• Category Archives: Liberty and Freedom

Civil Disobedience

Selma and Capitol Staffers Protests

Selma March 1965 (Top); Congressional “Hands up” Protest 2014 (Bottom)

Civil Disobedience

Is it perhaps a traditional of civil disobedience that makes the United States
unique? What policies and movements have developed from this position? What
is the future of american political life?

Throughout history, when a group of marginalized people feel as though their rights are being threatened by the laws that govern them, they disobey from the beginning of the American Revolution until current times during the Baltimore Protests, part of the larger Black Lives Matter movement. A great example of civil disobedience in history is during the Civil Rights Movement in 1965, starring historical figures such as John Lewis, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. Although each activist had a different stance on civil disobedience and how it should be conveyed and acted out, they each took part in it.

In Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter, he writes to disgruntled clergymen who criticized his efforts in peaceful protests and demonstrations against violence. He despises the idea that anyone can be an outsider within their own country; wherever there is an injustice, he feels as though he has a right to be there to fix the injustice. Importantly, he then writes, “You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being” (579). He honestly believed that nonviolence was a means of solving the injustice and would spark negotiation between those of power and the protestors: “It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored” (579). Additionally, he goes on to explain the difference between a law and an unjust law, emphasizing that civil disobedience is okay when acting against an unjust law: “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law” (582).

Today, unfortunately, we can see that MLK’s words still remain prevalent during current civil disobedience demonstrations, which indeed have turned violent due to the arguable injustices caused by those in power, particularly America’s current policing system. Policy-wise, people are legally allowed to peacefully protest and gather for a cause. However, these protests have been met with resistance, which has led to the violent outcry we currently see on our televisions, social media, and news outlets. What is the future of American political life? I am not sure, but from history, I do know it will be filled with anguish and struggle between the oppressed trying to dismantle the same system that the oppressors will fight to uphold.

Going back to MLK’s letter, when he says “you deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being,” can that apply to what is currently happening in Baltimore, Ferguson, or any other place where people are protesting out of fear, anger, and a passion for justice?

Image: http://newsone.com/3077463/nonviolent-protest-training-selma-marchon/

Civil Disobedience

s1Henry David Thoreau in his essay Civil Disobedience discusses the role concerned citizens should take when they feel that laws are unjust.  In the case of slavery, Thoreau believed that he could not be associated with a government that allowed part of its population to be enslaved (Cummings 240). He believed those that opposed slavery “in opinion” but did nothing to end it were more interested in the economic outcomes of the practice than in the cruelties and depravities that the slaves had to endure (Cummings 241).   Thoreau then makes a very interesting point about the American democratic process-he said a vote is only a gamble:

All voting is sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon with a slight moral tinge to it, playing with right or wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. (Cummings 241)

Thoreau believed that it took more than just casting a ballot to affect real change in government, that voting “for the right is doing nothing for it”. (Cummings 241). Unjust laws cannot be changed through complacency. For those that truly believe in an issue, action is required. Thoreau believed that slavery and the Mexican War were wrong and refused to pay his taxes to support the government’s policies and involvement in those issues (Cummings 238). Civil disobedience in his opinion was the only way to bring about change. Decades later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would use civil disobedience to bring attention racial discrimination.  He said:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue (Cummings 579)

Civil disobedience forces a community to look at an issue in a different light.  For those that make the choice to stand up for what they believe is important and right, the path is not always easy. I have some of the same questions as Thoreau. Can a person be satisfied with having only their opinion about an issue and not do anything to further the cause?  If a person sees injustice and does nothing, does that opinion have any value?


 

Cummings, Michael S. “Henry David Thoreau-Civil Disobedience (1848) ”.  American Political Thought. 7th ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2015. 238-247. Print.

Cummings, Michael S. “Martin Luther King, Jr-Letter from the Birmingham City Jail (April 16, 1963) ”.  American Political Thought. 7th ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2015. 578-585. Print.

Image: http://texaspolitics.utexas.edu/archive/html/ig/features/0607_01/slide1.html

 

The Culture of Narcissism

In The Culture of Narcissism Christopher Lasch discusses the rights of individuals against their government bureaucracy and corporate society. I felt his words were speaking truths to today’s society. I kept hearing about the public’s unwillingness to be politically active and in doing so results in general political revolt (Cummings 658).

