Monday, September 03, 2012

Tom Owen-Towle's "Growing a Beloved Community"

I've been reading Growing a Beloved Community for the last month as part of a gentle assignment by the Board of Trustees president at the Unitarian Universalist church at which I am a (n active) member. As I wrote on Goodreads, I think it's a gem of a book: it is full of feel-good ideas but does not confine itself to platitudes; it provides a wonderful structure to facilitate discussion by church bodies; and it even offers some specific ideas for ways to look at issues differently and ultimately how to tackle those issues. Some highlights:

What is the beloved community? "The Beloved Community is not an organization of individuals seeking private and selfish security for their souls. It is a new adventure, a spontaneous fellowship of consecrated men seeking a new world" ~ Clarence Skimmer

The twelve main numbers below represent the chapters, followed by their titles, which are the "twelve hallmarks of a healthy congregation," according to the author, Tom Owen-Towle.

  1. Occupy Holy Ground
    1. church is not a social club but a true religion which must embrace its holiness
    2. holiness is rooted in love and community
  2. Welcome All Souls
    1. we believe in the worth and dignity of every being (even the 'bad' ones), so this is a really tough tenet for people
    2. I noted that it is a tenet of Islam to be charitable and be a good host to guests
    3. Here are three psycho-social dynamics in play when newcomers enter our church gates
      1. inclusion - Will I be welcome here? What's required of me if I join? Who's missing from here and why? (My church is heavy on the above-50, upper-middle-class white, over-educated contingent.)
      2. control - How does this community run? Who's in charge and why? (My church is small, we have unofficial matriarchs and patriarchs, we have teams and individuals who seem to be involved in everything. In the past there have been struggles where some folks have felt underrepresented or without a voice. We continue to tackle this problem head-on and have, I think, developed a culture of being much more proactively inclusive.)
      3. affection - Is church warm or cold? Is there an inner circle or an 'interweaving spiral of leaders'? Would they miss me if I were absent a while? (What struck me about this church is that the members are genuinely warm. There is an inner circle that certainly needs to be challenged, but the circle is rooted in tradition and community and the fact that many members have been here for decades. I already feel like I'm in the inner circle.
    4. My prayer for my church and my world: Let us be Radically Inclusive. Love everyone. Welcome everyone. All are worthy of respect, dignity, and love. Even, and especially, when it's difficult.
  3. Care for Your Own
    1. Give but let yourself be taken care of as well. We are one body.
    2. Be a caregiver but not a caretaker. You cannot fix people, only be with them and empathize.
  4. Give Everyone a Voice
    1. "Democracy requires rather a large tolerance for confusion and a secret relish for dissent." ~ Molly Ivins
    2. It is "imperative to embody a shared ministry at every level of church existence" (24).
    3. "Hallelujah to our conscious accceptance of deep differences" (27).
    4. Create and celebrate ritual.
    5. Remember in the church to give laity their downtime.
    6. Expect members to share their voices. (My church is aware of and working to find the right balance between caring for its members and charging them with their responsibilities as part of the body.)
  5. Encourage Unity Amid Diversity
    1. "They key is for each local congregation to locate, declare, and bring alive our core of common values, recognizing that without a vision the people perish" (35).
    2. One of the UU principles is to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. This means recognizing our differences and the fact that we are part of one web.
    3. Frame ourselves in the positive. Say what we are, not just what we're not.
  6. Balance Justice and Joy
    1. "If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning, torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world, and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day." ~ E.B. White
    2. "Our congregations need to 'share in the action and passion of our times under the penalty of being judged not to have lived'" (45, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)
    3. I think this is an extension of the idea that we should define ourselves and the vision of the world we want to live in in positive and not negative terms. Be and love what we are. Make change FOR something, not against something else.
  7. Look Back, Around, and Ahead
    1. "In pursuit of the Beloved Community, the past is cherished, the present is celebrated, and the future is charted" (51).
    2. Great Ideas:
      1. take, share, archive photos of former members
      2. share anecdotes from the past in the newsletter, a "Blast from the Past"
      3. consider including a Death Ceremony (53)
    3. "The responsibility of a shared ministry is to produce a communal vision that includes yet transcends the disparate viewpoints of members" (54).
    4. As Augustine said and everyone seems to agree with of late, "Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage: anger at the way things are and courage to see that they don't remain the way they are." The JUSTICE aspect of my church is beautiful.
  8. Spread Our Good News
    1. First, know your good news. Internalize it. Then radiate it.
    2. Love + Truth = :-) "Truth without love turns callous, even cruel. Love without truth is sentimental, even vacuous" (60).
    3. Share by being.
    4. Challenge your faith.
    5. Church Idea: credo sharing (61)
  9. Practice Respect
    1. This means embracing healthy conflict.
    2. Stay at the table. Things will get dicey from time to time. Remember your covenant and why you're here in the first place. There are exceptions, but part of being a member of the beloved community is sticking it out.
    3. "Being a remember of Beloved Community requires learning and practice [...] and forgiveness" (66).
    4. The word respect means to look at again. This means rethinking the way we do things, not necessarily keeping tradition for its own sake.
  10. Nurture Stewards
    1. Generosity is a virtue (75).
    2. Think about Natalia Ginzburg's "Little Virtues," including that we should teach our children 'not the little virtues but the great ones. Not thrift but generosity and an indifference to money; not caution but courage and a contempt for danger; not shrewdness but frankness and a love for truth; not tact but love for one's neighbor and self-denial; not success but a desire to be and to know" (77).
    3. "Churches must help society focus on compassion as our human imperative rather than on prosperity as our divine right" (78).
    4. Statistically, generous people experience less mental illness, they live longer, and they feel good. Owen-Towle doesn't really back up the science and correlation doesn't imply causality, but it's interesting.
    5. Here's a quotation from a Baptist minister that sums up a lot of what my church wants to be: "I don't agree with a lot of what you say and do, but I'm appreciative that you're always supporting causes that no other church in town will touch and welcoming folks no one else wants around" (79).
    6. To be generous is to be generative. "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." ~ The Beatles
  11. Keep Journeying
    1. Resist "the temptation to camp out in caves of comfortableness" (82).
    2. "In Nigeria, people say of someone who has died, 'Their feet are in agreement; in other words, they've ceased moving. For the wise elders know that life is movement and movement begins with the contradiction of the limbs... non-contradiction means death" (84). I love this metaphor. I believe that life and time are about change. Without change, time does not exist. It's kind of the whole point of this life - this unique understanding of our own rate of change.
  12. Know That You Are Not Alone
    1. The question isn't just Who Am I, but Whose Am I?
    2. Believing, Belonging, Becoming
The book ends with a pretty tree metaphor which would be fun to draw. The roots are our sources, history, variety of traditions. The ground and the trunk are our church structure and how we live. The members are like leaves in the seasons, growing, maturing, falling and dying. Programs are branches, strong limbs which help us grow. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Final Thoughts on Fox's Creativity

Matthew Fox tells us (in his book, Creativity) that economist David Korten writes, "There is no more powerful expression of a society's values than its economic institutions. In our case, we have created an economy that values money over all else, embraces inequality as if it were a virtue, and is ruthlessly destructive of life. The tragedy is that for most of us the values of global capitalism are not our values. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that we find ourselves in psychological and social distress" (224).

I finally finished Fox's Creativity, a gift from my minister. In it Fox advocates that creativity is holy, that it is where grace and good works meet, and that it is only by being radically creative (and just and compassionate) that we can improve upon this mess. Fox also says that our current structures may have to break before we can rebuild.

Friends and I have talked about this, and I can discuss the validity of Korten's statement with you at length. Earth will eventually run out of oil. And probably clean water, and arable land, and possibly clean air. Should we hasten this time, destroying the natural environment (at least reducing its habitability for humans) as we go? Or should we try to mitigate it beforehand? Some say we'll have to wait until we've gone too far. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that. I don't think Fox disagrees.

Matthew Fox was a Catholic who was dismissed from the Dominican Order for saying that we are born with original blessing instead of original sin (he wrote a whole book on it). Now Fox is an Episcopal priest and a radical teacher who calls a bit on the essence of my dear Derrick Jensen and Daniel Quinn (as well as Eckhart and Julian of Norwich and Hildegard, etc.) for his morality. Indeed, there is a great humanism in Fox's theology and his work. God is still God, supreme and all that, but that doesn't give human beings a license to be lazy, to be fearful, to avoid using our gifts.

Fox believes that God made us great. Yes, we sin, but we are also among God's greatest creatures. We have a sort of noblesse oblige - with great rights, great faculties and capacity for reason and creativity - come great responsibility.

Here's what I got out of this book: Be curious, just, compassionate, grateful, open, loving, joyful, respectful, responsible. Be alert. Play. Do not be fearful or jealous. Fear is a big one. It's easy to gloss over it. Think about why you live the life you do. I, for one, work for The Man because I want to live a comfortable life, because I am afraid of the physical discomfort and the social shame that might come with living the 'right' way. And finding the 'right way' is hard work. It involves listening to yourself and creation (praying, meditating, talking with friends, paying attention to and learning from the world) and accepting truths society might try to mask because they're too hard. I still live in fear. But I am learning to be more thankful and, I hope, a little more aware.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Future Shock

I spent two years off and on trying to read this book. It was published in 1970. Sure, it's a bit dated, but it has some fun aspects. The beginning and middle of the book are interesting from an anthropological standpoint - watching what the author got right about society today and what he got horribly wrong. More personally relevant to me, though, was the end of the book, when Toffler gets on his high horse and starts making moral proclamations. While Toffler does a lot of "This is obviously wrong and I'm not going to dignify the reasons why it's wrong with page time," but he also does a fair amount of questioning basic societal assumptions.

