In 1962, Students for a Democratic Society said in the Port Huron Statement: “Institutions and practices which stifle dissent should be abolished, and the promotion of peaceful dissent should be actively promoted.” This still holds true todsy.
The right of free assembly is found in the Bill of Rights and deserves unceasing protection, and ongoing street protests are exactly what we need right now. We’ve grown too comfortable in accepting what we’ve been given post civil rights and not demanding more.
Our legal and political orders don’t really differ fundamentally from the Civil Rights era, when blacks had no choice but to take to the streets. Howard Husock notes how that movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and others faced a government that was neither representative nor, under the voting rules of the time, potentially representative. It was an era of true legal disenfranchisement. Large numbers of Americans were legal outsiders, lacking access to legitimate means for redressing their deep moral grievances. They faced an unrepresentative political order and had every reason to conclude that “the system” must be pressured to change—or be replaced. They were right, in many cases, to presume bad faith on the part of public officials who could only be influenced by public pressure, fear of embarrassment, or even the threat of civil disobedience. The question is what’s changed?
Things are indeed not much different today nor should we expect them to be as it’s only been roughly 50 years of “freedom” after 350 years of slavery and apartheid. The legal and social “system” that the Civil Rights movement attacked has not been completely toppled. Blacks are still legally prevented from voting today in many states.
The good news is that hasn’t stopped progress. In 2012, blacks voted at a higher rate than whites. In 1963, only 1,400 blacks held elected office nationwide; today, more than 10,000 do. Nationwide, there are more than 58,000 black police officers, slightly less as a proportion of all police than the percentage of blacks in the overall population.
We need a citizenry ready and willing to engage with government. What should the protocol for police encounters with suspected criminals be? How best can government serve the poor? These are matters that require ongoing engagement, especially at the local level which includes protest anytime at any place.
Protests are the only method in which collectively, people can involve themselves directly and democratically to pressure change on institutions which allow and enforce disparities and injustice. Per 100,000 white men there is an average of 465 incarcerated, per 100,000 black men there is an average of 2724 incarcerated. In order to reform destructive policy there has to be civil resistance to the status quo. Otherwise, to expect these issues to correct themselves if we protest “at the right and proper time” means these issues are subordinated instead of elevated which means prolonging the implementation of solutions instead of solving the problems immediately.
Sixty years ago today, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus and was arrested. This seminal event of a tired, nice, old lady is what we think about as an impetus for desegregation. Not much is really told of her story beyond this event though. This is probably why.
The Parks family lived in the Cleveland Courts projects when she made her bus stand. Her husband Raymond was a barber and she was an assistant tailor, altering white men’s clothes at Montgomery Fair Department Store. Her stand plunged them into a decade of economic instability and deep poverty.
Parks grew up in a family that supported Marcus Garvey, and she herself was mentored by legendary organizer Ella Baker. In the 1930s and ’40s, Parks took part in organizing work in defense of the Scottsboro Boys and with E.D. Nixon, a Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters organizer who then became president of Montgomery’s NAACP, in seeking justice for lynching, rape, and assault victims.
In the 1950s, she organized the Youth Council of the Montgomery NAACP. When the Montgomery bus boycott began, Rosa Parks was a seasoned activist of 42. Additionally, as The Nation points out, Parks was not the first person to engage in such an action:
A number of black Montgomerians had resisted segregation on Montgomery’s buses. When Viola White did in 1944, she was beaten and fined $10; her case was still in appeals when she passed away 10 years later. In 1950, police shot and killed Hilliard Brooks, a World War II veteran, when he boarded the bus after having a few drinks and refused to reboard from the back door—and the police were called. Witnesses rebutted the officer’s claims that he acted in self-defense, but he wasn’t prosecuted. Emboldened by the 1954 Brown ruling, the Women’s Political Council had written Montgomery’s mayor that there needed to be change on Montgomery’s buses or the community would boycott. Then on March 2, 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to relinquish her bus seat. When a white rider hollered at her that she had to get up, a young girl, Margaret Johnson, responded in her defense, “She ain’t got to do nothin’ but stay black and die.” Police arrested Colvin and charged her on three counts. The black community was outraged and initially mounted some resistance (Parks served as a fundraiser for Colvin’s case), but ultimately decided against a full-blown campaign on Colvin’s behalf, seeing her as too young, feisty, and emotional. (Despite popular belief, Colvin was not pregnant at the time the community decided not to pursue her case but got pregnant later in the summer.) The impact of these incidents accumulated—and Montgomery’s black community was at a breaking point by December 1955.
