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Monday, July 11, 2016

WE HAVE to INTERACT, DEBATE and TAKE ACTION

 The tragic events of this last week smashed any thoughts of a respite from discussing violence.  We are in the midst of what happens when rhetoric becomes over-heated, when individuals of one racial group are targeted as 'criminal,' based on a profile of stereotypes that render them "guilty" and dangerous simply because of their skin color. That is what happened in Baton Rouge and in St. Paul, Minnesota – innocent men’s skin color sentenced them to death by rogue police officers following “protocol.” Question is: what protocol?  Is it the unspoken one that proclaims: ‘Blacks are criminals so shoot them if they don’t comply with every order, and maybe even if they do.’  Is that the protocol being followed covertly by some police departments, or is it simply an attitude prevalent among some police in some cities? 

The situation is bad, and tragic.  Not only do we have “lynching” of black people by rogue cops killing innocent men like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, now we have the reactive shooting of police by a rogue lone wolf who happens to be Black, and a veteran.  We mourn the loss of each individual, whether suspect or first responder, and pray for their families who are suffering under the burden of those losses right now.  Now, let us back up and apply the brakes a bit.

v  We need to avoid irresponsible talk of the beginnings of a race war, or a war on cops.  We need to admonish media outlets that publish over-blown headlines and stories, just as we need to eschew the prejudiced meanderings of blowhard politicians, like Rudy Giuliani who has made a blatantly stupid statement that the “Black Lives Matter" movement is inherently ‘racist.’  Not only has he thus made the victims of white racism blameworthy for claiming an equal standing with all other lives, but with a  typical white superiority, he denigrated and devalued the BLM movement and its members by proclaiming that 'all lives matter’ and that the BLM group should not emphasize just their own race. 

