Freedom Summer Project – a needed revisit with a voter suppression and racism afoot

With a president who attacks the voting process (without dearly protecting it) and does not speak out against racism in our country, this past post on a terrible time in history is relevant of what we must not become again. The only change is adding six years to the time elapsed.

Fifty-six years ago this summer, over 700 students from across the country, joined in the Civil Rights battle in Mississippi, where African-Americans had been demonstratively and, at times, violently denied their basic civil rights, especially the right to vote. These students joined together with the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNNC) under the guidance of Bob Moses, who had been slowly organizing SNNC since 1960. These students, were predominantly white, but included all races and ethnic groups.

The fact that many were white helped bring further attention to the ongoing tragedy going on Mississippi, perpetuated by those in power as the young students lived within the African-American community, taught through Freedom Schools young students about African-American history, literature and rights, items that had been absent from their curriculum. The Freedom Summer project can be viewed up close with an excellent documentary shown on the PBS American Experience. A link is provided below.* I would encourage you to watch the two-hour film as it can tell a story that requires footages of violence, overt racism, and brave people who spoke up, like Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rita Schwerner and countless others.

Hamer is the face of the effort as evidenced by her speaking passionately in front of the 1964 Democratic Convention committee about how she was arrested, beaten, and tormented when she and others tried to register vote. Schwerner is the widow of one the three Civil Rights workers, Michael Schwerner, who along with James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were abducted and killed by the KKK who came to abet the efforts of those in power in Mississippi. The widow rightfully pointed out the fact that two of the abducted (at the time) were white, was the only reason people in America started paying attention. She noted it is a shame that many African-Americans had died or were injured merely trying to exercise their right as citizens. Before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, less than 7% of African-Americans in Mississippi were allowed to register due to ostracization, intimidation, and complex constitutional literacy tests.

Since I cannot begin to do justice to this subject, I encourage you to watch the documentary. It will make you ashamed that this could happen in America, while at the same time making you applaud the magnificent courage of all involved, especially those African-Americans who had lived and would continue to live in this Apartheid like state once the freedom summer students went home. Yet, it took the deaths of these three young folks to galvanize and empower people.

It also took the organization of a more representative Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party of whites and blacks that went to the national convention to unseat the representatives sent by the state party, who were all white. Since morality was on their side, they almost succeeded, but they ran into the politics of Lyndon B. Johnson, who used his power to squelch the effort for a greater good – he could not help in matters if he did not get elected and he saw this as a means to interfere with that mission, no matter how noble the cause. LBJ accomplished great things for African-Americans, but politics is an ugly thing to watch up close and he looks manipulative in the process.

While their efforts fell short at the convention, their efforts were huge contributors to the passage of the Voting Rights Act the next year. But, one of the young folks who went to the Freedom Schools and is now a PhD., noted that learning about their African-American culture and civil rights that had been denied them, may have been the greatest achievement. I applaud their efforts and bravery. We still have a way to go and are seeing some battles having to be refought with several states passing restrictive Voter ID Laws. Three states have had their new laws ruled unconstitutional, while others are in court now. Yet, just because our President is multi-racial does not mean we are there yet. So, let’s keep in mind the battles these brave folks fought and not let their civil rights be stepped on again, no matter how cleverly masked those efforts.

* http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer/

That Trump anchor

That Trump anchor is getting heavier. Republican Senate candidate are realizing the president’s decline in the polls is impacting their chances as reported in an article by Politico today called “Election forecast: Trump, Senate, GOP in trouble.”
Per the Politico article, 75% of voters think the country is going in the wrong direction as Trump’s approval ratings fall further beneath already underwater averages.

It goes on to say “President Donald Trump is now an underdog to win a second term and Republican majority in the Senate is in serious danger.” RealClear Politics, which averages poll results, reports Arizona Senator Martha McSally is behind in a close race to astronaut Mark Kelly, North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis is behind in a close race to state legislator and decorated vet Cal Cunningham, and Senators Joni Ernst (Iowa), Cory Gardner (Colorado), Susan Collins (Maine) are also closely behind in their races to Theresa Greenfield, John Hickenlooper and Sara Gideon, respectively.

With his ongoing misinformation and lack of leadership on COVID-19, with his racist tendencies adding gasoline to racial injustice issues and tensions, with his ongoing corrupt tendencies to punish people who try to protect our country against his deceit and ineptness in doing his job not bothering to read or pay attention, the Trump anchor is pulling others down with him.

