of America (I have no problem echoing Tavis Smiley on this point.) And no matter how a campaign spins it, Obama is the first Black candidate in the 2008 Presidential sweepstakes.

Uh, oh! Now "Shout" is playing in the background. Fun song, but permanently associated with rowdy white frat boys from "Animal House." Bad choice, particularly in the aftermath of the Duke debacle. Someone needs to remind political consultants to use common sense sometimes.

Back to the goosebumps ... There has been alot of media questioning Obama's support in the African American communities. Some Black observers say Obama is popular with whites because he is "safe." They can now point as well to the fact that launching a campaign with Lincolnesque overtones from Springfield sends a mixed message to African American voters. Some Black observers have specifically stated that the Senator's life does not "share" the American Black experience and that Obama is not a "genuine" American of African descent. I guess they didn't feel goosebumps, either.

But they are fools! How can they pretend that this man -- a former urban community organizer turned civil rights lawyer and Constitutional law professor who is now the only Black sitting in the Senate of the United States of America -- wakes up in the morning, looks himself in the mirror, kisses his Black wife and daughters and does not understand what it means to be Black in America today or yesterday? Obama's been in this country almost all his life. Do people chronologically younger than the time he has been in America also not know what it means to be Black in America? Of course not. I know plenty of African Americans -- products of two African American parents from the South -- who are far more sheltered from the full scope of Black America's realities than Barack Obama. Some of them even hold elected office.

In all honesty, I don't question Colin Powell's understanding of what it is to be Black, nor do I question the mindset of Condoleeza Rice. I question -- nay, attack -- their policy choices and their political friends, but they are indeed Black. Life is a normal curve. The Rice portion of the curve is balanced by the Malcolm X portion of the curve. But we're all sharing that unique experience. (Yes, I am biased on this question. For those who do not know, I am the son of a Black father and a white mother -- and I am a Black American with mixed racial heritage. America does not see me any other way.) And no matter what background Barack Obama claims as his own, for most white Americans voting for Obama as a Presidential candidate will not be a "safe" act. It is far safer for Black Americans to "default" to Obama, than it will be for whites to overcome their own fears -- submerged or articulated.

Whether you like Obama's politics or not -- and I have taken no position on the Presidential contest -- you cannot say that Obama is not Black enough and you cannot say that he is any less qualified to be President of these United States than any other candidate past or present for that office. Check out his record, scrutinize his positions, challenge his vision to ensure that he is the candidate who will treat Black people -- and all people -- in this nation with respect and decency. If he falls short, then find a better alternative. But don't commit moral and political suicide by questioning his identity as a Black American. And, simply put, Barack Obama cannot give ammunition to his Black critics. It is easy to get lost in the headiness of a campaign; he's been there before. But this Presidential campaign cannot afford to lose its way and forget its base of political bases.

Recordings of Martin Luther King's speeches make me cry. Good preachers of all hues can give me goosebumps. Even some preachers-turned-politicians have given me goosebumps. Maybe I'm getting cynical in my old age and applying a more stringent goosebump standard to Obama and I'm finding that he doesn't do it for me. But there are certainly a lot of white people who get the goosebumps when listening to him. Let's see if goosebumps turn into real votes.

But I know this: I don't need goosebumps to support a candidate. (In addition to supporting Rev. Jesse Jackson for President -- twice -- I supported Mike Dukakis, Paul Tsongas, Al Gore and John Kerry. 'Nuff said!) And, looking forward, I don't need goosebumps to acknowlege the need for a calm and wordly leader in the White House as we confront the crises around this planet and at home.

I don't need goosebumps to see that the "groupthink" of our political system -- on all sides -- is the enemy of democracy and certainly of progressive values. You have probably studied groupthink like I have. The power and pressure of a situation, combined with individual insecurities or cowardice, can generate flawed decisions by leaders due to limited honest or creative input -- input that goes against the consensus or the opinion of the leader.

If there is one thing I am sure of, it's that Obama will not allow groupthink to dominate his Presidential administration. Obama's books and speeches reflect a thoughtful and caring person. He has a thorough grasp of Constitutional issues, of national and international historic matters, and he is known as a compulsive "listener." These are qualities needed at the top of the next Presidential administration.

This is not to say that Clinton or Edwards or others will be more susceptible to the illness of groupthink. Edwards' bloggers will ensure a free flow of ideas -- or chaos. However, the Clinton campaign style does raise questions. According to observers, the Clinton operation is tight, closed and insistent upon "loyalty." Under pressure, the Clinton campaign will undoubtedly be extemely skilled. But fighting groupthink is not defined by following polls and raising gobs of money to make television ads that influence polls. Fighting groupthink requires thinking and acting independent of polls -- and being more dependent upon common sense and human decency.

