Alice Walker On the 2008 Primary

LEST WE FORGET, An Open Letter To My Sisters Who Are Brave

From Alice Walker

I have come home from a long stay in Mexico to find – because of the presidential campaign, and especially because of the Obama/Clinton race for the Democratic nomination – a new country existing alongside the old. On any given day we, collectively, become the Goddess of the Three Directions and can look back into the past, look at ourselves just where we are, and take a glance, as well, into the future. It is a space with which I am familiar. When I was born in 1944 my parents lived on a middle Georgia plantation that was owned by a white distant relative, Miss* May Montgomery. She would never admit to this relationship, of course, except to mock it. Told by my parents that several of their children would not eat chicken skin she responded that Of course they would not. No Montgomerys would. My parents and older siblings did everything imaginable for Miss May. They planted and raised her cotton and corn, fed and killed and processed her cattle and hogs, painted her house, patched her roof, ran her dairy, and, among countless other duties and responsibilities my father was her chauffeur, taking her anywhere she wanted to go at any hour of the day or night. She lived in a large white house with green shutters and a green, luxuriant lawn: not quite as large as Tara of Gone With the Wind fame, but in the same style. We lived in a shack without electricity or running water, under a rusty tin roof that let in wind and rain. Miss May went to school as a girl. The school my parents and their neighbors built for us was burned to the ground by local racists who wanted to keep ignorant their competitors in tenant farming. During the Depression, desperate to feed his hardworking family, my father asked for a raise from ten dollars a month to twelve. Miss May responded that she would not pay that amount to a white man and she certainly wouldn’t pay it to a nigger. That before she’d pay a nigger that much money she’d milk the dairy cows herself.

When I look back, this is part of what I see. I see the school bus carrying white children, boys and girls, right past me, and my brothers, as we trudge on foot five miles to school. Later, I see my parents struggling to build a school out of discarded army barracks while white students, girls and boys, enjoy a building made of brick. We had no books; we inherited the cast off books that “Jane” and “Dick” had previously used in the all-white school that we were not, as black children, permitted to enter. The year I turned fifty, one of my relatives told me she had started reading my books for children in the library in my home town. I had had no idea – so kept from black people it had been – that such a place existed. To this day knowing my presence was not wanted in the public library when I was a child I am highly uncomfortable in libraries and will rarely, unless I am there to help build, repair, refurbish or raise money to keep them open, enter their doors.

*During my childhood it was necessary to address all white girls as “Miss” when they reached the age of twelve.

When I joined the freedom movement in Mississippi in my early twenties it was to come to the aid of sharecroppers, like my parents, who had been thrown off the land they’d always known, the plantations, because they attempted to exercise their “democratic” right to vote. I wish I could say white women treated me and other black people a lot better than the men did, but I cannot. It seemed to me then and it seems to me now that white women have copied, all too often, the behavior of their fathers and their brothers, and in the South, especially in Mississippi, and before that, when I worked to register voters in Georgia, the broken bottles thrown at my head were gender free. I made my first white women friends in college; they were women who loved me and were loyal to our friendship, but I understood, as they did, that they were white women and that whiteness mattered. That, for instance, at Sarah Lawrence, where I was speedily inducted into the Board of Trustees practically as soon as I graduated, I made my way to the campus for meetings by train, subway and foot, while the other trustees, women and men, all white, made their way by limo. Because, in our country, with its painful history of unspeakable inequality, this is part of what whiteness means. I loved my school for trying to make me feel I mattered to it, but because of my relative poverty I knew I could not… Read the rest at The Root.com

The Obama Foreign Policy Doctrine

For all the talk about Obama being “all talk,” I hope that people more journalist begin to pay closer attention to the potential policy positions he’s taking, or is likely to take, based on who his advisers are.

The American Prospect gives the first detailed analysis of the “Obama Doctrine,” especially as it relates to an anti-terrorism policy. It’s an interesting position–the cynical side of me wants to call it “neoliberal”, but it seems a little more nuanced that. It makes me realize I need to read Samantha Power books to get a better sense of what his influences are in terms of international policy.