And, it is not going to get better. COVID-19 is getting worse in America and he is hoping it goes away. Hope is not a strategy. Although, there was some hopeful news in May and June of some of the unemployed going back to work, the economy is going to continue its malaise into 2021, as more closings occur. The last half of June started to show fall off from the first half results.

After winning in 2016 on fear and a nationalistic campaign, he is doubling down on those themes, at a time when most of the country has left him behind on the problem of racial injustice. He had support when he made a prop out of Colin Kaepernick when he knelt to the national anthem, but Trump chose not to understand the reason why Kaepernick was kneeling. The fact a Vietnam vet knelt with Kaepernick did not register. Trump is shouting in the wind, but fewer are listening.

Now, Democrats, a word of caution. Do not count the seats as won yet. You must get out on and vote. There is an old saying that if you are going to take down the King, you better take him down. As economic advisor to presidents of both parties, Robert Reich said Trump is a clear and present danger to our country and world. If he were to win, America and the planet would be in dire trouble with an uncontrolled Pandora.

Tuesday’s truths

Tuesday will arrive shortly Greenwich time, so let me borrow tomorrow for a few truths of the day.

An interesting dichotomy occurred courtesy of the US Supreme Court which ruled discrimation on the basis of sex in employment includes sexual orientation. This is a huge win for the LGBTQ community and allows the US to join 74 other countries who have a similar law. The dichotomy is only last week, the Trump administration rolled back equal treatment for LGBTQ people under the Affordable Care Act. The SCOTUS ruling could very well be argued that it should apply to the Trump change finding it discriminatory.

One would think the police would be a little more careful with detaining African-American civilians, with the active protests going on. Yet, in Atlanta the police shot and killed Rayshard Brooks, a black man running away with a taser. Now, I realize the man had a taser he took off an officer, but why shoot at all and why shoot to kill? Did an intoxicated man doing something stupid need to die?

COVID-19 cases and deaths are on the rise in the US and elsewhere. As of today, the US has around 118,000 deaths about 27% of the global total, with only 5% of the global population. Yet, the US president is in desperate need of his ego being stroked, so he will risk people’s health and lives, just so he can hear applause. We know about his tone deafness to scheduling it on Juneteenth, which has now been moved, but Tulsa has its own horrific racial history.

On top of all of that, anyone attending a Trump pep rally, must sign a hold-harmless statement should they catch COVID-19, meaning they cannot sue the Trump campaign. Think about that. Trump wants your money, your applause and your vote, but if you get sick, you are on your own. And, that is a good metaphor for the US president.

If you don’t deal with a crisis…

There is a hard lesson for people in leadership positions, that should not be this hard to understand. If you don’t deal with a crisis, it has a predictable habit of biting you in the rear-end.

The first and foremost lesson in addressing a crisis is to tell people the truth. Only then, can you enlist their understanding and help.

The second key lesson is to show sincere empathy for what people are going through. If they detect insincerity or a self-serving mindset, you will lose their trust.

The third lesson is to do what you can to help people or lessen the dilemma. Do not make matters worse. Not unlike the Hippocratic Oath, a leader should “do no harm.”

Having said these three lessons, it should not be a surprise that Messers. Bolsonaro, Johnson and Trump have failed miserably to address the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice crises facing Brazil, United Kingdom and United States.

Jair Bolsonaro has lied to Brazilians from the outset on COVID-19. Several health ministers have resigned because of his ham-handling of the pandemic. And, his country has long had poverty and racial tensions, which go unaddressed.

Boris Johnson was supposedly sitting pretty as the New Year rang in. Yet, not taking the pandemic seriously, he risked not only his health, but others. Now, he is facing backlash from some in his own psrty. Plus, he has been slow to address the racial protests which have hastened with the American police killings.

In the US, Donald Trump also naysayed and downplayed the pandemic even after being apprised of the risk. He continues his misinformation and has put people at risk by pressuring reopening and placing his own followers at risk with scheduled events.

Further, the president’s racist bent has further divided America and he adds fuel to the flames by being tone deaf to the protests.

The similarities of these three men precede their mishandling of these crises. Each are known for being untruthful, populists, and self-centeredness. Bolsonaro is even referred to as the Brazilian Trump. And, like Johnson, Bolsonaro has heightened risk by not following social distancing. And, like Trump, he has embraced a possible cure before it was proven, which remains so.

All three have failed in addresses these crises. Trump ridicules Brazil for its pandemic response, but the US numbers are far worse. Yet, each is doing their best Wizard of Oz impersonation saying “don’t look behind the curtain.” What they fail to realize, even a curtain cannot hide their mistakes.