And that is why, when an unacceptable case was made for giving President Bush authority to invade Iraq, the groupthink of the U.S. Senate -- a powerful and potentially dangerous thing -- needed to be countered. And it was not. Fighting groupthink requires leadership. And at that moment in time, both Senator Hillary Clinton and former Senator John Edwards failed the leadership test. So these particular candidates may have learned from the past in preparing for the future, but they start with a "groupthink deficit." And when Obama says that Washington needs to be changed, he's attacking the Beltway "groupthink" culture and the lack of leadership that goes with it.

But, in the impending Presidential contest, the ultimate expression of groupthink's dangers is posed by the personality of Rudolph Giuliani and others like him.

In addition to my personal observations of Giuliani's arrogance and outrageous disregard for civil and human rights (as a New York resident), I was struck by an incident shared in the February 4th New York Times review of "Giuliani," (John Wiley & Sons), a book on the former Mayor. The authors, Deborah and Gerald Strober, talked with Lillian Barrios-Paoli, who was a Commissioner under Giuliani as well as former Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat.

The reviewer, Sam Roberts, presents this excerpt. According to Ms. Barrios-Paoli, if Ed Koch said to his advisors that he wanted to kill all 12-year-olds, "I can think of 10 people who would say 'Please! Get a life! What, are you crazy? No way!' And there'd be a big argument and at the end of the day, somebody's judgement would prevail. If Rudy [Giuliani] would say 'Let's kill 12-year-olds,' there'd be a deep silence in the room, and then somebody would say, 'That's brilliant!' And then somebody else would say 'Have you thought of 13-year-olds, too?'"

How revealing that Ms. Barrios-Paoli chooses such a horrific example, however fictional? What a statement about the people Giuliani chooses to keep around him as an administrator! (Did somone say Bernard Kerik?) The only more graphic examples of groupthink might be the German high command during World War II, Lyndon Johnson's cabinet discussions during the Vietnam War, or Bush's minions during the Iraq debacle.

Fighting groupthink on our collective journey forward does not require goosebumps. So I am not looking for goosebumps, but knowledge of and faith in the American Constitution. I am not looking for goosebumps, but good judgement. I am not looking for goosebumps, but credibility across the lines of class and race in pursuing a more progressive agenda for our nation. I am not looking for goosebumps, but confidence rooted in enduring humanity and a hatred of injustice -- not a flash of brilliance in the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy.

When it comes to the Presidency, I am no longer looking for Jesse Jackson -- though I thank him for wanting to be President and for continuing his quest for economic rights and opportunities. I am not looking for Al Sharpton -- though I thank him for campaigning for President and for remaining a warrior both for justice and against complacency. And I am not looking for Al Gore -- though we all owe him an incredible debt of gratitude for breaking new ground in American politics and skyrocketing our collective consciousness on global warming, the single most important issue facing every individual and every government on Earth at this time.

I am looking for the person who can incorporate all the wisdom, blend it with a sense of urgency, and focus our action. I am looking for the strategist who does not interpret "a good defense is a good offense" as a military challenge but as a challenge to do good at home and abroad. I am looking for the one who is genuine and fresh yet who has all the tools and credentials and time to become a great world leader.

If that's Barack Obama, so be it. If it's someone else, let them make their stand now.

We don't have much time.

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If you have not already read it, here is Senator Barack Obama's announcement speech in Springfield, Illinois:

Let me begin by saying thanks to all you who've traveled, from far and wide, to brave the cold today.

We all made this journey for a reason. It's humbling, but in my heart I know you didn't come here just for me, you came here because you believe in what this country can be. In the face of war, you believe there can be peace. In the face of despair, you believe there can be hope. In the face of a politics that's shut you out, that's told you to settle, that's divided us for too long, you believe we can be one people, reaching for what's possible, building that more perfect union.

That's the journey we're on today. But let me tell you how I came to be here. As most of you know, I am not a native of this great state. I moved to Illinois over two decades ago. I was a young man then, just a year out of college; I knew no one in Chicago, was without money or family connections. But a group of churches had offered me a job as a community organizer for $13,000 a year. And I accepted the job, sight unseen, motivated then by a single, simple, powerful idea — that I might play a small part in building a better America.

My work took me to some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods. I joined with pastors and lay-people to deal with communities that had been ravaged by plant closings. I saw that the problems people faced weren't simply local in nature — that the decision to close a steel mill was made by distant executives; that the lack of textbooks and computers in schools could be traced to the skewed priorities of politicians a thousand miles away; and that when a child turns to violence, there's a hole in his heart no government could ever fill.

It was in these neighborhoods that I received the best education I ever had, and where I learned the true meaning of my Christian faith.

After three years of this work, I went to law school, because I wanted to understand how the law should work for those in need. I became a civil rights lawyer, and taught
constitutional law, and after a time, I came to understand that our cherished rights of liberty and equality depend on the active participation of an awakened electorate. It was with these ideas in mind that I arrived in this capital city as a state Senator.

