Friday, April 25, 2008

Update: Four Year Wait

I'm not alone in my analysis of the situation. This post presumes that Barack Obama does win the nomination, and that the Clinton campaign only wants to make it impossible for him to win in November so she can run in 2012.

The point made is that she won't have African American support then, either.

Top House Democrat denounces Clinton campaign tactics

Posted by: Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON - “Scurrilous” and “disingenuous” were among the words a top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives used on Thursday to describe Hillary Clinton’s campaign tactics in her bid to defeat Barack Obama for their party’s presidential nomination.

House Democratic Whip James Clyburn, of South Carolina and the highest ranking black in Congress, also said he has heard speculation that Clinton is staying in the race only to try to derail Obama and pave the way for her to make another White House run in 2012.

“I heard something, the first time yesterday (in South Carolina), and I heard it on the (House) floor today, which is telling me there are African Americans who have reached the decision that the Clintons know that she can’t win this. But they’re hell-bound to make it impossible for Obama to win” in November, Clyburn told Reuters in an interview.

Obama holds a sizable lead in delegates won in state-nominating contests which could be hard for her to overcome.

The purported theory is that an Obama defeat in November against Republican presidential candidate John McCain would let Clinton make another presidential bid in four years, Clyburn said.

Clyburn has not yet declared whether he supports Clinton or Obama. But in January, he raised his concerns about the heated exchanges between the two campaigns before the South Carolina primary.

On Thursday, Clyburn took Clinton and surrogates to task, complaining that they want the popular votes in Michigan and Florida counted, even though both states violated party rules for the early scheduling of their nominating contests.

“I think it’s so disingenuous … (adviser James) Carville and Sen. Clinton were all on TV. I’ve seen them two or three times this week, talking about counting Florida and Michigan.”

Obama did not campaign in those states because the Democratic Party said Florida and Michigan wouldn’t be included in the formal tally for the nomination. “Her name was the only one on the ticket in Michigan and still 42, 43 percent of the vote was against her,” Clyburn said.

Still, Clyburn said “I don’t think she ought to drop out.”

But he added, “There’s a difference between dropping out and raising all this extraneous scurrilous stuff about the guy (Obama). Just run your campaign … you don’t have to drop out to be respectful of other people.”

Yeah, Rev. Wright Was All Wrong (Updated)

Again, another one of my sarcastic titles.

This is why millions of African American Christians believe God condemns America:

Here's another opinion, not Rev. Wright's, on the matter.

Also, Rev. Jeremiah A Wright was a guest on Bill Moyer's Journal tonight (Friday, April 25) on PBS. I hope you caught it (sorry about not telling you sooner). Those of us who were more upset with Barack Obama's denouncing what Rev. Wright said in those "snippets" than we were with what Rev. Wright said were vindicated. The response to 60 seconds of selective sound byte looping and Rev. Wright response to the response both vindicate Rev. Wright.

This country has a problem with racism. The racism is structural and institutional as well as societal. If we're going to overcome the racial divide, the truth must be told. No white person has ever lost out on a job or the college of their choice because of affirmative action. And white people need to except that they live in a country that privileges them, their version of history, their worldview, at everyone else's expense.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Four Year Wait? (Updated)

I guess should preface this by saying I was watching MSNBC when a viewer asked why Barack Obama's failure to win the white blue-collar voting bloc was seen as a bigger problem than Hillary Clinton's failure to win the African American voting bloc. What Joe Scarborough explained is that African Americans are the most loyal Democratic voters; that Clinton isn't really worried about losing African American voters to John McCain in November. Of course, Rachel Maddow had to point out that since 1964, no Democrat, including Bill Clinton, had won a majority of white male voters; that it shouldn't be a big deal that Obama can't secure the white male vote during the Democratic primary.

So. Hillary Clinton seems to presume that the African American vote is guaranteed even if she's viewed as having stolen the nomination from Obama, the first viable black candidate. I think African Americans should prove her wrong. No, I'm not suggesting that we vote for McCain. I didn't just drink a large glass of stupid. What I suggest is that we African Americans, and any other voters of conscience, either vote for Cynthia McKinney, the former Georgia congresswoman who is the frontrunner for the Green Party presidential nominee; or, vote for Ralph Nader, even though I think he's a bit cloudy; or, not at all.

Yeah, I said it. Essentially, I'm advocating that African Americans essentially phone it in in November. We've gone through far worse than what four years of John McCain might offer. So, yeah, let's forget this election. I'm loathe the campaign the Clintons' have been running. I loathe whatever plans John McCain might have, which I already know includes ending any and all legal affirmative action (And let me point out, few white workers or students are displaced by affirmative action; and, the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action are white women.)

But I'm really disturbed by the notion that African American votes can be taken so lightly. I'm disturbed by the notion that in the name of breaking the hardest, highest glass ceiling women face, the first viable black presidential candidate can be tossed under the bus. I strongly reject some of the reasons he'd make a "bad" president, most of which is, at least partially, racist.
  • "He's all fluff." Interpretation: Black people are great speakers, but they never actually do anything about the problem the speech is on.
  • "He's a snake oil salesman." Interpretation: Black people are very sly and cunning, and always looking for the next mark for their next con.
  • "All he has are speeches." 1st Interpretation: All black can do is talk. They're to lazy to do anything else and aren't bright enough to know what else to do. 2nd Interpretation: All he has is speeches. That's make him unqualified. Don't make him the Affirmative Action president.
  • Etc and so on.

Those and others hearken back to racist notions that supposedly explain black inferiority. The Clinton campaign has been playing the race card. And when others play the race card against Obama, even though some Republicans come to his defense, the Clintons use the "controversy" against him. I mean, the only argument Hillary Clinton is making is basically that Obama's all fluff, and unvetted fluff at that.

So what she feels she'd make the better president? George W Bush thought he'd make a better president than Al Gore and John Kerry. And so what there're some who haven't voted yet? Those same voters hadn't voted in elections before.

