Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
August 23, 2015
August is month of many sorrows. One hundred years ago, the war that was to end all wars moved into its second year as German troops swept into Warsaw. Thirty years later, in another world war of unimaginable destruction, the United States dropped atomic bombs on two cities in Japan. Five years later, in 1950, August saw some of the deadliest fighting of the Korean War in the Pusan Perimeter and Inchon.
At home, the military commitment to nuclear weapons resulted in above ground explosions of nuclear bombs, sending radioactive clouds over farms and families. One bright August day, a B-29 Superfortress bomber crashed into a residential neighborhood in California while carrying atomic weapons. Seventeen people were killed and scores were wounded. The US then exported our testing to places less able to resist, spreading atomic death.
In 1953 the CIA overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran and reinstated the Shah.
In 1955 Emmett Till, a young African American boy from Chicago was brutally killed in Money, Mississippi because he talked to a white woman.
August is the month of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, authorizing President Lyndon Johnson to take whatever actions he deemed necessary to defeat the North Vietnamese, ushering in more than a decade of pain, death and destruction. In Nashoba Country, Mississippi the bodies of young civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were found buried in an earthen damn.
Fifty years ago, Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a young white seminarian was shot to death in Hayneville Alabama by a part time deputy sheriff. An all white jury vindicated the deputy. He said he shot in self-defense.
A decade ago the waters of Katrina swept through the streets of New Orleans in August. Last year the Israeli invasion of Gaza killed 2,256 Palestinians and 17,125 were injured. The death of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson brought a new intensity to Black Lives Matter.
These public tragedies frame the contours of our time, their echoes reflecting the forces we are struggling with today. They are stark reminders of the violence that is welded into our history. Each contains countless individual stories of loss and pain. Each provoked amazing acts of resistance, sparking initiatives for peace, for love, and for life.
Yet these moments rarely make their way into our in public consciousness. They do not fit well into the stories America tells itself about who we are.
But they are reminders that the paths toward a more just world are made by choices. And a reminder that people in power disregard and disrespect the lives of others.
These sorrows call upon us to ask what truths are hidden today? Whose lives are disregarded? Whose loves and hopes destroyed?
They challenge us to ask how do we move the realities of people’s lives into the center of our public thinking? We know that every day in our city people wake up without a home or in fear of losing one. Every day people wake up without access to the most essential element of life, water. Every day parents send children into the world with the fear that they will not return. Every day violence distorts and destroys lives.
This August in Detroit people are lining up at water stations set up by volunteers because the Mayor will not to ensure water for all. People are setting up foreclosure free zones to protect homes. They are creating Peace Zones for life and challenging police decisions to evade public accountability for actions they take and don’t take.
This August we are making choices that will echo to the future. Only by acknowledging the full truth of the violence required to maintain injustice will we be able to make ones that are wiser.