Daily Archives: January 19, 2004

The Lesson of Bob Moses

After a massive dose of depression (see previous post) triggered by yet another shameful American money-chase, I did a little ranting about the sorry state of our nation and ourselves. A little while later, I ran across this excellent post at the american street written by Mary Ratcliffe and was reminded that action and change can come from despair if we want them to.

Dispelling Fear With HopeFear is a strong driver in today’s politics. Republicans know that Americans want to be safe and sound and are willing to settle for the illusion of safety especially when they are afraid. And today our government has been stoking and exploiting our fear to strip us of our constitutional rights and to blind us of what they are doing to our country and our world.

Yet we can counter their ploy with our own message. Today, as we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, it is good to remember that ordinary people can have conquered fear, and through their hope and fortitude have changed the future.

It is a good time to recount the story of that summer in Mississippi in 1964 when Bob Moses and his army of idealistic volunteers went into the heart of darkness in our country and worked with the disenfranchised as they stood up for their rights.

African-American citizens of Mississippi had been terrorized for years. There was no reason to believe that they could change a thing, as they were economically and physically intimidated by the white supremacist society backed by the law and by violence. In spite of that, they found a wellspring of hope and courage. And with that hope and courage they were able to face down the intimidation and claim the vote for themselves.

At first the idealistic volunteers did not realize how frightening and oppressive it would be in Mississippi. But before they went, they began to understand. Before they left for Mississippi, they had heard about the disappearance of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner and had to come to terms that they too might die. Yet they trusted Bob Moses and once in Mississippi found strength in seeing the courage and dignity of the people they had come to help. People who faced much greater fear – people who had no other place to go, yet still found the determination to carry on.

Bob Moses is a remarkable man: one who really believes in the dignity of humans and their ability to take charge of their own lives despite overwhelming odds. He believes in their courage and their intelligence, and he expects much from them. And so he inspired and encouraged the northern volunteers to act. Once in Mississippi he helped the disenfranchised believe in their own worth, their cause and empowered them to create their own future.

Read the rest of it. This short history of Bob Moses and the Mississippi volunteers makes a good antidote to the selfishness and greed that so many of us give in to these days. It was a different age, the age of Kennedy and a belief that things didn’t always have to be this way–a belief we’re awful short on in the Bush Empire–but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen again.

We need to remember what a small group of determined kids too young to know that what they were about to do was impossible managed to accomplish despite overwhelming odds and govt antagonism: they challenged and changed the face of institutionalized racism for the first time since Reconstruction–and won. There’s a lesson there. We need to learn it.

America Loses All Respect For Itself

Obeying the lead of greed from its corporations and an Administration that never saw a contributor it wouldn’t cave in to provided their donation was large enough, four CA counties are setting out to compete with each other in attracting a new industry: the Scott Petersen murder trial.

SAN JOSE, Calif., Jan. 18 — It took Anne LeClair a split second to realize there was opportunity in the murder trial of Scott Peterson, who is accused of killing his wife, Laci, and their unborn son.No sooner had her county been identified as one of a handful of possible trial sites than Ms. LeClair, a tourism official, was collecting business cards and pulling together promotional materials.

“I FedExed the package the next day to the presiding judge,” said Ms. LeClair, president and chief executive of the San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It said that we understand that we are one of the spots; if you select us, here is some stuff to pass along to the media.”

To some it may sound crass [it may be crass–m], but some San Francisco Bay Area officials are hoping to lure Mr. Peterson’s trial to a courtroom in their communities….

Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time before we reached the sad state of humping for celebrity killers in the name of the $$$Almighty Buck$$$. Being a murderer used to be a Bad Thing, even shameful, But in 21st century America, all that is history. If you’re white and you kill your wife or your kid and the tabloids pick you up, you’re a star. As a celebrity, your trial is worth $$$Big Bicks$$$ to the town or city in which it’s held, what with feeding and housing the massive media circus, the crowds of rubber-neckers, and the tribes of celebnty junkies that will inevitably follow.

