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.

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