And what's their major policy differences? The fact that he doesn't have a health coverage mandate? Or, the fact that he's not proposing a Middle East umbrella under which any country that promised not to acquire nuclear weapons would be protected by the US military industrial complex should Iran attack them. Yeah, forget the fact that the most recent NIE said the Iranians weren't trying to build nuclear weapons. Forget the fact that Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the "crazy" leader we must guard against, doesn't even have control over the military, and the Supreme Ayatollah has acknowledged that attacking Israel or any US ally isn't worth the risk. Yeah, ignore all that. Just like she ignored the NIE before the Iraq resolution. I mean, she's arguing that she'll be best to handle an emergency, but she keeps making these awful decisions under specious reasoning, and is now threatening to nuke Iran if they attack one of "umbrella" allies. I'm not alone in thinking threatening Iran with nukes as a bad idea.

Had she dropped out earlier, she would've made an absolutely incredible vice presidential candidate, and an unbeatable ticket. With his "speeches" and inspiration, Obama would've changed the political landscape and gotten some good policies passed. With her as vice president and his willingness to listen, they would've gotten very strong legislation passed. His presidency will show that the country is actually left of center. Americans actually care about each other and aren't going to cede our country to the wealthiest 1% and multinational corporations. And if she were the vice president those eight years, the country would be ready for her more wonkish style in 2016. She would've walked right through the elections. I guess she didn't want to wait that long. So, she's willing to undo Obama, and if she doesn't win the presidency this year, she can try again in 2012.

So really, why is she continuing her candidacy. The only way she can win, and "win," is that Obama implodes, and it doesn't appear that they may happen; or, that she blows him up. If she's willing to destroy his candidacy to benefit her own, then yes, I say African Americans should not vote for her. Other voters of principle are invited to join us.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Thank Goodness for Senate Republicans!

You know I don't mean that! I'm already, er, not happy about the fact that Sen. Hillary Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary. Now, she has sufficient reason to keep dragging Sen. Barack Obama and herself and the party through the mud. That's just great! (And if she succeeds in taking the nomination from Obama, I think all African-Americans should consider sitting this election out. More about that come June.)

But now, the Republicans, in their fervent commitment to the bottom, er, line, have blocked a bill that would reset the time employees have to sue employers for pay discrimination to 6 months after the most recent pay check. So essentially, the statute of limitations resets every time the employee gets paid. The intent of this bill was to undercut the recent Supreme Court 5-4 decision that the time limit starts when the decision is made to discriminate in pay. If you're confused by the decision, don't worry. You're bright. If, on the other hand, the decision makes complete sense to you, then you should probably worry.

The Republicans blocked the bill, which had passed the House of Representatives, because they felt it was unfair to employers. The White House agrees - Bush threatened to veto the bill if it passed. Their concern is that an employer may be sued years passed the "decision" and that evidence might be lost. Plus, they are outraged by the Democrats having held the bill till after dinner just so Sens. Clinton and Obama would have the chance to support it. Sen. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, didn't go back to vote on the bill, but he's against it.

I'm going to contact both my US senators - Republicans each. It's probably useless, but I want my disdain for this obstructionism recorded.

Monday, April 21, 2008

RIGHTS-US: U.N. Panel Finds Two-Tier (Racist) Society

RIGHTS-US: U.N. Panel Finds Two-Tier Society By Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11 (IPS) - The United States government is drawing fire from international legal experts for its treatment of American Indians, Blacks, Latinos and other racial minorities.

The U.S. is failing to meet international standards on racial equality, according to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Last Friday, after considering the U.S. government's written and oral testimony, the 18- member committee said it has found "stark racial disparities" in the U.S. institutions, including its criminal justice system.

The CERD is responsible for monitoring global compliance with the 1969 Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, an international treaty that has been ratified by the United States.

In concluding the CERD report on the U.S. record, the panel of experts called for the George W. Bush administration to take effective actions to end racist practices against minorities in the areas of criminal justice, housing, healthcare and education.

This is the second time in less than two years that the U.S. government has been found to be falling short of its treaty obligations. In March 2006, The CERD had harshly criticised the U.S. for violating Native Americans' land rights.

Taking note of racial discrimination against indigenous communities, the Committee said it wants the U.S. to provide information about what it has done to promote the culture and traditions of American Indian, Alaska Native and indigenous Hawaiian peoples. It also urged the U.S. to apply the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The CERD also voiced strong concerns regarding environmental racism and the environmental degradation of indigenous areas of spiritual and cultural significance, without regard to whether they are on "recognised" reservation lands.

The Committee recommended to the U.S. that it consult with indigenous representatives, "chosen in accordance with their own procedures -- to ensure that activities carried out in areas of spiritual and cultural significance do not have a negative impact on the enjoyment of their rights under the Convention".

In its 13-page ruling, the U.N. body also raised serious questions about the death penalty and in the sentencing of minors to life without parole, which it linked to racial disparities between whites and blacks.

In their testimony, Bush administration officials held that the treaty obligations do not apply to laws or practices that are race-neutral on their face but discriminatory in effect. The Committee outright rejected that claim, noting that the treaty prohibits racial discrimination in all forms, including practices and legislation that may not be discriminatory in purpose, but in effect.

The CERD panel also objected to the indefinite detention of non-citizens at Guantanamo prison and urged the U.S. to guarantee "enemy combatants" judicial review.

The panel said the U.S. needs to implement training programmes for law enforcement officials, teachers and social workers in order to raise their awareness about the treaty and the obligations the U.S. is required to uphold as a signatory.

Human rights defenders who watched the CERD proceeding closely said they were pleased with its observations and recommendations.

"The U.N. is telling the U.S. that it needs to deal with an ugly aspect of its criminal justice system," said Alison Parker of Human Rights Watch, which has been monitoring discriminatory practices in the United States for years.

In a statement, Parker hailed the U.N. panel for rejecting the U.S. government's claim that more black children get life without parole because they commit more crimes and held that the U.N. criticism of the justice system was fair.

"Once again, the Bush administration has been told by a major human rights body that it is not above the law," said Parker in of the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo prison.

Other rights activists also held similar views about the outcome of the CERD hearings in Geneva.

