This past week has been disturbing and heart wrenching as our country has exploded in reaction to gross injustices and continued racism. For me, it brought back memories of heading to San Clemente Beach in 1965 to go surfing, and passing what seemed like miles of troops heading the other way en route to Los Angeles to quell the Watts riots. That was 55 years ago, but I remember it well. Though I lived some distance away from the tumult, the smoke of those fires could be clearly seen. And, like today, what started in Watts spread rapidly across the country.
The civil rights movement of the 1960s is a vibrant, but dark memory of my childhood. The hatred, injustice, violence and evil perpetrated on a group of people because of the color of their skin indelibly contributed to my becoming a strong advocate for social justice; committed to serving and defending our most vulnerable and disenfranchised. It also strengthened my faith in a loving God who does not see race, nationality or gender, but looks upon the heart.
In so many ways, we are standing at a crucial crossroads in American History, and maybe even World History. The conflation of a pandemic, recession, extreme political polarization and ineffectiveness, severe income inequality and poverty, unchecked racism and hatred, and mass fear and anxiety. It is no surprise that we are erupting into social dishevel and chaos.
For several years now, our country has drifted leaderless, like a ship on a stormy sea without a rudder, or an engine for that matter. There has been no unifying voice or call to rally behind the common good of everyone. To the contrary, there has been divisiveness, triangulation and intentional polarization–the pitting of one segment of our society against another. We have become an oligarchy, where a small segment of the ultra-wealthy control the country’s agenda, no longer a democracy governed by the voice of the people. It should come as no surprise that we are now paying the grievous consequences of remaining complicit–a fractured, disillusioned, hurt, fearful and angry society!
The past three years has served to magnify the degree of racism that exists in our country. Many of us were hopeful that the Civil Rights Movement inaugurated significant social changes which would amalgamate us into a more unified, accepting, non-prejudicial society. Obviously, it didn’t go far enough. There still exists deeply entrenched hostility towards nonwhites and people of color; a very misguided and dangerous attitude!
One’s nationality, race, skin color, gender or social status should never be seen as a threat or the enemy to society. Our common enemy is tyranny, poverty, greed, hatred, privilege, and the lust for power and control at the expense of others.
Let us embrace the words of our Founding Fathers, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Let not the memory fade of the millions of dehumanized, demonized Jews who were murdered by Hitler during WWII–the pinnacle of racism and prejudice!
Millions of people have taken to the streets these past few days to protest the insidious recent deaths of several black Americans involving police brutality and lynching. This type of injustice should be unfathomable in the 21st Century, in a “civil” society, and cannot be tolerated. As a child of the 60s, I find the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to be so apropos, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
Protest is absolutely warranted–enough is enough! But, now is not the time to loot, burn and destroy– nothing good can come of it! Violence begets violence. We must be better than the perpetrators of racism and wanton destruction of life. Again, Dr. King said it so well, “We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts.”
Andrew Young, a close confidant of Dr. King put it this way, “One of the principles of nonviolence is that you leave your opponents whole and better off than you found them.” The purpose of protesting is to produce a better result, a better community; not foment anger, bitterness, resentment and hatred. Again, Dr. King, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
It is clear that we cannot depend on our political leaders at this time to provide positive direction, encouragement and social unity–it’s up to you and me! The words of another public figure from my youth comes to mind, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”--John F Kennedy
Protest–but with the end goal to create a “community at peace with itself.”
Be a Voice for the lowly, disenfranchised, impoverished and discriminated, not in anger, hostility or vengefulness–but with conviction, compassion, heart and a desire to promote “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” for everyone!
Boldly Stand against injustice, prejudice and abuse–but always with a solution in hand!
Produce Change through the democratic process–vote in people of character, integrity, high morality and vision for all Americans!
Sacrifice your self-interest, and work hard for the common good! “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.”--John F. Kennedy
“Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground, Mother Earth will swallow you, lay your body down.” Steven Stills--Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 1970