It was here, in Springfield, where I saw all that is America converge — farmers and teachers, businessmen and laborers, all of them with a story to tell, all of them seeking a seat at the table, all of them clamoring to be heard. I made lasting friendships here — friends that I see in the audience today.

It was here we learned to disagree without being disagreeable — that it's possible to compromise so long as you know those principles that can never be compromised; and that so long as we're willing to listen to each other, we can assume the best in people instead of the worst.

That's why we were able to reform a death penalty system that was broken. That's why we were able to give health insurance to children in need. That's why we made the tax system more fair and just for working families, and that's why we passed ethics reforms that the cynics said could never, ever be passed.

It was here, in Springfield, where North, South, East and West come together that I was reminded of the essential decency of the American people — where I came to believe that through this decency, we can build a more hopeful America.

And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President of the
United States.

I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness — a certain audacity — to this announcement. I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.

The genius of our founders is that they designed a system of government that can be changed. And we should take heart, because we've changed this country before. In the face of tyranny, a band of patriots brought an Empire to its knees. In the face of secession, we unified a nation and set the captives free. In the face of Depression, we put people back to work and lifted millions out of poverty. We welcomed immigrants to our shores, we opened railroads to the west, we landed a man on the moon, and we heard a King's call to let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what's needed to be done. Today we are called once more — and it is time for our generation to answer that call. For that is our unyielding faith — that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.

That's what Abraham Lincoln understood. He had his doubts. He had his defeats. He had his setbacks. But through his will and his words, he moved a nation and helped free a people. It is because of the millions who rallied to his cause that we are no longer divided, North and South, slave and free. It is because men and women of every race, from every walk of life, continued to march for freedom long after Lincoln was laid to rest, that today we have the chance to face the challenges of this millennium together, as one people — as Americans.

All of us know what those challenges are today — a war with no end, a dependence on oil that threatens our future, schools where too many children aren't learning, and families struggling paycheck to paycheck despite working as hard as they can. We know the challenges. We've heard them. We've talked about them for years.

What's stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What's stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics - the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.

For the last six years we've been told that our mounting debts don't matter, we've been told that the anxiety Americans feel about rising health care costs and stagnant wages are an illusion, we've been told that climate change is a hoax, and that tough talk and an ill-conceived war can replace diplomacy, and strategy, and foresight. And when all else fails, when Katrina happens, or the death toll in Iraq mounts, we've been told that our crises are somebody else's fault. We're distracted from our real failures, and told to blame the other party, or gay people, or immigrants.

And as people have looked away in disillusionment and frustration, we know what's filled the void. The cynics, and the lobbyists, and the special interests who've turned our government into a game only they can afford to play. They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we're here today to take it back. The time for that politics is over. It's time to turn the page.
We've made some progress already. I was proud to help lead the fight in Congress that led to the most sweeping ethics reform since Watergate.

But Washington has a long way to go. And it won't be easy. That's why we'll have to set priorities. We'll have to make hard choices. And although government will play a crucial role in bringing about the changes we need, more money and programs alone will not get us where we need to go. Each of us, in our own lives, will have to accept responsibility — for instilling an ethic of achievement in our children, for adapting to a more competitive economy, for strengthening our communities, and sharing some measure of sacrifice. So let us begin. Let us begin this hard work together. Let us transform this nation.

Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let's set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let's recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more support in exchange for more accountability. Let's make college more affordable, and let's invest in
scientific research, and let's lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America.

And as our economy changes, let's be the generation that ensures our nation's workers are sharing in our prosperity. Let's protect the hard-earned benefits their companies have promised. Let's make it possible for hardworking Americans to save for retirement. And let's allow our unions and their organizers to lift up this country's middle-class again.

Let's be the generation that ends poverty in America. Every single person willing to work should be able to get job training that leads to a job, and earn a living wage that can pay the bills, and afford child care so their kids have a safe place to go when they work. Let's do this.

Let's be the generation that finally tackles our health care crisis. We can control costs by focusing on prevention, by providing better treatment to the chronically ill, and using technology to cut the bureaucracy. Let's be the generation that says right here, right now, that we will have universal health care in America by the end of the next president's first term.

Let's be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil. We can harness homegrown, alternative fuels like ethanol and spur the production of more fuel-efficient cars. We can set up a system for capping greenhouse gases. We can turn this crisis of global warming into a moment of opportunity for innovation, and job creation, and an incentive for businesses that will serve as a model for the world. Let's be the generation that makes future generations proud of what we did here.

