“To be young and Black in America today is to be in a constant state of rage.” –James Baldwin
Baldwin, one of America’s greatest Black writers, wrote those words some fifty years ago. What has changed? There’s a half-white, or token-Black president – so what? In all of the embarrassments of his lame presidency, Ferguson, Missouri, is looking like the most humiliating of all failures in leadership for Mr. Obama. If he were a voice for Black America – which he has never been – he would be standing in the front line, hand in hand with the protesters, telling the police, “Here I am, shoot me.” That is where Martin Luther King, or any man of principle, would be at this moment.
Anyone who has visited an America beyond New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, knows that the nation is as shamefully divided over the issue of race as it was in 1861. It ought to be viewed as a class and poverty problem, yet the curious thing about the U.S. is that the white poor, generally, cannot see themselves as brothers-in-arms with poor Blacks – indeed, their fidelity to right-wing politics reveals an imbecilic tendency to vote consistently against their own interests. Blacks have mostly voted in vain for a Democratic Party which espouses social egalitarianism yet has made few genuine steps towards it.
Not for many years has the time been more ripe for Black Americans – and anyone else ardent for a massive restructuring of political and social institutions – to press their demands upon Washington. Where are the great Black voices of the past, the real women and men who knew something was rotten in the state of the States? Every Black man and woman able to do so – all the millions of them – should now be marching peaceably on Washington. Every Black soldier or policeman should be deserting his or her post to join in a protest to choke the current system into submission to its demands for a government truly by the people and for the people.
We all know the statistics: 1% of Americans control 95% of the wealth and with it the politics. This is not democracy. Who occupy the prisons, slums, and ghettoes? We all know. 20 million dissidents, Black or White, surrounding the phony monuments to American idealism in Washington could change all this. But civil disobedience must be peaceful; you must be willing to be dragged off to jail. One act of violence would justify – certainly on Fox’s alleged-News – a massively violent reaction; but not if the police and military refused to kill their own people, people whose interests in fact coincide with their own. It happened during the French Revolution, and it has happened since. Now is the time for any American realizing he or she lives in a corrupt and debased, non-egalitarian society to act. Not to exploit the tragedies of Ferguson, but to use them as examples of a system which violates its own Constitution and Declaration of Rights, while pretending to protect these vapid documents, largely written by a man who owned a hundred-odd slaves himself at the time. Native Americans also ought to seize this day, which portrays for the whole world American reality as it has not been glimpsed since Hurricane Katrina.
Guardsmen, soldiers, police, throw down your weapons and join hands with those who are genuinely your fellow Americans. Yes, 1% of your population will lose most of the money they have stolen from you, and they will not like it. What they like is the neo-slavery into which they have chained you all – and for their benefit, not yours. Riots and looting are class and poverty issues, not social evils. With wealth more equitably divided, and true evils like stock and commodities trading abolished, peace and plenty will reign in the land, which will once again live up to the great dream it once represented. That, I believe, is the dream which Dr. King would be expounding today. For the goals of Civil Rights have not yet been attained; there is no ‘Justice for All’. The podium upon which the Statue of Liberty stands ought rightly to read: Promises, Promises, Promises.
Nothing short of a revolution will change the greed and corruption afflicting the U.S. political system. It cannot be fixed from within – ask anyone running for office (a hurdle race). Yet the lessons of history teach that it can be demolished and rebuilt from without – although it will ever require constant vigilance, since scum tends to rise to the surface of any pool.
Citizens of Ferguson, my heart goes out to you tonight. To the thousands of highly-educated Black Americans wondering what their role ought to be in this: remember Ghandi; remember Dr. King – they won, yet not without risking a price which included everything they had. Is that not worth its real goal of ceasing to “live in a constant state of rage”?
With love, as always,
Paul William Roberts.