"[It has] exposed to the world the extent to which racial discrimination has been normalised and effectively made permissible in many areas of American life," said Ajamu Baraka of the Human Rights Network, an umbrella group representing more than 250 rights advocacy organisations.

As part of its recommendations, the Committee has asked the U.S. government to consider the establishment of an independent human rights body that could help eliminate widespread racial disparities.

Lenny Foster, Diné (Navajo) and representative of the Native America Prisoners Rights Coalition, was a member of the indigenous delegation to the CERD. He observed during the examination that the United States was "in denial".

"Spiritual wellness and spiritual healing is paramount to the very survival of the indigenous nations," he said. "There are efforts to prohibit and impede the spiritual access. Corporations cannot be allowed to prohibit access and to destroy and pollute and desecrate the sacred lands."

Bill Larsen of the Western Shoshone Defence Project delegation also testified before the Committee, making a strong case concerning environmental racism and the deadly pollution caused by mining on their ancestral lands.

In March 2006, the Western Shoshone leaders had received a favourable response from the Committee to its complaint about the U.S. exploitation of their sacred lands. The U.S. is obligated "to freeze, desist and stop further harmful activities on their lands", but failed to take any action.

Indigenous leaders said they welcomed the Committee's decision to ask the U.S. to submit its report on compliance within one.year.

"It is important that all Native Peoples within the U.S. know that they have rights that are recognized by international law even if the United States refuses to recognise them or act upon them," said Alberto Saldamando, one of the indigenous delegates attending the Geneva meeting.

"Now it is not just us," he continued, "but the international community that has recognised that indigenous peoples within the United States are subject to racism on many levels and has called for effective steps by the U.S. to remedy this situation."


'Protecting the Women of Congo' from The Nation

If you like this article, please consider subscribing to The Nation at special discounted rates. You can order online at or call our toll-free number at 1-800-333-8536.

Protecting the Women of Congo
by Stephen Lewis

Today is a day that has largely--and rightly--been given over to Dr. [Denis] Mukwege and his astonishing and heroic work in the Congo. (For those who may have missed his panel, he is, of course, the internationally famed doctor who heads the resolute and magnificent staff of the Panzi Hospital in Eastern Congo.) Driving the work is the endlessly grim and despairing litany of rape and sexual violence. All of us assembled in the Superdome, talk of V-Day and The Vagina Monologues; in the Congo there's a medical term of art called "vaginal destruction." I need not elaborate; most of you have heard Dr. Mukwege. But suffice to say that in the vast historical panorama of violence against women, there is a level of demonic dementia plumbed in the Congo that has seldom, if ever, been reached before.

That's the peg on which I want to hang these remarks. I want to set out an argument that essentially says that what's happening in the Congo is an act of criminal international misogyny, sustained by the indifference of nation states and by the delinquency of the United Nations.

Dr. Mukwege and others have said time and time again that the current saga of the Congo has been going on for more than a decade. It's important to remember that it's a direct result of the escape of thousands of mass murderers who eluded capture after the Rwandan genocide--thanks to the governments of France and the United States--by fleeing into what was then called Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The wars and the horror that followed have been chronicled by journalists, by human rights organizations, by senior representatives of the United Nations Secretary-General, by agencies, by NGOs internationally and NGOs on the ground, by the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs, by the Security Council, and in the process, accentuated and punctuated by the cries and the pain and the carnage of over 5 million deaths.

The sordid saga ebbs and flows. But it was brought back into sudden, vivid public notoriety by Eve Ensler's trip to the Congo in July and August of last year, her visit to the Panzi Hospital, her interviews with the women survivors of rape, and her visceral piece of writing in Glamour magazine which began with the words "I have just returned from Hell."

Eve set off an extraordinary chain reaction: her visit was followed by a fact-finding mission by the current UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs who, upon his return, wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times in which he said that the Congo was the worst place in the world for women. Those views were then echoed everywhere (including by the EU Parliament), triggering front page stories in the New York Times, the Washington Postand the Los Angeles Times, and a lengthy segment on 60 Minutes by Anderson Cooper of CNN.

Largely as a result of this growing clamor against the war on women in the Congo, and the fact that Eve Ensler herself testified before the Security Council, the United Nations resolution that renewed the mandate for the UN Peacekeeping force in the Congo (MONUC, as it's called) contained some of the strongest language condemning rape and sexual violence ever to appear in a Security Council resolution, and obliged MONUC, in no uncertain terms, to protect the women of the Congo. The resolution was passed at the end of December last year.

In January of this year, scarce one month later, there was an "Act of Engagement"--a so-called peace commitment signed amongst the warring parties. I use "so-called" advisedly because evidence of peace is hard to find. But that's not the point: the point is much more revelatory and much more damning.

The peace commitment is a fairly lengthy document. Unbelievably, from beginning to end, the word "rape" never appears. Unbelievably, from beginning to end, the phrase "sexual violence" never appears. Unbelievably, "women" are mentioned but once, lumped in with children, the elderly and the disabled. It's as if the organizers of the peace conference had never heard of the Security Council resolution.

But it gets worse. The peace document actually grants amnesty--I repeat, amnesty--to those who have participated in the fighting. To be sure, it makes a deliberate legal distinction, stating that war crimes or crimes against humanity will not be excused. But who's kidding whom? This arcane legal dancing on the head of a pin is not likely to weigh heavily on the troops in the field, who have now been given every reason to believe that since the rapes they committed up to now have been officially forgiven and forgotten, they can rape with impunity again. And indeed, as Dr. Mukwege testified before Congress just last week, the raping and sexual violence continues.

The war may stutter; the raping is unabated.

But the most absurd dimension of this whole discreditable process is the fact that the peace talks were "facilitated"--they were effectively orchestrated--by MONUC, that is to say, by the United Nations. And perhaps most unconscionable of all, despite the existence for seven years of another Security Council resolution 1325, calling for women to be active participants in all peace deliberations, there was no one at that peace table directly representing the women, the more than 200,000 women, whose lives and anatomies were torn to shreds by the very war that the peace talks were meant to resolve.

Thus does the United Nations violate its own principles.

