Reflection on MLK Day: From 12 Years a Slave to Trayvon Martin

Photo by ANSWER Coalition Photo by ANSWER Coalition

Last night, I sat at home, managing to endure the God-awful scenes from “12 YEARS A SLAVE” that showed the way Blacks were treated in the 1800s. Those slave masters were sick.

The end titles tell a partial story of what happened to protagonist Solomon Northrup after he found his way out of that hell. Apparently, no one knows what came of him. One thing is for certain. He became a strong abolitionist and a supporter of the Underground Railroad.

Another thing that’s certain is that the men who drugged him, kidnapped him and gave him into slavery were exonerated.

With those wretched images still fresh on my mind, I awoke this morning to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The Civil Rights Act, which millions of people fought for and which Dr. King gave his life for, was enacted fifty years ago.

It took over a hundred years and countless lynchings, beatings, and countless other injuries before black people and their allies were able to achieve the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Today, significant portions of that Act have been gutted. Once again, many states have made it harder for black people to vote.

The outcome of the Trayvon Martin case and countless others have proven that a black teenager can be murdered with no consequences, using the same racist law that a black woman (Marissa Alexander), is not allowed to use in her defense against a man who threatens to kill her. In Marissa’s case, she didn’t even shoot the abusive husband who was threatening to kill her. She shot at the ceiling!

Meanwhile, characters who pride themselves on bigotry, parade like turkeys across television screens around the country, rousing up hatred – proclaiming that gays are beasts and black people were better off during the good ole days of Jim Crow. As long as it sells, the networks who’ve seized the airwaves for their own profit are happy to broadcast these views far and wide.

So, you have your TV clowns. But you also have those like Dr. King, who, in spite of being hounded by federal agents throughout his life, steadfastly stood by the right of all people to the basics.

Dr. King only got broadcast because he was in the streets with millions of people. Today, you might find those like him not on broadcast TV, but again, in the streets.

As Dr. King understood it, the civil rights movement and the labor movement had the same goals:

“…decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”

In a speech to the Illinois state convention of the AFL-CIO in 1965, King went on to say:

“The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.”  [Source: Now Is the Time. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Labor in the South: The Case for a Coalition. Booklet prepared by the Southern Labor Institute under the auspices of the Labor Subcommittee of the King Holiday Commission, designed by the AFT and printed by AFSCME. January 1986.]

Today, those same captains of industry are trying to take back what they were forced to give over. They’ve convinced some of us that it’s in our best interests to get on board with this plan.Others know better. They can’t live working full time on what they’re paid and they’re organizing for better wages and working conditions at the lowest paying jobs in the country – fast food jobs, car washes…

King’s words ring as true in 2014 as they did in 1955 during a speech he delivered at Holt Baptist Church during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

“You know my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. There comes a time.”

Will this be our time?

Martin Luther King, Jr.

RIP

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I Am Bradley Manning

Today, as the trial of PFC Bradley Manning continues, I just had to post this great  I AM BRADLEY MANNING video. It’s a crying shame that a guy who reported atrocities is being accused of “aiding the enemy.” As many have said, since we, the pubic, are the ones who gained from this information, who would not have had this information but for someone such as Bradley Manning confirming it – are we the enemy?

If the top headlines of today are any indication, I would say we have cause for concern in that regard. Case in point: the FBI’s massive phone record collection that has been going on for some time now without our knowledge. Seems we are all suspects.

Then, we’ve got the administration aiding Al Qaeda in Syria and chomping at the bit to do more. Yet, they say Al Qaeda is out to get us.

Just who is the enemy here? Certainly not Bradley Manning.

 

 

THE WAR ON TERROR: ON IT’S HEAD

Naturally, there’s been a lot of comment today on the horrific terror attack at a premier of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Colorado. So far, the most insightful one I’ve seen said that something is wrong with a society when it is easier to get a cache of guns and ammunition than it is to get mental health services.

Apparently, suspect James Holmes purchased over 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the internet in the past 60 days.

Interesting as well that several journalists made sure that we knew that Holmes, “doesn’t appear to have anything to do with “radical terrorism or anything related to Islamic terrorism.” I guess what he did is just middle-of-the-road terrorism. Was this supposed to be a re-assurance?

Maybe this type of terrorism is in the same category as the bombing in Damascus on Wednesday that killed several top government officials — in other words, acts of terror that are not being defined as such.

I guess it’s also not terrorism for tweeters to post videos of the body of a tortured and murdered head of state and suggest that the president of Syria be murdered and mutilated in the same manner.

Speaking of terrorism, wouldn’t ya know it? One of the groups that is teaming up with the “rebels” over in Syria is none other than Al-Qaeda! I’m pretty sure they are Islamic and also radical. I guess once they were done with all their blood and guts freedom-fighting over in Libya, getting rid of that pesky Qaddafi who wanted the country’s oil money for the population, they just decided to pay al-Assad a visit and teach him a thing or two. After all, they’ve got the biggest boys on the block behind ’em. Boy, for constantly crowing about Islamic terrorism, the U.S. government sure is doing a good job of getting rid of all the secular governments in the Middle East!

I thought Al-Qaeda was the whole reason for this “war on terror” that we’ve been having now for eleven years.

