The Cry For Freedom

I received the following quote via twitter this week.  The quote by Ana Levy-Lyons is from an essay she wrote for the recent edition of the UU World, our denomination’s magazine.  She states:  “It seems clear that there should be tension—enormous tension. Until the world is as it should be, until war and hunger are abolished, until power is shared and all voices are heard, we should not be able to fit comfortably into this culture.[i]

She is talking about religious communities being counter-cultural, as being a model of a way of life that prophetically calls society to be different than the way society is currently manifested.  She then calls upon James Luther Adams, our Unitarian Universalist theologian of the 20th century and quotes his words[ii]:

The element of commitment, of change of hearts, of decision so much emphasized in the Gospels, has been neglected by religious liberalism, and that is the prime source of its enfeeblement. We liberals are largely an uncommitted and therefore self-frustrating people. Our first task, then, is to restore to liberalism its own dynamic and its own prophetic genius . . . A holy community must be a militant community with its own explicit faith; and this explicit faith cannot be engendered without disciplines that shape the ethos of the group and that issue in the criticism of the society and of the “religious” community itself.

Harsh words to hear.  First the question of not being counter-cultural and then not committed to restoring liberalism, religious liberalism to its own prophetic genius that critiques society and our religious living within it.  Harsh words indeed.  But are there examples of this happening?

In 2005 I had the privilege of visiting Chiapas, a state in southern Mexico.  Chiapas is much like Alabama in some ways.  It too is among the poorest of its nation.  They too made international news for the ways the government oppresses people there. When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed by the US, Canada, and Mexico, the indigenous people of Chiapas realized that NAFTA was not for their benefit but would actually do them great harm.   All of the resources of this wonderful state, Let me repeat that,  all of the resources are owned not by the indigenous people.  The coffee, the beef cattle, the bananas, the honey, the oil, the electricity, and many other exportable resources; all of it is controlled by the Mexican government and American corporations. The people of Chiapas do not see any of the money produced by these resources.

The people who live here are living in dire poverty and they are exploited not only by their own government but also by the corporations from America and Europe.  But how are their needs presented to us?

In a piece that I wrote for the Chiapas Peace House Newsletter, The Children of El Pacayel[iii], I described the charitable organizations portrayal of such children.  I said I had been taken in by “the international charitable organizations that seek to raise funds by showing third world children.  You know the video clip.  The image of Sally Struthers walking down dirt trodden roads with children cast aside along the way unable to move from hunger or disease is meant to pull at our heart strings to donate money.   The closing clip shows her holding a young girl all gussied up and smiling.  See what your money can do?”

This form of charity, as well meaning as the donors are for those who are destitute does not answer the root causes of the poverty.  Leonardo and Clodovis Boff in their text, Introducing Liberation Theology, state this approach as “a strategy for helping the poor, but treating them as (collective) objects of charity, not as subjects of their own liberation…. There is a failure to see that the poor are oppressed and made poor by others; and what they do possess—strength to resist, capacity to understand their rights, to organize themselves and transform a subhuman situation—tends to be left out of account. Aid increases the dependence of the poor; tying them to help from others, to decisions made by others; again, not enabling them to become their own liberators.”

If some of this argument sounds familiar, it is because this is the argument of conservatives in this nation regarding welfare. Conservative voices might add the belief that poverty is caused by some sort of vice such as “laziness, ignorance, or simply human wickedness.”  Many liberals tend to see this argument as heartless towards those who are poor, not only in third world countries, but right here in America, right here in Alabama.   Liberals response to this argument is to maintain programs of aid to the poor as a form of compassion band aid or as Boff coins it, “objects of pity.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I am one of those liberals who want to keep those welfare programs in tact.  But perhaps, it is time for me to recognize that it is at best a temporary safety net measure and not meant to be a permanent fixture in any one’s life.

And that might be why there is the reform argument which is the response from liberals who believe that with minor restructuring within existing systems the situation of the poor will be improved.  Alas, Boff writes, “Reformism can lead to great feats of development in the poorer nations, but this development is nearly always at the expense of the oppressed poor and very rarely in their favor.”
This is also the belief that third world countries and even poor states like Alabama and Mississippi are poor as a function of backwardness.  In the process of time, if stimulus loans for economic development in Alabama or foreign aid for third world countries were given, then the result would be prosperity and progress.

The problem with reformism is that it is generated not from within the community affected but from outside of the community. Those who are to benefit from reform are “passive objects of action taken by others.”