Now let me make something clear. In the nearly twenty-five years that I've been involved in international work, I've been a ready apologist for the United Nations. And I continue to be persuaded that the United Nations can yet offer the best hope for humankind. But when the United Nations goes off the rails, as is the case in the Congo--as is invariably the case when women are involved--my colleagues and I, in our new organization called AIDS-Free World, are not going to bite our tongues. There's too much at stake.

What makes this all the more galling is that in many respects, the UN is the answer. Those of you who intermittently despair of ending sexual violence should know that if the UN brought the full power of its formidable agencies to bear, tremendous progress would be made despite the indifference of many countries. But therein lie cascading levels of hypocrisy.

You heard today about the collective UN campaign to end rape and sexual violence in the Congo--twelve agencies united in this common purpose. But with the exception of some magnificent UNICEF staff on the ground, about whom Ann Veneman, executive director of UNICEF has every right to be proud, the presence of the other UN agencies ranges from negligible to nonexistent. This is all largely an exercise in rhetoric. Even the UN Population Fund, ostensibly the lead agency in the Congo, is pathetically weak on the ground, and on its own website talks of the problems of funding.

It does induce a combination of rage and incredulity when the UN tries to pawn itself off as the serious player in combating sexual violence when the record is so appallingly bad. In fact it could be said--indeed, it needs to be said--that the V-Day movement and Eve, relatively minuscule players by comparison, have probably done more to ease the pain of violence in the Congo than any one of eleven UN agencies. Who else, I ask you, is building a City of Joy so that the women who have been raped can recover with some sense of security and then become leaders in their communities?

Is there an answer to this collective abject failure of the international community to protect the women of the Congo? There sure is, and the answer sits right at the top, and the answer is the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

I don't know who is advising the Secretary-General on these matters, but he's being led down a garden path soon to be strewn with ghosts that will haunt his entire stewardship, and leave an everlasting pejorative legacy. I know how the UN works; I've been an Ambassador to the UN for my country, the Deputy at UNICEF, an advisor on Africa to a former Secretary-General, and most recently a "Special Envoy." In the incestuous hotbed of the thirty-eighth floor of the United Nations secretariat, where sits the Secretary-General, critics are scorned, derided and mocked. And exactly the same will happen to me. But I want all of you here assembled to know that it need not be.

If the Secretary-General were to exercise real leadership against sexual violence, instead of falling back--as his advisors have suggested--on statements and rhetoric and fatuous public relations campaigns, he could turn things around. What in God's name is wrong with these people whose lives consist of moving from inertia to paralysis?

The Secretary-General should summon the heads of the twelve UN agencies allegedly involved in "UN Action" on violence against women and read the riot act. He should explain to them that press releases do not prevent rape, and he should demand a plan of action on the ground, with dollars and deadlines. He should equally summon the heads of the ten agencies that comprise UNAIDS and demand a plan of implementation for testing, treatment, prevention and care for women who have been sexually assaulted, again with deadlines. I'm prepared to bet that UNAIDS has never convened such a meeting, despite the fact that the violence of the sexual assaults in the Congo creates avenues in the reproductive tract through which the AIDS virus passes. Dr. Mukwege talks of increased numbers of HIV-positive women turning up at Panzi.

The Secretary-General, taking a leaf from Eve Ensler, should insist on a network of rape crisis centers, rape clinics in all hospitals, sexual violence counsellors, and Cities of Joy right across the Eastern Congo... indeed, across the entire country. The Secretary-General should demand a roll call, an accounting of which countries have contributed financially to ending the violence, and in what amounts, plus those who have not, and then publish the results for the world to see so that the recalcitrants can be brought to the bar of public opinion (How's this for a juxtaposition by way of example: over the course of over a decade? The UN Trust Fund to end Violence Against Women has triumphantly reached $130 million. The United States spends more than $3 billion/week on the war in Iraq).

But there's more. The Secretary-General should launch a personal crusade to double the troop complement--that is, MONUC--in the Congo. The protection provisions in the new so-called peace accord, for women, cannot be implemented with the current troop numbers, large though they may seem.

And finally, the Secretary-General should pull out all the stops in getting the United Nations to agree that the Congo is the best test case for the principle of the "Responsibility to Protect." This principle was universally endorsed by heads of state at the United Nations in September of 2005. It's the first major contemporary international challenge to the sanctity of sovereignty. It simply asserts that where a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own people from gross violations of human rights, then the international community has the responsibility to intervene. That responsibility can be diplomatic negotiation, or economic sanctions, or political pressure or military intervention--whatever it takes to restore justice to the oppressed. Responsibility to Protect was originally drafted with Darfur in mind--it's equally applicable to the Congo. We have to start somewhere.

The Secretary-General has a tremendous challenge. He has the opportunity, and the wherewithal, and the influence and the majesty to save thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of women's lives--physically and psychologically. And once the process begins in earnest in the Congo, it would spread to all dimensions of violence against women everywhere.

To whom else is such an opportunity given? The Secretary-General of the United Nations has said that violence against women is one of the gravest issues of our time. Well, if that's the case, surely he can understand that speeches aren't enough. And if he truly believes what he says, then let him stake his tenure on it. I believe that the struggle for gender equality is the most important struggle on the planet: Ban Ki-Moon should say to the 192 countries that make up the United Nations: "Either you give me evidence that we're going to prevail in this struggle or you find yourself another Secretary-General."

"Ah," people will say, "Lewis has finally lost it." I don't think so. We're talking about more than 50 percent of the world's population, amongst whom are the most uprooted, disinherited and impoverished of the earth. If you can't stand up for the women of the world, then you shouldn't be Secretary-General.

Alas, I guess I know what will happen. We've already had signals. Last fall, in an unprecedented initiative, a High-Level Panel on Reform of the United Nations recommended the creation of a new international agency for women. The recommendation was based on the finding that the record of the UN on gender has been abysmal. If the new agency comes into being, headed by an Under-Secretary General, with funding that starts at $1 billion a year (less than half of UNICEF's resources), and real capacity to run programs on the ground, issues like violence against women would suddenly be confronted with indomitable determination.

The women activists on the ground, the women survivors on the ground, the women activist-survivors on the ground would finally have resources and support for the work that must be done.