He's pro-technology, and I have no issue with that. I think he simplifies the pre-tech way of life: "Only romantic fools babble about returning to a 'state of nature.' A state of nature is one in which infants shrivel and die for lack of elementary medical care, in which malnutrition stultifies the brain, in which, as Hobbes reminded us, the typical life is 'poor, nasty, brutish, and short.' To turn our back on technology would be not only stupid but immoral'" (370). But he does caution a sort of noblesse oblige - be responsible with what we do. The book is copyrighted but it is old. I'm gonna quote a few sections and just recommend you to read the last 50-60 pages if you're at all interested.

Toffler talks about how turning back time would be immoral and how we need more and not less technology. But, "at the same time, it is undeniably true that we frequently apply new technology stupidly and selfishly. In our haste to milk technology for immediate economic advantage, we have turned our environment into a physical and social tinderbox." The acceleration of technology and how that affects our social structures, Toffler things, "create a form of psychological pollution," which "is matched by the industrial vomit that fills our skies and seas. Pesticides and herbicides filter into our foods. Twisted automobile carcasses, aluminum cans, non-returnable glass mottles and synthetic plastics form immense kitchen middens in our midst as more and more of our detritus resists decay.... We risk thermopollution of the oceans themselves, overheating them, destroying immeasurable quantities of marine life, perhaps even melting the polar icecaps" (380).

But if you've read me, you know this is nothing new. What I found kind of fun right before this section where Toffler began his tirade was a section on changing education - from something rigid, factory-like, and focused entirely on the past - to something that doesn't ignore the past but also does not hold tradition up as the only thing that matters. Toffler champions something akin to speculative fiction - theorizing about what could happen in the future - imaginitively as well as systematically - to help us figure out how to cope with what is to come. The world really is changing faster and faster all the time. While I'm still (okay, for the last two+ years) the kind of girl who likes to live in the moment, I try not to do so recklessly.

Refusing to look into the future beyond tomorrow is what's wrong with our economic and social systems today, I believe. So many companies look only to the bottom line in the next year or five and refuse to see the externalities and hidden costs. A new factory may cause an economic boom in the short run but in the long run it may kill jobs, ruin the economic livelihoods of townspeople, and belch poison into the local (and greater) environment.

Isn't 'conservatism' supposed to be about 'conserv'ation?... Not that many liberals are much better. Being stewards of the earth - not just because it's right but because if we don't, pragmatically the place won't be inhabitable by humans - shouldn't and I don't think *is* a partisan issue, actually. Because the two parties, despite huge differences in social issues and civil liberties, are really not so different when it comes to money and values. The economy is its own god, and GDP is all that matters.

"So long as an industrializing nation is poor, it tends to welcome without argument any technical innoation that promises to improve economic output or material welfare. This is, in fact, a tacit technological policy, and it can make for extremely rapid economic growth" (383). Good in the short run, potentially devastating in the long run.

On the one hand, Toffler advocates for being more careful with how we apply technology. Yay for science - don't stop learning - but be more thoughtful in how you apply what you learn. Don't be so myopic (406). You can't count on Jesus coming tomorrow and saving you from yourself. Respect the earth and its inhabitants while you're here.

Toffler also advocates for democracy. Elitism - rule by those who know best over those who don't care - does seem attractive and it's what we (the West) tend to default to, but Toffler argues that "as interdependency grows [and it does in a society that changes and communicates faster and faster], smaller and smaller groups within society achieve greater and greater power for  critical disruption.... [Speaking only pragmatically, again,] this suggests that the best way to deal with angry or recalcitrant minorities is to open the system further, bringing them in as full partners, permitting them to participate in social goal-setting, rather than attempting to ostracize or isolate them" (422). This seems to hold true, at least anecdotally, for troubled teens and many ex-convicts. Give them a part in something positive to work toward instead of only telling them what's wrong.

Identifying problems is, indeed, important, but we remain impotent until we figure out what to *do* about it. What to do instead of the broken way things are. Toffler asks a great question: "What kind of a world do you want ten, twenty, or thirty years from now?" Hell, this is a question my minister was wonderful to ask and and push the Board of Trustees to answer at last summer's board retreat. It's something vital. Relaxation is good. Reflection, meditation, just 'being' are all good things. But those rejuvenative activities are not the same as being idle, listless, apathetic, sullen without purpose. What *are* we living for? What do we want for ourselves, our neighbors, our children? Even for me this isn't an easy answer.

I want to be around people I love. (Check.) I want to feel like I'm making a difference. (I do, sometimes.) I want people to live without fear. I want to stop driving over bridges that boast beautiful creeks only to see dry land flowing below. I want to see the huge divide between the billions of people who are starving and the thousands who have private jets disappear. But there I am being negative again....

I want people to live in joy. I want them to be thoughtful, loving neighbors, people who can be proud of what they do. I want flowing water and fresh, clean, safe, and abundant food for all. Idealistic, eh?

This book, as Toffler wraps it up himself, is mostly an exercise in diagnosing a potential problem in our society and our lives. He puts forth some ideas for how to fix, ameliorate, or mitigate rapid change and its rabid results. But more hopefully he recognizes that neither he nor anyone has all the answers. Kumbaya, but we do have to work together to see and effect a better tomorrow.

This hasn't been a great book report - there are some interesting points about some of the "symptoms" society is showing in our struggle to deal healthily with rapid change. Fascinating stuff (between Toffler's sometimes hilariously 'off' and sometimes angrifyingly small-minded proclamations). But I've read enough about the problems. Understanding the breadth of nuance of how the world, its people, its other creatures, and its resources are affected is important, but other books and venues do it well or better. Toffler ends with a call for action. Work together, make it better. Groovy.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why I Am Upset at People's Racist Reactions to the New Hunger Games Movie

I don't have a big presence on Facebook anymore. I am friends with most of my coworkers, so I censor myself to posting generally innocuous things and mostly after work hours. Sometimes, though, I get worked up about something and feel righteous in sharing my opinion. Here's one of those examples.

Here's what I shared.

And this was one of the reactions, presumably both to me and to the author of the post on

"Huh? Where do you dig this stuff up? And why--when there's stuff right there on the front page to be sickened by? Seriously, don't go digging through random jerks' twitter messages about some movie--it's like getting upset because people are horrid in the Youtube comment section."

My first reaction to this (in my mind) was How dare you chastise me for being outraged by this? 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere.' And then I made myself calm down a bit, relax, and reflect on the words, their intention, the context of the situation, the author, the environment. And think about myself. Why does this news story enrage me so much?

Only about thirteen tweets are actually quoted at the Jezebel post. But I agree with the author, and I quote directly from the original site: "The posts go on and on and on. It's not just a coup[l]e of tweets, it's not just a coincidence. There's an underlying rage, coming out as overt prejudice and plain old racism. Sternberg is called a "black bitch," a "nigger" and one person writes that though he pictured Rue with "darker skin," he "didn't really take it all the way to black." It's as if that is the worst possible thing a person could be."

And this, to me, is not okay. It certainly is not as big a deal to tweet your racism as it is to shoot a teenager in the chest presumably because he's someone you don't know wearing a hoodie at night in your neighborhood. But I do believe they are related. I believe that the possible racism in the Trayvon Martin case is reflected much more explicitly in the tweets of people who are angry that they 'wasted' their tears on a character who turned out to be black.

The Jezebel blogger quotes the tumblr feed keeper, who wrote "Here's what scares me... All these ... people... read the Hunger Games. Clearly, they all fell in love with and cared about Rue. Though what they really fell in love with was an image of Rue that they'd created in their minds. A girl that they knew they could love and adore and mourn at the thought of knowing that she's been brutally killed. And then the casting is revealed (or they go see the movie) and they're shocked to see that Rue is black.These people are MAD that the girl that they cried over while reading the book was "some black girl" all along. So now they're angry. Wasted tears, wasted emotions. It's sad to think that had they known that she was black all along, there would have been [no] sorrow or sadness over her death. There are MAJOR TIE-INS to these reactions and the injustices that we see around the world today.[...] This is a BIG problem. Think of all the murdered children. Think of all the missing children that get NO SCREEN TIME on the news. It is NOT a coincidence. THIS is the purpose of my blog…"

And, frankly, this is the purpose of my outrage. I thought about it before I reposted it, I've talked about it with people I love, and I've carefully considered the electronic responses I've received since reposting the Jezebel blog. I don't think I've overreacted and I will not apologize.

This week I am editing a speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's, titled "Beyond Vietnam." I will be reading my annotated edition as the sermon at my church this week. The link to King's full speech may be found here, and I will be linking this at my church's new website the afternoon after I give my sermon. This sermon is certainly on my mind as I read about the Hunger Games backlash, the Trayvon Martin case, and the continuing way we pillage the earth and her poorer inhabitants. A few hateful Twitterers are not equal to the warmongers in our neighborhood watches, in our police departments, in our Congress, our corporations, or our backroom decision makers. But again, they all have the same seed within them. They think that they are inherently better than other people, that their color, religion, political system, or country they were born in make them inherently more deserving of rights than others. They believe that the Other is lesser, less deserving of respect, dignity, sovereignty.

