When a young John Lewis led hundreds of foot soldiers in a march over Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, he and hundreds of nonviolent protesters would be attacked with billy clubs and tear gas by Alabama state troopers and their dogs. Lewis later recalled he believed he might die there in a battle to protect the right to vote; others did give their lives in the fight for an America that lives up to the ideals upon which it was founded.
Lewis would go on to honorably serve the people of his beloved Georgia in Congress for 33 years and continue making good trouble, which led to his being arrested over 40 times in the name of equality and justice before his passing last month at 80 years old.
It’s now been 55 years since that march and the subsequent passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Johnson just months after Bloody Sunday. There’s no doubt that hard-fought victory made our democracy stronger.
Despite its passage and the significant expansion of voting rights that followed, the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision gutted key protections of the Voting Rights Act. Without federal protections against discrimination, states across the country have enacted new restrictive and discriminatory laws that target communities of color.
No longer do Black and brown Americans have to count how many jellybeans are in a jar to register to vote, but old battles have become new again. Now, we have a president who openly rails against mail-in voting in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed more than 150,000 American lives; state legislatures that are working hard to make it more difficult for Americans to vote by reducing polling places and polling hours; and secretaries of state actively purging voter rolls. Unsurprisingly, those impacted are often Black, brown, Indigenous and young people.
Even in the darkest of times, we can hear our friend and mentor John Lewis: “Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.”
That’s why Democrats are urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up the John Robert Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020 and restore the full protections of the VRA. For more than 240 days, McConnell has refused to act on this bill to strengthen our voting laws. We urge him to match the platitudes he expressed following Congressman Lewis’ passing with action.
Democrats will not stand by. We will continue the fight for equal access to the ballot. Our efforts are even more important as people of goodwill unite and protest the injustices committed toward Black Americans.
This election cycle, Democrats have made more than a $10 million commitment to fight Republican voter suppression efforts across the country. Our aggressive voting rights litigation strategy builds on generations of civil rights work that led to many of the protections we are fighting to defend today. Our battle continues in courtrooms across America to remove roadblocks to voter registration, increase access to polling places, and to end partisan gerrymandering. We’re just getting started, but together we have won or settled suits in California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
As our country faces all-too-familiar attempts to infringe on the voting rights of the American people, Democrats are uniquely positioned — with the moral track record and broad support of the American people — to take on Republican voter suppression efforts that hurt everyday people.
Your vote is your voice. We need you to use it this November to achieve real change. We need you to use it to create the beloved community John Lewis dreamed of. We need you to use it to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And we need you to use it to achieve equality and justice for all.
As schools across the country begin to open or finalize plans for reopening in the fall, an unfamiliar terrain shaped by COVID-19 will be defined by family economics and social status.
And for youth already struggling to keep up given a playing field and achievement gap that have long been uneven due to racial and economic disparities, those who stand to lose the most will inevitably be African Americans.
Despite the president’s tweets, threats to withhold funding and repeated demands for schools to open their doors as if the pandemic has suddenly disappeared, virtual learning will be the only way to safely educate children until scientists have discovered a way to defeat coronavirus and eradicate its deadly grip.
Experts say we now face a generational catastrophe, derailing the academic growth of millions of youth from pre-K and early elementary grades to high school and college. Meanwhile and tragically, we find our nation’s leaders, both at the federal and local levels, digging in even more to reduce the situation to one based on politics rather than science, health concerns and — need I say — common sense.
Because more Black parents hold jobs deemed as non-essential, they do not have the option to telework — at least not to the extent that white parents can. Further, many Black parents rely upon grandparents to assist with childcare duties including picking up, dropping off, assisting with homework — even putting children to bed and providing meals.
For my youngest grandson who is just entering first grade, my concern is that learning the rubrics of community, playing with others and discovering the norms of societal interaction will be lessons he’ll be forced to acquire later in life — if at all.
As for my oldest grandson, a senior in high school with a promising future in athletics, the cancellation of fall sports does not bode well for him as a football and basketball standout. Still, given his academic abilities, college and career opportunities should not allude him. We’ll be sure of that. But what about youth who cannot expand their horizons and secure a ticket out of poverty or the ghetto because of canceled sports programs? What options will be available for them?
