Sunday, May 26, 2013

What has he done for me lately?

I remember years ago when I first heard about "The Dreamers" I questioned their strategy. These were young people who had grown up in the United States, but were undocumented. They were pushing for a law that would allow them to becomes citizens if they attended college or joined the military.

My concerns about all this initially were that we needed comprehensive immigration reform in this country. I wondered whether the Dream Act was a distraction.

And then I heard what Pete Seeger said about Rev. Martin Luther King's decision to start with a bus boycott in Montgomery, AL.
Why did he start with a bus boycott? Why didn't he start with something like schools, or jobs, or voting? Couldn't a bus boycott come later?

When you face an opponent over a broad front, you don't aim at the opponent's strong points. You aim for something a little off to the side. But you win it. And having won that bus boycott...13 months it took him to do it...then he moved on to other things.
If you want to see the modern-day version of the Civil Rights Movement incarnated, you need look no further than to study what it is these Dreamers have done.
The Dreamers remind me of the Freedom Riders fifty years ago who, deciding they wouldn’t settle for life under Jim Crow, risked jail and racist violence until the Kennedy administration was won to their side, and a political party realignment began. The Dreamers have petitioned, engaged in civil disobedience, lobbied for legislation at state and federal levels, and refused to accept defeats along the way.
I say all that by way of comparison to those African Americans who are critiquing President Obama on a policy front by basically asking, "What has he done for me lately?" I find myself wanting to turn that question on its head and ask, "What is the agenda and where is the movement?"

The expectation seems to be that since President Obama is black, there is no need for an organized movement on behalf of African Americans - he's supposed to identify the priorities himself and pull it off on his own.

The President has been pretty clear...that's not how he sees things working.
As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That's what we believe.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you. Whenever I hear someone on tv say "he hasn't done anything" and don't explain how the system works, I write them off as frauds. Obama has exposed every clown masquerading as a thought leader during his time in office. If people grow up and decide to take governing in their own hands, his time in office would be transformative on Rushmore level. He'll be greater than the guys on Rushmore. What's better than our citizens taking life seriously and forcing our elected officials to work for us. "We are the change we've been waiting for." He's shown us how to win. Time to take over.

    Vic78

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  2. 'Afternoon, Ms. Pants

    I was just over at Politicus responding to, to me, a "YOU decide" piece in which the author's big criticism had to do with the Education approach (didn't disagree with it). But, yet again to me another 'he hasn't done enough and needs to do more' piece. One of my main points was that we HAVE to vote in '14. Had we voted in '10....And, if we had and had "Nancy Smash" and some of the current end results, then, perhaps, I could be better with some of these critiques. At almost ANY point, it's like these folk, black and white alike, need a series of intensive civics lessons. Having said that...
    I'm gonna have to put my complete thoughts in an e, but, the down and dirty to me re: "The Morehouse Speech"....

    He wasn't addressing the nation. Nor, was he addressing the entirety of American black folk. He was talking directly to those over 530 young men sitting in front of him. What NONE of the critics either didn't point out or knew....firstly, he laid the ground work. He talked for a good six to eight minuets (I was sitting right there in the rain, folks. I'm Morehouse '73 and it was my 40th reunion time. just, over-all, an aMAzing time) to the grads in terms of Morehouse lore. Whomever did this background work did a VERY thorough job as he ingested it and talked to the fellas as if he was Morehouse '83 (he's ten years younger than me). Established rapport, let them know he KNEW them, and they responded BACK that they REALLY appreciated that he had taken this kind of time. Indeed, he DID know his audience. And, only after he had done this and they, in turn let him know that he was "in" did he begin. He showed RESPECT. This is why they, nor any of us, felt that he was "lecturing" or "scolding" us. VERY interesting to me that these folk were comin' off as if they were so "offended". They're just very off base. And, again, are using a commencement address to really broaden - too much - a targeted talk as if this was to all black Americans. It, most assuredly, was not. It was VERY personal. From him to them. Older peer (as Jon Capehart points out) to the coming "beacons of light". And, here's, to me, the thing....
    Every last one of those critics that are black have had an older black person, when they were younger, do the exACT same thing to them. Jack White's precise point. I assure you, Ms. Pants, risky though it is to generalize but I'm pretty confident, here, that pretty much all of we black folk that have been blessed to have degrees and have had some substantive achievement have heard what PBO said. It's some of how we've come this far. Why many of us continue to strive. And, many of us, when we have the opportunity or, for some of us, TAKE it, do the same thing to younger black folk. I'd encourage that you see Gwen Ifill's piece (she was the Morehouse commencement speaker two years ago). She did the same thing. In large measure, it's what we DO. And....
    Did he or did he not (PBO) talk diRECTly to the Naval grads re: the sexually violent skullduggery of the military?? Think that's talking directly to white folks (and that's the bulk of who comes out of Annapolis) about their shortcomings. That thing that he NEVER does. Now, maybe it's me, but have YOU (or anybody else) heard anything from these "critics" about this? Where he's been commended for BRINGIN' it??
    Alright...I'll stop here.