It is not just. And I will speak out.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Creativity by Matthew Fox

This book was a gift from my minister. I'm reading it some days at lunchtime at work, and I am kind of torn on its pros and cons. Mostly, I think Fox could be more clear and concise. He's a prolific writer and is very popular in his sort of high church + mysticism + New Age feel good self-help-like genre. His books include some very interesting quotations by different mystics and he's not devoid of insight. He just goes on a bit too much and things start to sound syrupy or fluffy after a while. I won't say his work is hollow, because Fox is passionate and sincere about it, but the work is clearly more inspiration than reasoned explication, and that sort of writing is hard for me to embrace in more than short spurts.

However, as far as inspiration goes, I was reading yesterday at lunch a passage Fox wrote about Taoism and learning to praise. Being thankful has long been an important idea or even mantra in my life: "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was 'Thank you,' that would suffice," wrote Meister Eckhart (Fox is a scholar of Fox and a huge admirer).

I'm guessing nobody here knows who Matthew Fox is. He wrote "Original Blessing," a huge book I read for a book club recently. That book focuses on how we were all created as blessed creatures, that our creativity and imagination are gifts, and that we work with God. He downplays the idea of Original Sin. He doesn't deny sin as a general concept, but he doesn't think we're inherently damaged when we come into this world. Years before we read him in book club, Fox also came up in my studies of Meister Eckhart, about whom I wrote a very bad research paper in grad school. In his "Creativity," Fox writes about how creativity is a holy process, a celebration of and communion with the divine. It's beautiful and heretical and much more in line with my personal theology these days. In the chapter on learning how to praise, Fox explores almost too many metaphors about ways that people can observe nature, reflect on it, and imitate aspects of it. Again, it's fluffy stuff, but it's inspirational also. I decided to reflect on some of my favorite animals and the following sort of thought exercise came out. Not sure the 'point,' but the process felt good. First note: my favorite animal is the elephant.

I am like the elephant, physically present, grounded, able to withstand force, adversity, change. I communicate through the earth, touch and hearing important senses. I recognize change in time. I listen. I am with my herd, sometimes in communion with my many fellow sisters, sometimes leading as matriarch.

I have always wished to be a bird, fluid, mobile, seeing the bigger picture, not just communicating by but delighting people through song.

I am fascinated by snakes, creatures of the earth, self-reliant, their entire bodies raw muscle. They eat occassionally, as needed. They use what they have, conserve, and consume only what they need. They strike when provoked, using natural venom or squeezing with their strength.

I also wrote a bit about lions. I am a Leo (I don't put much stock in astrology, but it is fun), and my boyfriend's name means 'two lions.' I'll save that text for him, I think.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

On March 8, 2012, Colonel Gary Packard came to Texas A&M University to speak about the lessons learned from the recent repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. His speech took place in an auditorium that was filled with about 200 guests, mostly students. About half were students in uniform.

Col. Packard began by talking about his own upbringing. The society in which he'd been raised was such that he, as a straight guy, didn't think much about homosexuality in the military, but when he did, it was in a negative context. After 30 years in the military and a master's degree in psychology, however, he was asked by the Pentagon to be on the team to study whether or not a repeal of the early 1990s legislation would have a negative effect on the U.S. Armed Forces. The short answer is that no, they didn't think it would. So far, they've been right, and there has been no negative effect. In fact, the argument could be made that the effect has been a positive one.

A bit on the research itself: the task force collected qualitative and quantitative data from tens of thousands of military personnel and their families about how they felt about gay people in the military. They also got information from over 200 gay service members, collected anonymously. By the law, if they were to acquire information from gay members who came out as being gay, they'd have to discharge them. Catch-22, yes?

Anyway, here were some of the preliminary questions they asked in the study:
  1. Have other types of integration negatively affected the military? (NO!) They looked at racial integration in the 1940s and gender integration in the late 1970s and found that although opposition was much higher (80% for both types of integration among servicemembers), when they did integrate blacks and other minorities and women, units actually found that there was more cohesion and more efficacy. [When I heard this, I texted the people next to me - "Wha? Diversity is a good thing?" ... because I was feeling sarcastic.]
  2. Has sexual orientation integration in other countries (like the UK, Australia, Italy, Germany, etc) negatively affected their militaries? The answer, again, was NO, and that integration may have even helped.
  3. They also distributed, collected, and analyzed the surveys I mentioned before and determined that even though the opposition to serving with gays in the military was deeper for religious and moral issues, a small minority of the Armed Forces members who completed the surveys said they would be negatively affected. In fact, among groups who suspected they were working with gay members already, most people found that there was no effect or a positive effect on team cohesion, work effectiveness, etc. 
There was some worry about large attrition rates after Don't Ask, Don't Tell's repeal was put into effect in September, 2010. Data shows that attrition has not increased, though. Maybe it's due to tough economic times and nobody wanting to leave a secure job for any reason, or maybe it's that people really don't care, that society has changed enough that it's - in the words of many servicemembers - a 'non-issue.' I would like to think so. Anecdotally, I chatted with my brother before I went to the lecture and he, an enlisted Air Force member, told me that he hasn't talked to a single person who has had a problem with the repeal. He has friends who are liberal and friends who are conservative and - again, anecdotally - nobody cares.

What else? It is interesting to note that harassment cases that arise because of a person's sexual orientation do not go through the Equal Opportunity office but through the Inspector General's office. This is because a person's sexual orientation is not even considered in a person's enlistment or commission. It's a question that's not asked, so it's not strictly protected by EO. However, discrimination, harassment, and violence are not tolerated, so any issues will go through the IG. Colonel Packard let us know that there haven't been any big issues of that nature and that the few they've had have been solved at low levels, resolved before they needed to escalate to higher channels.

What's next? A few people in the audience wanted to know about the fate of transgender individuals in the military. Colonel Packard made it clear that his opinion was his own and did not reflect the USAF's or the DOD's position when he said he didn't think society was ready for it yet and that he thinks transgender issues are much more medical and physical in nature. Maybe eventually, but right now the number of transgender individuals is so small it just hasn't been a priority. 

An anecdote: The Commandant of the Marines, when asked by Congress what he thought personally about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, told them that he didn't think it should be repealed. However, after the orders were given, he went back to the Marines and told them that they would be the leaders in the change and would do it better than anyone else. Packard's point in retelling this story was to reiterate to the servicemembers in the room that Duty comes before personal beliefs. The oath is to the Constitution.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 25

This is the last of of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."

This chapter starts by comparing the Gore/Lieberman and Bush/Cheney campaigns. Zinn argues that both options were pro-business and basically pro-establishment. Third-party candidate Nader was a breath of fresh air, so he was largely ignored. There was low turnout at the polls in the 2000 election, Zinn says, because the U.S. voters felt disillusioned. Bush 'won,' but as Justice Stephens wrote, "Although we never know the complete certainty of the winner of this year's presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."

Zinn describes Bush's early pro-business, anti-environment policies and then writes a bit about the War on Terror after 9/11. It is a good chapter and a decent analysis, but I've read other books lately that are solely about Islam, terorrism, bin Laden, etc., so I don't feel the need to recreate Zinn's points here. Some of the points that anger me most, though, include the insane jingoism that allowed the Patriot Act to pass and the war's complete support by Congress. We detained Muslims and other persons of interest at home illegally, and we killed thousands of civilians and destroyed infrastructures in the name of revenge abroad.

The U.S. did not want to seem weak. Sure, I will agree that we should not have been bombed. There is no excuse for the murder of American citizens, but that doesn't mean there weren't reasons: "Critics of the bombing campaign argued that terrorism was rooted in deep grievances against the United States, and that to stop terrorism, these must be addressed. These grievances were not hard to identify: the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabi, site of the most holy of Moslem shrines; the ten years of sanctions against Iraq which, according to the United Nations, had resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children; the continued U.S. support of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land, including billions in military aid." Bin Laden cited these things pretty clearly decades before 9/11. Even conservative thinkers like Michael Scheuer corroborate simple facts like that.

"However, these issues could not be addressed without fundamental changes in American foreign policy. Such changes could not be accepted by the military-industry complex that dominated both major parties, because they would require withdrawing military forces from around the world, giving up political and economic domination of other countries—in short, relinquishing the cherished role of the United States as a superpower.

"Such fundamental changes would require a radical change in priorities, from spending $300 to $400 billion a year for the military, to using this wealth to improve the living conditions of Americans and people in other parts of the world. For instance, it was estimated by the World Health Organization that a small portion of the American military budget, if given to the treatment of tuberculosis in the world, could save millions of lives." Lester Brown, Benazir Bhutto, and others corroborate the potential efficacy and bringing about of world peace this aid-instead-of-bombs use of money would likely promote as well.