NAFTA was supposed to be one of those reforms of the system. The thinking was if there was more ease in the production and trading of goods between nations then all would benefit from it.  However over 2 million farmers lost[iv] their ability to farm in Mexico once NAFTA was fully implemented in part because they could no longer compete with factory farms in the US and in Mexico.  In short, the old adage rings true; the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

There is a third way to approach and explain the problem of poverty.  It is a dialectical explanation: poverty as oppression.  Boff explains that “poverty [is] the product of the economic organization of society itself, which exploits some—the workers—and excludes others from the production process—the underemployed, unemployed, and all those marginalized in one way or another.”

The way out is not through charitable contributions or through reforms but by replacing the present way of doing things by offering an alternative system—a counter cultural approach.  It is the poor themselves who stand up to create this revolutionary approach to their liberation.

Liberation theology seeks to do this by seeking to first understand the historical context of the poor and oppressed and then find ways to respond in relationship to that context.  Now Liberation theology is steeped in Christology—Jesus teachings about the poor and the transformative process through the death and resurrection of Jesus as being central to Liberation Theology.  As Boff explains, “the poor are not simply poor, as we have seen; they seek life, and ‘to the full’ (John 10:10). This means that questions relevant to or urgent for the poor are bound up with the transcendental questions of conversion, grace, resurrection.”  And conversion, grace, and resurrection are evident in the evolution of the resistance movement Mexico and other Central American countries.

In Chiapas, the Zapatista’s initially rose up and declared war against the Mexican government.  And after blood shed in the early years of their declared war, they decided war was not the answer but rather a sustained resistance to exploitation. This came about after the massacre at Acteal, where some 40 innocent men, women, and children were killed by the Mexican military.  These people were not Zapatistas but happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The world community stood up in protest. Marcos writes in the Sixth Declaration[v]:  “the first thing we saw was that our heart was not the same as before, when we began our struggle. It was larger, because now we had touched the hearts of many good people. And we also saw that our heart was more hurt, it was more wounded. And it was not wounded by the deceits of the bad governments, but because, when we touched the hearts of others, we also touched their sorrows. It was as if we were seeing ourselves in a mirror.”

My visit to the Zapatista community of Oventic revealed a community where a democracy by consensus was being developed.  These were a people who understood the historical context in which they lived.  Not only did they understand their ancestry as indigenous people of Mexico but also their 500 year history as a people living under the domination of the Doctrine of Discovery.  The result of this context enabled them to incorporate into their communities an understanding of their own oppression and empowered them to create something new, an alternative to the corrupt Mexican government.

Anthropologist Duncan Earle writes: [vi][The Zapatistas] had no model except [for] their own indigenous belief that there should be consensus. They have been able to create a para-state that takes care of its own education, health, transportation and economics.”  In response to an article, he stated: “[vii]Chiapas is an island of peace and security, and in the Zapatista zones, good government and no drug cartel activity. That is why tourism is on the rise there, even Zapatourism.”

This approach was recently adopted by the indigenous Purépecha community of Cherán in the Mexican state of Michoacán where the Monarch Butterflies winter.  This was a community besieged by organized crime loggers and drug cartels. Their pleas to the government for intervention and protection went unanswered.  They rose up as a community and stopped the violence.  They kicked out the crime syndicate and removed the corrupt government and set up a council that uses governing principles of their ancestors.  This includes having a series of neighborhood bonfires at night.  They talk, they cook food for one another, and they come to consensus as to how to protect their community and their forest.

A report states this about the community: [viii]Retaking old habits and customs; returning to the idea of la faena, work that’s done by all for the good of everybody. It wasn’t long ago that this tradition was still practiced. The elders will tell you: “we built this school with la faena” and remember how at a wedding or funeral, the tradition dictated that everybody helps with something: food, work, anything so that life is easier for all. This old way keeps people close.”

They have set up a counter-cultural community because the ways set up by the government were not protecting them from the violence of the crime syndicate or from the impotent and corrupt government. This community banned political parties as they see them as divisive.  They are a community under siege not only from the crime syndicate but also from the Mexican government. The community of Cherán is pulling together and creating something new because reform no longer worked.

But what about here?  How does Chiapas and Cherán relate to Tuscaloosa?  Yesterday, I met with Somos Tuskaloosa.  They are working on developing their goals for their future as the possibility of changing the system of immigration becomes feasible in an Obama second term.

Somos Tuskaloosa discussed the need to understand the historical context in which they find themselves.  They are realizing that they cannot simply allow the government to reform immigration without their ability to have a say in how that might be done. They see immigration as a piece of the racist history of the United States. They need to understand that history and the systems developed in response to that racist past.  Their desire to develop a community where all people are respected, not just as a rhetorical statement, but brazenly embraced for who they are is counter-cultural in Alabama.

