Tag: Martin Luther King

Nov 30

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Ferguson: Do the Right Thing Redux

This has been a busy weekend — dividing time somewhat schizophrenically between participating in one or the other of the many actions sparked by the decision in Ferguson not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown — while at the same time planning an annual Thanksgiving meal.  Being a “conscious” political and multi-racial “family”, on past Thanksgivings we often commemorated the day by attending a local American Indian event.  As the years past, we reverted to a somewhat more traditional community potluck dinner with friends with turfu, organic dishes, etc. Still later, as biological families divided into nuclear subdivisions with children, somewhat smaller gatherings were held where we would prepare the traditional feast with a nod to  and solemn commemoration of the genocidal history behind the holiday and watch a socially conscious movie.

This year, someone suggested that we Watch Do the Right Thing. (In full disclosure, we did not end up watching Do the Right Thing because one young black guest who happens to be gay felt that he had been bullied by his peers in the neighborhood as he was growing up and it would be a painful reminder (he still lives in central Harlem about a block from the National Action Headquarters) and another young black woman felt that she needed a break from the intensity of the explosion of feelings and responses that the Ferguson decision brought on. Life is often more full of contradictions and ambiguities than our political struggle for justice would suggest.

Still, the reminder of the controversial movie, first released to great criticism as to whether it was promoting violence or showing how destroying property was better than killing human beings, reminds us how a cultural representation can help people understand the emotions behind our struggle in a way that facts and figures can’t.

First released in 1989, Do the Right Thing, one of Spike Lee’s earliest movies,  tells the story of the racial tensions in the black community in a Brooklyn neighborhood which culminates in tragedy when a young black man is killed by police. The young man’s death results in a night of rebellion in which the people in the community burn down local businesses including the local pizzeria.

The movie was released long after the racial tensions and the riots of the 1960s which it was meant to portray, and before the Rodney King beating in 1991 resulted in the rebellion in Los Angeles. Long before 41 bullets felled Amadu Diallo, the African immigrant shot at his front door by police in the Bronx, or the brutal torture of Abner Louima who was beaten and sodomized with a broomstick by police after he was arrested outside a Brooklyn nightclub. (Sidenote: Neither of these later incidents resulted in riots, but in organized nonviolent civil disobedience and, eventually in sort of very limited conviction of some of the perpetrators. It is interesting to note, however, the Louima case only came to light after a nurse reported the incident when he was brought to the hospital. She was the only one of 28 people who had witnessed parts of the incident the night he was arrested. The other 27 people threatened her for speaking out.)

In Do the Right Thing, Lee sets out the many cultural signifiers of the community’s racial tensions that lead to the violence of both police brutality and the violence of enraged communities of color — in other words, the  very American history of the culture of oppression in the black community:

Mookie, played by Spike Lee, is the young man who, as the pizza delivery man, is viewed by a frustrated Tina, his girlfriend and mother of his child, as unambitious and unable or unwilling to live up to the model of the father and family man that is portrayed on TV, reflecting the tensions between the sexes in a community held down by racism.

Sal, the pizzeria’s Italian American owner, has been in the neighborhood for 25 years. His older son is openly racist while his younger son is friendly with Mookie. Sal sees himself as part of the neighborhood, but when asked by Smiley, a mentally disturbed young man who is always carrying around pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., and “Bugging Out” (described by his name)to put up pictures of Malcolm and Martin on his “Wall of Fame”, along with the Italian Americans such as Sinatra, he refuses because, as he says, he owns the restaurant.

There are many other signifiers — “Da Mayor,” an old alcoholic man who signifies street wisdom and compassion (but who is not respected by the younger generation in the neighborhood), the young men who hang on the corner, the Asian store owner who signifies new cultures moving into the neighborhood and the conflict that brings (but who can hold her own in a swearing match in a confrontation with her black American neighbors).

But most significant is Radio Raheem, a big young black man who supported Smiley and Buggin Out’s demand to post Malcolm and Martin’s pictures in the pizza parlor. Raheem is well  meaning, but is always getting into trouble for playing his radio too loud.

When Sal and Radio Raheem get into a fight over turning down the radio and Sal calls him a “nigger,” a fight breaks out that spills into the street and draws a crowd and Sal calls the police. When the police come, they arrest “Buggin Out” and put Raheem in a chokehold which kills him. Once the cops realize he is dead, they beat up “Buggin Out” and leave the scene, leaving Sal and his sons exposed to the crowd’s rath.  When the Mayor tries to calm the crowd down, the crowd turns on him. Mookie then picks up a trash can and throws it through the window of the pizzeria and a race riot begins. In the melee, the Mayor saves Sal and his sons.  

