Chris McDaniel, a Mississippi Tea Party candidate vying for Thad Cochran’s senate seat, wants to turn back the hands of time.
“There are millions of us who feel like strangers in this land, an older America passing away, a new America rising to take its place,” McDaniel said this past week. “We recoil from that culture. It’s foreign to us. It’s alien to us. … It’s time to stand and fight. It’s time to defend our way of life again.”
This revealing remark is the frontispiece for an AP story that was picked up by the Huffington Post and Breitbart.com, suggesting that conservatives and liberals attach significance to McDaniel’s words, though for different reasons.
We often distinguish liberals from conservatives using an economic metric: liberals think capitalism works best when checked by government regulation supplemented by public projects and a robust social safety net; conservatives think capitalism works best without regulation and see unrestricted free markets as want to privatize every public initiative, with the partial exception of the military.
On the surface, Chris McDaniel’s rhetoric fits this pattern. He says the government has no constitutional right to educate the nation’s children. On the stump, he sounds like a typical small government, low tax conservative.
But there is more to the Tea Party phenomenon than low tax-small government conservatism. (more…)
I have been inspired by the story about how Elizabeth Eckford (the black woman walking stoically into Little Rock’s Central High School in 1959) and Hazel Bryan (the white woman in the rear screaming, “Go home to Africa, nigger!”) had bridged the racial divide and become best friends.
Not surprisingly, it isn’t that simple.
Racial reconciliation comes hard. Everybody needs to feel good about their people, their heritage, their roots. At least Sir Walter Scott thought so:
Breathes there there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell . . .
African Americans and American whites, particularly in the South, have a hard time feeling good about their ethnic heritage. Few Black Americans chose to come to this country. In most cases, their ancestors were hunted down like dogs, manacled, separated from family, culture and religion, stowed into the hulls of slave ships, transported across the Atlantic ocean, and put to work under the lash beneath a blazing son. The Emancipation Proclamation hardly improved their lot. In its own strange way, Jim Crow was every bit as degrading as slavery. (more…)
Our twenty-four hour news cycle doesn’t lend itself to careful analysis of complex social movements. Rick Perry, the pugnacious presidential hopeful, raised eyebrows when he used a loose network of organizations associated with the New Apostolic Reformation to organize a big religious-political rally in Houston. Interest quickened when the mainstream media learned that some of Perry’s friends were “Dominionists,” folks who want to bring secular politics (and everything else) under the dominion of God.
The questions couldn’t be avoided. If elected, will Rick Perry pack his cabinet with Christian preachers? Since that didn’t sound likely, the pundits too-easily assumed that politicians like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann are just standard-issue conservatives with close ties to the religious right. (more…)
I first met Lara Marlowe of the Irish Times in 2004 when she was crisscrossing the country researching stories on George W. Bush’s America. Since then, she has been following the Friends of Justice blog and occasionally references my opinionated outbursts in her articles.
Marlowe is now stationed in Washington DC and writes about America for an Irish audience. Her column on the Neo-Confederate movement is the first of a series of articles on race, the South and the heritage of the civil rights movement. (She contacted me while I was in Meridian, MS and I put her in touch with some allies who should be featured later in the week.) (more…)
I got an email from Justin Elliott earlier this week inquiring about “The Will to Secede”, a post about Rick Perry’s ties to neo-Confederate groups I published a couple of years ago. The post, which to date has received just under 10,000 hits, highlighted the work of Dallas researcher and neo-confederacy expert, Edward Sebesta who has documented the Texas Governor’s close ties to unabashedly racist groups like the The Sons of Confederate Veterans.
On Saturday, June 18th, Friends of Justice joined dozens of civil rights veterans in honoring the memory of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. For those who worked in Mississippi during the 1960s, the cruel and cowardly murder of three civil rights workers epitomizes a painful period.
The Mississippi phase of the civil rights movement doesn’t get nearly as much attention as corresponding events in nearby Alabama. There was plenty of terror in Alabama as well; but it was offset by triumph. Apart from the freedom rides of 1961, Mississippi didn’t produce a lot of victories. Passionate support for segregation was almost universal among white folks. In many counties, not a single black voter was registered when the Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1965. In Mississippi, two armies, one dedicated to “state’s rights” (full-blown Jim Crow segregation), the other dedicated to Civil Rights (racial equality reinforced by racial justice) fought to a bitter standstill. (more…)
I have been too busy to blog this week, but I couldn’t resist this story. You may ask what a royal tour has to do with criminal justice reform. Very little, I expect, although I am clever enough to come up with something if I had a mind to.
