Happy Anniversary (presented at a forum on the film Selma (2014) at the Creative Coop in Rosendale, NY. 18 Feb. 2015)

Misremembering the past, Hollywood is drowning us in a veritable avalanche of self-congratulation for the “great advances” of the Civil Rights movement. Commemorations, dramatic movies, documentaries – all are coming out now to celebrate 50th Anniversaries. These Anniversaries have a common theme: how bad things were back then, and, by implication, how much things have improved. Hollywood uses the Civil Rights Movement to undermine the goals of that movement. We’re being played.

Things haven’t improved. Laws were passed to outlaw segregation and to establish voter rights. But segregation still prevails in the US. Voting rights are everywhere under siege. The greatest victory of the Civil Rights Movement was it curtailed the racist violence that had kept the racial order intact. But the violence of night riders is replaced by police killings. Under the pretext of a war on drugs millions of innocent people are incarcerated for the crime of being black. Where is the improvement?

The CRM took a revolutionary turn conveniently ignored amidst all the contrived celebration. King led the way in this and was killed for it.

King’s assassination came one year to the day after he forcefully supported the movement to end the war in Vietnam and stated his support for world revolution.

Several things he said probably sealed his doom. (The speech, at https://archive.org/details/MartinLutherKing-BeyondVietnam-1967, remains stirring):
“The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.”
And “(O)ur nation (is) on the wrong side of a world revolution… if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.”
And “our country is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”
On April 4, 1968, exactly one year after his revolutionary speech, King was killed. The timing of this murder has been called the government sending a signal. African-Americans heard that signal and rose up in 110 cities in response. It was the greatest wave of social unrest the United States experienced since the Civil War. It was a revolutionary upheaval that threatened to overwhelm the entire order.
Some of the biggest uprisings took place in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Louisville, Kansas City, and Chicago.

Since these upheavals, the African-American community has been under siege. With the pretext of a “war on drugs,” the government has incarcerated millions of people of color, most of them innocent of any violent offense, in a massive campaign of political repression.

The FBI was once told to prevent the emergence of a “black messiah.” US government policy has become to prevent any movement of the African-American community from emerging. From mass incarceration to police acting as violent occupiers in their communities, African Americans are subjected to the heavy hand of government repression as never before. It’s a counterinsurgency before an insurgency, to prevent an insurgency.

America’s first black president portrays himself a disciple of Dr. King. Like King he received the Nobel Peace Prize, yet he insists he has the right to kill anyone at any time for any reason. There is no more glaring evidence of America’s moral and political decay.

Obama’s insistence on a presidential right to kill is part of developing a streamlined system of legal repression. Police impunity for murders, militarized police forces with domestic drones, criminalizing dissent such as calling environmentalists “eco-terrorists,” widespread surveillance of everyone, these all add up to a trend toward repression.

The rulers have no solutions for the twin crises of economic and ecological collapse and they rightly expect growing political upheavals. They need unlimited governmental powers to cope with the expected unrest.

The upheavals have begun. In response to official police impunity after brazen murders, the Black Lives Matter Movement shows no sign of letting up. Significantly, young people of all colors have taken up the struggle of African-Americans as their own. Slogans like “I am Mike Brown, I am Eric Garner; Akai Gurley” show an identification that cuts away at the racial divide that has been the foundation of social control by America’s rulers. The way to repudiate white skin privilege is for white people to take up the struggle of African-Americans as their own. Young people are showing the way to unite the 99%.

Some of you know I am the survivor of a government attack, shot in the head at an anti KKK rally in NC, over 35 years ago. The police organized the Klan and Nazis who did the shooting; they didn’t want to do it themselves. But these are more bald-faced times. The police are doing their own shooting to terrorize the population.

If there is anything to learn from the CRM, and there is plenty, it’s that we all need to be fearless in the face of official repression. We also need to understand how we are being lied to.

Racism will persist as long as a tiny elite needs to divide people to maintain its rule. Only by ending that rule can we put an end to racism. So… Happy Anniversary.