But the creation of the new agency is bogged down in the UN General Assembly, caught up in the crossfire between the developed and developing countries. The Secretary-General could break that impasse if he pulled out all the stops. He and the Deputy-Secretary General make speeches that give the impression they support the women's agency, but in truth the language is so carefully and artfully couched as to gut the agency of impact on the ground, in-country, were it ever to come into being. Again, the advisors read the tea leaves in a soiled and broken chalice.

This weekend has been filled with hope in the struggle to end violence against women. Thoughtful, decent men have come to the fore on this very platform, and women from so many countries have made the case for sanity in words that are moving and compelling in equal measure. I have chosen to link the Congo and the United Nations because as Eve said at the outset, the Congo is the V-Day spotlight for the coming year, and the United Nations can truly break the monolith of violence. We just have to apply unceasing pressure so that the issue is joined rather than manipulated.

I don't have Eve's rhythm and cadence. But I cherish a touch of her spirit, a lot of her anger and a microscopic morsel of her trusting love, commitment and courage that will one day change this world.

This article can be found on the web at:

Visit The Nation

Subscribe to The Nation:

'The Liberation of Reverend Wright' from The Nation

If you like this article, please consider subscribing to The Nation at special discounted rates. You can order online at or call our toll-free number at 1-800-333-8536.

Plus, read and comment.

Also, don't mistake superficial symmetry for true equality and justice. Contrary to a comment I read at The Nation, the Black church is not equivalent to the Ku Klux Klan. ~ No1KState

The Liberation of Reverend Wright
by Eudora Smith


The notes posted on the glass doors of Trinity United Church of Christ reflect the state of siege at Barack Obama's home church: "Media must sign in at the front desk." "No cameras or recording devices allowed inside." The press has been relentless in its pursuit of church members ever since snippets of sermons by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's former pastor, appeared on the Internet more than a month ago. Like Louis Farrakhan before him, Wright has become a litmus test for Obama with white voters. His sermons--in which he says that America is run by "rich white people" and talks about "America's chickens coming home to roost" on September 11--have been described as "racist" and "unpatriotic." As scrutiny intensified on the 8,000-member congregation, its motto, "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian," was characterized as black separatist. For many at Trinity, which I often attend, the final insult came when some journalists called the homes of sick and elderly members, whose names are published in a weekly list of "shut-ins."

Trinity's members are certainly not naive enough to think they could escape media scrutiny. But underlying the coverage of this story, which is punctuated with words like "inflammatory" and "controversial," is a sense that something is fundamentally wrong, perhaps even pathological, about Wright and the teachings at Trinity. These accounts, however, misrepresent the black church, whose rhetorical traditions meld biblical allegory with contemporary political and racial concerns, and whose sanctuaries provide a rare space where a collective black racial consciousness can be expressed uncensored by others. "I think that a lot of the media, articularly the mainstream media, have no experience of the everyday life of the black church...and especially what the church service on Sunday means for the black community in general," says Dwight Hopkins, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School and a member of Trinity. Hopkins describes the black church as a "sacred and cultural phenomenon,'' a "way station" that functions as an antidote to the six days of the week where race matters. In the black church, race isn't a source of contention; it's a source of community.

Part of the cultural phenomenon Hopkins speaks of is a prophetic style of preaching. As Peter Gomes of Harvard University's Divinity School recently said in a Washington Post blog, "It may surprise many in white America, for whom Martin Luther King Jr. is the only black preacher of whom they have ever heard, to learn that there are a lot of Jeremiah Wrights out there who week after week give expression to that classic definition of prophetic preaching that is to 'comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.'"

The Rev. Otis Moss III, Trinity's current pastor, echoed that theme in an April sermon linked to the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of King. Like the prophets of the Bible, and Jesus himself, who called out the moral failings of the powerful, King took America to task for racism and poverty, Moss said. Grasping the connection with their own embattled senior pastor, the congregation exploded in shouts of "Tell it!" and "Make it plain!"

For many black churchgoers, the attack on Wright is an assault on how they choose to worship. Though the black church is not without its flaws and shortcomings--on more than one occasion, Wright has called out the behavior of other black ministers, and the rise of prosperity teachings has cut into the tradition of afflicting the comfortable--it has endured as a powerful cultural and social institution because it is needed. As long as racism exists, the church provides a sanctuary for many black folks.

Rooted in the secret gatherings of slaves in the South who were introduced to Christianity by "plantation missionaries," the church has fed the spirit, while at the same time organizing and tending to the most basic physical needs of its members, explains James Cone, a professor at Union Theological Seminary. "The black church was the only thing we owned," says Cone, an architect of Black Liberation Theology whose teaching has influenced Trinity. "It was both a spiritual and political institution."

Wright may be Obama's litmus test, but the treatment of African-Americans, brought to this country chained in the belly of slave ships, has been the litmus test for America's moral character. Historically, black preachers have taken the nation to task for its sin of racism. The independently owned and controlled black church allowed them the financial freedom to invoke the name of the Lord in the crusade for justice--from the days of Reconstruction to the civil rights movement, which Cone calls "the perfect expression" of the black church tradition.

Steeped in biblical symbolism and a belief in a higher moral authority, the church has been a fitting vehicle for social justice movements. The best prophetic preachers can turn the Old Testament narrative of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt into a parable about contemporary African-American tribulations, from the poll tax to police brutality to the 2000 election fraud in Florida. On Sunday, in the powerful allegory of the black church, the oppressive Pharaoh and President Bush could be one and the same.

"Trinity's preaching is very much in keeping with African-American and United Church of Christ traditions, which is to be publicly engaging--challenging government, challenging systems, challenging structures. At the same time, it is a safe space for the predominantly African-American community to speak with one's parishioners," says the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, communications director of the United Church of Christ [UCC]. "You don't have to back up. You don't have to justify. You don't have to prove it. It is shared experience." As a result, Wright's sermons don't always sit well with the uninitiated, says Guess. "Sometimes they are difficult to hear, especially if you are not accustomed to that style of worship."