Dear Republican Senator

As an independent and former Republican (and Democrat) voter, I try to read and watch several validated news sources. They are validated, as they try to get it right and print retractions when they don’t. I also try to use an independent lens to see politicians for their good and bad actions and stances, regardless of party. Am I biased? Of course, we all are. But, my greater bias is favoring the truthtellers as I do not cotton to being obviously lied to by our elected officials.

That is why your support of this reckless president is troubling. It troubles me that he is so cavalier with the truth, that maybe, he does not know when the truth stops and the marketing schtick begins. But, this is not news, as five biographers of the president have noted he has a problem with the truth. And, the Mueller report (which I read) validated several untruths made by the president and did not exonerate him of obstruction of justice.

But, you know this, because I would worry about you more if you did not. Yet, it bothers me to see Senators seemingly support tribal loyalty over our constitution. You can say that you do not do that, but I can read how seemingly rational people bend over backwards to defend the indefensible.

Instead of looking to say those who investigated this corrupt and deceitful president somehow did not do it pristinely, it would be better to pay attention to that parade of honorable diplomats who testified under oath and at great risk of their concerns over the president’s actions in Ukraine. Now, the Republican Senate can pretend that all that did not happen, but these folks knew the president is highly vindictive, but testified anyway. Some have lost their jobs and received death threats, yet they still did it,

Rather than focus on whitewashing history, I would prefer the Senate to spend time focusing on the issues of today. COVID-19 deaths in the US are now in excess of 115,000. That is 27% of the global death total, but we have only 5% of the global population. And, as we have opened up the country more, too many have been too rash with their actions and COVID-19 is on the rise again. Frankly, this is not a surprise. The summer heat dampens the spread, but too many folks in close proximity, especially indoors, does the opposite.

The other issue is the ongoing racial injustice that is being shown to our black citizens. This new Jim Crow era is seeing greater degrees of incarceration for blacks than for whites for the same crimes and blacks being treated differently and more aggressively by police. I recognize the police have a hard job, but they need to better police their own. Every group has bad apples and even good police make poor decisions in the face of fear. We must do better at this. It is well-past time.

The current president has not helped on these two issues and it concerns me. We missed six weeks of planning on COVID-19, where we could have taken some steps instead of calling it a hoax and naysaying it as late as February 28, ironically the date of the first US death (now we exceed 115,000 just over three months later). Instead of being the leader we needed, the president decided to follow his modus operandi of misinformation, which continues to this day. As for the racial injustice, while I applaud the bipartisan sentencing reform of many months ago, the president has not been one to ease the tensions of the whole nation. We need him to be president for all, not just his more strident base of voters.

So, I ask you to set aside doing the president’s bidding and serve the American people. I will be joining conservatives George Will, Colin Powell, Republican Voters Against Trump and The Lincoln Project and voting for former Vice President Joe Biden in the fall. Biden will endeavor to bring our country together and restore our global reputation which has fallen precipitously per the foreign press and leaders. I fully recognize Biden is not perfect, but he is a decent and empathetic person, which are two traits conservative David Brooks says the president lacks. Right now, very few trust the US as our president is untrustworthy. The obvious question is why would they?

That is what I think. It truly saddens me to have to say this about our president. Please join with me in making this the final term of this president. Our country so desperately needs you to help make that happen. I realize it may endanger your reelection (but it may help) but you frankly missed the chance to remove him when you could have and fully opened Pandora’s Box.

Bigotry – you have to be carefully taught (from “South Pacific’)

I have often cited these words, but the following is from a post I wrote several years ago. I repeat it here due to its relevance today.

For those of you who have seen the play or movie “South Pacific” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, you may recognize part of the title as a pivotal song in the story – “You’ve Got to be CarefullyTaught.” The play involves a woman who falls in love with someone and then realizes his children are half islanders. She has a hard time coming to grips with her bigotry as according to the song, we are not born hating; hatred has to be carefully taught. A sample of Hammerstein’s lyrics follow:

“You’ve got to be taught, to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught, from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little head. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

“You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late. Before you are 6 or 7 or 8. To hate all the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

This play was written in 1949 based on excerpts from James Michener’s novel “Tales from the South Pacific.” Rodgers and Hammerstein knew precisely what they were doing with this novel and lyrics as America was full bore in its civil rights crisis and more reasonable people were questioning why? Bigotry, hatred, bias – it has to be drummed into you before it’s too late. Before you can think for yourself.