And isn’t that what we want too?  To be a community that brazenly embraces the other as equal sojourners in life?  As Ana Levy-Lyons challenged us; how would we seek to abolish the war and hunger within our own hearts and in the larger community—figuratively and literally?  What would shared power look like here in this congregation?  How would we ensure that all voices are heard?

What would we need to change if we declared our community as an autonomous Human Rights zone in Alabama?  That is the definition of sanctuary—a place where people are safe and secure from the dangers of the world.   May we find the courage to participate in such a liberation—a liberation that yields to a just society. Blessed Be.


[i] “We should be more Counter-cultural” by Ana Levy-Lyons as found at http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/229846.shtml

[ii] IBID

[iii] http://www.chiapaspeacehouse.org/content/view/276/305/lang,en/ (website is no longer active, currently on hiatus)

[iv]NAFTA and the Mexican Economy, M. Angeles Villarreal, June 3 2010 Congressional Research Services as found at  http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL34733.pdf

[vii] Dr. Duncan Earle (not verified) on April 16, 2009 – 01:53  http://hir.harvard.edu/blog/jason-lakin/fifteen-years-after-the-zapatistas

[viii] Pablo Pérez, Translation by Laura Cann  as found at http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2012/07/the-fight-of-cheran-day-it-began.html

 

“The Cry for Freedom” delivered at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa   by Rev. Fred L Hammond 11 November 2012 ©

Changing Our Narrative

 by Rev. Fred L Hammond 7 October 2012 ©

Last spring I delivered a sermon on the Doctrine of Discovery, a 550 year plus old document that set in motion the underlying narrative of the United States of America.  I talked about this doctrine then because our Unitarian Universalist Association was submitting a resolution to our Justice General Assembly in Phoenix to renounce this Doctrine of Discovery and request that all laws that reflect this papal decree be removed from our governing bodies. The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority of those congregational delegates present.

The story of this country is cast with this doctrine as a preamble to our history and the majority of our country’s actions have the spirit of this doctrine imbedded within them.  To remind us what the Doctrine of Discovery states, let me quote again Pope Nicholas V who in 1452 wrote:

” We grant to you (King of Portugal)  full and free power, through the Apostolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens (Muslims) and pagans, and other infidels and other enemies of Christ, and wherever established their Kingdoms, Duchies, Royal Palaces, Principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps and any other possessions, mobile and immobile goods found in all these places and held in whatever name, and held and possessed by the same […]and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude. [i]

Pope Nicholas V wrote another edict to protect Portugal from other Christian nations laying claim to lands already claimed by Portugal.  And in 1493, Pope Alexander XI expanded this edict to allow other Christian nations to also lay claim to lands not already claimed by Portugal and gave Christopher Columbus the right to lay claim to the lands he set foot on for Spain.

So the historical narrative of the United States essentially begins in 1492.  We know the poem entitled The History of the U.S[ii]. written in 1919, which begins with the stanza:

In fourteen hundred ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
And found this land, land of the Free,
Beloved by you, beloved by me.

It implies that prior to 1492 this land was uninhabited, unknown to anyone, per se.  Columbus found it and introduced to this land European civility—or so we were taught in school.  Yet, there were people already here with a culture that was long established.  Howard Zinn[iii] writes in A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present   “These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.”

Another poem entitled In 1492 by Jean Marzollo first published in 1948 about Christopher Columbus contain these closing stanzas

The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.

Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he’d been told.

He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.

The first American?  No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

This isn’t exactly what happened after Columbus landed in the Caribbean but it is what we teach our children.  Some histories will make mention that the encounter of Columbus and his crew with the native peoples of the island went according to Columbus’ plan of enslavement and genocide but this mention is equivalent to a footnote.  While these histories do not deny the atrocities they do not make it central to Columbus’ mission. Columbus wrote the following to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand[iv],

I took by force six of the Indians from the first island, and intend to carry them to Spain in order to learn our language and return, unless your Highnesses should choose instead to have them all transported to Spain, or held captive on the island. These people are very simple in matters of war… I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased… They are very clever and honest, display great liberality, and will give whatever they possess for a trifle or for nothing at all… Whether there exists any such thing as private property among them I have not been able to ascertain… As they appear to have no religion, I believe they would very readily become Christians… They would make good servants… They are fit to be ordered about and made to work, to sow, and do aught else that may be needed, …

To sum up the great profits of this voyage, I am able to promise, for a trifling assistance from your Majesties, any quantity of gold, drugs, cotton, mastic, aloe, and as many slaves for maritime service as your Majesties may stand in need of.”