Back then, bus drivers carried a gun. Some Montgomery bus drivers would make black people pay in the front, but then force them to get off the bus, and re-board through the back door (so they didn’t even walk by white passengers). Parks had been kicked off the bus a number of times for refusing to abide by this practice, including by the very driver, James Blake, who would have her arrested on that December evening.
Hearing of Parks’s arrest and her decision to pursue her case, the Women’s Political Council called for a one-day boycott the day Parks was to be arraigned in court. Buoyed by the success of that first day, the community at a mass meeting that night decided to extend the boycott. A young Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a galvanizing speech and would emerge as the movement’s leader. A separate federal court case was filed, with Colvin as one of the plaintiffs (Parks was not). Three hundred and eighty-two days later, Montgomery’s buses were desegregated.
Eight months after the boycott’s successful end, still unable to find work and facing death threats, she moved with her husband and mother to Detroit, where she lived for nearly five decades. Between the systems of housing and school segregation, job exclusion, and policing from Montgomery to Detroit being so similar, she set about to challenge the racial inequality of the North, alongside a growing Black Power movement. She attended the 1968 Black Power conference in Philadelphia and the 1972 Political Convention in Gary, and visited the Black Panther Party School in Oakland during the 1979–80 school year.
America would be a grand land if only every Irishman would kill a Negro, and then be hanged for it. I find this sentiment generally approved.
– William Freeman (1881)
The largest mass lynching in U.S. history took place in New Orleans in 1891 — and it wasn’t African-Americans who were lynched, as many of us might assume. It was Italian-Americans.
After nine Italians were tried and found not guilty of murdering New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy, a mob dragged them from the jail, along with two other Italians being held on unrelated charges, and lynched them all. The lynchings were followed by mass arrests of Italian immigrants throughout New Orleans, and waves of attacks against Italians nationwide.
What was the reaction of our country’s leaders to the lynchings? Teddy Roosevelt, not yet president, famously said they were “a rather good thing.” The response in The New York Times was worse. A March 16, 1891, editorial referred to the victims of the lynchings as “… sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins.” An editorial the next day argued that: “Lynch law was the only course open to the people of New Orleans. …”
John Parker, who helped organize the lynch mob, later went on to be governor of Louisiana. In 1911, he said of Italians that they were “just a little worse than the Negro, being if anything filthier in [their] habits, lawless, and treacherous.”
– Ed Falco, author of The Family Corleone
Donald Trump appears to mean making America white again with his slogan of “Make America Great Again”. The fact is Europeans are separated into many different nations and cultures, many of which have histories of conflict and discord with others. In other words, different groups of Europeaners hated each other before, after, and upon arriving in the US. When did we assume there was some kind of unity to “whiteness”?
Civil Rights Movement
Post 1960’s America has seen the definition of “white” extended to all European peoples as the “others” became black people asserting an equal (and not subordinate) status of American citizenship. This was great for people like Trump’s grandfather who immigrated here at that time, and was certainly not considered “white”.
Before then, the old fashioned definition that held in the country was Italians, Slavs, Spaniards, Irish and Greeks were all dirty immigrants. This definition did not even see Catholics as white except for perhaps German and French Catholics. Jews were acceptable if they were Ashkenazi and had colonial or early American ancestry. No Sephardim need apply.
In fact, the 19th and early 20th century didn’t see these southern and eastern European groups as white people at all. Basically “white” people were northern Europeans and Germanic. Southern or Eastern Europe might as well have been Syria, India, or China.
White people then were far more nuanced in how they viewed Europeans immigrants. Basically, if you weren’t of colonial heritage, or arrived here before the 1850s, or didn’t come from the “white” countries of Europe, you were a piece of immigrant trash, would never understand he ideals of his country, and were certainly not of the “white” people of this country. Sound familiar?
It is said that these previously excluded groups assimilated into America denoting an “earning of whiteness” Have you ever known any Italian Americans from Philadelphia? Irish Americans from Boston? Russians from Brooklyn, Jews in New York, Poles in Connecticut and Illinois, recent slavic immigrants, and Greeks in Florida and Chicago? They are extremely different from the northern European, American “normal” of white. These immigrant groups did not and have not seamlessly assimilated into the colonial European basis of US culture any more than any other immigrant group.
