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Talk about Ferguson with your family?

28 Nov

Did you talk about Ferguson with your family over Thanksgiving? I did. Like most liberals, they’re sympathetic to civil rights issues but horrified by the looting and vandalism that’s taken place in response. I navigated this with two points of argument. First, I pointed out that there’s nothing unusual about the killing of Mike Brown; the only reason it’s still in the news (and being talked about at white dinner tables) is because the community response hasn’t been entirely peaceful.

Second, I brought it close to home and asked, “When Ireland fought for independence from Britain, would you tell the people fighting for freedom to follow the rules of the game laid down by their conquerors?” I added that in centuries recently passed, whenever Irish tenants attacked a landlord or his property, legislators would say “We are fighting for land reform in Parliament and your violent actions create anti-Irish sentiment that harms our efforts.” But without fear of violent uprising, most members of Parliament had no motive to pass land reform; it happened because rich people feared for their wealth and for their lives.

My points were seen. I love my family.

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Thankful on Thanksgiving

27 Nov

Thanksgiving afternoon, but I can’t stop thinking about the ‪#‎IndictBoston‬ action on Tuesday night. I’m thankful I was able to attend, and I’m thankful white people present seemed mindful of participating in the action without trying to direct it, make speeches, etc. I’m thankful to have been there when Daunasia Yancey yelled “white allies to the front” and that I was able to respond. I’m thankful that my eyeglasses got broken and not my skull. I’m thankful for the painkillers that are easing the back ache I walked away with. I’m thankful to have seen dozens of familiar faces at that march, most of them friends from Occupy Boston. I’m thankful for the honor of participating in that action, and I’m thankful that today I’ll be eating food with loved ones. But I’m thankful, also, that I won’t forget Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, and millions more souls killed or incarcerated by state-sanctioned violence who won’t be eating a Thanksgiving meal today. I’m thankful, also, to be mindful today of this holiday in the context of white imperialism and native genocide. Am I happy? Am I sad? I don’t know, but I’m thankful.

Transcript: Cornel West on Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Bible

21 Jan

Today is the US federal holiday called “Martin Luther King, Jr.  Day.”  Also today, Barack Obama was sworn in for a second term as President of the United States using a Bible that Martin Luther King, Jr. once owned.  Cornell West has a problem with this particular Bible being used in this particular way, and he said so in an expressive monologue last Thursday.

The forum was “Vision for a New America: A Future without Poverty,” a symposium in Washington, DC hosted by Tavis Smiley.   Newt Gingrich and Marcia Fudge were among the other panelists, but Cornell West definitely made the comments that have attracted the most attention.  Presented below is both the video that has become so popular and my transcript of West’s words.

What do you think of what Cornell West had to say?  Was it a moving speech?  Was it over-inflated rhetoric?  Was it both?  Please share your comments below.

Transcript of Cornel West’s January 17, 2013 statements regarding the use of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Bible during the inauguration of Barack Obama:

Now, when I got the news that my dear brother Barack Obama, President Obama, was going to put his precious hand on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Bible, I got upset.  And I got upset because you don’t play with Martin Luther King, Jr. and you don’t play with his people.  And by his people, what I mean is people of good conscience, fundamentally committed to peace, and truth and justice.  And especially the black tradition that produced it.

All the blood, sweat and tears that went into producing a Martin Luther King, Jr. generated a brother of such high decency and dignity that you don’t use his prophetic fire as just a moment in a presidential pageantry, without understanding the challenge that he presents to all of those in power no matter what color they are.  No matter what color they are!

So, the righteous indignation of a Martin Luther King, Jr. becomes a moment in political calculation and that makes my blood boil. Why? Because Martin Luther King, Jr., he died knowing the three crimes against humanity he was wrestling with. Jim Crow – traumatizing, terrorizing, stigmatizing black people, lynching, insultful – not just segregation the way the press wants to talk about.

Second, carpet bombing in Vietnam, killing innocent people especially innocent children.  Those are war crimes Martin Luther King, Jr. was willing to die for.  And thirdly, was poverty of all colors.  He said it’s a crime against humanity for the richest nation in the history of the world to have so many of its precious children of all colors living in poverty, and especially on the chocolate side of the nation, in Indian reservations, in brown barrios, in yellow slices, and black ghettos, then.  We call them hoods now, but ghettos then.

So I said to myself, “ok nothing wrong with putting your hand on the Bible.” Even though the bible talks about justice and Jesus is talking bout “the least of these.”  But when you put in Martin’s bible?  I said, “this is personal for me. This is the tradition I came out of. This is the tradition that is connected to my grandmothers prayers, and my grandfathers sermons, and my mothers tears, and my fathers smile, and it’s over against all of those in power who refuse to follow decent policies.”

