November 23rd, 2018
Thinking for Ourselves
A New We
This week the National Council of Elders met in Detroit. The Council was formed in 2011 by Vincent Harding and James and Phil Lawson, all veterans of the Black Liberation struggle and close associates of Martin Luther King. The purpose of the Council is “to engage leaders of 20th century civil rights movements to share what they have learned with young leaders of the 21st century and to promote the theory and practice of nonviolence.”
At the time of the decision to call elders together, there was a growing sense of urgency in the country. We were witnessing an “escalation of all forms of violence and the rise of anti-democratic forces” as white supremacists were reacting to the presidency of Barack Obama and the growing recognition that whites would soon no longer hold “majority” status and power. Many of us recognized that the increasing tensions between revolution and counter revolution were calling a new generation of activists to commit themselves to engaging people and structures in progressive change. We hoped to find ways to “deepen important story-based dialogue with younger activists who are currently on the frontlines of activism across the U.S.”
This engagement is more than sharing stories. Most of the members of the Council are immersed in daily work alongside their younger counterparts. Some are standing with immigrants at our borders, offering sanctuary and challenging the brutal policies of this administration. Some are working in the new Poor People’s Campaign to create a sense of moral urgency around the increasing poverty and degradation of life for so many of our people. Some are working in peace making and reconciliation, education and community visionary development. All share a belief that we must create a radical revolution in values and stand against the evils of militarism, racism and materialism. We know that the revolution in values called for by Dr. King more than 50 years ago would be hollow without a commitment today to protect our earth.
As we move into 2019, the Council agreed to call for a year of dialogue on the theme pressed by Vincent Harding. Dr. Harding often talked of being a citizen of a country that does not yet exist. Drawing on the 1938 poem of Langston Hughes, Let America Be America Again Dr. Harding challenged people to think about the distance between who we are and who we want to be. He frequently quoted the lines
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet, I swear this oath—America will be!
Vincent asked us to believe in our potential to create a better place for ourselves and our children.
Yet, I imagine if Vincent were alive today, he might be placing as much attention on the last stanza of the poem as he did on this one. He would recognize the call to “Make America Great Again” as the trumpet of white supremacy.
But Langston Hughes offered a different view of what we can fashion out of this moment of brutal ugliness. He wrote:
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
The capacity to redeem and dream, to fashion to a better future out of cruelty and greed, to create a new we, are still our challenges.
It’s Time to Repeal the Genesis Doctrine
The following is adapted from remarks given in accepting the Coleman H. McGhehee Jr. Champion of Justice Award from the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR)
As I stand here this evening, humbled and proud to receive this award, I think it boils down to this.
The rotten system, the cursed idea that white men are somehow superior, not only to other humans but to rivers and coral reefs and forests and elephants and termites and water and fire is coming to an end.
The repeal of the toxic doctrine of Genesis is up for a vote.
God did NOT give MEN dominion over women or of all other life forms. That whole strange idea is wrong. And dangerous.
Fortunately, Homo Sapiens are not the only eligible voters in this referendum.
In fact, if we don’t get this right, we won’t be voters at all. Humans need the planet. The planet does not need humans.
Or, to put it another way, the planet will surely survive. Humans may not.
But humans can survive and even thrive. It won’t be easy, but it surely can be done. How?
Our differences, our silos, our “intersections”, if you will, must be put aside. It is the white way of thinking that must go. Root and branch. All of it.
White people are not superior. Period. The evidence is in. White people are, to be sure, good at myth making, at fairy tales. Very good.
That, after all, is what white supremacy IS—a pervasive, invasive species of a myth. It’s a bad human invention like Agent Orange, plastic shopping bags and the so-called Electoral College.
Fortunately, the world around us is already making another, truer, better story. A story of peace instead of war. A story of kindness rather than endless acts of violence, large and small. It is a narrative of love and harmony and proportion.
This new world is not all about stuff. It is a world that, as Richard Powers puts it, needs to stop, just plain stop, squandering a billion years of planetary evolution in favor of bling.
It is a world that cherishes every living thing far more than self driving cars and mobile telephones with more pixels and better weapons for killing.
It is up to us, each of us and all of us, which of these two worlds we choose.
That is the cry for justice that calls us now.
What We’re Reading
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What We’re Watching
Rita Ramirez is not your typical mariachi. When she’s not on stage with Detroit’s first female-led mariachi band, she spends her time bringing internet to her neighbors, one home at a time. Through the Equitable Internet Initiative, Rita works to connect the estimated 40 percent of Detroiters who still lack an internet connection in their homes. This episode of Tag was co-produced by Erik Paul Howard and Anastasia Klimovitz, two Detroit photojournalists who helped bring Rita’s story to life.