In the short time after Columbus’ arrival the population of what is now known as Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Cuba was reduced from 3 million to 60,000.  The people of these islands died; some to European diseases like small pox and others through genocidal killing and suicide for not being able to secure the gold amounts desired.

Howard Zinn in his text writes[v], To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves—unwittingly—to justify what was done.”

And this has been our stance in the Americas ever since. We called it by many names; Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, and today American Exceptionalism. It is a part of our narrative that covers up or hides many sins that we have committed as a nation.  And it is this narrative that we teach our children in schools.  America is best.  America is the greatest.  America is the home of the brave and land of the free.  America can do wrong in its eyes.

Of course the question arises, who is this America.  From the earliest days of this republic it was white men who were America. This is a White supremacist narrative that is presented to the world.

Congress in 1790 enacted this law:  All free white persons who have, or shall migrate into the United States, and shall give satisfactory proof, before a magistrate, by oath, that they intend to reside therein, and shall take an oath of allegiance, and shall have resided in the United States for one whole year, shall be entitled to all the rights of citizenship.[vi]

Now in 1790 all the rights of citizenship only pertained to white men who owned property, white women were not granted all the rights of citizenship. And in many states Jews and Catholics were also not granted all the rights of citizenship.  The definition of who was white in America was narrowly determined. Benjamin Franklin gives a definition of whiteness in 1751:  “[vii]That the Number of purely   white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is   black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians,   French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call   a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only   excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People   on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased.”

Today there are texts written entitled How Jews became White Folks and How the Irish became White.  Our narrative as a nation was told from the perspective of Whites as the only sanctioned narrative.  To go against this narrative is considered sedition. That is a strong statement but it is a true statement nonetheless.

Especially if you listen to some of the conservative voices in this country going against the narrative is indeed seditious.  The narrative of America as told is being destroyed by having a Black president.  Te-Nehisi Coates[viii] in his article in Atlantic Monthly proposes that the furor over whether Obama has an American Birth Certificate or proclaiming him to be a Muslim is a means to maintain the white narrative of America.  If Obama is not an American or is a Muslim then he is not really the president of the USA and the white narrative of America is preserved.  There is a photo going around FaceBook of a poster at a Koch Brothers sponsored protest against Occupy New York that reads, “I’m dreaming of a White President just like the ones we use to have…”

Preserve the narrative of America at all costs.  Obey our laws, obey our cultural norms.  Do not disrupt the 550 plus years of white narrative that declares whites as superior over all others.   In 1635[ix], a native person allegedly killed an Englishman in Maryland. The English demanded the native be handed over to them for punishment under English law.  The chief answered how they would handle the native and refused, saying “you are here strangers, and come into our country, you should rather conform yourselves to the customs of our country, than impose yours upon us.”   But to do that would have made the doctrine of discovery invalid.  It would have changed the narrative of supremacy.

Arizona HB2281 which was signed into law and into effect December 2011 banned the teaching of ethnic studies in Arizona schools.  The ethnic studies specifically banned were Latino ethnic studies.  This law states that “School[s] in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

  1. 1.    Promote the overthrow of the United States Government.
  2. 2.    Promote resentment toward a race or class of people
  3. 3.    Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
  4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

At the heart of this ban is a course of studies that were taught at the public schools in Tucson, AZ. Tucson is a community of about 47% Anglo, 42% Latino and the remaining 11% being Black, Native American, or Asian.  In the public school district the demographics change because many whites attend private or charter schools making Latinos to account for 62% of the student population.

The Mexican American Studies program was considered seditious because it taught the history of the indigenous people of the America’s from the perspective of the indigenous people.  History of the indigenous people did not begin in Europe with the Greco and Roman empires but rather with the Aztec’s and Mayan’s.  Columbus’ arrival was not the heroic event that unfurled the ability of Europeans seeking to breathe free but rather as the beginning of an invasion that destroyed civilizations and enslaved and ransacked human and natural resources. It placed the context of the land of Arizona in its thousands of year old histories of a proud people who lived in this land and had its resources taken away from them, first by the Mexican government and then by the United States government. The bumper sticker of the immigrant rights movement, ‘we didn’t cross the border the border crossed us’ is not just a sound bite it is an historic fact of a people living in the southwest.

