New Links In The Chain

Photo by 99 Films of demonstrator during police violence protests 2020 holding sign
Photo by 99 Films/Unsplash

At this point in time I keep discovering hills and valleys of emotion which I'm sure is, to one degree or another, not a unique revelation. Your emotional terrain is most likely similar.

I am a child of the sixties, and despite witnessing/living through the moment of assassinations of political figures/activists, historic marches and riots, a controversial war and tremendous culture clash, my greatest fears were invasion by communist countries and nuclear war. Concerns over race relations joined the collection around 1965, as close as a sibling.

Those marches and riots were scattered across cities basically on the coasts, some places in the south and eastern portions of the U.S.

While there's been no shortage of tension-inducing events throughout the last 5 decades, recent events have been astonishing. Optimism is seriously competing with cynicism despite some repetition of history. I've read and experienced more than I wanted of a rise in right-wing populism here and abroad. International as well as domestic cooperation and tolerance seemed fractured.

Suddenly within 3 months a world-wide pandemic was officially announced; massive economic devastation resulted; revelations of 3 people killed by police/vigilantes exposed by video/leakage to the press. Inequality in the American justice system displayed yet again.

Photo credit Maria Oswalt/Unsplash

In a recent travesty in Minneapolis, George Floyd was tortured and killed while being "arrested" for alleged fraud in the amount of $20, by at least 1 of 3 police officers with a knee to his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Lung constriction is suspected from another pressing against his back.

This galvanized a nation to protest the long history of police brutality and racism, followed shortly thereafter by a number of cities overseas.

For more than 2 full weeks, with no signs of abating, demonstrations have taken place daily with extensive and diverse participation even in small towns and suburbs. Every ethnic group and across age ranges in unity.

The pandemic made lock-downs and quarantining essential, which fomented protest by those on the right. In at least one instance individuals with assault weapons appeared at state houses vociferously demanding an end to restrictions. Contrasts to law enforcement reaction vs. forceful measures against police protesters are stark. [Compare images of protests against excessive force vs those of lock-down protests i.e. search "Michigan protest state capitol april 2020."]

Chain of Change Grows

In "Chain of Change" Mel King has described historic patterns of racial injustice and disparity, as well as ways it was/can be addressed as stages.

Briefly summarized, one aspect of the Service stage which is first in the chain, is an expectation "to trust the system will work for [black people] -- eventually."

The second stage, Organizational, is realizing equal influence and access in all facets of life: housing, education, employment, etc., is a right. This is emphasized by activism.

The 3rd stage we aspire to (and to a degree have reached) is the Institutional stage; being self-sufficient and controlling our own resources, using a decentralized administration model.

This time, most went straight to the Organizational stage in a heartbeat. Any others who sought to use the unrest in pursuit of selfish or purely anarchic motives (or perhaps to provoke backlash and distract from the core issues) deserve condemnation. They are not advancing the cause.

Events have highlighted serious abuse of executive power in the white house. Military, with and without insignia, was summoned and forcibly removed peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park, tear inducing gas included, so that the president could stage a photo op. He then threatened to send military to all cities where protests were occurring, using the Insurrection Act of 1807, a "major exception to the Posse Comitatus Act."

A number of current and former military officials strongly criticized the actions.

The dramatic global response for supporting Black Lives Matter, even to the point of some police expressing sympathy and solidarity with protesters, has also stripped the veneer of impartiality or emboldened racists to mock George Floyd's death. Journalists, both foreign and domestic, have received that same rough treatment, dodging rubber bullets, flash grenades and swinging shields and batons.

Some police advocate shooting black people more.

Chain of Change advises us to prepare for a cyclical pattern of these stages (in 2020 that section is ironically titled "A Strategy For the 1980's").

[...]Those people who have been exploiting this society are the weakest link threatening to destroy the product of our struggle. Our own changes could free those people, bound by personal greed and the hunger for power. Or, it may become clear that we have to take drastic action to wrest control of institutions and resources from them if we are going to return sanity to the society. We have been patiently trying all the storybook approaches -- alliances, coalitions, self-help, electoral politics. We will play that thread out to its inevitable end. [...]"

Chain of Change 2016 edition, Mel King page 215

The activism has produced some results: there are proposals and some legislation banning choke holds (although not yet national); no-knock warrants now prohibited in Kentucky (christened Breonna's Law); even requiring intervention by fellow officers when witness to excessive force. Calls for reallocation of budgets to social services and small business support has echoed across the country, and in Boston Mayor Walsh has declared racism a public health emergency, with funds dedicated to remedy.

Even monuments to confederate generals and politicians, and similar imagery is being removed. Colin Kaepernick's taking a knee is now an accepted form by many including some law enforcement., and brought an apology from the NFL.

Photo Credit Mike Von/Unspalsh

More substantive work needs to be done.

The Message Is In The Music

Wynton Marsalis eloquently described the relationship between jazz, artists and social activism, essentially saying that jazz is democratic and says we are a republic. It allows for individual expression but it also makes necessary that others be heard and given respect for their individual expression, therefore attempting to achieve a balance.

The hills are alive...