 First of all, Mr. Giuliani, you don’t understand the term “racist”, and second, if we follow your logic, we should not allow organizations like: B’nai B'rith International, Hispanic Associations, Italian-American, Ukrainian-American or Polish-American clubs or associations, or the NAACP  -- all of which (along with many other ethnically- and racially-oriented associations) dedicate themselves to the advancement of their lives and particular culture.
v  Fortunately, we have many responsible and rational white and black folks who are already emerging to stand by each other in this critical time.  Protests and some reactive violence will probably persist, with blame coming at them from all sides, but let us refrain from over-heated rhetoric that exacerbates the situation.
v  Rather, let us take time to dig at root causes of hatred; prejudice; racism (see my postings of 12/7/2014; 5/21/2015; 6/22/2015; 7/12/2015).  We cannot continue in a state of denial and inaction.  The passing of Time will not solve our problems surrounding race relations because they are too deeply ingrained in our institutions.  I used the word 'dig" on purpose for that implies some very basic work on the part of all of us.  If we don't engage in the hard work of revolutionary change, we shall inevitably inherit the destruction of our democratic ideals, rights and freedoms simply because we cannot survive the cancer of racism that threatens all of our core values.
v  A Washington Post database has been keeping track of police shootings that have resulted in a suspect’s death.  In 2015 that number for Jan-June was 415; right now for the same period in 2016 that number has already risen to 512, and is probably still on the rise as we speak. (For all of 2015, total killings of suspects equaled 990). In contrast, shootings of police officers by suspects was 7 for the first six months of 2015, and 13 for the same period in 2016. Within the statistics is something that must be granted full attention.  Black suspects are 2.5 times more apt to be shot and killed by police than white suspects.  The broader question that begs an answer still remains: comparatively, how much is an African American life worth in our society?  Or, put another way, Do Black lives matter equally with all other lives?   
v  It is past time to approach every individual as:
1) a unique individual
 2) as a person with potential that must not be lost
3) as someone worthy of dignity, respect, fairness, and charitable (not charity per se, but caring or positive) attention to personal well-being
4) as a human being whose life matters, and who deserves rights, privileges and freedoms (as well as responsibilities) inherent to that status.
v  Perhaps it is more than past time to look again at what our own origins as a nation tell us about treating others with dignity and respect.
According to the Declaration of Independence:
  • all men are created equal with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  But there’s more that we sometimes ignore or shove aside:
  • governments are instituted among people to secure these rights, and those governments derive their powers from the “consent of the governed.” Moreover, when government becomes destructive of these purposes,
  • it is the right of the People to alter or abolish that form of governance and to institute and organize principles and powers that seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness,” with the proviso that “long-established governments should not be changed lightly or for ‘transient’ (passing, temporary, not lasting; transitory) causes.”  But when a long train of abuses and usurpations shows a pattern toward reducing those rights under an absolute Despotism,
  • it is the duty of the People to throw off such governance and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Interesting isn’t it?  The clues to our purposes are all there in the very document that originally declared independence from Great Britain.  Maybe Bernie Sanders read over these same words and knew that what we must have is a revolution; not simply an evolution.  Just in case you have forgotten, here are some of the insufferable acts of Tyranny that were cited against George III, King of England at that time.  Now substitute the current Congress or certain state Governors and Legislatures for the King, and you might have a clearer vision of what we face now (examples in parentheses), and why revolutionary action is needed:
  • Refused assent to laws needed for the common good, and other laws for the accommodation of large districts of the People (minimum wage increase; workers’ compensation for longer period; equal pay for equal work; hard-hit wards in New Orleans (as result of Hurricane Katrina) still rebuilding, mostly with private money; Flint Mich. still begging for help with infrastructure, as many more towns and cities will soon be doing).
  • Used methods and procedures to fatigue legislators (the Senate filibuster and made-up rules of procedure used to delay and postpone action))
  • Refused for a long time to cause others to be elected (or appointed in case of hundreds of Obama nominees held up in Congress)
  • Obstructed the Laws of naturalization of Foreigners, refusing to encourage migration
  • Obstructed the administration of justice by refusing assent (to appointments)
  • Established Laws that are unclear in terms of judicial powers (search & seizure; stop and frisk; coerced confessions; minimum sentencing; three strikes (felonies) and out)
  • Gave assent to, and support for:
    • quartering large bodies of armed troops among us (like major city militarized police forces?)
    • protecting them by mock trials from punishment for any murders they commit
    • depriving us in many cases of trial by jury (heaping on multiple charges to force plea bargains; killing of ‘suspects’; over-burdening of public defenders)
    • imposing taxes on us without our consent (taxes caused by undeclared wars; by bailing out banks and finance companies; by allowing extraction of special subsidies for a privileged few from tax revenues)
    • abolishing our most important laws (assault weapons ban; voting rights pre-approval for certain states; voting rights circumscribed)
    • altering fundamentally the forms of our government (pushing states’ rights; nullification of federal laws; devolving national programs, such as Medicaid, to the states where they can’t be sustained; 50+ attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act; attempts to abolish regulatory enforcement agencies such as the EPA, and consumer protection agencies)