I am blogging about Kate and William’s royal tour because it pleases me.
For one thing, Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne a few years before I was born and, though I am 58 years old, she has been the only British monarch I have known. When you grow up singing "God save our gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen, God save the Queen(to the tune of My Country ‘Tis of Thee) it gets into your bones (whether you like it or not).
This lovely photographic essay from the Washington Post shows the royal couple taking in a little calf roping at the Calgary Stampede and attending the Dene Games in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories. I was born in Calgary in 1953 and the Bean family moved to Yellowknife three years later. I remember my dad taking my sister and I to the Calgary Stampede during a summer vacation when I was a little kid. He wouldn’t spring for cowboy boots, but I did get a cowboy hat, and I wore it to bed that night.
I remember William’s grandfather, Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, creating quite a stir a generation ago when he was presented with the inevitable cowboy hat during a visit to Calgary. “Thank you very much," said the Prince. “I think I have six or seven of these now. Perhaps I’ll use this one for a planter.”
That didn’t go down well in Cow Town.
There is another story about Prince Phillip dining at Calgary’s glorious Palicer Hotel back in the mid fifties (when he was about the age William is now). According to legend, a hotel waitress, while removing Phillip’s dinner plate, whispered, “Keep your fork, Prince, we’re havin’ pie.”
I don’t get back to Canada much these days. My parents are both long dead and my sister, Carol, spends half the year in Texas. But everyone needs a sense of home, and places like Calgary, Edmonton and Yellowknife are about as close as I can get. A return visit to Yellowknife after almost fifty years is high on my bucket list.
Last year, while in Calgary for the funeral of my aunt, Iris Garner, I stopped by the old home of the now defunct Baptist Leadership Training School, an institution I attended in 1971. It had been fully forty years since I last walked to the nearby park overlooking the gorgeous Bow River valley. The view of the river hadn’t changed a bit, but I hardly resembled the callow youth who once looked out over the scene. I have rarely felt more orphaned and adrift.
So I guess, in the end, these rambling thoughts do relate to this blog’s primary theme. Everybody needs a sense of place, everybody needs to belong to a people. Friends of Justice works in the American South, a region occupied by rooted people with a strong sense of belonging. What happens when a proud people is made synonymous with bigotry and hate? Issues of culpability aside, how deep does the fear, loss and resentment go?
The spirit and spirituality of mass incarceration is a plant native to the southland that has been nourished for decades by the deepest kind of alienation and outrage. People felt as if the glorious narrative that had given them a sense of people and place had been desecrated. The sense of loss was palpable. This is why Ronald Reagan launched his election campaign in 1980 in Neshoba County, the place where, 16 years earlier, three civil rights leaders had been murdered. Reagan was opposed to the civil rights movement, but he was hardly a son of the South. His advisers knew, however, that a rich deposit of racial resentment was waiting to be mined in places like Neshoba County. People had lost their story and they desperately wanted it back. Reagan promised to deliver. The promise was kept.
I understand these emotions. I grew up in one country and I live in another. Calgary, Alberta and Fort Worth Texas have a lot in common, but I never really feel at home in Texas. Nor would I feel at home if I returned to my native Canada. Like Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.”
When Tea Partiers say they want their country back they are longing for an old, old story. They want to feel part of an exceptional, virtuous and boot-leather-tough nation where everyone shares the same values and pursues the same goals. That kind of America never existed in reality; but it lives in memory nonetheless. The nation people want to regain exists in the form of narrative mythology, and this story about restoring a noble, resolute and unified America is the most potent force in contemporary politics.
There is no sense decrying or endlessly deconstructing the narrative that animates our ideological opposites. We need a narrative of our own. We don’t need a story about the nation we once were; we need a story about the nation the better angels of our national nature have always aspired to be. We need to start talking about a country where there is no us and them; a nation where there are no surplus, throw-away people.
We need to start talking about a nation of broken people where broken people can be redeemed.
According to reporter Jeremy van Loon, Prince William characterized Canada as that kind of country.
Prince William praised Canada’s “extraordinary potential” and the nation’s values of “freedom and compassion” at the end of a nine-day tour of the country with his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge. “Canada is not just a great union of provinces and territories, it is a great union of peoples from many different backgrounds who have come together to make this a model — and a magnet — for those who value freedom, enterprise, tolerance and compassion,” he said today in Calgary.
I’m not sure Canada, or any other country, deserves such high praise. The prince was being complimentary. But don’t we want to live in that kind of country? When we tap into that desire, the movement to end mass incarceration will begin.