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4 thoughts on “Happy Anniversary (presented at a forum on the film Selma (2014) at the Creative Coop in Rosendale, NY. 18 Feb. 2015)”

  1. Paul,
    Although I fully agree that the goals of the CRM remain to be accomplished to the degree Dr. King and many others hoped for, I do believe that we have come a long way. We need to remain vigilant in working towards a world where ‘Black lives matter’ and more than 12% of the eligible minorities in Ferguson come out to vote. Education is the most powerful tool for changing the world and today’s technology makes more information available than ever before. Unfortunately, entertainment and the billions it garners gets more young people’s attention than education which would benefit from having the resources of some of those billions.
    Thanks for keeping the dialogue alive so that more people are educated to the real facts.
    Be well,
    Norm

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    1. Hi Norm:

      It’s good to be back in touch again after so long. I look forward to seeing you again at our reunion.

      Thanks for your reply. Stimulating discussion is the whole point of the blog, so your comments are invaluable.

      While I agree with your sentiments, I suspect you underestimate he gravity of the situation; it is dire. I don’t agree that we’ve made lots of progress toward genuine equality. If anything, I believe things are worse today than they were in King’s time.

      For starters, King was killed in a government assassination. King’s family, led by Coretta, filed a civil suit on this, which ruled in their favor. The evidence, presented in a trial, which corroborated this view, was in a book by the lead attorney William F. Pepper. His book, An Act of State, is not easily dismissed.

      The New York Times reported on the jury’s verdict only to breezily dismiss it as a crackpot decision (http://www.nytimes.com/1999/12/09/us/memphis-jury-sees-conspiracy-in-martin-luther-king-s-killing.html). As you say, the media diverts us. It also serves to obscure and justify everything done by the prevailing order.

      The mass incarceration of people of color, which began in earnest after the CRM, in response to its taking a revolutionary turn, has ruined millions of peoples’ lives. A felony conviction strips people of their rights. In many states they cannot vote. They are often unemployable and prohibited from “public” housing. Incarcerated for decades, prisoners’ families are destroyed.

      Prisoners are subjected to torture. Reports indicate an increased use of solitary confinement and gratuitous beatings. American prisons increasingly resemble Soviet gulags. Like the gulags, US prisons are filled with innocent people. The most egregious methods must be used to break their will.

      The prison drama remains largely hidden, outside the African-American community. Society remains segregated, and the incarcerated are taught to be ashamed of their condition, and to be silent about these experiences, so the rest of us are largely kept in the dark about actual conditions.

      I agree that education offers a way out. But only education of a specific kind. Only in the course of working to change the society can people learn the nature of the system. The schools have increasingly become prison-like institutions, fit only for preparing people for prison. In this sense only the educational system must be judged a success, since so many of its charges go on to become inmates.

      As the schools devolve into institutions for the inculcation of mindless discipline (teaching for the test, a single national “core curriculum,” etc.), anyone who can afford it takes their kids out of public school. The schools are increasingly filled only with poor kids, largely of color, with no future. Charter schools are growing, as is home schooling, in response to the educational collapse.

      In summary, I believe our society is in an advanced stage of decay. Glibly happy news anchors can’t cover up the rot.

      There are no simple solutions, but there are many excellent people striving to develop ways to a better future. So I look forward to further discussions with you to advance our collective understanding.

      Best,

      Paul

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  2. Good piece, Paul, thank you. I believe education could be the most powerful tool for changing the world, *if* those who rule were willing to allow the entire 99% to be fully and properly educated. But as you pointed out at the end of your piece, and I agree with you, the 1% will not allow anything to threaten their hold, and that certainly includes a full and proper education for all. (By “proper” I mean from a truthful perspective, truthful in our eyes, not theirs.) In my view, the most powerful tool for changing the world continues to be organizing — organizing across all the divides that keep the 1% in full power. And in our country, racism continues to be our “supreme divide.”

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