Most of all, let's be the generation that never forgets what happened on that September day and confront the terrorists with everything we've got. Politics doesn't have to divide us on this anymore — we can work together to keep our country safe. I've worked with Republican Senator Dick Lugar to pass a law that will secure and destroy some of the world's deadliest, unguarded weapons. We can work together to track terrorists down with a stronger military, we can tighten the net around their finances, and we can improve our intelligence capabilities. But let us also understand that ultimate victory against our enemies will come only by rebuilding our alliances and exporting those ideals that bring hope and opportunity to millions around the globe.

But all of this cannot come to pass until we bring an end to this war in Iraq. Most of you know I opposed this war from the start. I thought it was a tragic mistake. Today we grieve for the families who have lost loved ones, the hearts that have been broken, and the young lives that could have been. America, it's time to start bringing our troops home. It's time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war. That's why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008. Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace.

Finally, there is one other thing that is not too late to get right about this war - and that is the homecoming of the men and women — our veterans — who have sacrificed the most. Let us honor their valor by providing the care they need and rebuilding the military they love. Let us be the generation that begins this work.

I know there are those who don't believe we can do all these things. I understand the skepticism. After all, every four years, candidates from both parties make similar promises, and I expect this year will be no different. All of us running for president will travel around the country offering ten-point plans and making grand speeches; all of us will trumpet those qualities we believe make us uniquely qualified to lead the country. But too many times, after the election is over, and the confetti is swept away, all those promises fade from memory, and the lobbyists and the special interests move in, and people turn away, disappointed as before, left to struggle on their own.

That is why this campaign can't only be about me. It must be about us — it must be about what we can do together. This campaign must be the occasion, the vehicle, of your hopes, and your dreams. It will take your time, your energy, and your advice — to push us forward when we're doing right, and to let us know when we're not. This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose, and realizing that few obstacles can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change.

By ourselves, this change will not happen. Divided, we are bound to fail.

But the life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible. He tells us that there is power in words. He tells us that there is power in conviction. That beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people. He tells us that there is power in hope. As Lincoln organized the forces arrayed against slavery, he was heard to say: "Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought to battle through."

That is our purpose here today. That's why I'm in this race. Not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation.

I want to win that next battle — for justice and opportunity. I want to win that next battle — for better schools, and better jobs, and health care for all. I want us to take up the unfinished business of perfecting our union, and building a better America.

And if you will join me in this improbable quest, if you feel destiny calling, and see as I see, a future of endless possibility stretching before us; if you sense, as I sense, that the time is now to shake off our slumber, and slough off our fear, and make good on the debt we owe past and future generations, then I'm ready to take up the cause, and march with you, and work with you.

Together, starting today, let us finish the work that needs to be done, and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth."

2007-01-16

LONG LIVE THE KING (Post #9)

Another MLK holday – nearly 40 years since Dr. King’s assassination and 21 since the holiday honoring his life became official. Why is this day different from all other holidays?

You have heard and seen so much about Dr. King. There is little I can add to the understanding of his life, so I will not attempt to do so. I will, however, attempt to add to your understanding of the impact of Dr. King’s life on me and people like me.

In 1967, I was eight years-old and attending Public School 208, a majority-white elementary school in the East Flatbush area. Today the surrounding area’s population is entirely Caribbean in population; then it was entirely white. My middle brother and I were “bussed in.” The Thanksgiving holiday was approaching when my 3rd Grade teacher, Miss Cohen, gave us a composition assignment: “What I Have To Be Thankful For.”

On this particular November day somebody rubbed me the wrong way. My composition ended up entitled “What I Do Not Have To Be Thankful For.” In it, I wrote that the United States was wrong to be involved in the Vietnam War and that we should not be bossing around other nations. My parents were active in community and political issues so I was aware of the Vietnam War. Only a few weeks earlier I had participated in the Moratorium Day protests with my parents. And somewhere I must have heard or read King’s words from the previous spring. It was one of our assignments to read the newspaper every day for what was known as “Current Events.”

Well, it may take a whole village to raise a child, but sometimes it takes a child to enlighten the village. (A humorous case in point from our folk lore – “The Emperor’s New Clothes.") My teacher freaked. She called in the principal, Dr. Harry Ordan, to deal with me. I was already a behavior problem, so my desk was front and center in the classroom. Dr. Ordan came in the very next day and proceeded to seat himself on my desk and explain why the United States had to be “the policeman of the world.” Maybe he had been reading Dr. King’s speeches, I don’t know. Dr. Ordan never mentioned my name, but he did refer to some words “written by one of your classmates” and he was looking dead at me through most of his little talk. As much of a class clown as I was, I was still embarrassed by the attention -- but I did not regret what I wrote.

When my mother heard what happened, she came into school and tore into Ordan like a lioness fillets a wildebeest. I only wish I had actually been in the room when it all went down. The principal did apologize to both her and me for any embarrassment or inconvenience. And he never apologized for his political views.