Returning to virtual learning, it’s important to note that homes in which high tech gadgets, computer and software upgrades and high-speed internet service are commonplace only further exacerbate the differences between youth whose parents claim membership as the haves or the have nots.
As New York Gov. Cuomo shared on Monday during his daily press conference, no matter what school districts or the president may say, parents will not sacrifice the health of their children in order to acquiesce to misguided policies. And who can blame them? School bells may be ringing and doors may be swinging open widely but how many will actually show up?
Recent cases in Gwinnett County in Georgia, Alcoa City Schools in Tennessee and Corinth High School in Mississippi, as reported in The Washington Post, point to the dangers of opening schools too soon, ignoring the fact that doing so puts hundreds of thousands of lives unnecessarily at risk.
Whether youth attend public or private schools, teachers, staff and children equally face the threat of being infected by COVID-19 and upon their return to their homes, whether they know it or not, they put their own families in harm’s way.
I wonder what kind of memories our children will have when they’re adults about their school days. I wonder if those memories will be worth holding on to or sharing with their own children one day. I wonder if those who lead our nation will ever wake up and stop playing political shenanigans at the expense of children who look to adults to do the right thing — the logical thing.
For now, my hopes and musings don’t seem be on the nearby horizon. And that’s the real tragedy — for all of us.
“The issue of inability to pay, poverty, and unemployment – that existed pre-COVID-19. The difference between now and then is that the pandemic has shifted the line of poverty. There are more people at risk than before.” — Attorney Raphael Ramos of Wisconsin’s Eviction Defense Project
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Evicted,” Matthew Desmond quotes a woman he calls Arleen describing the profound exhaustion of trying to keep a roof over her children’s heads. She says, “Just my soul is messed up.”
Her children are so defined by the experience of being evicted, over and over again, that one of them vows to become a carpenter so he can build her a house.
The moratorium on evictions that was imposed by the CARES Act in March expired last week. The estimates on the number of Americans on the brink of eviction range from 10 million to 28 million.
With the nation foundering in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and poised to plunge even further, more than 12.5 million renters were unable to make their most recent rent payment. Almost twice as many fear they won’t be able to pay next month’s rent. About 56% of those renters are Black or Latino. More than 3 out of every 10 Black renters is behind on rent, and 46% of Black renters have no confidence they can make their next rent payment.
Even before the pandemic, nine of the 10 highest-evicting large U.S. cities had populations that were at least 30% Black. Among the eviction cases filed since the pandemic began, nearly two-thirds were in communities with above-average populations of color. With evictions clustered in lower-income Black neighborhoods, entire communities already struggling with massive job loss and business closures are disrupted by a churn of people moving in and out that severs close-knit social networks.
With supplemental unemployment insurance payments expiring and Congress nowhere near a deal to extend them, the nation is facing an unprecedented wave of eviction that will drive the nation even further into economic crisis and despair.
Eviction doesn’t just mean the loss of a home. It means the loss of self-esteem, peace of mind, community and support systems, and physical and mental health.
Safe, affordable housing has always been at the heart of the National Urban League’s mission. As economic first responders, Urban League affiliates around the country are keeping people in their homes with emergency rental assistance, intervention and counseling. We are seeing the devastating economic effects of the pandemic firsthand.
Last October, before anyone ever heard of the novel coronavirus, the National Urban League issued an urgent call to presidential candidates to address the affordable housing crisis. The following month, we went them a letter.
It wasn’t until late November, on the sixth night of debates, that the candidates finally were asked a question about the housing crisis.
Evictions are not just a result of poverty, they are a cause of poverty. It can result in job loss and make it hard to find a new job. It can make it almost impossible to secure decent housing. It leaves scars that can last a lifetime.
This week, I joined Sen. Kamala Harris, House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters and Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, to announce the introduction of the Housing Emergencies Lifeline Program (HELP) Act, which will provide funding so those at risk of eviction can access legal representation and any evictions will do limited damage to renters’ credit. The bill would allocate $10 billion in Emergency Solutions Grants, which provide funding to states and localities for homelessness prevention and outreach and legal representation for those on the verge of being evicted.
