Saturday, April 05, 2008

I 'll Change If You Vote Me In As The Pres...

Out of all of the images of yesterday's events in Memphis that were broadcast in Britain, the most surprising for me, but also ironically the most heart-warming, was the sight of Republican nominee John McCain standing at the balcony where Dr King was killed and being shown around the museum. The fulsome praise which he heaped upon Dr King and the admiration for his legacy which he expressed was exemplary, and I imagine they took quite a bit of political courage from a man who, throughout most of his life, had not in his own words "even considered" the significance of the Civil Rights Movement, and had frequently in his career campaigned and voted against the institution of a National Martin Luther King Day, and also the establishment of that holiday in his state of Arizona.

How did Senator McCain come to this point of view? Well, I imagine that his early upbringing was typical of many white suburban Americans in the 40s, still in a time when segregation was considered by much of white America as an acceptable fact of life. In his own words in an interview, the Senator described further:

"I had not been involved in the issue. I had come from being in the military to running for Congress in a state that did not have a large African American population."

So for Senator McCain, other issues such as Cold War foreign policy and economics occupied his mind at that time. The emergence of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s did not inspire or interest him. By the 1960s, he would have been heavily involved in the military - which he describes as having been an equal-opportunities environment. Compared to the rest of America at that time, he would have been right (though it was far from a paradise), and I can understand why at the time he might then have thought that civil rights protest was unnecessary and divisive. It is an uninspiring story, and reveals a deep lack of empathy and ability for analysing social issues, a disturbing tendency to go along with the flow and follow the herd of opinion, to blame the victim of injustice for not being strong enough to sort out their own problems, but it fits with where many similar young white men might have been at that time.

After this, the Senator was a POW in Vietnam, and he has described how his torturers used events like protests and race riots to try to sap the morale of the prisoners, portraying a nation in turmoil. I can understand how this might emotionally turn the Senator against expressions of admiration for the Civil Rights Movement, as the effects of torture do not make it easy to judge and evaluate events gleaned from patchy scraps of news easy. It is a shame that he had not thought more deeply about the numerous images of the fight against racial injustice which he had been exposed to on televisions and simply walking around any American town before his capture.

However, from his entry into politics, Senator McCain had the means, advice and political duty to learn the truth. His record stands up to now as a sorry testament to his ability for self-reflection. It took him literally decades to abandon his trencha
nt position opposing Martin Luther King Day, and in the meantime, because he had political position, he was able to add his vote to preventing Arizona joining the rest of the Union in celebrating Dr King's life.

It seems that in the meantime, John McCain has grappled with how his experiences of imprisonment and the experience of racism in America both highlight injustice and indignity. I hope that his conversion is a heartfelt and a genuine one. To be sure that Senator McCain remembers, I have chosen a song from an old nemesis, Stevie Wonder, one of the originators of the idea of Martin Luther King Day, which will serve as a reminder.

Stevie Wonder - Big Brother (from Motown LP 'Talking Book STMA8007) 1972

For this post I read an interesting debate at the Chicago Tribune website.

Funny How Time Slips Away ... But I Could Never Leave You!

Well, it's been a while... Life has intruded on our moments together. I didn't want it to be such a long time away from you, but a couple of weeks turned into months as work and other things took up more and more of my time. It's gotten me down more than the other problems I've been sorting out. More than once, I tried to come back to you, but each time I was pulled away. Don't be mad, don't be sad. Your brown eyed handsome man is back, here to entertain your ears, and I won't ever leave you. Let me make it up to you with some smooth talking from Joe Tex, singing a classic country track written by Willie Nelson.

Joe Tex - Funny How Time Slips Away (from Atlantic LP 'Soul Country') 1968

... Well, I am going on holiday today, but I will leave you with a bumper crop of posts to reward your patience! And until you hear The Manhattans singing Kiss And Say Goodbye on this blog, my official break-up song, believe I will return to you!

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Dream Marches On...

A phenomena is taking place in Memphis today. Thousands of Americans of all kinds are congregating at the Mason Temple Pentacostal Church and near the National Civil Rights Museum, housed in the Lorraine Motel, to celebrate the memory of a man who changed the face of America and the world, before his life was taken from him by an assassin's bullet.

In his last speech before his death, Martin Luther King Jr almost prophetically said, "Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

This is a day then for contemplation of the way Dr King's legacy has been continued, by others working in their own ways for equality and freedom and justice, up to the present day. Have we reached the mountaintop?

Dr Martin Luther King Jr - I Have Been To The Mountain Top (April 3rd 1968)

The recording of this speech is hosted by Photograph taken by Mike Segar.