Wright and Moss both draw on a prophetic style of preaching common to the black church, but Trinity's practice of Black Liberation Theology is not as widespread in the black church at large, although its principles of social justice are. The product of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Black Liberation Theology confronted the public identity of Christianity as white and reaffirmed a Gospel that stood firmly with the oppressed. Politically, it attempted to reconcile the Christian, nonviolent identity of those who marched with King with the black, more militant identity espoused by Malcolm X.

"With the emergence of the Black Power movement, we also wanted to be black Christians who were concerned about cultural liberation--to be freely black and politically liberated to achieve the kind of freedom the civil rights movement was advocating," says Cone. "What we wanted to do was bring Malcolm and Martin together."

Another goal of Black Liberation Theology, according to Cone, was "an internal liberation" that shook off the shame of being black, which had been ground into African-Americans by the ideology of black inferiority (and white supremacy) that justified slavery. "That's why you have that cultural emphasis," Cone says.

At Trinity, the red, black and green flag (the so-called Black Liberation flag) that stands near the pulpit is an affirmation of a black identity in a country where the notion of black beauty is still called into question by the pejorative use of terms such as "nappy-headed." As one of 250 black congregations in a denomination of 5,700 churches, Trinity also reflects the UCC's traditions of social justice.

Created in 1957, the UCC traces its roots back to the "people of the Mayflower" and the early New England Congregational Church, which ordained the first African-American pastor in 1785 and the first woman pastor in 1853. The UCC ordained the first openly gay pastor in 1972. The Congregational Church's most famous role in American history was its successful legal defense of the slaves of the Amistad, who commandeered the slave ship in 1839, finally landing on Long Island, where they were arrested.

God calls members of the church to be "agents of change" and "agents of reconciliation," says Guess, explaining UCC's interpretation of the Gospel. It is this calling that is being tested in Chicago.

Each Sunday a senior member of UCC, which is based in Cleveland, attends services at Trinity to offer encouragement to members. The denomination has bought full-page ads in the New York Times and USA Today to clarify its teachings and support Trinity. The UCC and the National Council of Churches have called for a "sacred conversation" on race in churches across the nation on May 18 in the hope of developing a substantive dialogue about the issue.

Members of Trinity have been largely silent in the mainstream media, instead choosing to tell their story by posting Wright's sermons online and through testimonials that present a more complete image of the senior pastor, like a recent commentary in the Chicago Tribune by William Von Hoene Jr., a white member. He explained how Wright convinced his wife, who is African-American, that marrying him was the right thing to do, despite the challenges they might face as a couple. Breaking down racial barriers, Wright told the man, was how one made progress on issues of race.

In the sanctuary these days, there are many new white faces--a professor and his sociology students from a local university, teenagers from a church in a small rural town between Chicago and Wisconsin. These visitors are friends and supporters for whom the media controversy has inspired a journey of understanding. On a recent Sunday, Moss warned them that Trinity is a "hugging" church, and when the congregation paused from the service to greet one another, the visitors were swept into Trinity's collective embrace. Their presence is treated like the rainbow sign God sent Noah after the Flood.

But the most powerful response to the media storm surrounding Trinity is in the Sunday morning worship services. The choir sings as if attempting to pierce heaven. A wave of emotion washes over the singers, whose shouts of "Thank you, Lord!" are matched by those of the congregation, which sways side to side. The pastor's voice is as sturdy as God's trombone when he compares King to Joseph in the Old Testament, two men who suffered in this life because they dreamed of a better world. And in a display of the call-and-response tradition of the black church at its best, when Reverend Moss says, "What man meant for evil," the congregation, without a pause, replies, "God meant for good."

This article can be found on the web at:

Visit The Nation

Subscribe to The Nation:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Advice for Blue-Collar Whites

Don’t worry, white Americans. I’m not about to launch into an anti-racism tirade. Even though anti-racism is sort of my “specialty” – having been a history major, what do you want? – my chief goal and hope is for overall justice, equality, and fairness. And I think some lessons have been learned by African Americans that will serve white blue-collar workers well. I’m going to have to explain black high school socio-politics, but bare with me, you’ll get the point.

One thing that’s held against African American students is our detestation for “acting white.” In high school, it plays out like this:

First, there is a list of standards you must meet to be considered appropriately black –
-Dress “black”
-Speak black English vernacular
-Act “black”
-Don’t be so quick to get on any white person’s, teacher, student, principal, good side
-Demonstrate sufficient athleticism and/or music ability
-Only date other black students or white students who act sufficiently black
-Don’t be a class stand-out
-Know the latest R&B, Hip-Hop, and Rap hits and artists.

I think the list goes a little something like that. Failure to meet any one or more of these standards immediately puts your “blackness” in question. You may even end up ostracize from the black students at-large. High school students usually do this to their own detriment. Either the best and brightest and prevented from leading the group; or, the leaders, who probably are exceptionally bright, are prevented from demonstrating their intelligence. This not only hurts the individual students; it hurts them as a group.
See, what black students are actually struggling against in the anti-black racism that’s ingrained into our educational systems. They can accomplish more as a collect group than any number of individuals acting alone can accomplish. Maintaining these standards for in-group membership often holds the larger group back, keeping them in a vicious cycle of underachievement and low expectations. Right? If the best and brightest were allowed to be honor students and maintain leadership of the group, maybe that would change the perception others have of the group at-large, thus leading to better education for all. Right? That’s fair?

So why aren’t the standards set aside? Well, the group wants to be sure that every individual is loyal to the group. This loyalty entails relating to and not being ashamed of other members in the group whose English may not meet what’s known as American Standard English. Some members of the group aren’t particularly academically gifted, though this by no means implies that they are “exception children.” At the end of the day, the group at-large needs to know that each individual is with them in the struggle against the prejudice and bias they face everyday. The aforementioned standards are simply a quick and easy way of finding out whether someone is for you or against you. In general, a student’s meeting these standards tells you a lot about where they are. But the standards, quick and easy though they may be, can be misleading, right? Cause anyone who holds too tightly may find him/herself graduating one day without a future.