Theirs is a narrative that highlighted the values of community that holds itself together. The sharing and generosity that Columbus found in the Taino tribe of the Arawak people is not seen as a weakness but as a strength of their heritage.    Yet, it is this ethnic solidarity in a community value that was made illegal by the Arizona law in favor of the strident American individualism. American individualism where the pursuit of capital gain is not to uplift the society but only to increase the privilege and power of the one receiving the gain.  This is not the society that neither Columbus nor any of the Europeans encountered when they arrived on these shores.  Europeans encountered the culture of Iroquois Chief Hiawatha, who said, [x]We bind ourselves together by taking hold of each other’s hands so firmly and forming a circle so strong that if a tree should fall upon it, it could not shake nor break it, so that our people and grandchildren shall remain in the circle in security, peace and happiness.” A Jesuit priest who encountered the Iroquois wrote, [xi]No poorhouses are needed among them, because they are neither mendicants nor paupers… their kindness, humanity and courtesy not only makes them liberal with what they have, but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common…”

And while I am not so naïve to think that the native cultures of the America’s was idyllic, these are narratives that need to be incorporated into the American narrative as a whole in order to sort out and sift the wheat from the chaff.  There are aspects of cultures found right here in these lands that could aid in the redemption of the American narrative that has spawned centuries of white supremacy and violent racism against others.

The Mexican American Studies program was one of those programs that sought American redemption through the telling of a history from the perspective of the native people’s point of view.  These students have the potential to contribute to our society if they are given the tools to understand where they fit in the narrative of this country.  They get to begin to rewrite that narrative to include their achievements, their cultural contributions.

The high school drop out rate of Latino’s nationally hovers around 56%.  The Tucson school district after implementing their Mexican American Studies program found the drop out rate decrease to 2.5% in the school district. Tucson students who attended this program did better in state exams as compared to their peers in other schools.  The students found that they found a reason why education was important for them to pursue. They discovered that education was relevant to their life experiences.

Clergy in Tucson[xii] wrote a letter in support of the Mexican American Studies program.  They wrote:

“As people of faith, we recognize how important our history and stories are to us. Scriptures are nothing more than the passed down stories of people who wanted their children and their children’s children to remember the ways in which God had moved within their lives and in the course of human history to bring forth freedom from slavery, forgiveness from retribution, love from hate, and grace from sin. The history of the people of faith within sacred scripture has never been the dominant history; our history is not the history of Egypt but the history of the Hebrew slaves, not the history of Babylon but the history of those carried away into captivity, not the history of Herod but the history of a refugee family who had to flee to Egypt, not the history of Rome but the history of a peasant named Jesus and his followers.” The same is true of the Mexican American Studies program; it is a history of a conquered people, the indigenous people of these lands.

Howard Zinn recalls a statement he once read that stated, [xiii]The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”

Yes, the story the Mexican American Studies program tells is counter to the narrative of this nation but it’s aim is not to raise up people with seditious acts but rather to honor the lives of those lost.  To glean from their stories the richness of their lives and the lessons their lives still have to offer us.

It may come as a bit of surprise to folks that tomorrow has two names as the holiday.  It is Columbus Day, a day in which Alabama anyway, seeks to honor those of Italian heritage. It is also American Indian Heritage Day, a day to honor the contributions of the native peoples from these lands.  It may seem odd that Alabama is only one of a few states and municipalities that honor the native people of this land officially. I hope Alabama gets why honoring Native Americans tomorrow is so important in our country.

This state also continues to honor Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Confederate Memorial Day.  And I think I now get why it is important for Alabama to honor and remember these people from a painful time in our nation’s history when ideologies clashed so brutally.

In order to fully live up to our potential as a people we need to understand our story as a nation. We need to change our narrative to include the fullness of our story; the good, bad, and ugly truths of our story.  It would be easy and it has been easy for parts of our history to fade away because they are too shameful, to painful to face.  We have done this in America.  We have tried to forget the Japanese Interment camps during World War Two. We have tried to forget the turmoil and unrest of the Civil Rights era.  We have tried to forget the brutal murders of sexual minorities like Matthew Shepard and the thousands who commit suicide because their sexual orientation is not viewed acceptable by society. And I am sure there are some of us who would prefer that the Undocumented remain in the shadows of America.

But if this country is to live up to its most sacred creed, then we must do its work to undo white supremacy and white privilege where ever it is established. It does not serve us well, it never ever did.

[i] http://unamsanctamcatholicam.blogspot.com/2011/02/dum-diversas-english-translation.html

[ii] http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2274/where-does-that-1492-ocean-blue-thing-about-columbus-come-from  Poem written by Winifred Sackville Stoner, Jr.

