I'm writing this blog in what I consider a mean-spirited time in the America I love, and I have to reluctantly admit that, though I created the phrase about the quality of life that appears above, the present circumstances have, of late, impacted the quality of my emotional life. As a political junkie, I’m never comfortable when meanness and injustice run amok. Fortunately, I’m also a Jon Stewart junkie, so I’ve learned to have a good time with the insanity that takes hold of the right wing and the wrong-headed, which helps me remember that we’ve had some joyous times as well. 

We recently celebrated the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Selma with another such march, one that included a long-time hero of mine, John Lewis, who lead the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago with MLK, and this month with President Obama and leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a glorious day. The coverage brought back memories of watching the March on our black and white television five decades ago. I wept with joy for what was happening, but with horror and shame for being white. President Obama delivered an uplifting and profound speech at that bridge. And only seven Senate Republicans showed up.

As if to humiliate themselves further, 47 Senate Republicans sent a letter – perhaps their lowest point to date – to Ayatollah Khamenei, informing him that his and President Obama’s plan to work together with regard to Iran’s nukes is a no go, to which the Ayatollah replied with a sharp rebuke. Then the SAE fraternity at Oklahoma University was caught on video chanting the “N” word. So, I am glad that long ago in Johannesburg, where I was doing workshops on HIV/AIDS and Violence Against Women, I first saw Jon Stewart on, CNN World. We laugh a lot in those workshops, and I hope you’ll enjoy our current wacky world with me, and that you will find some inspiration for your advocacy, activism, or your personal way of expressing your passion.   



The 50th anniversary of the March on Selma, which is also known as “Bloody Sunday,” because of the viciousness with which marchers were beaten and tortured and left bleeding and in agony on that bridge. Even with that in mind, the anniversary was a stellar event. It stands as a powerful reminder of just how far race relations in America have come, and also how much is yet to be done in our reach for equality. Leading the March was President Obama, Michelle Obama, and their daughters, John Lewis, who organized the original protest fifty years ago and is currently the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district, former President George W. Bush, Laura Bush, civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson, activists from all over the country, and many more civic leaders and celebrities. 

Fifty years ago, the marchers knew they faced great danger from rabid racists. They met up at the Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama, to start what Martin Luther King promised would be a peaceful March from Selma to Montgomery. They had suffered many wrongful deaths, human rights violations, physical assaults, burnings, lynchings, verbal abuse, assaults on their dignity, and the damnable denial of their constitutional right to vote. The need for societal change pressed on them to take their cause to the streets and to George Wallace, who was then the 
Governor of Alabama, and was loved by reactionary racists, tolerated by too many Alabamans, and a problem for Blacks. Television coverage of the event in 1965 triggered national outrage, awakening the public's conscience and eventually leading Congress to pass the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, which mandated federal oversight over elections in states with histories of discrimination.

And what a shame, though no surprise, that so few Congressional Republicans showed up to demonstrate their respect for the brave and committed Americans who struggled for their rights and freedom. How typical that they would attempt a misguided power play, as they frequently do, to undermine whatever our first African American President does or supports. Perhaps it was payback to the Democrat and Independent Senators who boycotted Bibi Netanyahu’s insulting speech before Congress, delivered at the behest of John Boehner. That move has already greatly diminished the Speaker’s gravitas with a large swath of world leaders who are currently working closely with President Obama on several fronts, and growing numbers of Americans who see through the Congressional Republican’s bluster. The difference between the Bibi Boycott and the March is that the Senators wanted to turn their backs to the mean-spiritedness of the entire process surrounding the Speaker’s invite, particularly the animosity towards our President that they knew Bibi would spew. As for the bulk of the Congregational Republicans not showing up for the March, it was done with the same spirit of meanness and hate they show for our President and the equal rights of African Americans that America was celebrating.   

John Lewis 50 years ago and at the front of the 50th Anniversary of the March

Fifty years after being beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, U.S. Rep. John Lewis told a crowd gathered there to build on the legacy of the civil rights movement and to stand up for what they believe in. He spoke before introducing President Obama, and began by saying that:

 “The American instinct that led those young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge is the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot and workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon. It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo. That’s what makes us unique, and cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity. Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down a wall. Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid. Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule. From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest superpower, and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom. They saw that idea made real in Selma, Alabama.  They saw it made real in America.”

You can read the full speech here, but I put my favorite bits here, because I want to make sure you experience the impact of these inspiring words. 