What caught my interests in the first sentence of Lasch writing was his statement, “Modern bureaucracy has undermined earlier traditions of local action, the revival and extension of which holds out the only hope that a decent society will emerge from the wreckage of capitalism (Cummings 658).” I thought a lot about my work in the Small Business Administration. For some reason I agree with most conservative people about big government. I swear if I wanted to publish a Federal Registrar notice to the public, it would take me 3-4 people to sign off on my draft before we could publish. Not only that, if you pissed one of the people off while you were getting your signatures expect a major delay. My last day in the administration was also the final day I turned in the Federal Registrar notice; it took me almost two months to process. I believe in government and the protection of government, but there are some areas we could improve/streamline to make bureaucracy more efficient.

I was moved by Lasch last paragraph in the beginning of The Culture of Narcissism. Lasch writes, “For all these reasons, the devaluation of the past has become one of the most important symptoms of the cultural crisis to which this book itself, often drawing on historical experience to explain what is wrong with our present arrangements. A denial of the past, superficially progressive and optimistic, proves on closer analysis to embody the despair of a society that cannot face the future (Cummings 660).” I feel this statement speaks a lot to the Republicans of our modern society today. They talk about the debt our nation has and the money we spend, yet they forget the WARS they created in the Middle East. Not to mention the new War on Terror that will most definitely never see an end in our lifetime. I feel a lot of the reasons why so many people never care to think about the past is because they are in denial. Much as the majority of Americans are in denial of the American holocaust inflicted on the tribal nations that still live in the United States.

Are we going to continue denying our responsibilities to own up to our mistakes of the past? Or are we going to continue modifying history and blaming people (President Obama) for the large debt we have incurred as a nation? Come on now Republicans, let’s own up on this one.

Lasch: Did 20th century feminism feed into the capitalist ideal?

In “Women and the Common Life”, written by Christopher Lasch then finished and published by his daughter Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn after her father’s death, Lasch faults 20 century feminism for succumbing to capitalist ideals instead of more radical, anti-capitalist ideals he had thought feminism to be. This stemmed from Lasch’s personal beliefs in giving “everyday” citizens more power and limiting the authority of a centralized few (658).

Within his essay, he critiques the feminist movement’s push to have more rights outside of the home and inside of the workforce. He insists that organizations such as NOW, the National Organization for Women, is feeding into capitalist propaganda and “[making] a paycheck the only symbol of accomplishment” (663). In order to prove this, he cites NOW’s apparent nonsupport of requiring employers to grant parental leave, which would in turn perpetuate the sexual division of labor (663). Towards the end of his essay, his tone arguably becomes less offensive and more critical of the movement, which could be because his daughter finished the final aspects of his essay although she was simply continuing his train of thought. The solution he offers at the end states, “By rejecting ‘progress,’ of course, [feminism] would put itself beyond the pale of respectable opinion – which is to say, it would become as radical as it now merely claims to be” (663).

Considering Lasch’s opinion on feminism outside of his patriarchal tone and experience as a man critiquing a woman’s plight and experience, he does grasp the concept of the combative and problematic nature of feminism within a capitalist society, although capitalism is not the only reason women tend to be in more subservient roles compared to their male counterpart. Do you believe Lasch’s argument on 20th century feminism, and specifically the sexual division of labor, was valid? Why or why not?

Progress of the Nation

environmentIn our nation’s history, we have had the terms of conservatism and liberalism changed and flipped since the beginning of the 1900’s. In the beginning of the United States liberalism was meant to mean individualism with limited government, while conservatism meant government controlled actions of most citizens and preserve the community from ‘evil’. Since the 1900’s, liberalism is now meant as the key to solving problems was government, and equality was pushed ahead of individual rights. Conservatives on the other hand, believed in individual rights over equality, and government should be small. As the country proceeded throughout the 20th century, things became more equal for individuals after World War II, with the civil rights and feminist movements gained new momentum through protests and mass demonstrations, and a new social movement started with the gay rights movement in the 1970’s. However, with these social movements there are always opponents who argue against changing policies that many of the social movements were advocating for.

As social movements about people progressed, so did social movements about what’s going on around them. One of the best examples of one of these social movements is the environmental movement. This movement advocated for the environment, and for a better quality of life for the people. For many people, land is seen as a symbol of status, wealthy food companies buy farms in order to get their food cheaper, and the retail value they may contain if they renovate the properties so they could be worth more. It’s also important for our health as we need trees for its production of oxygen. As famous conservationist Aldo Leopold once stated in A Sand County Almanac, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” (611)  Land was not the only part of the environment that the new social movement advocated for, air and wind were the other parts of the environment. Opponents argued that it would infringe on business and other peoples rights, and many don’t know anything about science.

Is there any new social movements who will influence the world? Will there be other social movements in the future?