The HELP Act can do more than save people’s homes. It can save entire communities. It can stop a cycle of poverty and hopelessness. For people like Arleen, it can even save their souls.
Morial is president/CEO of the National Urban League.
On the same day we learned that the U.S. economy contracted by 9.5 percent in the second quarter of this year, the U.S. Senate adjourned and went home, even though the economic contraction is the largest since growth data has been collected. They left without passing the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. They left without continuing the $600-per-week emergency assistance for those out of work because of COVID-19. They left without meaningful action, although another 1.434 million people had filed unemployment claims, an announcement that was made the same day that they fled Washington. Hopefully, if they help constituent service hours in their home states, they will be greeted with resounding boos.
The economic bad news is staggering. According to the Census, more than a third of all low-income households did not have enough food in July. The number was higher for Black and brown families, at about 40 percent. Hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed — with more than 40 percent of black-owned businesses being shuttered, some permanently. And there is still no coronavirus vaccine.
One is expected sometime in 2021. Until then, the economy will continue to be a mess, and the Senate is taking a break. They took off Friday, July 31, and planned to reconvene on Tuesday, Aug. 4. But in the face of an emergency, they might have foregone a long weekend to pass the HEROES Act in some form or another.
That’s the rub, though. Republicans think the $3 trillion relief is too much. They don’t want unemployed people to get a federal subsidy of $600 per week. They want people to waive their right to sue employers. They don’t think the federal government should help reopen schools. And rather than sit down with Democrats and work toward a compromise, they stumbled home.
While too many people are hungry, broke, and out of work, the Senate is short on solutions, mainly because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to work amicably with the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And if the economic bad news is not enough, the political news is equally dire. The president has gone on a mindless rampage, suggesting that elections should be postponed because he does not believe that mail ballots are secure. Thankfully, the usually spineless Republicans pushed back hard with even McConnell asserting that there will be an election on Nov. 3, 2020. This president considers the economy his strong suit, but with the economy stumbling, he needs to create some distraction. His resistance to having an orderly election is such a distraction.
The challenge is that the economy is likely to worsen before it gets better, and the coronavirus deaths, already at more than 150,000, are expected to grow. Cities and states will continue to have budget challenges. Too many children will learn little since distance learning requires technology that many poor households lack. Too many people will go hungry. And our “leadership” engages in bombastic and divisive rhetoric. Every reference to the “China virus” is racist and vituperative. Vintage Donald Trump!
These times are replete with contradictions. While the Senate does not want to pass the HEROES Act, it intends to restore the tax deduction for business lunches. Guess who benefits from that? Undoubtedly not the working poor. Concern for the poor is nearly nonexistent, even though the poor, especially the Black and brown poor, bear the brunt of the coronavirus.
Republicans tend to respond to recession, and one way to fight recession is to pump money into the economy. But their fear that a few poor people will get their hands on “extra” money is greater than their fear of economic recession. The economy is stumbling, and so is the Senate. And thanks to the recalcitrant Senate, too many Americans are stumbling, hungry, and broke. Things will inevitably get worse before they get better. November can’t come soon enough.
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist.
Advocates, faith leaders and members of the community in D.C. have long called for the nation’s capital to build a more compassionate, holistic and effective model for providing social services to the men, women and young people transitioning back into society after incarceration.
Yet, despite a shared goal of providing better support to individuals making that daunting transition, the thorny question of how, exactly, to move forward has been the subject of much debate and sometimes, rancorous disagreements over the particulars. This has clouded the considerable consensus that something must be done and, as a result, stalled whatever progress was made.
In 2018, the Federal Bureau of Prisons awarded a contract to a nonprofit organization to replace the city’s incumbent reentry provider, Hope Village, and manage a new program at an existing location in northeast Washington. But some in the neighborhood resisted the idea of such a facility in their backyard, prompting the owner of the building to abruptly back out of the deal, leaving the city back at square one.
Now, after the BOP tapped the same organization — CORE DC — in June to start up a new reentry center in Ward 7, the city once again finds itself at a critical moment. As an unflinching advocate for real criminal justice reform, I am determined to do all I can to help the community come together to bring about real change on this issue.