You don’t have to be white or emulate white to be proud of being American. It’s nonsense to attempt to make “taking back America” about the triumph of whiteness. Apparently, it is though which is probably why Trump has secured the endorsement of several white supremacist groups.
When it comes to Civil Rights, it’s not about what politicians say, but what legislation they sponsor or co-sponsor, and how they vote. Talk is cheap, and rumor and innuendo fly in politics. We know what her husband’s were, but she shouldn’t have to answer for or take credit for his actions. Let’s focus on Hillary Clinton and see what she has done in the arena of civil rights.
While in the Senate, Hillary Clinton introduced the Count Every Vote Act of 2005 to combat a “history of intimidation.” Fighting against voter ID laws, Clinton said that:
“By trying to require not just photo identification but proof of citizenship — proof that thousands of American citizens can’t produce through no fault of their own — cynical Republican lawmakers are trying to build new walls between hundreds of thousands of eligible senior, minority, and low-income Americans and their civil right to choose their own leaders. Republicans claim that these requirements are needed to prevent fraud, but the reality is that they do little more than disenfranchise eligible voters.”
Equality Under The Law
Hillary Clinton stood with Cecelia Marshall, Thurgood Marshall’s widow, alongside former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer at his swearing in as the first African-American President of the American Bar Association in its 124-year history – 60 years after they lifted a ban on black members. Her support and affiliation with the Legal Services Corporation including her board chairmanship of that organization in the early 1970s reaffirmed a longstanding commitment to support low-income communities and people of color in the courtroom and at the highest levels of legal advocacy.
Hillary co-sponsored a bill recognizing Juneteenth as the historical end of slavery. The resolution recognized the historical significance of Juneteenth Independence Day and expressed that history should be regarded as a means for understanding the past and solving the challenges of the future. Recognizing the historical significance to the nation, and supporting the continued celebration of Juneteenth Independence Day (June 19, 1865, the day Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved African Americans were free), Congress passed it declaring the celebration of the end of slavery is an important and enriching part of the history and heritage of the United States.
Clinton also co-sponsored a bill reinforcing anti-discrimination and equal-pay requirements; specifically, to restore, reaffirm, and reconcile legal rights and remedies under civil rights statutes. The bill amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to establish discrimination based on disparate impact; and rights of action and recovery for unlawful discrimination. It also authorized civil actions in federal court for discrimination based on disability, and repealed provisions limiting the amount of compensatory and punitive damages that may be awarded in cases of intentional discrimination in employment. Finally, it revised provisions governing discrimination in the payment of wages, including equal pay requirements.
Equality in Education
In 1972, I returned to D.C. to work for Marian Wright Edelman in DC. My assignment was to gather information about the Nixon Administration’s failure to enforce the legal ban on granting tax-exempt status to the private segregated academies that had sprung up in the South to avoid integrated public schools. The academies claimed they were created in response to parents deciding to form private schools; it had nothing to do with court-ordered integration. I went to Atlanta to meet with the lawyers and civil rights workers who were compiling evidence that proved the academies were created solely for the purpose of avoiding the constitutional mandate of the Supreme Court’s decisions.
As part of my investigation, I drove to Alabama. At a local private school, I had an appointment to meet an administrator to discuss enrolling my imaginary child. I went through my role-playing, asking questions about the curriculum and makeup of the student body. I was assured that no black students would be enrolled.
Living History, by Hillary Clinton, p. 57 , Nov 1, 2003
Ensuring opportunity and understanding the tragedy that is the school-to-prison pipeline, Hillary Clinton worked with community leaders in New York affiliated with the organization 100 Black Men to open an all-boys single sex school in the South Bronx. Teaching predominantly black and Latino young men, David Banks, the founding principal, sees his mission as “empowering at risk inner-city young men to become academic achievers, engaged citizens and responsible men.” Eagle, now with six high schools in New York City and Newark, N.J., has graduation rate of over 95 percent.
In addition to compiling three editions of the first Handbook on Legal Rights for Arkansas Women, In 1987, Robert MacCrate, then president of the American Bar Association, appointed Hillary Clinton as the first chairperson of the inaugural twelve member ABA Commission on Women and the Profession. Up until that time, the participation of women in the ABA had been very limited. This was a chance to place women’s issues into the mainstream of ABA activity.