Here’s a segment of the story (worth the full read), which frames the Obama foreign policy as a policy of “dignity.”

What’s typically neglected in these arguments is the simple insight that democracy does not fill stomachs, alleviate malaria, or protect neighborhoods from marauding bands of militiamen. Democracy, in other words, is valuable to people insofar as it allows them first to meet their basic needs. It is much harder to provide that sense of dignity than to hold an election in Baghdad or Gaza and declare oneself shocked when illiberal forces triumph. “Look at why the baddies win these elections,” [Samantha] Power says. “It’s because [populations are] living in climates of fear.” U.S. policy, she continues, should be “about meeting people where they’re at. Their fears of going hungry, or of the thug on the street. That’s the swamp that needs draining. If we’re to compete with extremism, we have to be able to provide these things that we’re not [providing].”

This is why, Obama’s advisers argue, national security depends in large part on dignity promotion. Without it, the U.S. will never be able to destroy al-Qaeda. Extremists will forever be able to demagogue conditions of misery, making continued U.S. involvement in asymmetric warfare an increasingly counterproductive exercise — because killing one terrorist creates five more in his place. “It’s about attacking pools of potential terrorism around the globe,” Gration says. “Look at Africa, with 900 million people, half of whom are under 18. I’m concerned that unless you start creating jobs and livelihoods we will have real big problems on our hands in ten to fifteen years.”

Obama sees this as more than a global charity program; it is the anvil against which he can bring down the hammer on al-Qaeda. “He took many of the [counterinsurgency] principles — the paradoxes, like how sometimes you’re less secure the more force is used — and looked at it from a more strategic perspective,” Sewall says. “His policies deal with root causes but do not misconstrue root causes as a simple fix. He recognizes that you need to pursue a parallel anti-terrorism [course] in its traditional form along with this transformed approach to foreign policy.” Not for nothing has Obama received private advice or public support from experts like former Clinton and Bush counterterrorism advisers Richard Clarke and Rand Beers, and John Brennan, the first chief of the National Counterterrorism Center.”

Alot of my good ole lefty friends have critiqued Obama for his talk of going into Pakistan to “take out” Al Qaeda if he had evidence of their location. While I agree that I am not interested in pursuing more US military misadventures, and would hope Obama would resist pursuing military actions at all, I wonder can the Left also develop a nuanced critique of Al-Qaeda–beyond the fact that they had been supported by previous Republican administrations?

I’m interested to know what folks think.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright & Obama Worked this Out A Year Ago

Because of a church news bulletin that re-surfaced from over one year ago, it appears that Barack Obama and his Pastor Jeremiah Wright had already negotiated the terms of his non-involvement in the Obama campaign.

Rev. Wright had published an open letter in the March 18, 2007 church bulletin to NY Times reporter Jodi Kantor as a response to her hit-job story on March 6, 2007 about Obama and Wright’s relationship. Her story leads with

“The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., senior pastor of the popular Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and spiritual mentor to Senator Barack Obama, thought he knew what he would be doing on Feb. 10, the day of Senator Obama’s presidential announcement.

After all, back in January, Mr. Obama had asked Mr. Wright if he would begin the event by delivering a public invocation.

But Mr. Wright said Mr. Obama called him the night before the Feb. 10 announcement and rescinded the invitation to give the invocation.

“Fifteen minutes before Shabbos I get a call from Barack,” Mr. Wright said in an interview on Monday, recalling that he was at an interfaith conference at the time. “One of his members had talked him into uninviting me,” Mr. Wright said, referring to Mr. Obama’s campaign advisers.”

That was one year ago, mind you. Rev. Wright’s letter to Kantor exposed what he thought was problematic about her initial story:

March 11, 2008Jodi Kantor
The New York Times
9 West 43rd Street
New York,
New York 10036-3959

Dear Jodi:

Thank you for engaging in one of the biggest misrepresentations of the truth I have ever seen in sixty-five years. You sat and shared with me for two hours. You told me you were doing a “Spiritual Biography” of Senator Barack Obama. For two hours, I shared with you how I thought he was the most principled individual in public service that I have ever met.