[iii] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)- Highlight Loc. 72-75  | Added on Wednesday, October 03, 2012, 04:41 PM

[iv] http://red-coral.net/Columb.html  from the poem Columbus in the Bay of Pigs by John Curl

[v] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)- Highlight Loc. 214-16  | Added on Friday, October 05, 2012, 01:02 PM

[vi] As found in the article “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/09/fear-of-a-black-president/309064/?single_page=true

[vii] http://www.dialoginternational.com/dialog_international/2008/02/ben-franklin-on.html

[viii] “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/09/fear-of-a-black-president/309064/?single_page=true

[ix] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn) – Highlight Loc. 456-60  | Added on Friday, October 05, 2012, 01:39 PM

[x] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)-Highlight Loc 426-31

[xi] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)-Highlight Loc 431-35

[xii] http://www.tucsonweekly.com/TheRange/archives/2011/06/21/faith-leaders-ethnic-studies-program-is-a-valuable-educational-program

[xiii] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)- Highlight Loc. 252-53  | Added on Friday, October 05, 2012, 01:09 PM

More Alabama examples towards the path of Genocide

I recently posted about the eight stages of genocide and made comments of how I see Alabama methodically implementing these stages.  I realize making  such a statement can be seen to be outrageous but I have come to this conclusion through observing what is happening in our state.  I did not make these comments lightly.

Since writing that post The Southern Poverty Law Center has confirmed a report that a school district in Northeast Alabama called their Latino students into the cafeteria and asked them if they knew their legal status in this country.  Those that stated they were undocumented were culled out of the group and were arrested by ICE.

Here is what the law states regarding schools:

Section 28. (a)(1) Every public elementary and secondary school in this state, at the time of enrollment in kindergarten or any grade in such school, shall determine whether the student enrolling in public school was born outside the jurisdiction of the United States or is the child of an alien not lawfully present in the United States and qualifies for assignment to an English as Second Language class or other remedial program.

Here is what Genocide Watch writes to describe stage 6:

6. PREPARATION:Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. Members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is expropriated. They are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. At this stage, a Genocide Emergency must be declared. If the political will of the great powers, regional alliances, or the U.N. Security Council can be mobilized, armed international intervention should be prepared, or heavy assistance provided to the victim group to prepare for its self-defense. Otherwise, at least humanitarian assistance should be organized by the U.N. and private relief groups for the inevitable tide of refugees to come.

Which of these statements does the actions of the school district in Northeast Alabama resemble most?  Now granted stage 6 has not been fully implemented in the state of Alabama but it seems to me that the actions of this school district did not follow the law as written but instead jumped to the next logical step of where this law is headed in spirit.  The school district identified and separated out the students who were undocumented and had them arrested by ICE agents.  This is indeed the spirit behind Genocide Watch’s Stage 6.

There was another event this time in Morgan County.  Committee on Church Cooperation, a non-profit organization,  whose mission is to help the poor  has decided that immigrants are not part of its mission, especially if they are undocumented.  The Decatur Daily reports this in their newspaper:

Gayle Monk, CCC executive director, said the organization has had to take extra steps to make sure undocumented immigrants do not obtain food, clothing and other assistance, much of which is donated to the agency by Morgan County churches.
“We thoroughly check everybody out,” Monk said. “We’ve even got wind that a lot of them have illegal Social Security cards. So I’ve tried to educate my staff on what to look for.”
As a condition of receiving assistance, Monk said, applicants must present government-issued photo identification showing residence in Morgan County. They also must provide a Social Security card for every member of the household, as well as documentation of income.
“The majority of the Hispanics, No. 1, can’t speak English when they come in here and, No. 2, have a Social Security card that is fake,” Monk said. …

Monk said the extra attention paid to documentation has been effective.
“It used to be about 10 percent (Hispanics) that we served,” Monk said. “Since cracking down, I haven’t seen anybody, especially in the last month. …

Monk said CCC has no connection to the controversy over undocumented immigrants because it receives no governmental funding.
“We operate strictly off of donations given to us out of the kindness of an individual’s heart,” Monk said.

In the ruling by Judge Sharon Blackburn  she stated the churches did not have a basis on which to argue that HB 56 would impinge on their freedom to practice their faith.  Yet, here is an example of an organization deciding to implement the law using the laws criteria to single out and deny services to people in need.  This organization decided to interpret their religious mission not on spiritual principles but rather on state law.  A response by CCC to criticism of their actions on facebook  states:

“Our acting Board Chairman, Mr. Greg Ethridge, states clearly “CCC’s charter is to serve those in need in Morgan County. Our policy, since 1973, has been that each client served present their proof of residency in Morgan County and thier [sic] Social Security card. This policy is regardless of race, color, creed, religion or nationality.”  