And if your town or county has been starved for cash by a deficit-ridden govt and a horde of anti-taxers, I suppose it’s only natural to look at a celebrity murder trial as a bonanza worth fighting over. But however you rationalize it, nothing will ever erase the stink of disgust that after so promising a beginning we have come to this–pimping for the right to host a murder trial in the name of tourism.

The Bay Area communities are no slouches when it comes to promotional pitches — two years ago the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee was in a feverish competition with New York City to vie for the 2012 Olympic Games.This time, however, no one dares call them pitches. Interest in the trial is more aptly characterized as yearning, and idle chatter about Mr. Peterson’s guilt or innocence is considered unseemly.

“I am going to let the jury decide that one,” Ms. LeClair said.

That said, tourism officials are seeing nothing but dollar signs in the media frenzy expected to follow Mr. Peterson from Stanislaus County, in what has already been among the most publicized murder cases in the country since O. J. Simpson was acquitted more than eight years ago.

“I am not saying it is the same as us getting the Olympics or something, but some of these trials go on three or four months,” said Daniel N. Fenton, president and chief executive of the San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau, a major promoter of Santa Clara County.

We seem to be involved in a race here, a “Let’s see who can sink the lowest the fastest in the name of chasing $$$” sort of race. What’s next? During the OJ trial, comedian Michael Feldman of PRI’s Wha’d’ya Know? suggested offering a celebrity who wasn’t doing so well professionally $30MIL to kill their wife or husband as a way of keeping the game going. At the time, it was a sarcastic comment on the OJ insanity and the way people had allowed themselves to be hooked by it. Now, it’s beginning to look like our future, and it isn’t funny any more.

I used to be proud to be an American. Even when Tricky Dick was trashing the Constitution and Ronnie was turning the State Dept into Right-Wing-Latin-American-Dictators-R-Us, I was proud to be an American. I was proud because despite anti-democratic leaders who seemed to have little regard for anything remotely resembling truth, tolerance, or generosity and who were addicted to an endless supply of narrow-minded slogans, meaningless rhetoric, and an unpleasant taste for kicking the weakest and least able to defend themselves among us, despite all that, we were still an essentially tolerant, generous, forgiving people who wanted a country where everybody got a square deal and a chance even if we couldn’t always live up to our own expectations. There was a sense that community was important, that in some significant way we were all in this thing together, and that the promise of America was a real one and worth fighting for.

Now, after 25 solid years of “Screw the other guy, look out for #1” exhortations from conservative pundits, personalities and politicians, after 25 solid years of fear-mongering “Anybody who doesn’t look like you or agree with you is your enemy” diatribes whose sole intent was to turn white against black, black against Hispanic, neighbor against neighbor and brother against sister, we have come to this greedy, conscienceless pass where we will compete for the right to host a murder trial because it might bring a few pennies into town, and I’m not so proud any more.

We are turning into a people who worship money to the exclusion of almost all other values, who are in deep denial over our mistakes, who have no compunction about attacking people who can’t fight back, who are more than willing to accept a govt for sale to the highest bidder, and who will countenance the destruction of cherished freedoms for the sake of a promise–not a reality, just a promise–of a little more security…maybe. In the 1970’s when Nixon was caught trashing the Constitution, he was thrown out of office. In the first decade of the 21st century, when George W. Bush does it, it’s no big deal. We don’t even lift an eyebrow.

What’s happened to us? How did we get here? How did we reach a point where we could jettison the promise of America, the promise we fought and died for, the promise that the whole world once envied, without a second thought? How did we come to this place where money trumps everything, even our self-respect?

No, I’m not as proud any more as I once was. And every day I read or hear something that makes me less proud. This is a feeling I’ve never had before, and I can’t say I much like it. I’m becoming ashamed of my country, ashamed of my government, and ashamed of what we are making of ourselves–or not making of ourselves–through widespread, govt-sanctioned denial, greed, complacency, and arrogance. I used to make fun of such people.

It isn’t funny any more.