What I took from the episode was this. There is so much power accompanying ideas and words – power that no one can control. And when those ideas and words highlight the need for peace and justice in the world, they are threatening to many people.

It was also nice to have additional confirmation of what I already knew: my mother would always have my back.

Flash forward 39 years -- the lifetime of Dr. King. I was a candidate for Congress in Central Brooklyn sitting in an interview with three representatives from one of Brooklyn’s local newspapers. My opponents were also present and answering questions. To paraphrase slightly, I was asked if I would support the use of nuclear weapons if an enemy nation first used nuclear weapons against us or one of our allies.

As my opportunity to respond approached, my parent’s voices and actions were in my mind. But it was Dr. King’s speech at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 that was ringing in my ears. This was a speech in which King laid out the moral imperative for peace and an end to U.S. prosecution of the Vietnam War. King articulated a history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam’s affairs as well as the bankruptcy of moral leadership within the United States itself. It was masterful and, as we listen to it today, chilling. Every issue he mentioned remains an issue today. Every dilemma confronting our nation then continues to confront us now.

To nuke or not to nuke, that was the question. My answer was an unequivocal “no” – I would not support the use of nuclear weapons. The publication responded a few weeks later with a dismissal of my perspective on the use of force in defense of our national security as na├»ve and unrealistic for a potential Congressman. Another candidate whose answer was less clear and less threatening received the endorsement. Who knows? Maybe he felt exactly as I did, but just "couldn't" say it.

Like 1967, 2006 reminded me of the power and fear accompanying the primacy of peace. Will we let fear rule us? In this day and time, the use of nuclear weapons by the United States of America -- an act of such horrific violence -- would be morally unacceptable, environmentally disastrous and strategically counterproductive. Why should I even have to say this? Because we choose to live in fear? And why do we live in fear? Because we are totally disconnected from Dr. King’s vision … and our leaders have no intention of reconnecting us anytime soon. For Dr. King, as for Gandhi, Jesus of Nazareth and so many others, the way to peace and enlightenment was through love. Love is the way.

Martin King loved us – all of us. Why are we afraid of love? Why are we afraid to love? Love is patient; love is blind; love does not keep score. Don’t we hear those phrases from Corinthians at so many wedding ceremonies or in our houses of worship? Where is the behavior governed by these sentiments? Where is the public policy guided by these values?

A few months after my 3rd Grade Thanksgiving composition was due – exactly one year after his dissection of the Vietnam War and his call to oppose it -- Dr. King was assassinated in the city of my father’s birth – Memphis. He was buried on April 9th – my ninth birthday. The five days leading up to that day had been some of the most emotional and confused days I had ever experienced. My birthday was the saddest and longest day of my life and, with the exception of 9/11, remains so to this day.

What has changed since King’s death? King regularly denounced the evil triumvirate of racism, economic exploitation and militarism. All three evils have only evolved during the past four decades. And nowhere is this more evident than in our prosecution of war in Iraq. With Iraq, racism at the lunch counter is replaced with ethnocentric prejudice fueling local conflicts, our own willingness to engage in nation-experimentation “somewhere else,” and the hatred, fear and prejudice displayed to those who have chosen to immigrate to America.

With Iraq, economic exploitation is now defined by the battle over oil production as well as the profile of our military – some of America’s hardest working and some of its poorest residents – as well as its most courageous. The militarism is evident in the Bush administration’s obsession with displaying America’s might – and weaknesses – to the world, and the desire to provide mega-profits to multinational corporate interests.

Substitute “Iraq” for “Vietnam,” and consider these prophetic words from King’s Riverside Church speech:

"Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism."

A good friend told me that what made Dr. King unique was his “grace” – that he was given a gift that was used well every day. I also believe that each of us has the potential to be a King, if we can be as courageous in keeping love first in our life. Therefore, there is also no question that King should be emulated. None of us should pay the price that he, like Gandhi and Jesus, had to pay. Yet, again, we cannot be ruled by fear or our resulting cowardice will silence us.

Our children must understand and sense the moral correctness of love and peace. And we must show them by example the importance of courageous action – even when inconvenient. Courageous actions do not have to be marches or sit-ins -- every effort to assist someone struggling for dignity and equality is worthy -- but they may come in the more dramatic form.

Today, we must work to end our involvement in Iraq – not simply because we are selfish but because we do not believe that the violence embedded within the proposed solutions can ever work. Come to Washington, D.C., on Saturday, January 27 to march against the war and, on Monday, January 29, to lobby members of Congress. Go to the UFP&J site for details.

Why is this holiday different from other days? Because the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is the day that has no meaning without action to help somebody. Because January 15th is to be lived every day for our children's sake. Because the King holiday is the annual call to join the change brigade. Thanks, Mom, thanks, Dad, thank you, Martin, for instilling love as a core value in my life.