I have long followed efforts aimed at reforming D.C.’s criminal justice system, and have spent many years giving voice to returning citizens, their families and the varied challenges they face. Often those of us in the wider community forget that we’re dealing with our brothers and sisters, human beings who made a mistake but paid their debt to society. Unfortunately, the stigma of their incarceration follows them and they’re often not afforded the opportunity to get a second chance. I articulated the need for the District of Columbia to move on from Hope Village if it was really committed to assisting returning citizens and providing them with the crucial support and range of services they need.
Today I launched a new website calling on D.C. to support plans for a new reentry center in Ward 7. The website will also focus on other criminal justice issues. I did this because it is imperative that we not let this process suffer the same fate it did last year. Especially now that Hope Village has closed and there is not a single facility able to provide services to citizens returning to the community. Having no place for returning citizens to go for a safe place to sleep, to readjust to being in the community and get job training is not an option.
We should also take advantage of the profound social changes sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. It’s clear that we are at an inflection point in our nation’s history. Americans appear to finally be ready to confront the reality of the insidiousness of racism and its corrosive effects on all of us. Young people have taken the reins, eschewed asking for permission and are driving this movement forward. They are determined to hold their parents, adults, elected officials, the police and others in authority to account.
Our nation is grappling with a racial and moral reckoning that if successful, will change the way we look at the criminal justice system and those entangled in it. Americans are trying to figure out how to navigate the treacherous but long overdue discourse about social and racial justice, inequities, disparities and privilege and what our country will look like going forward.
The District of Columbia has a unique opportunity at this moment to take one seemingly small but important step in the right direction and set an example for other communities looking to take similar steps of their own.
We came together as a community to demand better services for those returning home from incarceration, and our efforts paid off. Hope Village — which became known as Hopeless Village in D.C. — is receding into our rearview mirror. Now, with a bold plan in place to provide services that will give returning citizens the support they need to transform their lives, we have an opportunity to demonstrate what real change looks like.
There is still a great deal of work to be done, and one reentry center alone will not nearly be enough to bring down recidivism rates that are still far too high, but the city’s plan for a new facility in Ward 7 is progress — not just progress on paper — and we should support it.
Salmon is a freelance journalist, specializing in political and criminal justice policy issues pertaining to people of color. He has published in USA Today, Voice of America, the National Newspaper Publishers Association Newswire and the Trice Edney News Wire.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we human beings had as much sense of community as geese? During an Outward Bound experience in Maine, participants read these lessons we humans can learn from geese that bear repeating, considering and sharing in these trying times.
Lessons from Geese
As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.
When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.
If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.
When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.
It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.
The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.
When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.
If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.
“Lessons from Geese” was transcribed from a speech by Angeles Arrien at the 1991 Organizational Development Network. It was based on the work of Milton Olson and shared with Outward Bound alumni.
Even if Donald J. Trump manages to stay in the White House until 2036 like his role model Vladimir Putin has been permitted by the Russian people; even if he gets a 6-3 majority, a 7-2 majority, even a unanimous majority on the Supreme Court; even if his Repugnikkkans hold on to the Senate majority and take back control of the House of Representatives in 2020 and proceed to rewrite every liberal law on the books; it will avail him/them naught, because their time for evil domination is up. That’s because race hatred is a losing proposition.
The same goes for Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton (R) and Hall of Fame football coach Mike Ditka. It goes for all the Karens and Kens out there as well. Time’s up for hate. Game over.
Most recently, The Donald left the White House the day Rep. John Lewis’ remains arrived to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. He told reporters, “I’m not going,” when asked if he would pay his respects to the civil rights icon. He recently showed more respect to accused sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell than he did to this hero.
He also said that the Confederate “stars and bars” flag does not represent hate and that he would veto legislation requiring U.S. Army bases named for traitorous Confederate generals be renamed.
Cotton, whose state ranks 48th out of 50 for most every positive measurement in this country — only ahead of Alabama and lowly Mississippi — and what prosperity Arkansans have is built on the forced labor of enslaved Africans, got his panties in a bunch over public schools desiring to use the Pulitzer Prize-winning series “The 1619 Project” by the New York Times in their curricula.