"Three years before the terrible events of September 11, 2001, a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Robert Bowman, who had flown 101 combat missions in Vietnam, and then had become a Catholic bishop, commented on the terrorist bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In an article in the National Catholic Reporter he wrote about the roots of terrorism:
"We are not hated because we practice democracy, value freedom, or uphold human rights. We are hated because our government denies these things in Third World countries whose resources are coveted by our multinational corporations. That hatred we have sown has come back to haunt us in the form of terrorism ... Instead of sending our sons and daughters around the world to kills Arab so we can have the oil under their sand, we should send them to rebuild their infrastructure, supply clean water, and feed starving children... In short, we should do good instead of evil. Who would try to stop us? Who would hate us? Who would want to bomb us? That is he truth the American people need to hear."
That pretty much sums up how I feel about foreign policy in general. Let's not let multinational corporations use us - our tax money or our sons and daughters - as fodder to feed the machine, to steal resources from people abroad who live on land we want to control. It is not our God-given right to control all the bauxite, forests, diamonds, bananas, coffee, and oil in the world. Manifest destiny is a lie. Might does not make right. Respect for one another and for the world we live in are paramount to our continued survival.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 24

This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."

Chapter 24, The Coming Revolt of the Guards, seems to be the most reflective and self-aware chapter of Zinn's book so far. It may be the first one I recommend new readers consider, especially people who I know will balk immediately and viscerally at this 'clearly biased' great book.

"[A] "people's history" promises more than any one person can fulfill, and it is the most difficult kind of history to recapture. I call it [this book] that anyway because, with all its limitations, it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance.

"That makes it a biased account, one that leans in a certain direction. I am not troubled by that, because the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the other direction-so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people's movements-that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission."

These 'jaded' words, too, are things I believe in: "Madison feared a "majority faction" and hoped the new Constitution would control it. He and his colleagues began the Preamble to the Constitution with the words "We the people ...," pretending that the new government stood for everyone, and hoping that this myth, accepted as fact, would ensure "domestic tranquility.""

Pitting the majority or at least the strong majority (white, rich, not blacks, not women, not Native Americans... until they rose up in acts of defiance) has always been the American way. The oligarchy seems to be winning. "How skillful to tax the middle class to pay for the relief of the poor, building resentment on top of humiliation! How adroit to bus poor black youngsters into poor white neighborhoods, in a violent exchange of impoverished schools, while the schools of the rich remain untouched and the wealth of the nation, doled out carefully where children need free milk, is drained for billion-dollar aircraft carriers. How ingenious to meet the demands of blacks and women for equality by giving them small special benefits, and setting them in competition with everyone else for jobs made scarce by an irrational, wasteful system. How wise to turn the fear and anger of the majority toward a class of criminals bred-by economic inequity-faster than they can be put away, deflecting attention from the huge thefts of national resources carried out within the law by men in executive offices."

Zinn argues that people continue to revolt. And that sometimes those revolts do things. The histories that we usually read talk about concensus, about statesmanship, about the Establishment, the system, working. Other voices, like Zinn's, are important because they show a different and true perspective. They talk about real movements of real people acting of their own volition. "History which keeps alive the memory of people's resistance suggests new definitions of power. By traditional definitions, whoever possesses military strength, wealth, command of official ideology, cultural control, has power. Measured by these standards, popular rebellion never looks strong enough to survive."

"However, the unexpected victories-even temporary ones-of insurgents show the vulnerability of the supposedly powerful. In a highly developed society, the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going." I see things like iPods and tax breaks getting to people. The employed, like "soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, transport and communications workers, garbage men and firemen ... the somewhat privileged-are drawn into alliance with the elite. They become the guards of the system, buffers between the upper and lower classes. If they stop obeying, the system falls." Zinn takes time in the book to talk about resistance movements - labor strikes in Washington, for example, that shut down an entire town and worried the people in power much more than violence ever could have. Violence can be counteracted by greater, more expensive, and better weaponed violence. (This is why we produce and sell/export so many arms.)

Zinn calls pretty plainly for revolution. "That will happen, I think, only when all of us who are slightly privileged and slightly uneasy begin to see that we are like the guards in the prison uprising at Attica—expendable; that the Establishment, whatever rewards it gives us, will also, if necessary to maintain its control, kill us."

"Certain new facts may, in our time, emerge so clearly as to lead to general withdrawal of loyalty from the system." He mentions a few, and I see things like failed mortgages (what's left to lose?), limited access to health care, environmental pollution, lack of access to clean water, as making it "less and less possible for the guards of the system-the intellectuals, the home owners, the taxpayers, the skilled workers, the professionals, the servants of government-to remain immune from the violence (physical and psychic) inflicted on the black, the poor, the criminal, the enemy overseas. The internationalization of the economy, the movement of refugees and illegal immigrants across borders, both make it more difficult for the people of the industrial countries to be oblivious to hunger and disease in the poor countries of the world." How can we sympathize with something when we are at the top away from it all? Without knowledge of the way our very lifestyles directly abuse the people whose lives and lands we rape, why would we want to change things?

Zinn's book was first published in 1995, but it talks about the growing malaise and distrust that U.S. people have in the system, in the government, and in the corporate monster. He basically predicts the rise of the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement. It was well before the economic collapse and the housing bubble that Zinn wrote: "Capitalism has always been a failure for the lower classes. It is now beginning to fail for the middle classes."

"The threat of unemployment, always inside the homes of the poor, has spread to white-collar workers, professionals. A college education is no longer a guarantee against joblessness', and a system that cannot offer a future to the young coming out of school is in deep trouble. If it happens only to the children of the poor, the problem is manageable; there are the jails. If it happens to the children of the middle class, things may get out of hand. The poor are accustomed to being squeezed and always short of money, but in recent years the middle classes, too, have begun to feel the press of high prices, high taxes."

I hate to be cynical, but this happened too with Iraq and Afghanistan, and we still haven't learned: "Let us imagine the prospect-for the first time in the nation's history-of a population united for fundamental change. Would the elite turn as so often before, to its ultimate weapon-foreign intervention- to unite the people with the Establishment, in war? It tried to do that in 1991, with the war against Iraq. But, as June Jordan said, it was "a hit the same way that crack is, and it doesn't last long.""

Zinn then describes what a new society would look like. It would be local, grassroots. Everybody would be involved. Everybody would have to work. Differences among people would be celebrated. People would have to work against the system as we know it, but more than that they would have to be working FOR the better way of life. Don't fight human nature. Sure, respect its limits, its imperfections. But Embrace what is good in us.

This chapter of Zinn is a summary of the history he's laid out in specific terms in previous chapters. Then he synthesizes what he's learned and calls us to action. He doesn't recommend very specific things. Like Jensen would, Zinn leaves it to individuals in their communities. It's gonna be hard, and there will be setbacks, but there is hope, if only we believe that there is a better way and that we can achieve it.

Zinn's final chapter, which I will blog next and probably last on Zinn, is about the 2000 U.S. Presidential election and the "War on Terrorism" (which Zinn puts in quotation marks).

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 23

This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."

I just watched part of the recent PBS special on Bill Clinton, so I will be interested to read this chapter on the Clinton Presidency and "the Crisis of Democracy" with that and other knowledge in mind.

Zinn is certainly not conservative, but he's not a Democrat either. Both parties, as he says repeatedly, are in the hands of the oligarchy. Some of the country, he felt, agreed: "President Bill Clinton was reelected in 1996 with a distinct lack of voter enthusiasm. As was true in 1992 (when 19 percent of the voters showed their distaste for both parties by voting for a third- party candidate, Ross Perot), the electorate was clearly not happy about its choices. Half of the eligible voters stayed away from the polls, and of those who did vote, only 49 percent chose Clinton over his lackluster opponent, Robert Dole. One bumper sticker read: "If God had intended us to vote, he would have given us candidates.""

Indeed, Zinn spends the first part of the chapter talking about how very pro-capitalism and politically centrist Clinton was. I think Obama's the same way. Zinn shows where Clinton's ideas differ greatly from some of MLK Jr's more radical ones about exposing the link between capitalism, the military, and the government; and radical racial equality; etc.

Zinn talks about how Clinton was tough on crime, building prisons instead of bringing people out of poverty. Clinton was weak for a liberal, but Zinn fails to mention the overwhelming surge of Republican zeal at the time, politically and physically realized by the Republican's retaking of the legislative branch by a large margin in the 1994 elections.

"There was a simple but overwhelming problem with cutting off benefits to the poor to force them to find jobs. There were not jobs available for all those who would lose their benefits. In New York City in 1990, when 2000 jobs were advertised in the Sanitation Department at $23,000 a year, 100,000 people applied. Two years later in Chicago, 7000 people showed up for 550 jobs at Stouffer's, a restaurant chain. In Joliet, Illinois, 2000 showed up at Commonwealth Edison at 4:30 A.M. to apply for jobs that did not yet exist. In early 1997, 4000 people lined up for 700 jobs at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. It was estimated that at the existing rate of job growth in New York, with 470,000 adults on welfare, it would take twenty-four years to absorb those thrown off the rolls." The simple but overwhelming response from the 'other' side would be for these folks to create their own jobs through entrepreneurship (or, less compellingly, to move to where the jobs are).

"Clinton and the Republicans, in joining against "big government," were aiming only at social services. The other manifestations of big government-huge contracts to military contractors and generous subsidies to corporations-continued at exorbitant levels." The conservative argument I hear regarding this is that military spending is actually in the Constitution. This is true but not sufficient; to me, that's like equating the Constitution with the Bible (and I don't believe that either is infallible).