I think I’m pretty confused about Killary and Company’s version of terrorism. And, I wonder what Clinton means when she says that Russia and China will “pay a price” for suggesting that Syria’s problems be handled by Syrians. That sounds pretty scary too.  Boy, she says Russia and China will “pay a price,” but there’s ole Al-Qaeda themselves, waving their big black flag all over Libya and Syria and I guess that’s just okay with Killary.

 

MARCH AGAINST LOW WAGE JOBS

Photo credit: Neil Jacobs/Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO

This past Saturday, I joined thousands of other folks here in Los Angeles for a march through historic Chinatown. The reason for the event? – the impending arrival of Wal Mart in Chinatown. It seems that the urban areas are a significant part of the Walton family’s final frontier.

Although the LA County Fed officially dubbed the event a “March Against Low Wage Jobs,” there were really two big beefs going around. One was indeed the matter of low wage jobs and the heinous record of Wal Mart towards its’ workers and towards organized labor. United for Respect at Wal Mart, an organization formed by associates at Wal Mart, were in the house. They were really great – brave and inspiring. Can you imagine working at this giant company and having the courage to stand up and fight for better wages and conditions?

Click on Wal Mart march for Part One of the coverage I did for City Watch to see Girshriela Green, one of the leaders of this group, calling Wal Mart out!

Another issue that was raised, by some almost exclusively, was how small business in Chinatown would be adversely affected. This is all pretty interesting since, I’m pretty sure that small business has been ferociously anti-union for decades if not ever since unions existed.

Sure, you have some folks saying, “Oh, yes; Mom and Pop have been good to me for twenty-five years. I’ve been treated well” That may be true, but that is almost totally up to their discretion, isn’t it? Mom and Pop could be the Cratchets and that would be just too bad for anybody who happens to work for them, right?   Without unions, a poor worker soul really has no recourse apart from a few bare bones labor laws regulated by the National Labor Relations Board, which has practically had all its’ teeth pulled over the years. So, it just seems an unlikely pair – organized labor and small business.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not sticking up for Wal Mart or thumbing my nose at small business. I come from a long line of small business owners myself. I love the diversity of Los Angeles. It’s my favorite thing about this city. I would hate to see Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Ethiopia, East Los Angeles, or any of LA’s culturally rich neighborhoods disappear.

BUT:

Wal Mart is not the problem – it’s a symptom of the problem. If it wasn’t Wal Mart, it would be another big corporation. That’s the way this system works.

The market is not sentimental or nostalgic – and that’s not just in Chinatown, Jake.

WHOSE SIDEWALK?

I was rambling down Wilshire Boulevard the other day, wondering if I would ever work in this town again, when I came upon several small plaques, about three inches by seven inches long, made of brass, embedded in the concrete sidewalk. I kept on walking right to the corner to see where they ended. Looking up, I could see where they began was in front of the historic El Rey Theater. I stopped to read the inscription etched on the metal there on the last one. This is what it said: Private Property. Permission to pass over revocable at any time. Whoa! Pretty serious! I looked around cautiously, half-wondering if someone was going to pop out and revoke my permission to pass.

I made it through the area with no incident. Seemed like whoever put them there wanted to make it crystal clear that people better not get to thinking they had some free pass to walk down that sidewalk anytime they wanted.

There were a couple of psudo-business types standing on the corner. I looked at them then back at the plaques. I really wanted them to notice and comment on it. I wanted to know what they thought about it; but, they carried on talking as if the ominous warning stamped onto the sidewalk beneath them did not even exist. I guess they didn’t feel like it applied to them. Maybe never would.

I began to wonder why the owners of the sidewalk would even want to revoke anyone’s passing anyway. If they were drunk and disorderly or insane, surely the owners would just want them to trundle on by. I’m gonna be honest, I pretty much think they are probably put there to try to stop people from forming a picket line or some other kind of protest.

Well, I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been known to take part in quite a number of just such gatherings – where regular working people are expressing an opinion. It’s true I’ve seen other little signs on the sidewalk that say “Private Property,” but these are really special. They look vintage.

So, I took a little gander at the ole internet wondering if back in the day some historic strike or protest had taken place at the El Rey and the owners had then sent out to the metalsmith to make their best effort to make sure nothing like that ever happened again.

I didn’t find anything like that. I did find one case involving a couple of brothers by the name of Perez-Morciglio who would dress up like Zorro and Darth Vader and perform in front of the Venetian Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas. Just last November, a federal judge in this case ruled that the Venetian lacks the authority to remove the public from the sidewalk.

More recently, the ruling in a case in Wisconsin was, as Jim Gramling of the ACLU put it, “a victory for the most basic form of free speech.” The “Sidewalks and parks are places where people traditionally have exchanged ideas and tried to persuade their neighbors to adopt their views. And unlike other forums for expression, like television or the radio, they can be used without charge, so anyone, rich or poor, can seek an audience there.”

Finally, I discovered a pamphlet put out by the LA Chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild, on another pretty cool WordPress blog. This piece contains a whole lot of information on the subject.

Based on all this information, along with my own experience, I’d say when you get right down to the brass tacks, those little brass plaques are pretty much filled with a lot of hot air, and they ain’t gonna fly. For the sake of those of us who can’t afford to pay for television ads, let’s make sure we keep it that way.