In the imagination of many civil rights and human rights are two different things. When we think of civil rights, we think of those striving for the certain political rights so that they can be included in the decision making processes of society. We often think about a particular moment in U.S. American history, when black men, women, and children organized and demanded a radical equality in the U.S. We often think of great individuals like socialist preacher Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or the socialist union leader who developed the March on Washington, A. Phillip Randolph.
The Civil Rights Movement, which reached its height in the 1960s, aimed to revolutionize the American values system so that the light of liberty and the practice of justice might reach those peoples of color and those economically and politically oppressed peoples everywhere. The Civil Rights movement sought to rediscover the lost values of community and love.
More specifically, the movement called for a dynamic society where social uplift through the end of racial oppression, the promotion of the general welfare, and meaningful, respected and remunerative employment. It fought for a society that was a community. And by community I mean a place where each person is seen as important by virtue of their humanity; a place where love of others is made possible, and the self-love is encouraged.
The movement of the 1960s made significant progress in terms of racial injustice. It brought down the legal institution of Jim Crow, and has most cases confined lynch mobs to the pages of history books. Furthermore, more and more people of color are able to attend universities and gain access to some of the more prestigious jobs. More people of color have attained a decent standard of living than they did in the past. And according to law there is equality between races. But we know the Civil Rights movement fell well short of its radical aims.
American values have on the surface become more open to people of color. But the poorest, most violent, most environmentally toxic areas in our country are still dominated by people of color. People of color are still the people with the least access to adequate living conditions, health care, and educational resources. To compound this problem, the government and the business community are working to increase the profits of a few through underpaying workers and refusing to commit to the general health and wellbeing of workers.
In United States, as is the case I much of the world there has always been more than racial problem. In our nation the race question has held a distinguished place in our history, because of the duration, and the unthinkable and unforgettable brutality of it. Indeed slavery and Jim Crow were America’s very own colonizing institutions, and the demons of the past are manifest in today’s ghettos, and the hopelessness of young folks who come up in a reality dominated by poverty and violence.
The progress that resulted from the Civil Rights movement has created an opportunity for us to see beyond hateful inhuman racial ideologies. However, much work is still needed. Yet, this progress has allowed us to see the inter-relatedness of economic, gender, and race oppression.
The Current Problem:
More than ever, people regardless of color, national origin, and gender are struggling for the realization of their right to a decent and fulfilling life. In no way do I want to suggest that all struggles are the same. I dare not trivialize such diverse experiences. However, I do know that the dream is a common one. And some have more hurdles and walls keeping them from reaching their desired mark. But that does not mean we cannot work together to create a new society that can make it possible for everyone to get what they deserve.
Here the in the United States the challenges with which we are confronted are massive. But by virtue of them being challenges they can be overcome. We are challenged with a dysfunctional political system; the means through which orderly changes can be made correct errors in policy and help bring us closer to the realization of freedom in for everyone in our country, as well as making us a true force for emancipation of all oppressed peoples without. Our political system is no longer “political”. In order for something to be political there must be different visions of what, how, and who should govern. Currently, this is not the case. There are some differences between individuals in power. But it is also clear that Wall Street and corporations are in control of the country.
Most of the representatives represent titans of capital, industry, and business. And their overarching belief is that if citizens could be better capital or human resources then companies can make more profit and eventually they will share their profits with us. Well, they haven’t shared the profits with us. They’ve shared the losses with us. You see if they shared the profits that would socialism. It would be socialism, because the workers who made it possible for all of the companies to exist would see a profitable return along with the companies. Instead, the country is saddled with the losses, which have proven too be devastating for tens of millions of people. There is a word for this: exploitation.
Here’s where government comes in. Our so-called representatives in congress, the state and local legislatures are supposed to work to reverse these damages. But judging by the increased focus on war, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the disinterest in proposing bold and truly transformative reforms indicates a desire to maintain the status quo. This is also apparent in the lack of debate about the structural social and economic problems in our country. As politicians continue to ignore these contradictions, flower of freedom withers away on island surrounded by social and economic fear.
Threats to Freedom: Social and Economic Fear
Franklin Roosevelt was right when famously remarked that “we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” The unfinished business of Roosevelt’s revolution was to eradicate the structural sources of social and economic fear. Roosevelt, as well as the socialists of the time, knew that social and economic fear was just as dangerous as the fear of facing a loaded gun. They knew that the evolution of humanity was more than a biological process. They knew it was also a social process. People must undergo a social evolution; a process of community building in from the roots of every society to their society’s governing and educational institutions, to assure that the human race would succeed.
Fear itself has the potential to grab hold of and subsume those most fundamental elements of humanity: love, imagination, and desire to overcome. Deep down we know that the ability to love, imagine, and the will to transcend the conditions which dominate the present are the humanistic drives that underwrite “freedom”. But fear transforms each of these drives into their negatives. Fear chokes out love’s co-creative, liberating, and expansive nature; and reduces it to an objectifying, restrictive and egotistical force unable to promote life or hope. Fear dries out the founts of imagination and creates a wasteland of fatalism and indifference.
The desire or will to overcome challenges is replaced with a crude protectionism and conservatism that results in tribalism and attempts to maintain the known status quo. They tell people, “don’t rock the boat”. The result of all these, is at first glance political and social paralysis. But then it allows those who exploit, those who are reactionary in the grand scheme of humanity, to subordinate all aspects of life to their desire. The individual becomes a worker whose value is based on how many hours they work. Culture, art, etc., is of value only if it can be sold for profit.
As we can see fear is no friend of progress; it is no friend of freedom; fear is an enemy. Those who exploit and dominate have no fear. They believe that it is their natural calling to climb up the legs of others, so that they might stand on the shoulders, and build their wealth and power on the backs of others. They see freedom, as something to be conquered and not lived. As such, only those who conquer others and keep them from having freedom can be free. There is something deeply contradictory about such logic. It nullifies the very spirit of the words, “of, for, and by the people.”