He offered an amendment to education funding to withhold money from schools which taught “1619,” a study of “the peculiar institution.” He defended his bigoted policy, telling the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that slavery was a “necessary evil,” which requires no further study.
Ditka came to fame in a league whose players are 68 percent Black. Ditka said that players taking a knee during the national anthem before games was “disrespectful” and that folks doing so should “get the hell out of this country.”
The kneeling protest was begun several seasons ago by champion quarterback Colin Kaepernick to call attention to police brutality committed wantonly against Black people in this country.
Meanwhile, almost every day, otherwise intelligent White men and women — professionals, stockbrokers, attorneys and realtors, not your so-called “deplorables,” Karens and Kens — are getting unhinged, drawing guns, ranting, refusing to wear protective face masks during the worst health crisis in 100 years, just because, I believe, they perceive Black folks to somehow be beneficiaries of their otherwise cautious behavior. Too bad.
Now, while neither #45, nor Cotton, nor Ditka, nor Karen nor Ken would ever knowingly be on my BFF list, I don’t hate them. I’d never proclaim that I believe in free speech, and then seek to block one of them from exercising their freedom to speak. What kind of hypocrite would that make me if I did? You see a “democracy” such as this country boasts itself to be, exists with the consent of the governed.
So just because His Nibs steals the 2020 election, or refuses to vacate the office after he’s defeated, it doesn’t matter. I can always withhold my consent. I’m not going to commit treason as Robert E. Lee and former Mississippi Sen. Jefferson Davis did, leaders of the Confederate rebellion did, and raise up arms against my government.
I’m not going to blaspheme my colleagues just because I have the bully pulpit and don’t dig where they’re coming from. But I’m certainly not going to go along with them when they ask for volunteers to help them defeat some foreign enemy. Let their children volunteer to fight. No Iranian ayatollah ever called me a “nigger” or athletes who look like me “sons of bitches.”
These guys can be in charge and make all the rules, just as they’ve done over Black folks for more than 400 years — just like it says of Pharaoh in the Bible. But there’s no way they’re going to force me or my progeny back into slavery.
They are going to need my enthusiastic support before I ever bow and scrape to them to get the Freedom, Justice and Equality they’ve denied to my people for centuries. And their conduct does not deserve my support.
Congressman John Robert Lewis was just 17 when he reached out to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a letter conveying his desire to attend all-white Troy State College (now Troy State University) that was just 10 miles from his home. Lewis submitted an application but never heard from the college, and hoped King would help. Instead, he went to Fisk University. Later, Dr. King reached out to him and invited him to visit Montgomery during spring. That was the beginning of John Lewis’ relationship with King and his 60-plus-year commitment to the civil rights movement.
Congressman Lewis, who died on July 17, exemplified so many things. Commitment. Resilience. Humility. Goodwill. Good Trouble. He died at 80, and there are photos of him, as a much younger man, marching alongside Dr. King and so many others. One of the things that strikes me about this remarkable man is how young he was when he got involved in the movement. As impressive as John Lewis was, he was one of several very young people who put their lives on the line for civil rights and human rights. There is no wonder that he smiled when he visited Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C. That plaza and the protests after the murder of George Floyd are direct descendants of protests that John Lewis was involved in during the 1950s and 1960s.
Many of the youth of that era boldly challenged the status quo. Consider the Little Rock Nine. They were verbally and physically harassed and, in at least one case, experienced economic consequences. The Nine endured a harrowing year. Ernie Green, the best-known of the Little Rock Nine, was the only African American to graduate from Central High School in 1958. The school was closed the following year, and the Little Rock Nine completed their high school education elsewhere.
Just as it is agonizing to think of John Lewis beaten so severely that his skull was cracked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, it is also painful to think of Melba Patillo, one of the Nine who was kicked, beaten and had acid thrown in her face, or Gloria Ray, who was pushed down a flight of stairs. Elizabeth Eckford attempted to walk into Central High School alone, having missed the others because of a communications snafu. She faced an angry and hostile mob and soldiers who would not allow her to enter the school. Gloria Ray’s mother, Julie Miller Eckford, lost her state job because she would not withdraw her daughter from Central High School. These young people, like John Lewis, had tenacity, commitment, and vision.