While this is not a very good or complete synopsis of the movie, you get the picture Radio Raheem could be Michael Brown – or Earl Gardner, another “big” black man who was selling “loosies” on the street in Staten Island who was killed shortly after Michael Brown by NYPD officers in a chokehold, which was also witnesses by several citiznes (This raised new critiques about the appointment of William Bratton as the new New York City police chief since he has a known history of going after nonviolent offenders for small street “crimes” as well as a bad track record of chokehold deaths under his command)– or Anthony Baez (my neighbor in the Bronx) who was playing football with his nephew when the ball bounced and struck a police car and the policeman (who had already been moved from neighborhood to neighborhood to hide his history of excessive force) put 17 year old Baez into the chokehold and killed him — or 17 year old Jordan Davis who was killed in a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida for playing loud music because a 47 year old software engineer who was a known racist felt that Davis’ refusal to turn the music down “threatened” him and that he was  entitled to shoot Davis and would not be held accountable by the police or courts. He was in fact convicted of murder, but 17 year old Davis is still dead.

The fact is, we all have our own memories of the cases that most specifically affected us and there are many other cases across the country and across the years– far far too many to recount here and they seem to be increasing.  Which is why it is important to raise the question that Lee asks in Do the Right Thing.What must the black community do to finally overcome, once and for all, the virulent racism that is so endemic in the United.   (For an analysis of the importance of the movie and the Ferguson situation to questions of violence, issues of the “Rule of Law” or why it is important not to conflate race and class, read below the fold.)

Aug 29

Where Were the Women in Washington?

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Where were the female leaders of the civil rights movement in 1963? Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman is joined by 91 year old Gloria Richardson, co-founder of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee in Maryland,to discuss the silencing of women at the 1963 March on Washington. Ms. Richardson was on the stage with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that day but before she was allowed to speak the microphone was snatched from her hand. She later became friends with Malcolm X. She also discussed her work to desegregate schools and hospitals in Maryland and her assessment of President Obama and the civil rights struggle today.

Transcript can be read here

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Yes, we had hotel accommodations and they came and got me to take me to the March. I was late, but that wasn’t because of me – they took me to the tent. When I got to the tent, the women were all there. They got up after a while and said they were going to the ladies room and would be back. So, I sat and waited for them to come back. In the meantime, I was doing some interviews. But then all of a sudden, Bayard Rustin popped up and said, what are you doing here sitting in a tent? I said, I am waiting – I explained to him I was waiting for them. Oh, no, he said, come, go with me. He took me through the crowd to the stage, and that’s when… [..]

And they said to me, they have taken your chair away. Well, it proved they had chairs I guess for everybody maybe that was named, with a banner across it. So, and asked me, you should raise Hell. I thought, no, I don’t have to do that. We’re out in the streets so I said to them, no, I see a lawyer back there and I have a problem, so I’m going to go back and talk with him. [..]

they called the name and I went up. People kept saying, go up anyhow. So I went up. So, I said hello, and I, really, by that time, was so annoyed, I was going to tell them, you all just sit here until they pass that civil rights bill, even if it is a week from away. And I said, hello. I guess they were right.

AMY GOODMAN: And they pulled the mic from your mouth.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Oh yeah, they pulled it, but had one of the marshals. Then they came after — I don’t think I heard Daisy Bates speak, but, they came and got me —

Jan 21

Revisiting the Mountaintop

I am an activist for my people.  As I have grown older, I have more likely performed my activism with my words, which is the tool I have had at hand.

Sometimes I am repetitive.  I am a teacher.  Some lessons are hard.  That’s a clue to the fact that they are important.  Important lessons need to be taught more than once, again and again, time and again, using different words, approaching the issue from different points of view.  That’s what I do.  Some of you claim that I do it “ad nauseam.”  It’s your nausea, not mine.

Many of you know me as the transsexual woman (or whatever you call me…I’m sure that it is not favorable in many instances).  Some of you know me as an artist or a poet.  Some of you see the teacher in me.  Or the glbt activist and PFLAG parent.  I am all of these.  I am a human being.

I was born in a place and time.  I have absorbed the life lessons presented to me since then.  I am still learning.

I’ve tried to pass on what I have learned.  I continue to make that effort, in whatever new venues are available, wherever I can find an opened eye or ear.

Jan 23

“You Are the Un-Americans, and You Ought to be Ashamed of Yourselves”

Crossposted at Daily Kos and The Stars Hollow Gazette

On January 23, 1976, one of the greatest Americans of the twentieth century died a nearly forgotten man in self-imposed seclusion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

Over the last three decades or so, you rarely, if ever, hear his name mentioned in the popular media.  Once every few years, you might hear someone on PBS or C-Span remember him fondly and explain as to why he was one of the more important figures of the past century.  In many respects, he had as much moral authority as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks; he was as politically active as Dick Gregory, Harry Belafonte, John Lewis, and Randall Robinson; and, as befits many men and women motivated by moral considerations, he conducted himself with great dignity.  For much of his life, not surprisingly and not unlike many of his worthy successors, he was marginalized and shunned by the political establishment of his time — until events validated their ‘radical’ beliefs and resurrected their reputations.

Throughout his life, few principled men of his caliber paid as high a price and for as long a period as he did for his political beliefs.

Jan 19

The Week in Editorial Cartoons – Incendiary Political Rhetoric: Just Words?