I’m beginning to see it’s the same for white blue-collar workers, even during presidential elections. You want to know if the person who’ll be leading you can relate to your daily struggle and doesn’t look down on you for things they might not be into. (Just like a hip-hop fan doesn’t want to be looked down upon for not enjoying blues-jazz.) And so, you have a list of the standards a leader must maintain that looks something like this:
-Grow-up in an “all-American” type family
-Be a person of faith, preferably (fundamental) Christian
-Be a hunter
-Drink coffee at the diner in the morning, beer at the bar in the afternoon
-Dress “blue collar”
-Talk and sound “blue collar”
-Love, and I mean L-O-V-E love, America
-Hate anything, and I mean A-N-Y-thing, un-American

Just like with black high school students, what you really want to know is if this person is “one of us,” right? Cause a person who’s one of you is most likely to know and sympathize with your everyday struggle. That list is just a quick and easy way of finding out whether someone is for you or against you. But, holding too strictly to that list has gotten you into some trouble, right? In the most recent elections, holding too strictly to this list has gotten us into a war and an occupation of another country; all the while, the people we really want to get go free. The economy is heading into, if it’s not there already, recession. The housing bubble has burst. Health care costs are ridiculous, right? Sure, they doctors can get rid of the cancer, but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg! Manufacturing jobs are going away, and not enough good-paying jobs are coming to replace them. The price of gas and heating oil is sky rocketing. And your struggle seems to be getting worse. Your faith sustains you.
But, wait. What does abortions and same-sex marriages have to do with you? Now, I can blog about either one or both on another day. For the sake of this post, just keep in mind that the gays ain’t the ones giving your kids poisoned toys.
See, what you really wanna know is whether or not your leader, or rather, our President, is someone who fights with you in the cause for economic fairness and justice. This person may not be able to bowl. This person may not enjoy hunting. This doesn’t mean that s/he doesn’t feel your pain and wants to change things to give you the fair shot you’ve earned.

I mean. Take it from me. All my high school teachers and principals loved me! I graduated at the top of my class and had one of the highest SAT scores. I didn’t dress “black.” I couldn’t dance well. My mother wouldn’t let me play sports. And because I had been a transfer student and my parents didn’t see the need to buy me a car, I couldn’t hang out with everyone else. I had to walk a tight rope in middle and high school, but now I’m able to use what I’ve gained by “acting white” AND my classmates know that I’m with them in the struggle.

So, just because someone doesn’t mean all your standards doesn’t mean they don’t care. It could mean that they’re being their authentic selves. Yes, they dress and different way and may act a different way, but they care about economic fairness and justice, they care about your struggle, just as much, maybe even more, as you do.
My advice to you? Don’t judge a book by its cover. At least read the inside folding first!

Or simply put, don’t dismiss Barack Obama just because he can’t bowl to save his life . . . or he doesn’t wear a lapel pin that’s made in China. If you’re going to vote against him, let it be because you prefer a health insurance mandate. Let it be because you don’t like his ideas about keep Social Security solvent. Just don’t let it be a few ill-spoken words. Just don’t let it be the fact that he keeps being himself and won’t mock you by playing at being you.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Here's What's Wrong with This Country

"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama said. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

- Barack Obama (by way of Mayhill Fowler)

Apparently, despite the fact Obama spoke the truth, what he said is offensive and wrong. And the fact that his statement is controversial is an example of what's wrong with this country.

I agree with Catherine Crier's assessment. But I do have more to add, cause the problem goes beyond the way that giving voters everything they want regarding social issues will not change their economic situations . . . or society for that matter. Gay couples will still hold hands in public; people will still feel no one has a legitimate need for a semi-automatic weapon; not everyone will accept Christ. Period. That's the way life is.

Now, I'm disappointed by Senator John McCain, but his criticism was to be expected:

"It shows an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking...It is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with average Americans."

McCain, for all his war heroics, is being awfully elitist and condescending by supporting a political system that takes people's financial security and gives them guns and Jesus instead. Someone actually said something like that much better than I did, but I can't recall the exact quote.

But I am disturbed by Hillary Clinton's criticism:

"Well, that is not my experience," she said. "As I travel around Pennsylvania I meet people who are resilient, optimistic, positive...If we start acting like Americans," she said, "and role up our sleeves, we can make sure that America's best years are ahead of us."

Bosnia aside, this is why I'm loathe to vote for her in November, as president or vice president. I, like many millions of others, are tired of this old-style manipulative politics.

But back to Obama's comments and the general criticism. Supposedly, he's being criticized for appearing to dismiss people's faith and culture as sources of false security in the face of economic uncertainty as opposed to accepting people's faith and culture as genuine.

Here's the problem with that analysis: historically, people world-wide have always turned to faith and culture as sources of false security in the face of economic uncertainty. This is human nature and nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Think through American history. Lynchings spiked during the Depression. Xenophobia grew anytime the economy slowed. Whenever the economy turned badly, Americans turned on each other or immigrants or whoever happened to be available at the time to unleash their frustrations on.

And think back to recent history. After the upheaval of the 60s, white Americans clung to the suburbs and "tradition." After 9/11, many Americans sought out caricatures of manly men and helpless women and thus the myth of Jessica Lynch. In fact, if it weren't for "clinging" to the past and the myth of American infallibility, Ronald Reagan would've never been elected president and certainly not twice.

And I don't know what "faith" Clinton is talking about - "The people of faith I know don't 'cling' to religion because they're bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich," she said. I'm a person of faith, but I don't protest women's right to make their own reproductive choices; I don't judge people whose sexual orientation differs from my own; I don't decry the lack of "prayer in school" or the teaching of evolution. What many Americans are clinging to isn't faith, but certainty and control. Just because this "certainty" can disguise itself religion doesn't make it so. What it makes is for a religion that is rigid and intolerant. A religion that has propelled home schooling and charter schools into mainstream politics. A religion that has even infested our education and healthcare as many young people catch sexual diseases and become pregnant because adults clung to abstinence and didn't talk about safe sex. A religion that has infested our foreign policy leading to the deaths of many because AIDS isn't properly prevented, or women don't have access to reproductive care.