So I close by including below the complete text of King’s 1967 speech. Thanks go to the Black Radical Congress for providing a copy of the text on their website.

______________________________________

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence
By Rev. Martin Luther King
4 April 1967


Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: "A time comes when silence is betrayal." That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don't mix, they say. Aren't you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling.

Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live. In the light of such tragic misunderstandings, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church -- the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate -- leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia.

Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they can play in a successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reason to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.

Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the NLF, but rather to my fellow Americans, who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.

THE IMPORTANCE OF VIETNAM

Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor -- both black and white -- through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years -- especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

For those who ask the question, "Aren't you a civil rights leader?" and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: "To save the soul of America." We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself unless the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear.

In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!


Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission -- a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for "the brotherhood of man." This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men -- for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the "Vietcong" or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

Finally, as I try to delineate for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of “sonship” and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them.

This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation's self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

STRANGE LIBERATORS

And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond to compassion my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation, and before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its re-conquest of her former colony.

Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not "ready" for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination, and a government that had been established not by China (for whom the Vietnamese have no great love) but by clearly indigenous forces that included some Communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.

For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to re-colonize Vietnam.

Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of the reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at re-colonization.

After the French were defeated it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva agreements. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators -- our chosen man, Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly routed out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords and refused even to discuss reunification with the north. The peasants watched as all this was presided over by U.S. influence and then by increasing numbers of U.S. troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem's methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictatorships seemed to offer no real change -- especially in terms of their need for land and peace.

The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy -- and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us -- not their fellow Vietnamese --the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they go -- primarily women and children and the aged.

They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals, with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one "Vietcong"-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them -- mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children, degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation's only non-Communist revolutionary political force -- the unified Buddhist church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. What liberators?

Now there is little left to build on -- save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call fortified hamlets. The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these? Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These too are our brothers.

Perhaps the more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation Front -- that strangely anonymous group we call VC or Communists? What must they think of us in America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the south? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of "aggression from the north" as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.

How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent Communist and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will have no part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them -- the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again and then shore it up with the power of new violence?

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.

So, too, with Hanoi. In the north, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western words, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which would have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again.

When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be remembered. Also it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva agreements concerning foreign troops, and they remind us that they did not begin to send in any large number of supplies or men until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.

Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard of the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor weak nation more than eight thousand miles away from its shores.

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless on Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.

THIS MADNESS MUST CEASE

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words:

"Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism."

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.

The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.

In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

1. End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.

2. Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.

3. Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.

4. Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and in any future Vietnam government.

5. Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva agreement.

Part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We most provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country if necessary.

PROTESTING THE WAR

Meanwhile we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative means of protest possible.

As we counsel young men concerning military service we must clarify for them our nation's role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. I am pleased to say that this is the path now being chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. Moreover I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

There is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. Such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military "advisors" in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken -- the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. n the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism.

War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and through their misguided passions urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not call everyone a Communist or an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the United Nations and who recognizes that hate and hysteria are not the final answers to the problem of these turbulent days. We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove thosse conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

THE PEOPLE ARE IMPORTANT

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light." We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit.

Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain."

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept -- so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force -- has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:

Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says : "Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word."

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on..." We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world -- a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter -- but beautiful -- struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God's new Messiah,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
Twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet 'tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong:
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own.


______________________________________

Messages on BRC-NEWS may be forwarded and cross-posted, as long as proper attribution is given to the author and originating publication (including the email address and any copyright notices), and the wording is not altered in any way, other than for formatting.

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BRC-NEWS: Black Radical Congress - International News/Alerts/Announcements

2007-01-07

THE 50-DAY VIGIL: A MESSAGE FROM KEVIN POWELL (Post #8)

My friends,

Please read this posting very carefully. Kevin Powell has said it all -- and very well. We must all participate in whatever way we can! (Read my Post #5 ...)

Chris



Good day, everyone!

This is Kevin Powell, Brooklyn, New York based writer and community activist. I was just out at the 50-day Sean Bell Vigil in Jamaica, Queens, New York, last night, across from the 103rd precinct. In spite of the rain, the Bell family, friends, and folks looking for basic justice were there. It was incredibly moving, and it made me think of Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, as well as those four college students in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960. In both instances, it was just a few dedicated individuals and their very simple acts of civil disobedience which brought attention to very serious human and civil rights violations. They made sacrifices to their own comfort and their own safety, and changes did happen, as manifested in the Civil Rights Movement.

Well, here we are again, as the struggle for real justice and real freedom in America never really ended, in spite of what some of us have been led to believe. It has been over a month since Sean Bell was murdered, and his two friends, Trent Benefield and Joe Guzman, were badly wounded in a barrage of 50 shots from undercover New York Police Department officers. There is still no indictment, and there is a growing concern, in communities around New York City and throughout America, that these police officers will get off completely, if a trial even occurs.