Zinn reads my mind a bit here (a mind he has, admittedly, helped create): "
'Big government' had, in fact, begun with the Founding Fathers, who deliberately set up a strong central government to protect the interests of the bondholders, the slave owners, the land speculators, the manufacturers. For the next two hundred years, the American government continued to serve the interests of the wealthy and powerful, offering millions of acres of free land to the railroads, setting high tariffs to protect manufacturers, giving tax breaks to oil corporations, and using its armed forces to suppress strikes and rebellions.
It was only in the twentieth century, especially in the thirties and sixties, when the government, besieged by protests and fearful of the stability of the system, passed social legislation for the poor that political leaders and business executives complained about 'big government.'"

To free the money it would take to keep enough welfare so that U.S. folk could have things like jobs and health care, we could either/both cut military spending or/and raise taxes on the wealthy. Both of these seem anathema in the current political climate. One weakens us in the eyes of the world (including weakening our hold on foreign natural resources and stopping the revenue we make by selling made-in-the-USA guns and bombs to the rest of the world) and the other supposedly disincentivizes innovation and hard work. "With the four or five hundred billion dollars gained by progressive taxation and demilitarization, there would be funds available to pay for health care for everyone, to guarantee jobs to anyone willing and able to work. Instead of giving out contracts for jet bombers and nuclear submarines, contracts could be offered to nonprofit corporations to hire people to build homes, construct public transport systems, clean up the rivers and lakes, turn our cities into decent places to live."

"The alternative to such a bold program [which, as I've said, is reiterated very clearly by people like Benazir Bhutto and posed similarly but for the environment by folks like Lester Brown] was to continue as before, allowing the cities to fester, forcing rural people to face debt and foreclosures, offering no useful work for the young, creating a larger and larger marginal population of desperate people. Many of these people would turn to drugs and crime, some of them to a religious fanaticism ending in violence against others or themselves (in 1996, one such group committed mass suicide), some to a hysterical hatred of government (as in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing at least 168 people). The response of the authorities to such signs of desperation, anger, alienation has been, historically, quite predictable: Build more jails, lock up more people, execute more prisoners. And continue with the same policies that produced the desperation."

New citizens' movements began to form - political, racial, social, pro-labor, pro-feminist, pro-religion. Zinn describes some of these movements through the mid-1990s and then sums it up: "If democracy was to be given any meaning, if it was to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come-if history was any guide-from the top. It would come through citizens' movements, organizing, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they needed."

The chapter ends with hope of these populist movements, movements that have now been channeled into things like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. While the groups sometimes have very different aims, it is clear that both groups oppose the way the government holds up the moneyed oligarchy in the U.S. Thomas Jefferson said that it was healthy for nations to have a revolution ever twenty years or so. People should not be complacent when institutions of power become self-serving and solipsistic. The government is a socialistic institution that does scaffold programs for the common good - infrastructure, education, health care, defense. It really is up to us to find the balance that allows us to reap the benefits of shared responsibility without giving up our treasured rights and freedoms.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 22

This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."

Chapter 22 is titled, "The Unreported Revolution." In it Zinn describes the many protests and organized groups that opposed things like war, nuclear proliferation, hazardous working conditions, pollution, and the defunding of social safety nets. A quote from the backlash to this interested me very much, and it reminds me of a popular (and populist) push to denegrate higher education:

"Almost certainly there was a teacher, or teachers, who taught Benjamin Sasway to look at American society as a hypocritical, exploitative, materialistic roadblock on the path of human progress. The generation of the Vietnam protesters is now in its early thirties, and the academicians among them are already ensconced in the faculties of the country's high schools and colleges.... What a pity our jurisprudence doesn't allow us to reach and penalize the real architects of this sort of destruction!" wrote right-wing columnist William A. Rusher, of the National Review. I personally don't like to deify higher education, but I won't demonize it for teaching people how to think, either.

While many protestors of various injustices were rounded up (many of these protestors had never marched before), arrested, and put on trial for their civil disobedience, a lot of them were acquitted by juries of their peers.

Furthermore, "a new generation of lawyers, schooled in the sixties, constituted a small but socially conscious minority within the legal profession. They were in court defending the poor and the helpless, or bringing suit against powerful corporations. One law firm used its talent and energy to defend whistleblowers—men and women who were fired because they "blew the whistle" on corporate corruption that victimized the public." People spoke up for the rights of women, for the rights of racial and ethnic minorities like blacks, Chicanos and other Latinos, and gays and lesbians.

"Against the overwhelming power of corporate wealth and governmental authority, the spirit of resistance was kept alive in the early nineties, often by small-scale acts of courage and defiance. On the West Coast, a young activist named Keith McHenry and hundreds of others were arrested again and again for distributing free food to poor people without a license. They were part of a program called Food Not Bombs. More Food Not Bombs groups sprang up in communities around the country." This story is from the 80s and 90s but I have read reports of people shutting down soup kitchens and preventing people from giving food to others en masse on the streets in states like Florida.

Even people who worked for the government became disillusioned. For example, "FBI Agent Jack Ryan, a twenty-one-year veteran of the bureau, was fired when he refused to investigate peace groups. He was deprived of his pension and for some time had to live in a shelter for homeless people."

There are a lot of overlaps between Zinn's Chapters 21 and 22, but some parts still bear repeating. I find this passage particularly succinct, and even people like my mother, who supported my father's position as a fighter pilot in the Gulf War, would agree: "When Bush became President, he was determined to overcome what came to be called the Vietnam syndrome-the resistance of the American people to a war desired by the Establishment. And so, he launched the air war against Iraq in mid-January 1991 with overwhelming force, so the war could be over quickly, before there was time for a national antiwar movement to develop."

Opinions on the war seem mixed. Some polls say people were split before the war started. After the war began, more people said they supported it, but I believe that, like today, people may oppose the war but feel guilty about doing anything that would lead people to suspect that they do not fully support the troops. This explains the horrible backlash and outrage against Michael Moore when he very publically opposed George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq over a decade later, in March 2003.

"When the war had been going on for a month, with Iraq devastated by the incessant bombing, there were feelers from Saddam Hussein that Iraq would withdraw from Kuwait if the United States would stop its attacks. Bush rejected the idea, and a meeting of black leaders in New York sharply criticized him, calling the war "an immoral and unspiritual diversion ... a blatant evasion of our domestic responsibilities.""

"The father of a twenty-one-year-old Marine in the Persian Gulf, Alex Molnar, wrote an angry open letter, published in the New York Time, to President Bush:
"Where were you, Mr. President, when Iraq was killing its own people with poison gas? Why, until the recent crisis, was it business as usual with Saddam Hussein, the man you now call a Hitler? Is the American "way of life" that you say my son is risking his life for the continued "right" of Americans to consume 25 to 30 percent of the world's oil? ... I intend to support my son and his fellow soldiers by doing everything I can to oppose any offensive American military action in the Persian Gulf."
"When the first contingents of U.S. troops were being sent to Saudi Arabia, in August of 1990, Corporal Jeff Patterson, a twenty-two-year-old Marine stationed in Hawaii, sat down on the runway of the airfield and refused to board a plane bound for Saudi Arabia. He asked to be discharged from the Marine Corps:
"I have come to believe that there are no justified wars.... I began to question exactly what I was doing in the Marine Corps about the time I began to read about history. I began to read up on America's support for the murderous regimes of Guatemala, Iran under the Shah, and El Salvador.... I object to the military use of force against any people, anywhere, any time."
Now I quote at great length (Read the whole chapter yourself!):

"Fourteen Marine Corps reservists at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, filed for conscientious objector status, despite the prospect of a court-martial for desertion. A lance corporal in the Marines, Erik Larsen, issued a statement:
"I declare myself a conscientious objector. Here is my sea bag full of personal gear. Here is my gas mask. I no longer need them. I am no longer a Marine. ... It, to me, is embarrassing to fight for a way of life in which basic human needs, like a place to sleep, one hot meal a day and some medical attention, cannot even be met in our nation's capital."
War seemed the best way to show our power, though. "After the disintegration of the Soviet bloc began in 1989, there had been talk in the United States of a "peace dividend," the opportunity to take billions of dollars from the military budget and use it for human needs." Benazir Bhutto advocated for exactly this in a book she wrote and published months before she was killed. She even described ways in which aid would be cheaper and more lastingly beneficial than military might in so many of our "peace-keeping" or "peace-making" efforts around the world. [Lester Brown, incidentally, advocates for ecologically and economically sound uses of money that we could spend in lieu of military spending that would help alleviate many of the health and human rights issues now and in the future in a great, free book that he wrote (and that I blogged about previously)... but I digress.] "The war in the Gulf became a convenient excuse for the government determined to stop such talk. A member of the Bush administration said: "We owe Saddam a favor. He saved us from the peace dividend" (New York Time, March 2, 1991).

Historian Marilyn Young warned in the early 90s: "The U.S. can destroy Iraq's highways, but not build its own; create the conditions for epidemic in Iraq, but not offer health care to millions of Americans. It can excoriate Iraqi treatment of the Kurdish minority, but not deal with domestic race relations; create homelessness abroad but not solve it here; keep a half million troops drug free as part of a war, but refuse to fund the treatment of millions of drug addicts at home. ... We shall lose the war after we have won it."