Consider Dr. Ron Walters (1938-2010), the distinguished professor who spent most of his career as a political scientist at Howard University. He was president of the NAACP Youth Council in Wichita, Kansas, when he organized a sit-in at Dockum Drug Store in July 1958, just weeks after Ernie Green graduated from Central High School and more than a year before the Greensboro sit-in in 1960. The students who participated in the sit-in ranged in age from 15 to 22. The sit-in lasted three weeks and ended when the store manager said the sit-in was costing too much money.
In 1960, a young Jesse Jackson led a protest at the segregated Greenville, South Carolina, library, when he was told he could not check out a book he needed for his undergraduate research. The Greenville Eight, including Jackson, were arrested for disorderly conduct when they visited the library, browsed, and refused to leave. After the arrests, the City Council voted to close both the white and the dilapidated one-room colored library. The libraries reopened about two months later, available to all citizens. Like Lewis, Jackson has dedicated his life fighting for civil rights and economic justice.
In celebrating John Lewis and his remarkable life, we also honor other young civil rights activists who risked their lives to take a stand. They made a difference in the struggle for justice. And just as we celebrate them, we must also celebrate today’s young activists, those in the Black Lives Matter movement who have mobilized young people to protest police brutality, the myth of white supremacy, and economic injustice.
As I think of John Lewis, his remarkable courage, and the leadership he offered at every stage of his life, I also reflect on the much-discussed generational conflict in the African American community. This conflict is, in some ways, inevitable. In other ways, it is unnecessary. Black folks of every age want the same thing — social and economic justice. And depending on our age, we approach the struggle differently. Some will put their lives on the line; some will march, others will boycott racist companies and write checks. Some of every age will do nothing. Those of us who are elders must embrace youth leadership in the spirit of John Lewis, Ernie Green, Jesse Jackson and others.
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist.
From my youth, I can remember many of the elders lamenting that death comes in threes. In fact, when a community suffered the deaths of two elders, most of the others would walk and talk gingerly in wonderment of who would be next. Although rooted in superstition, the idea of Death Times 3 does sometimes seem to be valid, if not in fact, in circumstance. This month, the occurrence of Death Times 3 seems to be more than mere circumstance with the deaths of Rep. John Lewis, the Rev. C.T. Vivian and Mayor Charles Evers — three luminaries of the civil rights era.
Initially, questions loom: How do we fill the chasm? Who will fill the chasm? There’re some who, in passing, leave an immeasurable vacuum in the ether of history, causing all to wonder if this person can ever be replaced. This month, the challenge for the African American community is to resolve or answer these questions three times.
Throughout my life, I have heard and agreed with the premise that African Americans are not monolithic in our philosophies and opinions, and that the voice of one person does not represent our entirety. For the past 75 years, WE have been greatly blessed with any number of thinkers and representatives who have expressed our different perspectives with the singular goal of guiding “the race” to parity in the legal, economic and social structures of this nation. Lewis, Vivian and Evers are three such persons. Each in his own way has led others toward the achievement of the right of all citizens to equally enjoy the benefits that are constitutionally guaranteed.
I cannot do justice to a description of the achievements of any one of these men with the limit of words available to me for each of my articles, much less three. To the extent that you may be unfamiliar with them, I encourage you to explore their biographies. With human nature as it is, I am sure one will be able to find much to admire and points with which you may disagree, but no one can argue the past significance of their contributions to “The Struggle” and the influence of their engagement upon the future.
As leaders representing the interests of thousands of African Americans, these men had an impact that was matched by a rare few. Although their individual approaches differed in many ways, their personal values drove them to self-sacrifice and lives of service to their communities and the nation. Common to them were character traits that enhanced their ability to guide others and demand results.
They were men of conviction. They identified principles that they consider “right” and worked fervently to achieve that state of “rightness.” Each of them understood that certain privileges were universal entitlements granted by God and that those privileges could not be abridged by any human determination or pronouncement.
They were men of humility. Absent from their personas was the display of bravado or arrogance. They pursued their respective goals with quiet assurance and dedication.