Let me make it very clear that the Bell family, from my conversations with them last night, understand that there are good police officers. Let me also make it clear that they do not want the rhetoric of violence or revenge or disrespect for the NYPD in general around their vigil. Nor are they interested in having individuals or organizations trying to use the tragedy of Sean Bell's death for outside agendas. They simply want justice for what happened to Sean Bell. And they certainly could use the help and support from concerned human beings such as yourself.

Here is how you can support the 50-day Sean Bell Vigil in Queens:

1) It is a 50-day, 24-hour, 7 day-a-week vigil, begun on Monday, January 1st, and concluding on Monday, February 19th. I think it obvious that the 50 days symbolize the 50 bullets fired at Sean Bell and his friends.

The vigil is taking place directly across from the 103rd precinct, on 168th Street, right off Jamaica Avenue and 91st Avenue, in the Jamaica, Queens section of New York City. You can use MAPQUEST or GOOGLE to get directions either via public transportation or by driving.

There is a need for people of all backgrounds and all persuasions to participate in the vigil in shifts, day and night, weekday and weekend. Even if you can only participate for an hour or two each week, please come out. The weather has been unseasonably warm, but we are in the dead of winter, and it is going to be mad cold out there.

Please let's not let Mrs. Bell, Sean Bell's mother, who called for this vigil, and the Bell family, do this alone.

PLEASE CALL 1-866-695-2992 if you would like to participate in the vigil, or offer support.

I am hoping that CHURCHES and CHURCH LEADERS and OTHER RELIGIOUS AND SPIRITUAL LEADERS will encourage their believers to support this important effort. This vigil is not about showboating, it is not about media attention, it is about justice. The Bell family, from what I could see and hear, are regular working class New Yorkers who have a deep faith in God, who believe in the power of the church.

INDEED, as we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King at this time of year, I think it would be remarkably hypocritical for any church, any mosque or masjid, any synagogue, or any religious or spiritual leader to, on the one hand, talk about Dr. King, honor Dr. King, yet say and do nothing in support of this very peaceful and very simple vigil for Sean Bell. Dr. King was a man of action, not just talk, and those of us in leadership positions, who have sizable followings, need to be as well. For police brutality toward Black and Latino communities is one of the great issues of our time. In fact, if we were to read Dr. King's I HAVE A DREAM speech in its entirety, we would note that Dr. King uses the term police brutality TWICE in that famous address. The more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same.

I am hoping that ELECTED OFFICIALS will themselves participate in this vigil, electeds from Queens, and electeds from all across the metro New York City area. The people you represent need to see that you care. They need to see you on the frontlines with the Bell family.

I am hoping that CIVIL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS, SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS, LABOR UNIONS, FRATERNITIES and SORORITIES, ACTIVISTS, and ORGANIZERS will support this effort, mobilize their bases to come out, and spread the word, near and far, to their networks.

I am hoping that COLLEGE STUDENTS will participate, and encourage their peers to support this important effort. Any time real change has happened in America, or on this planet, young people have been at the forefront. Well, you all are needed now more than ever.

I am hoping that HIPHOP HEADS everywhere, the famous and the unknown, will support this important effort. Time and again the hiphop generation, the hiphop community, has been knocked and mocked for not caring about social issues. Well, here is our opportunity to make a difference in an historic way.

I am hoping that PROFESSIONALS and PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS will support this important effort. Your skill sets and access to resources are sorely needed to sustain this vigil.

I am hoping that MEN, especially BLACK AND LATINO MEN, will support this effort. I duly noted the number of women present last night. Women, as usual, are holding it down, but we need men to step to the plate as well. As I said to young Black and Latino men driving by last night, Sean Bell is YOU. Sean Bell could have been YOU. Men are especially needed for the late night to morning shifts, around 11pm-6am.

2) If you cannot physically participate in the 50-day vigil, here are items needed to support the Sean Bell Vigil through to its completion

- The donation of at least two Portable Toilets for the duration of the vigil
- Food, lots of food
- Drinks (bottled water, juices)
- Paper towels
- Toilet paper
- Comfortable folding chairs for the elders who are participating
- Portable, battery operated heaters
- Portable, battery operated outdoor lights
- Batteries for heaters and outdoor lights
- Tents or tarp covering in case of bad weather
- Blankets
- Thousands of copies of the one page flier promoting the vigil
- Individuals willing to pass out the vigil flier around New York City

And we need New Yorkers to write letters to your City Council person, your State Assembly person, your State Senator, your District Leader, your Community Board President, and your Congressperson, inquiring what each of them is doing to fight for procedure and behavior reform within the New York Police Department, via the legislative process.

Thank you very kindly for taking the time to read this email, and please, again, share it with others.