For two hours, I talked with you about how idealistic he was. For two hours I shared with you what a genuine human being he was. I told you how incredible he was as a man who was an African American in public service, and as a man who refused to announce his candidacy for President until Carol Moseley Braun indicated one way or the other whether or not she was going to run.

I told you what a dreamer he was. I told you how idealistic he was. We talked about how refreshing it would be for someone who knew about Islam to be in the Oval Office. Your own question to me was, Didn’t I think it would be incredible to have somebody in the Oval Office who not only knew about Muslims, but had living and breathing Muslims in his own family? I told you how important it would be to have a man who not only knew the difference between Shiites and Sunnis prior to 9/11/01 in the Oval Office, but also how important it would be to have a man who knew what Sufism was; a man who understood that there were different branches of Judaism; a man who knew the difference between Hasidic Jews, Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews and Reformed Jews; and a man who was a devout Christian, but who did not prejudge others because they believed something other than what he believed.

I talked about how rare it was to meet a man whose Christianity was not just “in word only.” I talked about Barack being a person who lived his faith and did not argue his faith. I talked about Barack as a person who did not draw doctrinal lines in the sand nor consign other people to hell if they did not believe what he believed.

Out of a two-hour conversation with you about Barack’s spiritual journey and my protesting to you that I had not shaped him nor formed him, that I had not mentored him or made him the man he was, even though I would love to take that credit, you did not print any of that. When I told you, using one of your own Jewish stories from the Hebrew Bible as to how God asked Moses, “What is that in your hand?,” that Barack was like that when I met him. Barack had it “in his hand.” Barack had in his grasp a uniqueness in terms of his spiritual development that one is hard put to find in the 21st century, and you did not print that.

As I was just starting to say a moment ago, Jodi, out of two hours of conversation I spent approximately five to seven minutes on Barack’s taking advice from one of his trusted campaign people and deeming it unwise to make me the media spotlight on the day of his announcing his candidacy for the Presidency and what do you print? You and your editor proceeded to present to the general public a snippet, a printed “sound byte” and a titillating and tantalizing article about his disinviting me to the Invocation on the day of his announcing his candidacy.

I have never been exposed to that kind of duplicitous behavior before, and I want to write you publicly to let you know that I do not approve of it and will not be party to any further smearing of the name, the reputation, the integrity or the character of perhaps this nation’s first (and maybe even only) honest candidate offering himself for public service as the person to occupy the Oval Office.

Your editor is a sensationalist. For you to even mention that makes me doubt your credibility, and I am looking forward to see how you are going to butcher what else I had to say concerning Senator Obama’s “Spiritual Biography.” Our Conference Minister, the Reverend Jane Fisler Hoffman, a white woman who belongs to a Black church that Hannity of “Hannity and Colmes” is trying to trash, set the record straight for you in terms of who I am and in terms of who we are as the church to which Barack has belonged for over twenty years.

The president of our denomination, the Reverend John Thomas, has offered to try to help you clarify in your confused head what Trinity Church is even though you spent the entire weekend with us setting me up to interview me for what turned out to be a smear of the Senator; and yet The New York Times continues to roll on making the truth what it wants to be the truth. I do not remember reading in your article that Barack had apologized for listening to that bad information and bad advice. Did I miss it? Or did your editor cut it out? Either way, you do not have to worry about hearing anything else from me for you to edit or “spin” because you are more interested in journalism than in truth.

Forgive me for having a momentary lapse. I forgot that The New York Times was leading the bandwagon in trumpeting why it is we should have gone into an illegal war. The New York Times became George Bush and the Republican Party’s national “blog.” The New York Times played a role in the outing of Valerie Plame. I do not know why I thought The New York Times had actually repented and was going to exhibit a different kind of behavior.

Maybe it was my faith in the Jewish Holy Day of Roshashana. Maybe it was my being caught up in the euphoria of the Season of Lent; but whatever it is or was, I was sadly mistaken. There is no repentance on the part of The New York Times. There is no integrity when it comes to The Times. You should do well with that paper, Jodi. You looked me straight in my face and told me a lie!