They were men of tenacity and endurance. Under physical and emotional threat, each of these men persevered with tireless endurance. When others withered and faded, these men could be counted on to continue the fight.
Laudatory and critical assessments of these men will continue to be made. Critics may dispute their effectiveness in the achievement of their stated goals, but what cannot be disputed is the empty space they leave. Their immediate presence will be missed by all who knew them or knew of them. Others will continue to enjoy the benefits of their achievements. Said solemnly, succinctly and with great admiration and respect, they will be missed!
Williams is national president of the National Congress of Black Women.
“Hitler had his Brown shirts and Mussolini had his Black shirts, now Donald Trump has his camouflage shirts.” Thus began a statement signed by 15 distinguished interdenominational religious leaders in Chicago that I joined, including ministers, priests, and rabbis.
Comparisons to Hitler are always explosive, but the comparison is apt. “Hitler’s bullyboys,” the statement continues, “operated on the fringes or outside of the law to violently intimidate Germany’s leftists and finally to exterminate Jews. Trump’s bully boys are operating on the fringes or outside the law to violently intimidate America’s progressives and people of color who are exercising their First Amendment right to protest racial injustice.”
Portland, Oregon, provides the model. Trump dispatched untrained, unidentified, camouflage-wearing, military-uniformed, no name-tagged bullyboys who are literally kidnapping protesters, stuffing them in unidentified vans, taking them to unknown locations without charges — and against the wishes of local law enforcement officers the mayor of Portland and the governor of Oregon.
Trump has announced that he will send similar teams to Chicago, New York, Detroit, Atlanta, Baltimore and other “liberal Democrat-run cities,” to use his phrase. The excuse is to defend federal property. The reality is that this is a cynical reelection ploy. As Portland shows, Trump’s gambit will spark a large, hostile reaction which he hopes to use to scare suburban voters into supporting this law-and-disorder president.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has warned Trump not to try this in Chicago. “[N]o troops, no agents that are coming in outside of our knowledge, notification, and control that are violating people’s constitutional rights.” Lightfoot told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday during an appearance on “State of the Union.” “We can’t just allow anyone to come into Chicago, play police in our streets, in our neighborhoods, when they don’t know the first thing about our city. That’s a recipe for disaster. And that’s what you’re seeing playing out in Portland on a nightly basis.”
We support her resistance — and the opposition expressed by the Pentagon, members of Congress, former U.S. military officials, historians and constitutional scholars — to Trump’s effrontery.
We don’t need the president’s thugs in Chicago, but we would like real federal assistance. While overall crime has decreased compared to last year, violent crime — particularly murders and shootings — has soared.
Chicago has no gun shop and no gun range. The guns come from outside of Chicago, generally across the border from Indiana. We need common-sense regulations on guns to stop the pipeline into Chicago. Trump could help because it is Republicans and the gun lobby that stands in the way.
Real federal assistance wouldn’t be dispatching bullyboys to terrorize citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. It would help with jobs and training for the young. It would help with rent and mortgage forgiveness during the pandemic lockdown when people can’t work. If Trump and Senate Republicans don’t act immediately, literally millions will be on the verge of eviction.
We need real investment in our schools, so the savage inequality with suburban schools can be reduced. We need health care to be a right, not a privilege, and at the very least for the federal government to cover all medical expenses related to COVID-19. In a pandemic, we all have a stake in ensuring that the sick can afford to get the treatment they need.
Our sons and daughters volunteer to serve in the military. When Vladimir Putin puts a bounty on the heads of our soldiers, we need Trump to defend them, not to ignore the attack.
Trump scorns real assistance to cities. He scorns meeting with our elected leaders before announcing that he plans to dispatch his thugs to our city. And he disgraces our democracy with this cynical and dangerous campaign ploy.
Black Lives Matter Chicago and other organizations are going to court to get an injunction to prohibit Trump’s agents from “interfering in or otherwise policing lawful and peaceful assemblies and protests” in Chicago.
The religious leaders who issued the statement pledged that if Trump dispatched bullyboys to Chicago without the permission of the mayor, they would be met with a “massive, disciplined, nonviolent … march of resistance.” We will not let the president trample our Constitution, suppress our rights, and terrorize our citizens with impunity.