Social Security cards do not provide proof of residency within local municipalities, therefore there is no need to have them as part of this criteria of eligibility.    In this instance it can only be used to discriminate between residents who are citizens and residents who are undocumented which implies that nationality is regarded as a criteria for service by this charitable religious organization.  Comments in the story also suggests there is a bias against those who speak a different language.

Where does this story fit into the stages towards genocide?  I suggest this falls into stage 1:

1. CLASSIFICATION:All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them” by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality: German and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi. Bipolar societies that lack mixed categories, such as Rwanda and Burundi, are the most likely to have genocide. The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop universalistic institutions that transcend ethnic or racial divisions, that actively promote tolerance and understanding, and that promote classifications that transcend the divisions. The Catholic church could have played this role in Rwanda, had it not been riven by the same ethnic cleavages as Rwandan society. Promotion of a common language in countries like Tanzania has also promoted transcendent national identity. This search for common ground is vital to early prevention of genocide.

There is the story in the Christian Scriptures where a Greek  woman is asking Jesus for a miracle for her daughter.  Jesus responds somewhat uncharacteristically that it is not right to take food from the children and cast it to the dogs.  The woman bravely responds that even the dogs get a chance to eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table.  Jesus gives the woman her miracle.

This is not a story that we should be offering the crumbs of our abundance to those who speak a different language.  Nor is it a story that suggests  different Christian and other religious  charities should discriminate between those who are like us and those who are not in offering services.  Rather it is a story that reveals that love transcends the boundaries of race and culture and what we offer to others who are different should be of the same quality and same intention as what we offer those who are similar to us.   Where better to transcend these ethnic and racial categories and boundaries than within the services of a charitable organization whose mission is to help those in need.

There is still time to stop the progression of the effects of this law.  We all must work together to prevent the dehumanization of even one child, one family, one community.  If we do not or if we cannot, we are all dehumanized in the process.

Collective Bargaining is a Human Right

Article 23 of the Universal Human Rights Declaration adopted by the United Nations in 1948 reads:

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

What we are seeing in Wisconsin and in Indiana is the attempt not to balance a budget but rather the attempt of elected officials to do the bidding of the corporations to strip the fundamental right of workers to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their interests.  This is a violation of their human rights under the UN’s declaration of Human Rights.

In June of 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada  ruled:

“The right to bargain collectively with an employer enhances the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers by giving them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work… Collective bargaining is not simply an instrument for pursuing external ends…rather [it] is intrinsically valuable as an experience in self-government… Collective bargaining permits workers to achieve a form of workplace democracy and to ensure the rule of law in the workplace. Workers gain a voice to influence the establishment of rules that control a major aspect of their lives.”

While Canada’s Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the US, what its ruling does do is affirm  emphatically that the right to unionize and to have collective bargaining is indeed a fundamental right as declared in the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights.  It is part of what a democracy looks like for its people.

Wisconsin and Indiana are not the first states to attempt to rid collective bargaining nor would they be the first states to not have collective bargaining for their public workers, including teachers.  There are five states that explicitly make collective bargaining illegal in their state for their public sector employees.  There are additional states where restrictions apply to the bargaining process.   Many more states prohibit teachers and other public employees from striking should collective bargaining efforts fail.  Again, all of these violate the fundamental right of workers to have unions to protect their best interests.  If a union is unable to negotiate with an employer on basic work conditions or to use non-violent strategies such as a strike to bring resolution to the issues at hand, their rights are being violated.

In my state of Alabama, which does not allow public employees to have collective bargaining, David Stout the president of the Alabama Education Association which is not union, recently stated, “I don’t think people in Alabama are ready for collecting bargaining laws.”   This attitude that people need to be ready is a slap in the face of workers dignity.  Similar statements have been made before regarding groups of people needing to be ready to have the vote, needing to be ready to have democracy, needing to be ready to have equality.  The fact that it comes from the organization that is supposedly best equipped to support the interests of teachers reveals just how far the AEA is from representing their constituents.  Instead comments like these represents the state’s and corporate  interests  just like the false trade unions in corrupt corporations in Mexico.