Sincerely and respectfully yours,

Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., Senior Pastor
Trinity United Church of Christ

So since Obama and Wright had seemed to work this out over a year ago it begs the question, how did this become “news” in the first place?

Moreover, this is one of the problems with journalism. You don’t have to allow your sources to approve the story you’ve written, but I think it is really unfair to ambush people. It’s happened to me (as recently as this year) and I never appreciate it. It’s fair to be honest about the story you’re writing, and your story should have some context–so taking Wright’s one quote about being disinvited without telling giving additional context was not only unfair, but disingenuous.

Queers Go Off At Memphis McDonalds. And I’m Glad For It.

Without pictures or self-definition its hard to know how to actually describe the people involved in the following news stoy. The news story refers to them as “transvestites” which is such an old-school term. They may have been transgender women, they may have been drag queens. Whatever the case, watch this news story about an fight that broke out at a Memphis McDonalds.

The news piece is a hot mess. What is missing from this story, is why did the teller–by his own admission– “ignore” them when they tried to order at the drive-thru? And, what else was said to them that made them go the fuck off?

There used to be common knowledge in the Black community that you didn’t fuck with faggots, because “faggots could fight.” Sometimes I feel like if we got back to kicking some ass here and there, people would leave us the hell alone.

Maryland to Extend Medical Decisions to All Unmarried Couples

Though the gays are likely to throw a fit, the Maryland Senate has decided (since it didn’t have the votes to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples) to extend medical decisions to all unmarried couples, regardless of gender. The bill now goes to the House. The Washington Blade has the full story.

Though it is not a sweeping bill to grant all couples, regardless of married status the same rights that married couples get, I think it is a step in the right direction. But there are the “marriage and marriage only” gays who will decry this decision as another block towards gays getting full equality. Blahblahblah.

Why would I want to deny unmarried people, regardless of relationship status, the ability to have legal protections?

The main problem with the Maryland bill is that it requires people who want to apply for this benefit to show, as the Baltimore Sun reports, “an affidavit attesting to their relationship plus two pieces of proof, such as joint checking accounts, mortgages or car leases; coverage on health insurance policies or the designation as a primary beneficiary in a will.”

Not every couple has joint checking accounts or owns property. Not all couples even live together! My ex and I lived in a month-to-month rental agreement where there was no lease. What would we have done? This seems to still privilege a certain class of couples who have access to some of the kinds of documentation that a lot of poor people do not.

Obama Takes On The Race Issue

Today, Barack Obama did what he had avoided doing this entire campaign–take on the issue of race and racism in America. And if you ask me, I think he won.

I thought this was one of the best speeches of his career, and one of the most nuanced speeches on racism of any Presidential candidate with perhaps the exception of Shirley Chisolm. I think one people will be critiquing and debating for years to come.

One of the major things about this speech is that he doesn’t sell his pastor (Jeremiah Wright) out. He explains where he emphatically denounces some of his statements but he puts Wright squarely in the context of racism in America, and he doesn’t let white America off the hook.

He addresses the deep-seated white anger and resentment not only towards him, but Black people who harbor any anger towards Black people for still being angry about racism and white supremacy. I need to watch it again to give a more full analysis, but watch it for yourselves (or read the full text here). I totally welcome your thoughts (Huffington Post is keeping a running tab on the thoughts of the major blogs). NPR’s News and Notes also ran pretty interesting commentary, here.

What was Senator Clinton doing during Obama’s speech? Pop Gumbo explains it!

Hillary Clinton: A Lover of Democracy

Hillary Clinton, who has painted herself as the white working class hero, and the person who has “earned” her way to the Presidency (as opposed to Obama, who according to Geraldine Ferraro, is an affirmative action candidate) had this to say in to NPR about the battle over Florida and Michigan, and and how to best solve the problem of allowing people to vote in those states regardless of the debates (from this larger MSNBC story):

“On NPR this morning, Clinton called the Jan. 15 Michigan primary a ‘fair’ election. When asked by interviewer Steve Inskeep how it was fair when Obama’s name was not on the ballot, she replied, “Well, that was his choice, Steve.”

Thanks for the tip, A.L.