By then it was 1992 and people were preparing to celebrate the quincentennial of Columbus's journey to the new world and the symbolic start of the way we conquerred the continent. Many people and groups objected, not the least of whom were American Indians/Native Americans. One wrote this particularly perfect letter:

"Dear President Bush. Please send your assistance in freeing our small nation from occupation. This foreign force occupied our lands to steal our rich resources. They used biological warfare and deceit, killing thousands of elders, children and women in the process. As they overwhelmed our land, they deposed our leaders and people of our own government, and in its place, they installed their own government systems that yet today control our daily lives in many ways. As in your own words, the occupation and overthrow of one small nation ... is one too many. Sincerely, An American Indian."

So-called 'naive' schoolchildren began to be taught by their 'liberal' teachers teaching 'revisionist' history that Columbus wasn't a great guy and the children got angry. I remember how my parents had to deal with my opinions on history when the wool was removed from my eyes and I realized that the monolith of American exceptionlism and manifest destiny was just a construct designed to make the system run more smoothly for the Establishment.

Zinn sums up the chapter pretty succinctly in his last two chapters:

"As the United States entered the nineties, the political system, whether Democrats or Republicans were in power, remained in the control of those who had great wealth. The main instruments of information were also dominated by corporate wealth. The country was divided, though no mainstream political leader would speak of it, into classes of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, separated by an insecure and jeopardized middle class.

" Yet, there was, unquestionably, though largely unreported, what a worried mainstream journalist had called "a permanent adversarial culture" which refused to surrender the possibility of a more equal, more humane society. If there was hope for the future of America, it lay in the promise of that refusal."

The next chapter is about the Clinton years.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 21

This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."
Historian Richard Hoftstadter wrote a book about American politics, and one of the quotes Zinn pulls from him, which I love, is: "the range of vision embraced by the primary contestants in the major parties has always been bounded by the horizons of property and enterprise. . .. They have accepted the economic virtues of capitalist culture as necessary qualities of man. . . . That culture has been intensely nationalistic..." This whole chapter from beginning to end is about how the U.S. government raised spending for the military, bombing and killing people only to defend (offensively) its economic interests. In the meantime, the plight of the poor in the U.S. got even worse during the 1970s through the early 1990s.
Indeed, Zinn agrees: "Coming to the end of the [20th] century, observing its last twenty-five years, we have seen exactly that limited vision Hofstadter talked about—a capitalistic encouragement of enormous fortunes alongside desperate poverty, a nationalistic acceptance of war and preparations for war. Governmental power swung from Republicans to Democrats and back again, but neither party showed itself capable of going beyond that vision."
Ennui and hopelessness developed. "In 1960, 63 percent of those eligible to vote voted in the presidential election. By 1976, this figure had dropped to 53 percent. In a CBS News and New York Times survey, over half of the respondents said that public officials didn't care about people like them. A typical response came from a plumber: "The President of the United States isn't going to solve our problems. The problems are too big.""
Zinn is harsh on Carter's apparent attempt at appeasement: " The presidency of Jimmy Carter, covering the years 1977 to 1980, seemed an attempt by one part of the Establishment, that represented in the Democratic party, to recapture a disillusioned citizenry. But Carter, despite a few gestures toward black people and the poor, despite talk of "human rights" abroad, remained within the historic political boundaries of the American system, protecting corporate wealth and power, maintaining a huge military machine that drained the national wealth, allying the United States with right-wing tyrannies abroad."
Howard Zinn talks about how Carter, Reagan, and Bush all supported the economy, which Zinn considers a euphemism for Wall Street. In the 80s, only 5% of U.S. citizens held over 80% of the publically traded stock. Taxes for the rich and the safety of drinking water went down while defense contracts and inflation went up. I'll stop summarizing and pull out some quotes I like (or, well, hate but am moved by):
  • "Today, the dramatic threat of ecological breakdown is teaching us the extent to which greed and selfishness, both individual and collective, are contrary to the order of creation." ~ Pope JPII
  •  In the 80s, "In parts of Detroit, one-third of the children were dying before their first birthday." (Massive unemployment and severely curtailed welfare services contributed directly.)
  •  "[A]dmirers of free enterprise and laissez-faire [...] did not ask why babies who were not old enough to show their work skills should be penalized—to the point of death—for growing up in a poor family." 
  • "Republican Kevin Phillips, who analyz[ed] the Reagan years, wrote: "Less and less wealth was going to people who produced something ... disproportionate rewards to society's economic, legal and cultural manipulators-from lawyers to financial advisers.""
Democrats and Republicans loved war because it showed our force of dominance in the world and helped us secure economic interests in things like oil, diamonds, and bananas. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 20

This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."

Chapter 20 is about the 1970s. Zinn wastes no time, starting the chapter thusly: "In the early seventies, the system seemed out of control—it could not hold the loyalty of the public. As early as 1970, according to the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, "trust in government" was low in every section of the population. And there was a significant difference by class. Of professional people, 40 percent had "low" political trust in the government; of unskilled blue-collar workers, 66 percent had "low" trust." Around this time U.S. citizens were less likely to support U.S. intervention in other countries, even if the goal was to provide humanitarian aid. I can imagine that citizens were disillusioned about what "aid" was code for. In addition, more citizens than ever identified as Independents instead of allying with one major political party or the other.

"The courts, the juries, and even judges were not behaving as usual. Juries were acquitting radicals: Angela Davis, an acknowledged Communist, was acquitted by an all-white jury on the West Coast. Black Panthers, whom the government had tried in every way to malign and destroy, were freed by juries in several trials. A judge in western Massachusetts threw out a case against a young activist, Sam Lovejoy, who had toppled a 500-foot tower erected by a utility company trying to set up a nuclear plant. In Washington, D.C., in August 1973, a Superior Court judge refused to sentence six men charged with unlawful entry who had stepped from a White House tour line to protest the bombing of Cambodia."

Zinn provides a succinct and cogent summary of the Watergate scandal. Bombing Cambodia was awful, but the campaign finance bribes and trying to destroy the Democrats seem like child's play now. When Nixon left office, everybody hoped the issues would go away.

"No respectable American newspaper said what was said by Claude Julien, editor of the Monde Diplomatique in September 1974. "The elimination of Mr. Richard Nixon leaves intact all the mechanisms and all the false values which permitted the Watergate scandal." Julien noted that Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, would remain at his post- in other words, that Nixon's foreign policy would continue. "That is to say," Julien wrote, "that Washington will continue to support General Pinochet in Chile, General Geisel in Brazil, General Stroessner in Paraguay, etc. . . ."" And how.

"In the charges brought by the House Committee on Impeachment against Nixon, it seemed clear that the committee did not want to emphasize those elements in his behavior which were found in other Presidents and which might be repeated in the future. It stayed clear of Nixon's dealings with powerful corporations; it did not mention the bombing of Cambodia. It concentrated on things peculiar to Nixon, not on fundamental policies continuous among American Presidents, at home and abroad." Basically, as Zinn writes, "The word was out: get rid of Nixon, but keep the system."

I don't think Zinn is being hyperbolic when, after a few paragraphs of explication about the way things happened in the Ford years, he writes: "What seemed to be happening was that the Establishment—Republicans, Democrats, newspapers, television—was closing ranks behind Ford and Kissinger, and behind the idea that American authority must be asserted everywhere in the world."

While public opinion of the Establishment - the government and the military - continued to be low, unemployment and poverty were up. Which caused which is an interesting question; what's more interesting to me is how that era reminds me more of the political climate today than did the climate of the Great Depression (although there are similarities - coming off of an unpopular war, huge income disparity (and probably the fact that the rich get richer during war because of government contracts and 'investment' and the poor working as grunts and 'sacrificing' while the fat cats profit)).

Former investment banker and Secretary of the Treasury under Nixon and Ford William Simon said  of the times that Americans "have been taught to distrust the very word profit and the profit motive that makes our prosperity possible, to somehow feel this system, that has done more to alleviate human suffering and privation than any other, is somehow cynical, selfish, and amoral" We must, Simon said, "get across the human side of capitalism." Mr. Simon, I dare you to show me that human side of capitalism. Sure, I enjoy my iPod today, but what about the suicidal people in sweatshops who made it for me, using materials raped from the earth, from land usurped from native peoples by massive corporations in the West, corporations defended by the military, the military paid for by U.S. citizens.

Zinn further shares some really interesting analysis by Samuel Huntington, a Harvard professor and advisor to the White House on Vietnam. Huntington talks about how people in the 1960s stopped recognizing the authority of the president and other traditional seats of power. Presidents who saw and valued this, like Truman and Kennedy [and Obama], pulled existing people in power, like bankers, lawyers, and Wall Street men and hired them as advisors and even Cabinet members. "Huntington saw the possible end of that quarter century when "the United States was the hegemonic power in a system of world order." His conclusion was that there had developed "an excess of democracy," and he suggested "desirable limits to the extension of political democracy.""

It seemed that many folks in the United States continued to see through this oligarchy. Zinn ends his (bitter, depressing, angrifying) chapter: "When the 200th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party was celebrated in Boston, an enormous crowd turned out, not for the official celebration, but for the "People's Bi-Centennial" counter celebration, where packages marked "Gulf Oil" and "Exxon" were dumped into the Boston Harbor, to symbolize opposition to corporate power in America."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 19

This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."