In the end the fox is put in charge of the hen house! The elites, who became elites through a corrupt system, are now the governing body of the country. How can haughty elites represent the interests of humble people just trying to get by? These elites who govern propose reforms that will maintain the power structure of society. They make sure power never passes from their hands and the hand of the corporations. They perpetuate a false scarcity and an environment of fear.
This fear is not some abstract notion. Many of us do not call it fear; instead we call it stress; we call it insecurity and uncertainty. But all of these are euphemism for fear. We fear losing a home filled with precious memories, sentiments and moments. We fear being able to keep the lights, pay the car insurance, or pay the rent. We fear being able to buy a book for class or go to the dentist when in pain, because we don’t know if we can afford to waste money on self-improvement or personal health. We fear demanding respect from an employer that harasses us, underpays us, or makes us work off the clock, because they can fire us just because.
Others of us fear stepping out of their doors or coming home at night, because we know about the desperate and spiritually destroyed individuals in our neglected neighborhoods that might do us harm. Some of us are so traumatized by fear and violence that the sounds of police and ambulance sirens no longer distinguishable from the normal sounds of the city.
Some of us fear the response to our mental or physical disability. And others are aware that our skin color, social class, and gender are viewed as disabilities, for which we are feared, devalued, and discriminated against. These are just some of fears that plague the human spirit, which is housed somewhere between the psychological and social realm of our existence.
All of these fears prevent collective progress, and the expansion of freedom to all. These fears emanate from an unjust social order. They come from a social order where those best at capitalizing on the lives of others are held in the highest regard, while those who create all the wealth are told to be more like the exploiters and usurers. But as long as people are in conflict with each other we cannot overcome. Only a collective struggle can transforms society.
2011 the Year of the Protester:
2011 was deemed the Year of the Protester. All around the world people stood up the only way they knew how. They have just begun to liberate themselves from the links of fear and fog of confusion that has thus, far kept their dissent in contained. They are still organizing and in dialogue with each other to better illuminate their path from protesters to revolutionaries! They have stood against the mass murdering of human beings, whether by national police, armies, Reapers or Predators! They have sounded Joshua’s trumpets to the tune of justice, freedom, and radical democratic practices! As a result dictators have fallen. But dictatorships remain. Oligarchies and plutocracies remain. They are present all over the world. But they are especially present in some of the so-called “advanced nations” of Western Europe, and North America.
The voices of masses of people have sent echoes of preoccupation through the veins of the exploiters and oppressors. Their marching feet have shaken the foundation of an unjust global social order. And the political hypocrisy, and socio-economic contradictions are slowly being revealed urging the slow budding of the Red Rose of the democratic revolution; the winds of democracy shall not cease until every institutions be made to serve the will of the community of The People.
But the first phase of this democratic revolution has already begun. These are the intensifying protest movements, the new civil rights movements. They demand the immediate cessation of those practices and policies that would dim the divine light within the life-world and the human being wherever they are. They demand food in place of bombs. They demand comrades and not military commanders. They demand an end to curable andpreventable illnesses like malaria, starvation and poverty.
The list is as long as that moral arc and is as necessary as the bow of justice, prepared to fire its luminous and indignant arrow into all that plagues the human experience. In its wake a mighty chorus howls, “Those who believe in Freedom Cannot Rest!” For there can be no peace from anyone if there are some without freedom. And there can be no freedom for anyone when others are without peace; it is love that gives the homo sapien its humanity. And the existence of love between people undoubtedly binds “me” to “them”, and changes the “their problem” into “our problem”.
If history has revealed any truth to us it is this; true freedom is an expanding condition whereby, more and more people are able to construct the world they live in, live a life of respect, and live a fulfilling and creative (productive) life. But such conditions never occur on their own. Rather, they are product of much struggle against those rigid and unjust institutions they exist to make a freedom a private property or a privilege for those who can afford it. These are the people who speak of “protecting our freedoms”. But those people who have long been oppressed and weighted down by the tremendous burden of shoulder their own oppression and the privileges of the elites know from their lived oppressions that freedom is not to be had but to be lived.
From the babies born in the barrios of the Bronx and Centro del Oro to the ghettos of Oakland and Chicago’s Southside; from the caserios of Puerto Rico to the Bateyes of San Pedro de Macoris; and from the Coal Miners of West Virgina to the men, women, and children being dismembered by Freedom’s bombs in North West Pakistan; peace and freedom is past due! Human Rights must be enforced, if not b governments, than by people with love overflowing from the sorrow-filled pits of the soul to their hands, mouths, and feet in an unyielding climb and call for justice for all!
The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s began to build solidarity with all the oppressed peoples around the world. But that dream was never quite realized. And neither was the movements dream of a creating a new social and economic foundation in the U.S. that would be based on cooperation with one another and not structural violence against each other. But the era of a new Civil Rights movement is upon us.
Some of us have been granted the opportunity to engage in dialogue and reflect on all that is transpiring in the world. We’ve had the opportunity to devise grand theories to help us interpret our actions and the actions of others. But now we need to use all the resources we have to organize everywhere.
We need to rebuild our labor movement. We need to build our community associations so that they are more powerful and better equipped to halt the misguided approaches to economic development and neighborhood improvement. We have to create more potent organizations to stop environmental devastation. And we have to stand to corrupt politicians no matter the party, and where feasible invest in the development or political organizations that are, as our government ought to be: of, for, and by the people! These tasks are of extreme urgency. For the undercurrents of injustice are constantly at work, working to pull us beneath where the winds of progress no longer enter the airways. Thus, we can’t wait! There is no other time; now is the time!