    • repeated petitions from the People rejected and made worse by repeated injury of citizens (equal pay for equal work; gun violence control – could not even get Congress to pass bi-partisan No Fly-No Buy legislation to prevent those on no-fly list from purchasing a gun)
  • Deafness to the voices of justice and consanguinity (‘affinity’; ‘relationship’) (constant in both Congress and state legislatures: listening primarily to the wealthy or the elite; not calling anyone to testify on effects of bills on the People; advocating repeal of Obamacare without listening to those who will be most affected: the poor).
The basic questions surrounding our present situation become more focused when viewed in the light of our original “Declaration of Independence.”  It is not that we must overthrow another nation’s government in order to institute our own.  It is not simply that we must treat people with more respect and charitableness (which, nonetheless, is wholly necessary!)
The real question is: can we acknowledge our failings as a representative democracy and as a Republic that derives its very existence from the will of the People?  Can we re-form, re-format (re-organize) our government(s) and our institutions so that they encompass and imbue the basic revolutionary principles of our Founding? 
Bernie Sanders and his followers say it can’t be done without a real Revolution.  The Black Lives Matter movement has its doubts as well.  Progressive groups keep hammering away at reform on key issues.  The Democratic Platform will be one test of whether or not there will be real change proposed by Democrats.
The Radical Right says we are going in the wrong direction; that we need to return to a time when the federal government was under strict controls and the states were the powerhouses of our system (if they were so important, how come the Founding Fathers changed from a confederation of states to a federal system?)  Others are opting for law and order; the NRA advocates arming everyone they can to fight the forces of evil (unfortunately those forces defined by some as everyone who is non-white; gay and un-American, plus a rogue federal government in its enforcement role); some want an oligarchy (rule by an elite few) and an economic engine that is unrestricted by any government controls (regulations).  There are some on the Right who have even advocated secession of certain groups or states; some have simply tried to nullify federal laws they don’t like.
Underneath it all, we find the destructive forces of racism and violence, division and discrimination motivating people to resolve whatever issues they envision or encounter in a destructive manner.  Those forces exist on both sides of the spectrum, from the rogue police who kill innocent people simply because they are of color; and those who kill police because they are sick and tired of being denigrated by the police and society in general. 
What do we do with such division, hate, misunderstanding, ignorance and bigotry?  We do what Martin Luther King, Jr. did; what Gandhi did; what Mandela did; what Rosa Parks did.  We do what Lincoln did; what Kennedy and LBJ did; what revolutionaries have always done.  We return to our roots to start over and to build upon the ancient truths that serve as the foundation stones of our lives and our institutions.  We question everything in the light of our founding principles and truths.  We ask the People what they believe and what they want and need, leaving no one out or left behind. 
We begin to build something new based on our debates and discussions.  We hold neighborhood, community, city-wide, area-wide, statewide, regional and national forums, both formal and informal, so that we can talk to one another; and more - so we can get to KNOW one another on a more profound level – as individuals with unique thoughts, ideas, opinions and, most importantly, good will! 
If we don’t listen to one another and talk with one another, we will be forever caught in the formal media and social media trap of merely reading words or seeing pictures that appear on a monitor – no real encounter, no real interchange, no real conversation, no real knowledge of one another – it’s all virtual reality perhaps substituted for relationships.  How many have mistaken the tools of information-gathering and ordering for the essence of living where there is actual live communication and involvement with other human beings? 
Communication at its foundation is something we do as a live interchange with someone else by which we give something of value to another; a part or share of ourselves.  It is like a gifting of self. Granted it is of immaterial things like knowledge, thoughts, opinions, ideas, hopes, qualities – but nonetheless, it is a giving of one’s persona as experienced through those personal items.  We cannot hope to give of ourselves in this way to others unless we are actually in touch with others – we must have real interchanges, real confrontations, real debates – with real people or we will not come to a real and viable outcome. 
So, the first step in our plan is communication – giving of ourselves in real time and presence to others and building strong bridges across the divides.  The problem is, we continue to receive rhetorical platitudes, but no actual plan of action.  The rest of this posting is about taking action in a positive way nationally.
In an interview with Lester Holt of NBC NEWS, Hillary Clinton discussed some of what I am writing about today.  So Hillary – what’s the actual plan?  Can we have a national Plan in place by November 8th when we vote?  How do we get people talking about revolution?  I would suggest that Bernie and his wife could be your ambassadors for interaction and revolution (radical change in values and institutions).  How about getting something started with that announcement?  
I think the second step is to involve every institutional entity in this country in internal discussions and forums on what it is they are fundamentally supposed to be doing – what is our mission and purpose – and more importantly: how does our mission and purpose relate to carrying forward and enhancing the purposes and principles underlying our foundational documents and judgments?  Or, we might want to start the other way around: what is our particular organization, institution and/or organized entity (including corporations) not doing to practice and bring to effective reality, the principles of our form of democracy? 