This chapter is called Suprises, and it's about Women's Liberation, Prisoners' Rights, and Native American rights. I hope you'll consider reading this chapter in its entirety; it's amazing.

Chapter 19, appropriately, starts with women's rights. It took me a while to find specific quotes to latch onto, although the entire chapter is readable and important. For me, as a white, upper-middle-class female writer, a lot of it seems pretty standard, a history I know but don't know what to say about. "At this point [about 1968 during the Vietnam war and protests], and later too, there was some disagreement among women, and even more among men, on whether women should battle on specifically women's issues, or just take part in general movements against racism, war, capitalism. But the idea of a feminist focus grew." It's the same struggle I've had personally about whether to focus on specific types of oppression as having subtle individual causes or to focus on oppression (against gays, women, non-whites, or the environment) as universal oppression, tackling the basic fear/mightmakesright/entitlement edifice that seems to create the structure for all these forms of oppression.

After recognizing continuously that women are paid less, that their work is valued less, and that they are expected by many to spend extraordinary resources to better beautify themselves for (male) society, "In the fall of 1968, a group called Radical Women attracted national attention when they protested the selection of Miss America, which they called "an image that oppresses women." They all threw bras, girdles, curlers, false eyelashes, wigs, and other things they called "women's garbage" into a Freedom Trash Can. A sheep was crowned Miss America. More important, people were beginning to speak of 'Women's Liberation.'"

This section is worth quoting in its entirety as well:

"Some of the New York Radical Women shortly afterward formed WITCH (Women's International terrorist Conspiracy from Hell), and its members, dressed as witches, appeared suddenly on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. A leaflet put out by WITCH in New York said:
"WITCH lives and laughs in every woman. She is the free part of each of us, beneath the shy smiles, the acquiescence to absurd male domination, the make-up or flesh-suffocating clothes our sick society demands. There is no "joining" WITCH. If you are a woman and dare to look within yourself, you are a WITCH. You make your own rules.
"WITCH in Washington, D.C., protested at the United Fruit Company for the corporation's activities in the Third World and its treatment of its women office workers. In Chicago it protested the firing of a radical feminist teacher named Marlene Dixon.
"Poor women, black women, expressed the universal problem of women in their own way. In 1964 Robert Coles (Children of Crisis) interviewed a black woman from the South recently moved to Boston, who spoke of the desperation of her life, the difficulty of finding happiness: "To me, having a baby inside me is the only lime I'm really alive."" This last part in particular makes me feel ill.

Zinn describes how some black women differed from some white women in that instead of talking about change, they effected it, taking matters into their own hands and demanding better conditions through action. It reminds me of a quotation I heard in church about how the way to stop injustice is to stop putting up with it. The line between peaceful protest and righteous anger is a narrow one. I don't usually advocate violence, but I do believe in anger. I long for peace but not for passivity.

Zinn writes about how a growing movement changed individual organizations' policies on women; the changed the commercials that women allowed the media showed. Zinn writes about abortion availability and how poor and rich women were privy to different availability of rights, about childcare and other issues, about rape.

"Shirley Chisholm, a black Congresswoman, said:
"The law cannot do it for us. We must do it for ourselves. Women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes.... We must replace the old, negative thoughts about our femininity with positive thoughts and positive action...."
The law should support and enforce equal rights for all, but so must individuals. It's another age old question about the role of government, the struggle between a government big enough to ensure the health of people and take care of things that work better when done collectively... and individual responsibility.

I just blogged at my other site a little personal manifesto about feminism and what it means to me. Coming back to Zinn, I'm reading some important quotations about welfare and responsibility. I urge you again to read this chapter.

Zinn shifts gears and starts talking about prisoners' rights and prisoner uprisings as well. I am reminded of the words of Jesus about visiting prisoners and about Johnny Cash's unique sense of justice in his own music for and about prisoners, the way he visited them and wrote songs like "Man in Black." In Zinn's own words, "The prisons in the United States had long been an extreme reflection of the American system itself: the stark life differences between rich and poor, the racism, the use of victims against one another, the lack of resources of the underclass to speak out, the endless "reforms" that changed little. Dostoevski once said: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.""

And this strikes home, too, and is echoed in the work of Derrick Jensen as well: "It had long been true, and prisoners knew this better than anyone, that the poorer you were the more likely you were to end up in jail. This was not just because the poor committed more crimes. In fact, they did. The rich did not have to commit crimes to get what they wanted; the laws were on their side. But when the rich did commit crimes, they often were not prosecuted, and if they were they could get out on bail, hire clever lawyers, get better treatment from judges. Somehow, the jails ended up full of poor black people." Zinn cites a few of the many incidences of blacks, poor people, and those who look different getting much harsher sentences than white and/or rich people. Just look at the differences in sentencing for white-collar theft versus petty street theft or for cocaine use versus crack use.

An example of outrageous injustice: "Martin Sostre, a fifty-two-year-old black man running an Afro- Asian bookstore in Buffalo, New York, [was sentenced] to twenty-five to thirty years in prison for allegedly selling $15 worth of heroin to an informer who later recanted his testimony. The recantation did not free Sostre-he could find no court, including the Supreme Court of the United States, to revoke the judgment. He spent eight years in prison, was beaten ten times by guards, spent three years in solitary confinement, battling and defying the authorities all the way until his release. Such injustice deserved only rebellion."

I find myself getting angrier and angrier and just fired off an email to a friend who's husband is incarcerated about whether they have enough reading material (thinking of a Zinn book drive for the prison, actually) and then Zinn changes topics to talk about another oppressed group that had its own uprising at the same time in the 60s and 70s, the Native Americans.

Gotta give props to this guy, who wrote in the 1930s but spoke truth nonetheless:

"Chief Luther Standing Bear, in his 1933 autobiography, From the Land of the Spotted Eagle, wrote:
"True, the white man brought great change. But the varied fruits of his civilization, though highly colored and inviting, are sickening and deadening. And if it be the part of civilization to maim, rob, and thwart, then what is progress? I am going to venture that the man who sat on the ground in his tip! meditating on life and its meaning, accepting- the kinship of all creatures, and acknowledging unity with the universe of things, was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization... ."
Again, Derrick Jensen would totally agree.

I personally don't know anybody anymore (I hope) who would spout the manifest destiny bullshit the following "non-Indian" did, but here's a quotation from Vine Deloria, Jr. from the late 1960s: "Every now and then I am impressed with the thinking of the non-Indian. I was in Cleveland last year and got to talking with a non-Indian about American history. He said that he was really sorry about what had happened to Indians, but that there was a good reason for it. The continent had to be developed and he felt that Indians had stood in the way, and thus had had to be removed. "After all," he remarked, "what did you do with the land when you had it?" I didn't understand him until later when I discovered that the Cuyahoga River running through Cleveland is inflammable. So many combustible pollutants are dumped into the river that the inhabitants have to take special precautions during the summer to avoid setting it on fire. After reviewing the argument of my non- Indian friend I decided that he was probably correct. Whites had made better use of the land. How many Indians could have thought of creating an inflammable river?"

"Indians began to do something about their "own destruction" - the annihilation of their culture. In 1969, at the First Convocation of American Indian Scholars, Indians spoke indignantly of either the ignoring or the insulting of Indians in textbooks given to little children all over the United States. That year the Indian Historian Press was founded. It evaluated four hundred textbooks in elementary and secondary schools and found that not one of them gave an accurate depiction of the Indian." Eventually teachers got rid of the outdated material and used newer, more accurate sources. Hollywood made more Indian-friendly movies.

"In the sixties and seventies, it was not just a women's movement, a prisoner's movement, an Indian movement. There was general revolt against oppressive, artificial, previously unquestioned ways of living. It touched every aspect of personal life: childbirth, childhood, love, sex, marriage, dress, music, art, sports, language, food, housing, religion, literature, death, schools."

Zinn's last three paragraphs of this chapter are worth quoting in their entirety as well. I add the citation and link to this book chapter again in case you want to find and cite it yourself at some point:

"With the loss of faith in big powers-business, government, religion-there arose a stronger belief in self, whether individual or collective. The experts in all fields were now looked at skeptically: the belief grew that people could figure out for themselves what to eat, how to live their lives, how to be healthy. There was suspicion of the medical industry and campaigns against chemical preservatives, valueless foods, advertising. By now the scientific evidence of the evils of smoking- cancer, heart disease-was so powerful that the government barred advertising of cigarettes on television and in newspapers.

"Traditional education began to be reexamined. The schools had taught whole generations the values of patriotism, of obeying authority, and had perpetuated ignorance, even contempt for people of other nations, races, Native Americans, women. Not just the content of education was challenged, but the style-the formality, the bureaucracy, the insistence on subordination to authority. This made only a small dent in the formidable national system of orthodox education, but it was reflected in a new generation of teachers all over the country, and a new literature to sustain them: Jonathan Kozol, Death at an Early Age; George Denison, The Lives of Children; Ivan Illich, De-schooling Society.

"Never in American history had more movements for change been concentrated in so short a span of years. But the system in the course of two centuries had learned a good deal about the control of people. In the mid-seventies, it went to work."

Monday, February 20, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 18

This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."