Respectfully,

Kevin Powell

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P.S. -

I tried to put together some transportation information from the internet. I hope it is helpful, but I'm sure there are many folks who have better info out there.

Chris


For those driving, the Van Wyck Expressway's Jamaica Avenue exit is close by. The location is not far from York College.


Closest Subway Stop to: 103RD PRECINCT - Queens
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Get off at the F Train stop -- 169TH ST STATION
Walk 0.37 miles South to destination map


Closest Bus Routes to: 103RD PRECINCT - Queens
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168TH ST & JAMAICA AV
Q110 Bus Q110 JAMAICA
Q41 Bus Q41 JAMAICA BUS TERM
Q6 Bus Q6 JAMAICA
Q8 Bus Q8 JAMAICA
Q9 Bus Q9 JAMAICA

JAMAICA AV & 168TH ST
Q110 Bus Q110 JAMAICA AVE : 212TH
Q110 Bus Q110 QUEENS VILLAGE
Q9A Bus Q9A JAMAICA

168 ST & JAMAICA AV
Q17 Bus Q17 - FLUSHING MAIN ST STA
Q17 Bus Q17 - LTD FLUSHING MAIN ST STA

JAMAICA AV & 168 ST
Q30 Bus Q30 - LITTLE NECK L NECK PKY
Q30 Bus Q30 - SPRINGFIELD BL H HARDING EXY
Q31 Bus Q31 - BAYSIDE 27 AV F LEWIS BL
Q54 Bus Q54 - JAMAICA 170 ST
Q56 Bus Q56 - JAMAICA 170 ST

JAMAICA AV & 168 PL
Q54 Bus Q54 - FRSH PND RD
Q54 Bus Q54 - WILLAMSBURG BRIDGE PLZ
Q56 Bus Q56 - BWAY JCT VN SNDRN AV

MERRICK BL & 90 AV
Q17 Bus Q17 - JAMAICA ARCHER AV
Q17 Bus Q17 - LTD JAMAICA ARCHER AV

JAMAICA AV & MERRICK BL
Q30 Bus Q30 - JAMAICA ARCHER AV MERRICK BL
Q30 Bus Q30 - JAMAICA LIRR STA SUTPHIN BL
Q31 Bus Q31 - JAMAICA LIRR STA SUTPHIN BL

JAMAICA AV & 165TH ST
Q24 Bus Q24 - BUSHWICK VN BUREN ST
Q24 Bus Q24 - BWAY JCT VN SNDRN AV via ATLANTIC via BWAY

JAMAICA AV & 165 ST
Q24 Bus Q24 - BSHWK VAN BUREN ST via ATLNTC via BWAY
Q24 Bus Q24 - BWAY JCT VN SNDRN AV via ATLANTIC

MERRICK BLVD & 89TH AVE
X32 Bus X32 - BRONX GOULDEN AV

HILLSIDE AV & 168 ST
Q43 Bus Q43 - FLORAL PARK 268 ST via HILLSIDE
Q43 Bus Q43 - LTD FLORAL PARK 268 ST via HILLSIDE
Q43 Bus Q43 - SPRINGFIELD BL

ARCHER AV & MERRICK BL
Q20 Bus Q20A - JAMAICA MERRICK BL via 20 AV via MAIN S
Q20 Bus Q20B - JAMAICA MERRICK BL via 14 AV via MAIN ST
Q44 Bus Q44 - JAMAICA MERRICK BL via MAIN ST
Q44 Bus Q44 - LTD JAMAICA MERRICK BL via MAIN ST
Q5 Bus Q5 - 233 ST VIA MERRICK
Q5 Bus Q5 - GREEN ACRES via MERRICK
Q5 Bus Q5 - ROSEDALE LIRR STA via MERRICK
Q9A Bus Q9A SOUTH JAMAICA

MERRICK BL & ARCHER AV
Q20 Bus Q20A - COLLEGE PT via MAIN ST via 20 AV
Q20 Bus Q20A - FLUSHING MAIN ST STA
Q20 Bus Q20B - COLLEGE PT via MAIN ST via 14 AV
Q44 Bus Q44 - BRONX ZOO W FARMS SQ via MAIN ST
Q44 Bus Q44 - FLUSHING MAIN ST STA
Q44 Bus Q44 - LTD BRONX ZOO W FARMS SQ via MAIN ST

JAMAICA AVE & 164TH ST
Q41 Bus Q41 HOWARD BEACH
Q6 Bus Q6 JFK NORTH CARGO
Q8 Bus Q8 EAST NEW YORK
Q9 Bus Q9 SOUTH JAMAICA

HILLSIDE AV & 168 PL
Q1 Bus Q01 - BELLROSE 243 ST
Q1 Bus Q01 - QUEENS VILL JAMAICA AV
Q36 Bus Q36 - FLORAL PK 257 ST via JAMAICA