"James Baldwin wrote, ‘We are capable of bearing a great burden…once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.’  This is work for all Americans, not just some. Not just whites. Not just blacks. If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination. All of us will need to feel, as they did, the fierce urgency of now. All of us need to recognize, as they did, that change depends on our actions, our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And if we make such effort, no matter how hard it may seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built. We must use this moment to recommit ourselves to do all we can to finish this work. There's still work to be done," said Lewis, adding this is an opportunity to "redeem the soul of America."

                                 President Obama

Obama’s speech was moving, truthful, patriotic, powerful, and has been lauded widely across America, and resonated far beyond our nation. He was right that we’ve come so far in 50 years, but we have so much more work to do. I am so grateful to have grown up on the South Side of Chicago, which was where the Obamas were raising their family before they moved into the White House. It was integrated when I was a kid, and it remains an integrated neighborhood. So much so that even though I knew well the pain that some of my black friends suffered, I am always shocked by bigotry, particularly the kind that is demonstrated by the small-minded hate-speech of members of both houses of Congress who would never talk to a white President the way the speak to – and of – Barak Obama. And frankly, they have no excuse for not showing up at the 50th anniversary of the long March to Selma. On the other hand, their rudeness and dismissal of its importance did not go unnoticed. And to think, these very same Republicans live with some fantasy that they will win over African American voters in 2016. What are they thinking? Are they utterly delusional? I wonder if bigots of a certain age in Congress were raised in homes where they sat around their televisions 50 year ago horrified to discover that those uppity marchers thought they deserved the same rights as white folk.

President Obama’s Speech:

“It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes. And John Lewis is one of my heroes. 
Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning 50 years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind. A day like this was not on his mind. Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about. Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect themselves when attacked. A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones. The air was thick with doubt, anticipation and fear. And they comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung: “No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you; Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.” 
As John noted, there are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war -- Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character -- Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral. Selma is such a place. In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history -- the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher -- all that history met on this bridge. Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer. Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer. Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile. Somebody already got us over that bridge. When it feels the road is too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on [the] wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.”  We honor those who walked so we could run.  We must run so our children soar.  And we will not grow weary.  For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise. (To read the rest of President Obama's speech, please click here.)
What We Can Do:

  1. Read the full speech and let the fullness of his words move and inspire you. 
  2. Do the same with John Lewis’ speech and imagine if there is anything you would be willing to go as far for your beliefs as the 600 who marched 50 years ago.
  3. If you do, do yourself a favor and look at ways you can ease your way towards doing something. You might start with small steps like researching the components, getting support.
  4. Sit with it, meditate on it, see how it “feels,” and if it feels right, good, and true, decide what you want to do and go with it.
  5. See this moving film. It was directed brilliantly by Ava DuVernay, who is also an executive producer. The huge cast includes starring performances by David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, JR, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper (she is also a producer). Brad Pitt is also one of the eight executive producers. For much more, please check out IMBD.

                                                                                                                                     Voting is a Right        

    When I spotted this email in my inbox from one of my favorite people in politics, I thought everyone should read it, particularly since our right to vote is much less secure.
    Elizabeth Warren

    "In the past half-century, thanks to the necessary trouble of heroes like John Lewis, our country has made great progress – but not enough progress. There are those who want to take away votes, those who want to make it harder to get an education, and those who believe that justice and dignity are reserved only for some people.

    The Supreme Court has now struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act. Too many young men have died in police custody. And the grinding heel of poverty has borne down harder on children of color. We celebrate the brave people of Selma, but it is up to US to make change now.

    • It’s up to us to make sure every child can walk down the street free from fear and distrust.
    • It’s up to us to ensure our justice system works fairly for all Americans.
    • It’s up to us to make sure our government and our political system serve not just the richest people and the most powerful corporations, but that our government serves ALL people.
    • It’s up to us to build a future so that ALL of our children have the opportunity to succeed."
    I’m sure Elizabeth Warren annoys the President’s detractors too with her keen sense of corporate over-reach and corporate collusion with Congress over big bucks and politics. They buy votes and gerrymandering, and give out payola to those who make sure those who would vote against them can’t or don’t vote. We need to keep the court from being one that stands in the way of voters and make sure it is one that insures the rights of all Americans to vote. The court is supposed to be above partisan politics.

    What We Can Do:
    1. Progressive thinkers and social justice advocates have friends on the court. Read up on the members.
    2. Read some of their decisions with regard to voting rights
    3. You might want to write to the justices on the Supreme Court. They don’t need your vote, but they do like to know where you stand.
    4. If you don’t already, you may want to follow Elizabeth Warren to keep in touch with what she’s doing
    5. Who knows? You may even want to fight corruption too.

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