Rachel Watson Discussion

During Rachel Watson’s discussion, she talked about the crime scene as a sacred space. As most know, there are circulated images of lynching and horrific murders of black citizens that are used as evidence of a murder. For example, as she mentioned, during the Jim Crow era when Emmitt Till was murdered, the killings of Black Americans was normal and almost state sanctioned; the killings were a part of a larger institutional structure allowing for the widespread discrimination against Black Americans. When Till was murdered at 14, his mother decided to have an open casket and circulate his image in order to gain awareness that his death was indeed a murder.

Due to the comfort level most people had during Jim Crow with the murdering of Black Americans, most people did not see it as murder, and if they did, it did not disrupt their daily life. Watson used the example of 12 Years a Slave. Within the movie, Northup was hung by a rope to a tree with just enough room to stand on his tippy toes in order to avoid certain death. While this is happening, the camera pans to different areas and focuses widely on the Northup within his environment; everyone around him continued to go on as if a man hanging from a tree fighting for his life was normal.

Recently, there has been a spike in media coverage about the murders of Black Americans by police officers. Due to the widespread usage and availability of technology, the average citizen is able to film the crime while it’s happening and publish the video for all to see. Watson discusses how before a video or picture is released, there is no accountability for the policeman and the story differs compared to when the video/picture is released. This begs the question – will police only be held accountable when there is visual evidence to invoke the emotion of the viewer to press for change and justice? However, as Watson pointed out, there is an article in The Onion, titled “Nation Hopeful There Will Be Equally Random Chance of Justice for Future Victims of Police Abuse,” that addresses the question very craft-fully:
“As long as a fair-minded eyewitness happens to be passing by at the exact right time; has the inclination to stop and film; an unobstructed view; enough battery life and memory on their phone; a steady hand; the forethought to start filming an interaction with the police before it escalates into violence; is close enough to get detailed footage, but far enough away to avoid being shot themselves or seen by the officer and potentially having their phone confiscated; and it is daytime, then justice would certainly be served.”

The American Dream?

Although Langston Hughes was the first African American writer to earn his living from writing and public appearances, black critics were particularly harsh on his work.  Many black intellectuals felt that Hughes was portraying their life as unattractive.  When Hughes book Fine Clothes for a Jew was published The New York Amsterdam News ran the headline LANGSTON HUGHES—THE SEWER DWELLER (“Biography: Langston Hughes”). But Hughes was not deterred by the criticism, he was writing for the people, not the intellectuals. His writing emphasized black pride and rejected what he saw as “false integration”  (Cummings 517).  Many people were uncomfortable with Hughes portraying black life in such a imperfect way.  Many African Americans wanted to elevate the status of blacks during this time and saw Hughes’ work as a betrayal to their race (“Biography:Langston Hughes”).  Hoyt W. Fuller said that Hughes “chose to identify with plain black people—not because it required less effort and sophistication, but precisely because he saw more truth and profound significance in doing so” (“Biography: Langston Hughes”).

langston-hughes-mural

In Hughes poem “Let American Be America Again” the line American never was America to me is especially powerful (Cummings 519).  Hughes has shattered the myth of American dream and shown how it has failed for millions of those who are not part of the freedom and opportunity that this country is supposed to offer. The other line that I found to be riveting was Except the dream that’s almost dead today, (Cummngs 521). Hughes wrote theses words in 1938.  He believed that America was not a place where everyone was free to follow their dreams and achieve equality. What would he think today?  Is the dream almost dead?  Is the American dream a myth or is there still hope that anyone can rise from the bottom and achieve prosperity and equality in America?

“Biography: Langston Hughes.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Magazine, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/langston-hughes>.

Cummings, Michael S. “Let American Be America Again (1938)”.  American Political Thought. 7th ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2015. 519-521. Print.

Image:  Lora Jost, Artist  2001 Langston Hughes Mural (Lawrence, KS) http://lorajost.org/?page_id=66

The Dream Deferred

I always feel it is hard to accept your dream is deferred. Deferred by debt. Deferred by education. Deferred by having children. Deferred by government. Deferred by health issues. Deferred by the economy. Deferred by death.

In Langston Hughes Harlem, or Dream Deferred, Hughes writes, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore– And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over– like a syrupy sweet? (Cummings 521).” I feel his statement strikes a nerve within my soul. I’ve always enjoyed Hughes’ work, but this poem in particular reminds me of my own dream.

I have a dream for my tribe, the Menominee. I dream our vast ancient forest, which you can see from space, stays green forever. I dream our food is sourced locally and no man made pollution is emitted by our existence. I have a dream the Menominee language and culture live on for generations and not die out. My dream is not about money or power, but for the people.

For years I worked within the system. I started on the grassroots level in the education system. Pushing my ideas forward of culturally-based curriculum and gardens as teaching tools. This propelled me further into the tribal government system. I feel once you hit the established legal body all ideas go to die a slow and drawn out death. I still feel there is hope, but I need a law degree.