So I say to myself, “Brother Martin Luther King, Jr., what would you say about the new Jim Crow? What would you say about the prison industrial complex? What would you say about the invisibility of so many of our prisoners? So many of our incarcerated, especially when 62% of them are there for soft drugs, but not one executive of a Wall Street bank gone to jail?  Not one!”  Martin doesn’t like that. Not one wiretapper. Not one torturer under the Bush administration, at all.

Then, what you say about the drones bring dropped on our precious brothers and sisters in Pakistan and Somalia and Yemen? Those are war crimes, just like war crimes in Vietnam. Martin Luther King, Jr., what would you say? “My voice hollers out,” and don’t tame it with your hand on his bible.  Allow his prophetic voice to be heard.  Martin, what would you say about the poverty in America now, beginning with the children, then the elderly, then our working folk, and all colors not just here, around the world.  Don’t hide and conceal his challenge. Don’t tame his prophetic fire.

So, that as much as I’m glad that Barack Obama won – I think that brother Mitt Romney would have been a catastrophe, and I understand my brother Newt told the truth about fat vampire capitalism but that’s true for the system as a whole not just Mitt Romney in that regard – but when Barack Obama attempts to use that rich tradition of Frederick Douglas and Ida B. Wells-Barnett?  Use the tradition of A. Phillip Randolph?  Use the tradition of Rabbi Joshua Heschel?  Use the tradition of Tom Hayden and so many others struggling to produce that voice that pushed Martin in the direction that it did?  I get upset.

People say, “Oh brother West, there’s Smiley and West, hating Obama.”  No, no.  We just loving the tradition that produced Martin Luther King, Jr. and were not going to allow it to be in any way sanitized, deodorized and sterilized,  we want the subversive power to be heard.  That’s what made me think, when you said he was gonna put in his hand on that bible. And I’m praying or him.  I’m praying for him. As is Newt – both of us Christians, you Catholic, I’m Holy Ghost funkygut gutbucket Baptist – but we’re praying for him. Putting pressure on. 

Want to read more on this subject? 

Check out “MLK’s Vehement Condemnations of US Militarism” by Glenn Greenwald.

Inauguration Day 2013

21 Jan

I won’t watch this inauguration

I won’t watch you crown the conqueror

I won’t get drunk on flags and trumpets

I won’t put that American dick in my mouth

I don’t want your wool scarfs and trenchcoats

I don’t want your Carters and Clintons and Kerrys

I don’t want the Georges or Joe Biden

I don’t want Sasha and Malia in pretty dresses

Because I don’t believe in killing for capitalism

So I won’t watch you crown the conqueror

And I won’t get high on speeches and smiles

And I won’t go along with it, even for a day

Even for warm January day

Cooler than those ahead

It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank…

24 Dec

“Hard to believe Shane outlived her” my high school friend said to me today.  He was talking about Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan, the singers on the Pogues’ 1987 Christmas song, “Fairytale of New York.”  The song’s about Irish people being melancholy, and arguing, and doing heroin.  It’s one of my favorite holiday tunes.

Kirsty MacColl, daughter of folk singer Ewan MacColl, was born in South London in 1959.  She had her first hit song in 1981.  It was called “There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis.”  Her interesting career included vocals for the Smiths, but she’s probably best remembered for “Fairytale of New York”  and those especially memorable lines “you scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot, happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it’s our last.”  Kirsty MacColl was killed in a boating incident in Mexico in late December 2000.  A boathand was found guilty of culpable homicide.  She was 41.

Shane MacGowan was born on Christmas 1957.  That makes him only 55 years old tomorrow, but he’s a notoriously hard drinker and even as a young man there were many who thought he was destined to live fast and die young.  He looks more ravaged and sounds less intelligible than ever, but he’s still around.  In 2009, he and Victoria Mary Clarke had a gardening reality show on Irish television called “Victoria and Shane Grow Their Own.”

Kirsty and Shane’s duet, “Fairytale of New York,” takes its title from a novel by Irish-American author J. P. Donleavy.  In the video, Max Dillon plays the cop who arrests a drunken MacGowan.  But there’s no “NYPD Choir,” despite the song’s refrain.  The video shows the NYPD Pipes and Drums.

As popular as it is in the US and Canada, “Fairytale of New York” is even more popular in the UK and Ireland.  It’s made the Top 20 on nine separate occasions, indicating a Christmas song about Irish people arguing and doing heroin might have become a holiday classic.  I think this is an easy song to love, at any rate.  What do you think?