In other words, it may be useful to look first at each  group’s negative aspects that ignore, denigrate, or empower negative and destructive principles, purposes and behaviors in relation to equal justice, rights, freedoms, and responsibilities.  Then move to consider what can be done to overturn those negatives and to move each organized group into greater compliance with democratic principles.  Invite and engage non-members from the affected community in this process.
The third step?  I think it will have to address our national mission and purpose.  I would propose that our federal government begin by actually debating the mission and purposes of our foundational documents.  The Congress could hold hearings on several crucial subjects like: equal justice – what does it entail?  Equal rights – what are they and how can we protect and enhance them?  The opinions of the People – how can we make sure that all the voices are heard and acknowledged in our democratic system?  How can we promote the fundamental right of the vote?  It’s time for Congresspersons and Senators to stand for something.  Let them express their most cherished thoughts and beliefs, but not as though running for office; instead, as though the life of this government is at stake.  Let’s have a referee who will preside and enforce the rules of debate and comment, calling out members who cross the line from debate and discussion to political rhetoric.  The rules for the Presiding referee to follow should be prepared before any discussion commences. 

At the same time, let us have the departments and offices of governments at national, regional, state and county/city levels engage in discussion and debate about the same general issues I have proposed for private organizations and governmental entities.  Their task should be to determine how their particular entity both blocks and furthers the principles of our founding documents and subsequent major judicial decisions.

Somewhere in this plan, I believe we need to make room for a year-long process leading up to several White House Conferences on the main subjects of mission and purpose of our government and our institutions, complete with actual proposals for changes, amendments, new laws, and policies.
I believe such a process is a necessity but would not be without difficulties.  It is not only necessary, but imperative, given our current circumstances of division, discrimination, bigotry, elitism and demagoguery, and outright murdering of innocent people.  But, more to the point, we are failing in the most important basic principles that form the foundation of our democracy.  It’s past time for this national discussion and debate.  Otherwise, we shall continue down the road to destruction, simply because we have provided no way to address our concerns and our reasons for being.  It is the challenge for our times, with our broad and varied population, with our numbers, and with the apathy that exists in some quarters. 

But, do we really have a choice?  Without a national discussion, we will continue to hear the voices of demagogues, candidates, pundits, corporate moguls, plus the views of extremists on both sides, all the while silencing the concerns of millions of voters and citizens who are trying desperately to tell their representatives things they seem not to want to hear: sensible gun violence controls, fair and comprehensive immigration policies, climate change, equal justice. 
Revolution comes in many ways: sometimes quietly and without warning; sometimes out of growing chaos; other times out of revolts of various groups (like unions in Poland); often out of despair, frustration, unemployment, unequal access to opportunities; too often out of the neglect of a true mission and purpose; and, often enough, out of the force and the burden of one burning issue or one overriding concern. 
What I propose is that a revolution be allowed to occur out of citizen participation: debate and discussion of who we really are and what we are really meant to be and to do.   South Africa did some of that in their peace and reconciliation movement.  We have had experience with it to a degree in the Women’s Rights movement, the Labor Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. 
But, we have perhaps gone so far off track now that we must plan and organize to a degree not seen before. In order for a national discussion to go as deeply as possible into our heritage, our founding principles and our demographics we must make this into a revolutionary referendum on Who We Are?  Why We Exist? And What We Need to Change Dramatically in order to actually be who and what we claim to be.  Otherwise, we shall have no choice but to (as the Declaration of Independence reminds us) “suffer while evils are insufferable, (and) to right ourselves by abolishing the forms to which (we) are accustomed.”

Can we do this?  Can we actually have a national discussion about topics like constitutional imperatives; racial and cultural divisions; equal justice; the responsibility of corporations? 
Can we find ways to restore ordinary citizens to their status as the force behind government – to their rightful place as the consenters and the deciders?  Can we talk in-depth about inclusion, participation and activism? 
Can we deal with the demands of the 21st century and agree on what schools must do once again to provide an effective quality education for all? 
Can we find solutions to the issues of gun violence, climate change, bargaining rights, and religious freedom restrained by the establishment clause?  Can we talk about life and abortion and other social issues like our approach to crime, violence and incarceration?
 I don’t honestly know for sure, but I have had the privilege of taking part in a national process involving discussion and debate leading up to a White House Conference on Aging.  It was interesting, engaging, exciting, and best of all, successful.  Many real and viable suggestions for change on all levels of government were made.  The Congress even passed legislation to put a fair number of the suggestions and proposals into effect. 
We do have models to guide us, and YES, WE CAN DO THIS, if we can just find the leadership, the plan, the incentive, a viable process and the will and commitment to make it happen.  If challenged to participate, I’m ALL IN!  How about YOU?