The essential right for the workers in Indiana and in Wisconsin to be able to sit down in negotiation with their employers is about reclaiming and resurrecting our most treasured American values of democracy.  We have seen in the last 40 years such a deterioration of democracy in this nation while we pandered to the wishes of corporations as if they are people under the law with rights and privileges inherent in their being.   Our nation has stripped away through this pandering all avenues of upward mobility for the poorest of the poor in this country and for the middle class.  The divide between 90 % of the people and the top 1% has never been greater.  The average income for the bottom 90 % is $31, 244.  The average income for the top 1 % is 1, 137, 684.  The average income for the top 1/100th percent is $27, 342, 212.   Further the income of the bottom 90% has decreased significantly per year over the last decade while the top ten percent have seen astronomical gains in income.   Stripping the right to collective bargaining from employees will ensure this trend not only continues but accelerates at an alarming speed because unlike a democracy, it places an imbalance of power into the hands of the government and corporations.

The Corporations are not people.  They are only a vehicle towards sustaining our lives in what hopefully will be one with a certain level of quality of life.  If they no longer serve the people towards the advancement of a quality life for all who work for them, then corporations and governments should be held accountable for their actions against human rights.  Our elected officials must represent the people and not the corporations who line their pockets.  If they do not then they must be removed from office and replaced with elected officials that will represent the best interests of the people.

This is one of many moral issues facing our nation today.  It is essential that we stand with our workers in this fight because the survival of our democracy depends on it.

State Rights vs Civil Human Rights

Former Vice President Dick  Cheney stated, perhaps for the first time, his personal belief that people ought to form whatever unions they desire.  “Freedom means freedom for all” he said.   Then he couched the quest for equal marriage rights not as a human rights issue but as a State sovereignty issue.   

Do states have the right to define what constitutes civil human rights?  And is it just to then have some states deny what other states declare as fundamental? 

This is where this country has historically gotten itself into turmoil in the past.   Slavery was considered a State sovereignty issue and it led us to civil war.  And marriage has also traditionally been a State sovereignty issue and has also been settled on a federal level.  Not as violently as civil war but on a federal level nonetheless.

On June 12, 1967, Loving V. Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that banning interracial marriages was unconstitutional.  Mr. Loving and his bride went to the District of Columbia to be married and returned to Virginia to live. At the time of the court’s decision there were 16 states that banned and punished interracial marriages within their state.  Virginia in  its case as to the consitutionality of their denying Mr. and Mrs. Loving their marriage “reasoned that marriage has traditionally been subject to state regulation without federal intervention, and, consequently, the regulation of marriage should be left to exclusive state control by the Tenth Amendment.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court in deciding Loving V Virginia did not deny the state’s right to regulate marriage.  It did however state the following: 

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

I would argue the same holds true for same gendered couples.  The freedom to marry, or not marry a person of the same gender resides with the individual.  There are no sound reasons beyond religious doctrines (which in a pluralistic society cannot be made into the rule of law over another who does not accept nor abide with those doctrines)  to deny marriage between same gendered individuals.

State rights of sovereignty do not in my opinion trump civil human rights.  It is instead the other way around.

Inherent right to love who you love

A recent comment on one of my posts has led me to reflect more the matter.  I love when that happens.

The argument the commentator made, if I am understanding correctly, is that human rights are not inherent but rather bestowed by the ruling government and in our case by the democratic process of a referendum.   There is certainly many governments, including the USA, that are listed as being in Human Rights violation for not recognizing legally those inherent rights or for trampling on the human rights of others.

That’s a pretty strong statement that reinforces my argument that if California’s Supreme Court upholds this constitutional ban, and it is a ban regardless of semantics used, that other groups of people could be told that their existence is also not “valid or recognized in California.”

What impact does it have to be told that you are not valid or recognized? What impact does it have on people to have something (domestic partnership) that sort of is like a thing that a certain class of people have but is not that thing (marriage)?

Have you ever been told that you are not valid or recognized by a government? Have you ever experienced that level of discrimination against your being? If you have then you might understand why it would be important to have one’s existence validated and recognized by the state and country in which they live.

We are talking about the inherent right to love who you love. It is inherent/unalienable–it is not bestowed. Love cannot be made illegal because it will exist regardless of what laws are passed. However, laws can be passed to recognize its existence and to honor its diversity. Laws do have a power that validates people. Laws can equalize the “legal rights” people in a state experience. And Human Rights, those rights that are inherent by simply being human, in a free society such as ours should be legalized as a matter of honoring our American ideals as found in the Declaration of Independence–the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

If insisting on fulfilling our founding ideals is “intolerant” of me then sobeit. If it is “unethical” for me to state that love is inherent in humanity and should be honored in all its diversity legally, then I will continue to stand on the side of love and be “unethical.”

Published in: on March 11, 2009 at 12:17 pm  Comments Off on Inherent right to love who you love  
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