Yesterday, I saw a picture above a story about the Boy Scouts and their delaying a decision to allow gays in their ranks. As a father of three, this picture was very disheartening as it showed young scouts holding up signs which were derogatory to those who are gay. For all the good the Boys Scouts does for young boys, teaching them to be bigoted toward others who happen to have different sexual preference, is not something worthy of a merit badge. For all of the teachings about responsibility, accountability, advocacy, and civility, to carefully teach them it is OK to hate these people because they are different from you is not in keeping with the mission of the Boy Scouts, nor is it in keeping with the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus said it in many different ways per the bible I learned from. The two that are burned in my memory are “love your neighbors as you love yourself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There are no exceptions about being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And, for that matter, there are no exceptions about them being Black, White, Atheist, Muslim, Jewish or Agnostic. Words are easy. I have seen people who can inspire with words. Yet, the proof is in the action. What do you do each day? How do you interact with others? I see people everyday treat customer service people or perceived subordinates poorly and treat others in more cordial way.

However, these scouts are learning from us adults, both parents and leaders. I have noted many times before, it disturbs me greatly when spiritual leaders promote bigotry. This is one of the greatest betrayals of their responsibilities I know. Yet, our civic leaders are not much better and tend to be worse on occasion. Right now, Congress cannot pass an act which will make it easier to protect those who experience Violence Against Women. The primary hold up is the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the bill. Violence against anyone is crime, unless it is self-defense. To distinguish who should be protected more than others based on sexual preference is the height of hypocrisy, especially since the push comes from the evangelical right.

Hatred has to be carefully taught. The Congressional leaders who are against the bill to stop violence against loved ones, should truly be embarrassed to be on the wrong side of this issue. Domestic violence is a horrible crime because it happens routinely and consistently until a tipping point occurs. Unfortunately, the tipping point may be a death of a loved one. Women and children are the primary targets, yet others are impacted and should be protected. I have written before about an acquaintance whose sister was killed by her husband and he and his siblings had no idea she was being beaten. They learned the kids, on occasion, would have their father pick them up and beat their heads into the ceiling. What difference does it make if the target is gay or lesbian? This is not right and those Congressional leaders who are against the inclusion of all are “not on the side of the Angels.”

What should and can we do about it? We need to strongly encourage our leaders to think like parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts on most issues. Stop thinking like politicians. When GOP Governor Bobby Jindal says “we need to stop being the stupid party” this is an example of what he is talking about.

But, if we cannot alter the bigotry of the adults, please let’s focus on teaching the kids not to bigoted in their views. By word and deed; by encouragement, mentoring, or by corrective action or admonishment, please encourage people to do their best to follow Jesus’ examples and treat others like we want to be treated. The most important thing of all, is to walk the talk. Do everyday what you are telling them to do. That is what they will remember most.

Let me leave you with an encouraging story, which I may write more about later. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra* is a highly successful orchestra. But, that is not newsworthy by itself. The news is the orchestra consists of Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Iranis and Iraqis. The news is the orchestra is right in the hornet’s nest of danger. These teens and young adults come together at great risk to play and collaborate. Many of their friends and relatives judge them harshly for so doing. Yet, they continue because it is important. By working side by side toward a common purpose, they see that the person they are supposed to hate is just like them.

They are being carefully taught, this time not to hate, but to get along and play as a unit. We could learn a great deal from these young people and those who lead them. You’ve got to be carefully taught. My question as a parent – what do you want to teach them?

Today, these words remain very relevant. I am encouraged by parents of all colors taking their children to peacefully and civilly protest the ongoing wrongs which are heightened by George Floyd’s murder. Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are just the most recent notable deaths. And, for those who offer a rebuttal of “All lives matter,” that word “all” must include “Black lives matter.” Sadly, for some in our country, the latter group is omitted from their thinking.

* Please refer to Ellen’s comment below for a quick history of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (I have made your correction on the name).

A plea from a fifteen year old girl

In my newspaper today was the following letter to the editor. I felt it had pertinence and poignancy, so I repeat it here in its entirety:

“As a 15-year-old upper middle class white girl, I am undeniably privileged. I’ve been given the opportunity to choose the side of history I wish to stand on. In the midst of this crisis, the two sides stand firm, yet logic and empathy seemed to have chosen my side for me. I cannot choose a side of ignorance, no matter how blissful. I must refuse the side that cannot understand the suffering of those unlike themselves. I will not ordain a cause that is more concerned about inanimate objects and a disrupted status quo than about unjust loss of life. I implore everyone to make the same decision. Think about what is replaceable, and what can never be returned.”

These words are more profound than the US president could ever possibly say, but they are precisely the kinds of words we need to hear from someone who occupies the White House. For someone who craves notoriety, this president will not be remembered for being on the right side of history, in my view.