Civil rights are probably under greater assault now than they're been in a few decades. Glenn Greenwald reminds us the FISA fight isn't done. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell aims to create an Orwellian surveillance state, citing imaginary boogeymen and phantom evidence (The New Yorker article is not yet online, but will be eventually here). Eliminating habeas corpus and employing torture should never have occurred, but the scoundrels who perpetrated it are still in power, and their damage must be fixed. The basic concept of the rule of law and a sound justice system have been systematically attacked. Finally, a key Supreme Court case involving an Indiana Voter ID law is being decided — and I fear good law, common sense and basic decency will not prevail.
In previous years for MLK Day, I've posted the text of the famous "I Have a Dream" speech, and links to video of it. That speech never ceases to give me a chill, and is hard to top, so go here if you'd like to feel that inspiration again. It's a good reminder of what can, has and must be done.
This year, you might also want to check out Denzel Washington's new film, The Great Debaters. It's a little Hollywood, but it's very good within that and hard not to like, with strong performances by Washington and Forest Whitaker (no surprise), as well as very impressive turns by a group of young actors (that's not to mention several other superb supporting actors). With some frustratingly hackish blather on race recently on the national stage, The Great Debaters is also a good reminder of the reality of not-so distant history. It also embodies that idea that regardless of one's background, one of the best ways to stick it to the Man and effect positive change is to learn more about the world, to develop critical thinking skills, and to speak out! (I'll link some of Washington's excellent interviews at a later date as part of my annual film roundup).
To close, here's a poem by Afaa Michael Weaver I discovered last year. I think the last few lines are pretty extraordinary.
The Picnic, An Homage to Civil Rights
We spread torn quilts and blankets,
mashing the grass under us until it was hard,
piled the baskets of steamed crabs
by the trees in columns that hid the trunk,
put our coolers of soda pop
on the edges to mark the encampment,
like gypsies settling in for revelry
in a forest in Romania or pioneers
blazing through the land of the Sioux,
the Apache, and the Arapaho, looking guardedly
over our perimeters for poachers
or the curious noses of fat women
ambling past on the backs of their shoes.
The sun crashed through the trees,
rumbling down and splattering in shadows
on the baseball diamond like mashed bananas.
We hunted for wild animals in the clumps
of forests, fried hot dogs until the odor
turned solid in our nostrils like wood.
We were in the park.
One uncle talked incessantly, because he knew
the universe; another was the griot
who stomped his foot in syncopation
to call the details from the base of his mind;
another was a cynic who doubted everything,
toasting everyone around with gin.
The patriarchal council mumbled on,
while the women took the evening to tune
their hearts to the slow air and buzzing flies,
to hold their hands out so angels could stand
in their palms and give dispensation,
as we played a rough game of softball
in the diamond with borrowed gloves,
singing Chuck Berry and Chubby Checker,
diving in long lines into the public pool,
throwing empty peanut shells to the lion,
buying cotton candy in the aviary
of the old mansion, laughing at monkeys,
running open-mouthed and full in the heat
until our smell was pungent and natural,
while the sun made our fathers and uncles
fall down in naps on their wives' laps, and
we frolicked like wealthy children on an English estate,
as reluctant laws and bloodied heads
tacked God's theses on wooden doors,
guaranteed the canopy of the firmament above us.
— Afaa Michael Weaver
(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)