Crossposted at Daily Kos and The Stars Hollow Gazette

Jen Sorensen, Slowpoke, Buy this cartoon

:: ::

Sorensen writes on her blog:

What really drives me nuts in the wake of the Giffords shooting is the chorus of voices — mostly on the right — tut-tutting that “we can’t jump to conclusions.”  As though they are the source of caution and reason and all things prudent and high-minded.  Well, guess what: your candidates are anything but.  I don’t really care whether Loughner is schizo, or what particular bits of tea party propaganda he swallowed or didn’t.  If you don’t find the violent language of the right utterly repugnant, then it’s a sign of how far we’ve drifted away from normalcy in this country.

Jan 17

Beyond the Dr. King Tape Loop

On this holiday devoted to Martin Luther King, Jr., I hope that we do not forget his full legacy in the proper context.  In Meeting yesterday, a Friend’s message rather bluntly noted that she is growing tired of the way that King’s life has been increasingly presented.  Starry-eyed optimists have reduced the man to some sort of inoffensive Santa Claus figure.  Gone is the edginess, the reformer threatening the status quo, and the leader who spoke out not just for Civil Rights, but also against the Vietnam War.  And, like the Friend, for these reasons, I am beginning to dislike certain aspects of this day.  King would want us to continue to press forward, not pass out rose colored glasses while we romanticize past struggles.  It is true that winners write history, but be it known that I disagree strongly with the translation.          

Jan 17

MLK: Be True to What You Said on Paper

“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered this speech in support of the striking sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis, TN on April 3, 1968 – the day before he was assassinated

Jan 15

Original v. Cover — #60 in a Series

wind Pictures, Images and Photos

Tomorrow could have been the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 82nd birthday, had an assassin’s bullet not so cruelly silenced his voice. At a turbulent time when this nation could have easily descended into the flames of a second Civil War, King’s leadership charged his followers, righteously angry and understandably desiring revenge, to adopt a far more measured and difficult course — a course that may well have been the only path leading to the significant, albeit incomplete, civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s.

Borrowing from the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament and Mahatma Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King Jr. advocated passive resistance as the only viable path to the freedom that he and his followers sought. King was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and at present, is the only figure in our history whose birthday is designated as a national holiday, since Abraham Lincoln’s and George Washington’s birthdays are no longer celebrated as separate distinct holidays.  

Even the most cowardly can quickly and easily summon hatred, leaning upon it as one would a crutch, as a means to justify all manner of atrocities. King advocated meeting that hatred with love, a powerful but unquantifiable concept as foreign, frightening and unknowable to an oppressor as sunlight to a vampire.

Sep 02

The Week in Editorial Cartoons – Of Kings and Wingnut Clowns, with Special Comment

Crossposted at Daily Kos and The Stars Hollow Gazette

John Sherffius

John Sherffius, Comics.com (Boulder Daily Camera)

When I see a 9/11 victim family on television, or whatever, I’m just like, “Oh shut up” I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining. — Glenn Beck


Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny.  He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives.  He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy. — Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jul 01

Is glen beck “Grifting” in Using a Veterans Organization

The beck is having a get together with many of the grifters, a very patriotic? affair, on the so called right and those in this country easily feeding into their meme’s, as they offer nothing of real policy or idea’s but seem to really hate the country they and their’s before them especially grew up in. I say their’s before them because it was them who built the once middle class and helped everyone as well as the upper class and all investors etc. to prosper, up until some thirty years back when it all started changing and we’re now living in the wake of the destruction.

In this get together he’s blatantly stating that proceeds of will be donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation which seems to be embracing this gathering of grifters, none I’ll bet are speaking for free, they just don’t, unlike real grassroots rallies, they charge handsomely for their few minutes of ‘talking points’ or ‘bumper sticker’ quotes. There’s a caveat as to this funding for the SOWF and is written out in the very small print well hidden at the bottom of the becks website page for the gathering of the patriotic? flag wavers.

Jan 21

The Week in Editorial Cartoons – Sarah Palin’s Brilliant FOX Debut

Crossposted from Daily Kos.  I didn’t have the time yesterday to post it here.


This weekly diary takes a look at the past week’s important news stories from the perspective of our leading editorial cartoonists (including a few foreign ones) with analysis and commentary added in by me.

When evaluating a cartoon, ask yourself these questions:

1. Does a cartoon add to my existing knowledge base and help crystallize my thinking about the issue depicted?

2. Does the cartoonist have any obvious biases that distort reality?

3. Is the cartoonist reflecting prevailing public opinion or trying to shape it?

The answers will help determine the effectiveness of the cartoonist’s message.

:: ::

The Teabaggers’ Intellectual

Clay Bennett

Clay Bennett, Comics.com

Jan 19

EcoJustice: How is the dream?


Forty six years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered I Have a Dream. In that speech, even one hundered years after emancipation, he spoke of black communities crippled by segregation and discrimination. They lived, ‘on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.’

Today, blacks participate in all levels of professional society and leadership. We have a beautiful first family, former Secretaries of State, and even Supreme Court judges. It is common to see black lawmakers, doctors, lawyers, business professionals, and professors. Perhaps that ocean is embracing the island. One might think that discrimination is a thing of the past — that America is a place that tends toward racial equality…

Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them. –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If Dr. King could return and look at America, would he say the same thing today?

Load more