Now, I'm not as current on various issues surrounding gun rights, Update: Come to think of it, I am fairly aware of several gun rights issues. There is a case before the Supreme Court challenging the limits on ownership rights in DC. Here's the problem with many who "cling" to their guns - what lawful need does anyone have for a semi-automatic weapon; aren't there some limits to individual rights when public safety is at risk; what's the problem with law officers being able to track guns that have been used in crimes; and, do you really need to have the gun shows where anyone with enough money can buy what they want? Are you not clinging to something with your attitude towards guns? but I do know immigration wouldn't be such a concern if there were enough good-paying jobs to go around. I do know immigration wouldn't be so rampant if NAFTA hadn't been passed. What's more, I absolutely have no doubts that often "cultural issues" stands in for anti-black/brown racism, so the fact that McCain and Clinton so readily criticize Obama for stating the truth troubles me.

What all Americans should be troubled by is the arrogance and condescension of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Unemployment has been rising. Cost of living has been rising. Wages, on the other hand, have been in decline, and our nation's healthcare is no better and sometimes worse than many third-world countries. The number of deaths in Iraq have been rising. Anti-American sentiment around the world has been rising. Meanwhile, our ability to secure ourselves, our infrastructure, our military have all been in decline. This current administration has eroded civil liberties and disregarded the Constitution. Innocent people were preyed upon with predatory lending; but, instead of helping out American people-citizens, our government chose to bail out Bear Sterns, a "corporation" citizen. What person, in small-town or big-city America is not, or should not, be bitter about the current state of the union.

But here's the silver lining. It's also human nature that along with bitterness about the present there is hope about the future. Hope that as bad as things are, I as an individual have it within my power to make things better. This bitterness and hope is part of what fueled the hallowed Revolution - "patriots" were bitter about taxation without representation. It fueled the women's suffrage movement and the Black Freedom Movement. Bitterness and hope is what fuels change - when people become "sick and tired of being sick and tired" and are finally ready for change. Why didn't McCain and Clinton say that? Why didn't they tell Americans that it's okay if they're bitter, that they, McCain and Clinton, want to work to make things better.

If you can't empathize with Americans' bitterness, than what and who exactly are you going to fight for, Mrs. Clinton? If giving voice to Americans' bitterness is "elitism and arrogance," exactly who will you be speaking for, Mr. McCain?

But really, this whole "controversy" over "bitterness" is merely an example of what's wrong with this country. The problem is this country's inability to face the truth about itself. Yes, we're still a country and culture steeped in white-supremacy ideology. Yes, we're still a country steeped in misogyny and patriarchal control. Yes, we're wreaking havoc around the world, not just with our military misadventures, but with our economic policy. And yes, many Americans, myself included, are bitter about our current state. Unless and until we can face these truths, we will never change. Unless and until we can face these truths, so long as we're more afraid of the truth than the effects of 47 million uninsured and millions more under insured Americans, there's not much reason to hope. So long as we Americans allow ourselves to be manipulated into wars and an economy that only benefits the top 5% or so of us, there's not much reason to hope. But because there are so many of us who refuse the status quo, who refuse the gilded cage, I think there is sufficient cause for hope. As for the rest of you, stop being blinded and get on the bus!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Role of the Church in a Democracy

It’s taken me several weeks to get my thoughts together about the Rev. Wright controversy. This recent 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr helped me put a few things in perspective.

I think there’s a mistaken belief that the Church is supposed to keep check of the morals of only its adherents, but that’s not so. It is the role of the Church to challenge not only its adherents and believers, not just society at large, but the government as well. That’s why the “Founding Fathers” instituted the separation of the Church and State. Not just to preserve the State, but also to preserve the Church.

I think everyone can agree that no Church is to be partisan. That goes without saying. That does not mean, however, that the Church is to be apolitical. The third line of the Father’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” is explicitly political. And while there seems to be some disagreement about what God’s Kingdom would mean for nations here on Earth, there can be no disagreement that God’s Kingdom doesn’t mean the United States or the United Kingdom, or any other such “Earthly” nation. The idea that the Church is not allowed to criticize the government is not only faulty, it’s a lie. If the Sacred can’t criticize the Secular, who can? Who should?

Just so we’re clear, the reason the Constitution prohibits the federal and state governments from establishing a particular religion goes beyond the mere desire not to force Methodists to pay taxes to the Baptist Church. It’s precisely so that the government can’t use the Church to promote its own agenda.

Many who reject Christianity do so based on the past of Christianity. The Church’s support of mass murder with the Inquisition and witch hunts are among its faults. The Church’s support of slavery, colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and the subjugation of women just about round up the Church’s sins. But, to lay the fault of all these sins at the feet of the Church is a bit misleading. The problem with the Church wasn’t simply its support for these crimes against humanity; the problem was the Church’s historical entwining with the State. Even today, the head of the English monarchy is also head of the Anglican Church. To be sure, there were always those who spoke out against these crimes against humanity in the name of Christ. But when the Church can use the apparatus of the State, its military, to enforce its “doctrine”; and, the State can use the apparatus of the Church, its threat of excommunication, to enforce “loyalty” and "patriotism," problems arise.

So, back to the genesis of this blog. Rev. Wright wasn’t only historically and presently accurate in his accounting of the state of race in America, he was doing his job by calling out our government and citizens for our lackadaisical sense of justice – where, as it was once explained, it takes 89,000 dead Rwandans to warrant the death of 1 American. And for those of you who are so vehemently against the militarism of America, our poverty and endemic racism, even if you are not a Christian, you would do well to support Rev. Wright’s right and duty to speak against the government.

I mean, really, I have plans of speaking against it, and I have absolutely no intentions of dying for it, either. A worldwide poll was taken that found close to 90% of the world’s population believes the biggest threat to peace isn’t Islamic terrorists but the US government. Let’s add up all the deaths caused by the US and those caused by Al Qaeda and see what we find. I got the US up by several hundred thousand right now. If God/ess does judge nations, and I do believe to some extent S/He does, I think murder will rank very high against US.

Though, in the future, I hope my posts will be more finely crafted and better written than this.

Share This Article

Bookmark and Share

But Don't Jack My Genuis