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    Replies
    1. Sooooo good to hear your thoughts!

      And I really love that first point you made. I noticed that...he had all the "inside" jokes down. And that goes to something I said in the first article I wrote about this speech. My big-picture feeling about it all was that his passion came from feeling "at home." I've never felt that so strongly from him in a speech before. He just put down his suitcases and made himself at home - seemed to be loving every g-d minute of it too! I think that's a big deal to him as someone who grew up rather rootless.

      Anyway, I'm all ears with anything you have to say about what it was like to be there.

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    2. "I assure you, Ms. Pants, risky though it is to generalize but I'm pretty confident, here, that pretty much all of we black folk that have been blessed to have degrees and have had some substantive achievement have heard what PBO said."

      Hallelujah! My point exactly!!!

      However, I think even those of us who are low and under-achievers as well have gotten this same message directly or indirectly.

      We are a very diverse and multi-faceted people, but we do share so much in common culturally. Part of this comes from our shared African ancestry. However, the other part comes from our shared experience in America. We live in a society that despite its fierce support for the "rigged individual" still has a difficult time seeing us as individuals. Racism could care less about the individual. It lumps individuals into broad groups despite any unique characteristics they may have and it does this in a manner that has little or no logical or scientific basis.

      This is why despite Obama's very personal experience, his speech speaks to a lot more people (you and me included). And this is why I'm so surprised by the reaction of certain black intellectuals to his speech. Come on! I also find it hard to believe that they never got "the talk" either. And even if they didn't, they should have picked up on this somewhere else. Blacks who possess any ounce of ambition in this country have had to confront this one way or the other.

      And Ms. Pants, thanks for understanding and listening. Listening is a tool that is so underappreciated nowadays.

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  3. Mo'nin, Ms. Pants

    And, thank ya nabstentia23. For example, I have seen video of young Mr. Coates (and he is compared to me) talking with his very bright and challenging (there is no doubt that this is who taught him how to think) though kinda weird (check out Coates' book to see what I mean, here) dad. If you watch it, you'll see it all right there. And, as you as well point out, it just makes no sense that this "woundedness" is being expressed. Also...

    Perhaps, indeed, I should broaden my statement that you quoted. The matter may well be that of era. I'm not so sure, in general terms, about "the talk" being given from the 80's on (clearly, it still is. but, I'm concerned that some, now, actually aren't having this happen for them) as it was rather on a regular basis leading up to that decade. I was just over at Pragmatic Obots and was reading, as its "Decoration Day" (Smartypants commentariat - there are a number of pieces about regarding today and how, in fact, it actually began. if you Google Decoration Day, you'll probably find some of them. or Google Prof. Jim Downs' May '12 piece that was in Huff Post. an educating and enlightening read) and found out about "The Triple Nickels" of WWII. These aren't the "Red Tails", but the colored 555th PARATROOPER battalion. My point being that those men and the men and women that raised them, those that came before them, and, then, in the Civil Rights Movement....it's just the way its been done.

    Again, it wasn't lecturing or scolding. And, PBO is 52. He's more than old enough to be those grads' dad and he stepped into that role, spoke about it, even, and, again, being the trained observer that I am, his words were understood and just very much appreciated.

    And, Ms. Pants, you're quite right. He, also was "at home" when he spoke at The Hampton Institute (and we heard the first round of this criticism). What just got him, I KNOW (and it gets me EVERY time I'm there) is that he was looking at over 530 young black MEN getting degrees (Morehouse graduates the largest amount of black men with bachelor degrees in the country. EVERY year. like clock work). It flies in the face of, generally speaking, what the country believes about us (don't get me started, then, about the mutual ignorance of Brad Paisley's "Accidental Racist". Mr. Paisley's ignorantly seriously revisionist thinking of what the Stars and Bars means was met with an even WORSE response from Mr. Smith (LL's actual last name). sagging pants have NOTHING to do with black heritage. Mr. Smith is young AND exposed and has, really, no excuse for, since he just had to do this, such a LAME retort).

    Lastly, to drive home your point even more, Ms. Pants, riiiight before the conferring of the honorary degree that made him a "Morehouse Man", note what PBO does as he adjusts his robe and tie in preparation. We all REALLY carried on, then.

    Yes, MA'AM. He felt at home.

    And, just VERY proud.

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