The commission held hearings and found widespread discrimination issuing a report urging the bar association to publicly recognize that gender bias exists in the profession and to begin to eliminate it. The ABA responded to the work of Hillary’s commission by adopting a resolution that committed the association and its members to “refuse to participate in, acquiesce in, or condone barriers to the full integration and equal participation of women in the legal profession.“ The voice vote of approval was unanimous. Hillary told the delegates, ”Despite the progress that has been made, there still exist instances of subtle discrimination against women.“ In 1991, the group created the Goal IX Report Card, an annual accounting designed to measure the progress of women in the association.
In 1997, following up on her assertion two years earlier, at the fourth U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing, that ‘women’s rights are human rights,” Hillary and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright established the Vital Voices Democracy Initiative to promote the advancement of women’s rights as an explicit goal of US foreign policy. Over the next three years, at conferences throughout the world, Vital Voices brought together thousands of women leaders from 80 countries.
In 2000, American women who were involved in the government initiative and who wanted the project to continue formed a new non-governmental organization, Vital Voices Global Partnership, and aligned with other women around the world who began their own chapters. Vital Voices invests in emerging women leaders to give them the tools they need to advance peace and reconciliation, run successful businesses, participate fully in their nation’s political life, and combat trafficking in women and girls and other abusive practices.
Clinton co-sponsored the bill re-introducing the Equal Rights Amendment, a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to equal rights for men and women. Its three sections stated equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. This article shall take effect 2 years after the date of ratification.
Hillary indicated she would not oppose efforts to enact a same-sex marriage law in NY, and voted against a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. She co-sponsored a bill providing benefits to domestic partners of Federal employees including employee health benefits; retirement and disability plans; family, medical, and emergency leave; group life insurance; long-term care insurance; compensation for work injuries; death, disability, and similar benefits; relocation, travel, and related expenses.
Political analyst and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and the City University of New York’s School of Professional Studies Basil Smikle Jr. writes:
Whether pushing for race to be considered in higher education admissions policies or fighting against the use of race-neutral “percentage plans” in federal affirmative action proposals, there are aspects to Hillary Clinton’s activism that exist across multiple policy and political venues as well as at the community level.
Please understand that Hillary Clinton has a 50 year record on Civil Rights. If you really need more, look into her role in implementing Hillarycare, and her relationship with Rules for Radicals author Saul Alinsky. This excludes the countless number of statements she has made, and only focused on her specific actions. We should be just about done here.
“Don’t become too narrow. Live fully. Meet all kinds of people. You’ll learn something from everyone. Follow what you feel in your heart,”
– Civil Rights activist Yuri Kochiyama.
As the Millennials of New York City, we encounter all sorts of people, images, ideas, and movements daily. It seems as though we are constantly given the chance to learn, grow, and strengthen our moral fortitude by being surrounded by such diversity — differences in race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and income — differences that serve as our guiding light for spreading tolerance. All the more reason why it is our responsibility to educate and challenge injustice.
Yesterday, I discussed Jamie Foxx’s blunder at the iHeartRadio Music Awards — where he took to the stage to make a mockery out of Bruce Jenner’s transition. Instead of applauding Jenner’s courage, Foxx’s uncouth comment ushered in negativity and distracted from our most pressing conversations about equality and justice. Disguised as comedy, such remarks attempt to reduce the progress that is being made every day. As perhaps the largest viewer and listener base, and consumers of all entertainment platforms, it is up to Gen Y to challenge such backwards thinking.
CHANGING THE WORLD
We are a demographic, by nature and by exposure, that leans left; politically, Millennials were among Barack Obama’s strongest voter base in the 2008 Presidential Election. And according to a Pew Research survey, Millennials are on track to become the most educated generation in American history. We are confident, accepting, and as TIME’s Joel Stein contends, we believe we can change the world.
MORALITY IS FEARLESS
According to the survey, millennials are more racially tolerant than their elders, more receptive to immigrants, and as we dive into adulthood, maintain better relations with one another. With all of our confidence and connectivity — a hallmark of our generation — it is up to us to live as Kochiyama advised, to spread tolerance, correct wrongdoing, be fearless in our guiding moral compass, and continue to “feel what’s right.”
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