A law degree….a piece of paper elusive to my journey. It takes me 8 years to figure it all out, at least I want to feel I have it all figured out. But years of the deferred dream kept me away from school. I wanted to rise up in the non-profit world where a majority of my professional career started, but I need that piece of paper called “diploma” in order to reach my dream. I feel that the dream is deferred over and over again. And it will not end once I reach my law degree.

I will have to fight tooth and nail to defend the sacred homelands of the Menominee from corporate and government interests. Threats of privatized water and nuclear waste depository unhinge me. Sending me into a state of panic to rush forward to reach the dream, but responsibilities as a family man defers the dream.

I feel Hughes is right to question what happens to the dream? There are numerous paths the dream could take and could reach an untimely death due to old age. When I think of Hughes thoughts on the American Dream or dreams people have in general, sometimes its painful to wait for everything to come true.

I find comfort in the poetry of music and especially this song by Brother D and the Collective Effort. Out of New York City in the late 1970’s, Brother D and the Collective Effort hit the mainstream with a song titled “How We Gonna Make the Black Nation Rise?” The title covers an era when rap and hip hop were in the early years with a message to the masses. I take this message and apply it to my own dream in the hopes the wisdom ripples to other races. As Hughes wanted all disenfranchised members of the American society to rise up together and collectively bring the American Dream to all.

If you agitate, educate, and organize does that make us one step closer to the dream?

“America Never Was America To Me”

Langston Hughes

Black America


In reading “A New Song” and “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes, he discusses the American vision of being the land of opportunity and how it applies to ethnic minorities and people with low socioeconomic statuses; additionally, although America’s history has been deeply drenched in corruption, greed, and horrible atrocities against some, he believes America can see a brighter, more clear vision of opportunity and equality. Although the poems are separate entities, they come together to create a Hughes’ ultimate dream of what America could be. Below, I picked out a few lines from each poem that speaks to this vision:

1. “Bitter/With the past/But sweet/With the dream” (518). In these few lines, Hughes discusses the bitter race relations of the past and the sweet dream of the possible unity between different peoples. He acknowledges that although there has been this tense and unfair treatment of ethnic minorities, specifically Black Americans, there is a brighter, “sweeter” future.

2. “That day is past” “The past is done!” (519). Here, Hughes continues to reference the past, but also acknowledges that the past is over with, which hints toward working on the present and hoping for a better future to come.

3.”America was never America to me/And yet I swear this oath/America will be!” (521). Within these lines, I believe Hughes sums his entire poem. America is branded as the land of the free, land of opportunity, and the home of the brave; however, those ideals are limited to a certain few. This poem is especially important because not only does it mention ethnic minorities, but it also lists immigrants and lower income peoples; he approaches the dream from an intersectional view. In the last line of the above quotation, he once again refers to the American dream being applied to all people.

Do you believe that the past is really done? Or, has the past created new issues for the future of America?

Sumner’s Codswallop

Early on Sumner outlines the distinction of government role in our society and who comprises it. He says that they pose questions regarding what ails our nation, what others lack and whose responsibility it is to fix it. (336) The rich are expected to solve the poverty that others are inflicted. He goes on to say that there is a natural order to things and that people should find happiness regardless of their class. He also believes that a person’s overall success is determined by their level of hard work. In short, Sumner is set on a meritocracy.

There is little wonder as to why he holds these beliefs. His father, after all, was an immigrant, working class laborer and yet Sumner was able to rise out of poverty by pursuing an education. Once a person holds a different place in society, it is all too easy for them to ask why others cannot do the same. Sumner was the exception. Capitalism is constructed so that only a few are able to indulge in all the privileges that come from being at the top, while the middle and working class prop them up. It is not ludicrous for the working class to desire, nor even to demand easier mobility among the classes. It is not unfair for a worker who labors for 40+ hours per week to expect to have enough money to feed their family. What is asinine, however, is to expect people to claw at limited resources while a few, under the assumption of being due to their own merit alone, hold on to an egregious amount of wealth.

Sumner does make the point that some men hold advantages that other men do not, but that is how capital is formed and. (341) He maintains that men with these advantages do not hold capital over another; privileged men simply have wealth while others must strive. This system is necessary so that others work toward securing those same privileges. While I’m inclined to understand that some people have more and it is not their fault that they were born into a family of wealth, I equally understand that this concept applies to the working class in the exact same fashion. It becomes necessary then to look at our economic system critically and ask ourselves whether it serves to be helpful toward the majority of our nation’s citizens? If not, reform from our government of this system is not only justified, it is their duty.