Monday, January 17, 2005

Rev. Gerry: What happened to our movement?

My dear friends and colleagues,

The article below is a great discussion of the strategic legacies left us by Rev. Dr. King. The bottom line is that “No imperialist system was ever dismantled through electoral politics within the aggressor country.” And “ that it is almost impossible to change the political power structure without attacking the economic power structure as well.” Forget “politics,” let’s talk “movement.” I hope you read it.

But this letter is to you and I hope you will consider it deeply.

I want you to know that I am extremely disappointed in the progressive Tucson community which, with one or two exceptions, and you know who you are, was conspicuous by its complete absence at all of the MLK public celebrations.

I had a great time. I met many interesting people, including a well respected black community elder who is considering running for governor in 2010, the chair of a high school mentorship program, another who is running a college scholarship program, a very energized Chavez activist, a union activist within the teachers and classified employees unions in a school district. There were small business owners. Gospel singers. NAACP leadership. Urban League leadership. Black Chamber of Commerce leadership. Ministers. Youth leaders. Writers. Students. Economic development leaders. Neighborhood center leaders. Teachers. Civil servants. Laborers. Health care advocates. Veterans. Families. Young people. Music, food, laughter, hugs, loads of love.

But I think maybe I know why some of the most segregated activities in town are the seas of white faces in meetings of so-called “progressives.” I am frankly very embarrassed. Honestly folks, could there be racism lurking in progressive hearts?

How on earth can you expect us to succeed without each and every one of us becoming personally involved in the black and hispanic communities? I can’t believe I have to tell you that building trust is on US ( Need I mention that we anglos are the oppressors?), and that building trust involves hanging out, being on the scene not just once, but over and over, so that finally we can walk together and plan together and build movements together and succeed together. It isn’t about inviting a token black or hispanic speaker to a conference, it’s about getting to know the people, finding out all the interesting things they are up to, (some of which are the same interesting things you are up to) discovering what they hold sacred, having fun, breaking bread, building relationships, getting yourself invited to their meetings, and inviting them to partner with us and getting the people to the conference not just a speaker. And no it isn’t all that easy, they have good reason not to trust us especially since it is the CBC which is providing leadership for progressive issues and is STILL where the courage lies and we are the students, folks, not the leaders here. I can’t believe we would willingly cut ourselves off from 50 years of hard experience. We need to study with them, join with them, not the other way around. I truly believe that either we succeed together or we fail utterly, and it seems we don’t even need to wait for Karl Rove to play “Divide and Conquer,” we have done it to ourselves.

I think I have the answer to the other question that has been deeply bothering me. Why there is no more social movement. Why we now have 2 corporate political parties. Why we have an electoral process that defrauds us of our most basic right in a democracy – the right to vote. Why we have so few union jobs. Why the minimum wage is not a living wage. Why we permit a media that doesn’t report the news. Why no one is really speaking up about this unspeakable war of aggression in Iraq? Why there are more black young men in prison (10 million) than in the university. Why we may lose our right as women to control our bodies, why we sit back and watch as our schools and our teachers are attacked and unfunded, why our GLBT brothers and sisters can be picked off and separated out, and why our health care and our social network for old age and disability up for the highest bidder, why our globe is warming, our species are disappearing, our old growth forests are being logged, our wild horses rounded up and slaughtered. Why prop 200 passed with hardly breaking a sweat. On and on. There simply is no significant “movement” to oppose any of this. We abandoned it.

Did you know that Rosa Parks was not just some tired seamstress, but that her courageous action was a deliberate plan by a long-time NAACP activist and that she was selected because there was nothing in her history that could drag her –or the movement- down? And that all would have been for naught were it not for the bus boycott that was organized overnight? Before the internet. People sat in and were beaten up and arrested, people marched mile after weary mile and were derided, stalked, beaten, and murdered - black people and white people and brown people - in our own lifetimes if you’re my age, or in your parents’ lifetime if you are younger, for the rights we now squander for an extra day off or not having to get to know someone who looks and thinks and worships differently than we do. This happened in the civil rights movement. In the farmworkers movement. In the peace movement. In the womens suffrage movement. We must think of the “movement” as sanitized, romantic history and not a living part of life today’s events – because they are not. As a result we are losing ground everywhere we look, and it scares me, to tell the truth.

Maybe it isn’t that we lack courage to put it all on the line again so much as that we don’t have a moral leg to stand on, to be courageous from. We’ll give money. Donate food to the food bank. Recycle. Sign e-petitions. Hold house parties. Read books. Write letters to the editor. Table at the Peace Fair. Make phone calls during a political campaign. Even tutor underprivileged students. We just won’t mix with people who aren’t like us.

We’ll have another chance and another and another, but time is running short. The Chavez march and celebration comes in April, the Juneteenth festival is in June. Let’s find other chances to join with communities of color and publicize them widely. I do hope that each time more and more of us will make the choice to step outside our social comfort zone and participate in our fabulous community. This is personal. It is important. It is much bigger than any political party or specific interest group. And we need you to take an active part. In peace, gerry
Rev. Gerry Straatemeier, MSW
Co-chair, Gandhi/King Season for Nonviolence, S. AZ

“... We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy…for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.” MLK

Beyond elections
Dr. King's teachings on strategy and tactics
By Paul Rockwell Online Journal Guest Writer

January 14, 2005— According to Arundhati Roy, "There is no discussion taking place in the world today that is more crucial than the debate about strategies of resistance."

There is no greater strategist in American history, no teacher more relevant to our post-election malaise, than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King was more than a moral visionary; he was a creative tactician. All of us-especially leaders of the peace movement-have much to learn from King's teachings on strategy and tactics.

In the late 1950s a major change took place within the civil rights community, a shift from representative government to direct action democracy. When the young Black movement broke away from the confines of electoral politics, society began to change...." [More]


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