"Why is the United States [involved in Vietnam, funding 80% of France's war effort]? To the public, the word was that the United States was helping to stop Communism in Asia, but there was not much public discussion. In the secret memoranda of the National Security Council (which advised the President on foreign policy) there was talk in 1950 of what came to be known as the "domino theory"—that, like a row of dominoes, if one country fell to Communism, the next one would do the same and so on. It was important therefore to keep the first one from falling.

"A secret memo of the National Security Council in June 1952 also pointed to the chain of U.S. military bases along the coast of China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea:
"Communist control of all of Southeast Asia would render the U.S. position in the Pacific offshore island chain precarious and would seriously jeopardize fundamental U.S. security interests in the Far East.
"Southeast Asia, especially Malaya and Indonesia, is the principal world source of natural rubber and tin, and a producer of petroleum and other strategically important commodities. ..."
Yup, it's about resource control.

A U.S. government analyst wrote this about what he saw in South Vietnam: "The purpose of this vast organizational effort was ... to restructure the social order of the village and train the villages to control themselves. This was the NLF's [National Liberation Front] one undeviating thrust from the start. Not the killing of ARVN (Saigon) soldiers, not the occupation of real estate, not the preparation for some great pitched battle... but organization in depth of the rural population through the instrument of self-control."

The president we imposed on the area was defeated by locals, and we abandoned our backing of him weeks before Kennedy was asssassinated. Why couldn't we win this? "Again and again, American leaders expressed their bewilderment at the popularity of the NLF, at the high morale of its soldiers. The Pentagon historians wrote that when Eisenhower met with President- elect Kennedy in January 1961, he "wondered aloud why, in interventions of this kind, we always seemed to find that the morale of the Communist forces was better than that of the democratic forces.""

Zinn describes how we got into the Congressionally-sanctioned conflict and some of the atricious details of the war, especially the burning of civilians.

"By the end of the Vietnam war, 7 million tons of bombs had been dropped on Vietnam, more than twice the total bombs dropped on Europe and Asia in World War II—almost one 500-pound bomb for every human being in Vietnam. It was estimated that there were 20 million bomb craters in the country. In addition, poisonous sprays were dropped by planes to destroy trees and any kind of growth—an area the size of the state of Massachusetts was covered with such poison. Vietnamese mothers reported birth defects in their children."

In addition to the atrocities in Vietnam as well as Cambodia and Laos, Zinn describes the opposition to the war back home. He talks about the statistics of people who were against the war. More lower-class than upper-class people were against the war, a statistic that might surprise people today. Zinn touches on the massacre at Kent State and the high numbers of draft dodgers, conscientious objectors, and people who disobeyed direct military orders to fight.

Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton wrote in the late 1960s: " There may be a limit beyond which many Americans and much of the world will not permit the United States to go. The picture of the world's greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1000 non-combatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission, on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one, It could conceivably produce a costly distortion in the American national consciousness."

Eventually even the 'establishment' caved to the pressure of popular opinion: "One sign that the ideas of the antiwar movement had taken hold in the American public was that juries became more reluctant to convict antiwar protesters, and local judges too were treating them differently. In Washington, by 1971, judges were dismissing charges against demonstrators in cases where two years before they almost certainly would have been sent to jail. The antiwar groups who had raided draft boards—the Baltimore Four, the Catonsville Nine, the Milwaukee Fourteen, the Boston Five, and more—were receiving lighter sentences for the same crimes."

In this chapter Zinn sticks mostly to facts, figures, and narratives about Vietnam, but he occasionally makes ties between the opposition to the war in Vietnam and the opposition to fascist and totalitarian use of force for the economic benefit of a ruling power. He writes about how blacks in particular tended to be anti war because they could see parallels between the struggles of the brutalized Vietnamese people and themselves. There promises to be more about class struggle in the next chapter.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 17

This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."
Zinn starts the chapter (17) by sharing some of the powerful poetry and prose of the Harlem Renaissance. I had learned in one of my classes that Richard Wright was first a communist and then became a radical conservative later in his life. Reading Zinn helps me understand why - when Communism as such becomes a self-serving rather than a people-serving Entity, it's time to move on. As usual, it's not about a title or a name but about whether something helps or hurts the U.S. economy.

Harry Truman created a Committe on Civil Rights in 1946: "Truman's Committee was blunt about its motivation in making these recommendations. Yes, it said, there was "moral reason": a matter of conscience. But there was also an "economic reason"- discrimination was costly to the country, wasteful of its talent. And, perhaps most important, there was an international reason:
"Our position in the post-war world is so vital to the future that our smallest actions have tar- reaching effects. .. . We cannot escape the fact that our civil rights record has been an issue in world politics. The world's press and radio are full of it. . ., Those with competing philosophies have stressed-and are shamelessly distorting-our shortcomings. . . . They have tried to prove our democracy an empty fraud, and our nation a consistent oppressor of underprivileged people. This may seem ludicrous to Americans, but it is sufficiently important to worry our friends. The United States is not so strong, the final triumph of the democratic ideal is not so inevitable that we can ignore what the world thinks of us or our record."
 Kind of resonates with me today as well.

Finally Truman began slowly enforcing laws that had been on the books for a while, things like the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. Segregation ended by law but was followed with a lot of backlash and a lot of the important Civil Rights stories we all know about.

Here's one I hadn't heard:

In Lee County, Georgia, after the events of 1961-1962, a black teenager named James Crawford joined SNCC and began taking black people to the county courthouse to vote. One day, bringing a woman there, he was approached by the deputy registrar. Another SNCC worker took notes on the conversation:
REGISTRAR: What do you want?
CRAWFORD: I brought this lady down to register.
REGISTRAR: (after giving the woman a card to fill out and sending her outside in the hall) Why did you bring this lady down here?
CRAWFORD: Because she wants to be a first class citizen like y'all.
REGISTRAR: Who are you to bring people down to register?
CRAWFORD: It's my job.
REGISTRAR: Suppose you get two bullets in your head right now?
CRAWFORD: I got to die anyhow.
REGISTRAR: If I don't do it, I can get somebody else to do it. (No reply)
REGISTRAR: Are you scared?
REGISTRAR: Suppose somebody came in that door and shoot you in the back of the head right now. What would you do?
CRAWFORD:I couldn't do nothing. If they shoot me in the back of the head there are people coming from all over the world.
CRAWFORD: What people?
REGISTRAR: The people I work for.

More stringent and effective laws were passed to give blacks federal physical protection when they went to register to vote. Yet the violence against blacks escalated. When a contingent went to march on Washington, the Democrats in power tried to pacify and [my words] whitewash the situation. In many ways, the politicians of that and other times have used the momentum of morally correct movements but tried to dull it and twist it to their own benefit, to control it for their own contexts.

Zinn writes about the difference between the Civil Rights movement in the South, which started out as peacefully as possible (and in so doing helped keep national opinion on the side of the oppressed), while the movement in the North faced different problems and different practices.

Malcolm X and many like him advocated for Black Power. In 1964 he said: "You'll get freedom by letting your enemy know that you'll do anything to get your freedom; then you'll get it. It's the only way you'll get it. When you get that kind of attitude, they'll label you as a "crazy Negro," or they'll call you a "crazy nigger"—they don't say Negro. Or they'll call you an extremist or a subversive, or seditious, or a red or a radical. But when you stay radical long enough and get enough people to be like you, you'll get your freedom." Strength and persistent were important because other means weren't working.

Martin Luther King Jr. approached the issue from a different angle and "became more and more concerned about problems untouched by civil rights laws-problems coming out of poverty. In the spring of 1968, he began speaking out, against the advice of some Negro leaders who feared losing friends in Washington, against the war in Vietnam. He connected war and poverty:
"... it's inevitable that we've got to bring out the question of the tragic mix-up in priorities. We are spending all of this money for death and destruction, and not nearly enough money for life and constructive development... when the guns of war become a national obsession, social needs inevitably suffer."
The FBI had him followed and threatened, and I believe it was his opposition to the imperialistic corporate fascism he saw in our foreign and domestic policy that got him killed (I've written about this, quoting King at length, at the link cited).

A few stories of the other atrocities at the time:
  1. In the 1967 riots in Detroit, three black teen-agers were killed in the Algiers Motel. Three Detroit policemen and a black private guard were tried for this triple murder. The defense conceded, a UPI dispatch said, that the four men had shot two of the blacks. A jury exonerated them.
  2. In Jackson, Mississippi, in the spring of 1970, on the campus of Jackson State College, a Negro college, police laid down a 28-second barrage of gunfire, using shotguns, rifles, and a submachine gun. Four hundred bullets or pieces of buckshot struck the girls' dormitory and two black students were killed. A local grand jury found the attack "justified" and U.S. District Court Judge Harold Cox (a Kennedy appointee) declared that students who engage in civil disorders "must expect to he injured or killed."
  3. In Boston in April 1970, a policeman shot and killed an unarmed black man, a patient in a ward in the Boston City Hospital, firing five shots after the black man snapped a towel at him. The chief judge of the municipal court of Boston exonerated the policeman. (This italicizsed list is quoted directly from Zinn.)
Stuff like this continued to happen and the government tried different means to enforce integration, sometimes successfully but more often resulting in class conflicts between rich and poor as well as race conflicts. As usual, it was the powerful rich against the systematically and repeatedly oppressed.