Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Mercy, Mercy Me: Marvin Gaye’s Wisdom and the Gulf Oil Spill

Pointe a la Hache, Louisiana - Photo by Brentin Mock

The Gulf is filled with oil and I am filled with despair.  Marvin Gaye’s lyrics in 1971 have never resonated so clearly:

Mercy, mercy me….things ain’t what they used to be….oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas…fish full of mercury…

As I listen to this song, an image comes to mind—my father driving and singing along to Marvin’s lyrics as they blared through our car stereo.  Whenever Marvin came on, my father would pass through the bounds of time and space, taken away by the words and sounds of one of the greatest artists of all time. “Marvin,” he would say, over and over again, shaking his head. At 8 years old, I didn’t know the details of Marvin’s death, except that my father would explain that he’d died “before his time.”  It was clear to me then, that my father’s love for Marvin wasn’t just about the music, but rather the messages that came forth through his lyrics.  I learned at an early age, that there was so much power in simply asking, “What’s Going On?”

Marvin Gaye

As I grew older, I realized that Marvin’s lyrics had this same profound effect on others, like my father, who lived in a distinctive era of poverty, war, and resistance and who carried in their hearts, the names and faces of those who’ve experienced incomprehensible violations of human dignity.

Which leads me to the reason why I searched through my music library to find “Mercy, Mercy Me” in the first place: the Gulf Oil Spill.  Perhaps, Marvin had the foresight to see where this oil story ended.  There is no cure in sight for our latest Gulf tragedy, produced by the cancers of greed and deliberate indifference.  The livelihood of entrenched fishing communities along the Gulf are forever threatened.  The sea has turned into a toxic cesspool. And the long-term side-effects of chemical ‘cleansing’ dispersents remains to be seen.

We, the survivors of Katrina, feel helpless. Another man-made disaster complete with the all-too-familiar cast of characters and story lines: 24-hour coverage on cable news, Anderson Cooper, and Katrina metaphors.   The oil isn’t the only thing floating to the surface. That old disaster anxiety and post-traumatic stress has returned, filling each new day with dread and hopelessness about the future of our region. Once again, we remain captive to the will of those tasked with fixing such problems. Is it the government? Is it BP? Who knows. This problem feels far more unfathomable and beyond our reach.

Some of us may proudly proclaim, “But this is New Orleans!”—a city and a region where people know how to get things done with a little hard work and determination. We’ve invented the playbook on how to organize communities and rebuild neighborhoods. We know how to recruit volunteers from around the world to gut houses and lay sheetrock. And though our efforts might fall upon deaf ears, we even know how to persuade our nutty politicians to push for stronger levee protection. Our spirit is undeniable.

But how—how on earth do you rebuild the sea?

Mercy, mercy me.

TBoH Recommends: SuperNews!


It’s your favorite YouTube viral video meets The Daily Show, or perhaps a South Park version of The Office. SuperNews is a new half-hour animated sketch show on Current TV that features hilarious political, entertainment, and technology satire. It also has one of the best vocal impressions of Barack Obama that I have heard to date (although it’s hard to compete with Iman Crosson). President Obama is notoriously difficult to parody, but the show finds creative ways to poke fun at the White House and our contentious political climate, as in the sketch “Obama Hits the AIG Spot”:


Vodpod videos no longer available.


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Eric Holder’s Call to Action

US Attorney General Eric Holder

Eric Holder

Don’t be satisfied with the soundbites and media frenzy over U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent speech at the Department of Justice. Instead, take just five minutes to read his prepared remarks in full.

It is a thoughtful and stirring call, and it makes me consider Black History Month with a new sense of purpose. What more can I do to put his ideas into action in my own life? Columnist Mary Mitchell at the Chicago Sun-Times put it best: “Holder isn’t putting us down. He’s asking us to have courage.”

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Eric Holder at the Dept of Justice African American History Month Program

Every year, in February, we attempt to recognize and to appreciate black history. It is a worthwhile endeavor for the contributions of African Americans to this great nation are numerous and significant. Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul.

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us. But we must do more- and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must – and will – lead the nation to the “new birth of freedom” so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.

We commemorated five years ago, the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. And though the world in which we now live is fundamentally different than that which existed then, this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history but also to foster a period of dialogue among the races. This is admittedly an artificial device to generate discussion that should come more naturally, but our history is such that we must find ways to force ourselves to confront that which we have become expert at avoiding.

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On Being Paid to Take May 10 Off


African-American Union Soldiers in the South

State Senator Robert Ford of Charleston, SC began the first week of Black History Month with an effort to pass a legislative mandate that would officially make Confederate Memorial Day one of the state’s paid holidays. According to the Associated Press:

Years ago, Ford said, he pushed a bill to make both that day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day paid holidays. He considered it an effort to help people understand the history of both the civil rights movement and the Confederacy in a state where the Orders of Secession are engraved in marble in the Statehouse lobby, portraits of Confederate generals look down on legislators in their chambers and the Confederate flag flies outside.

“Every municipality and every citizen of South Carolina, should be, well, forced to respect these two days and learn what they can about those two particular parts of our history,” Ford said Tuesday.

Having lived in South Carolina for a few years, I was outraged when I heard this news, particularly given that Senator Ford is African American. I twittered my frustration with expletives and exclamation marks: WTF South Carolina!? Why do we insist on finding new & improved ways to make this state look backwards & stupid!!! If we’re ever going to stop being the butt of South Park’s jokes, then surely our politicians need to find something, anything, better to do.

Now, days later, I’m not as angry. Just puzzled.

What is being presupposed by the parallel Senator Ford makes between Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Confederacy? Are these “two particular parts of our history” analogous or oppositional? This pairing seems to confuse historical periods and create the illusion that the racial politics involved are interchangeable, equally legitimate, and have similar consequences.

Furthermore, doesn’t the bill’s juxtaposition erroneously mark King Day as a “black” holiday, or arguably, as a “Yankee” one? I question whether or not it might be more effective to devote our state’s resources to educating its citizens about the fact that King worked on behalf of mutual equality and respect for Americans of every race, ethnicity, and region.

Senator Robert Ford (D-Charleston)

State Senator Robert Ford (Photo by Wade Spees)

Perhaps the real goal is to acknowledge “white southern heritage.” If so, then is honoring the Confederate dead the most meaningful way to accomplish this goal? Why focus on military defeat? Are there not accomplishments in the cultural arts, music, food, and literary production, or in science, medicine, and technology, or in education and philanthropy that South Carolinians should know about? (Tell us about your white southern George Washington Carvers, Charles Drews, and Barbara Jordans!)

It is interesting to read how these unanswered questions play out in the Associated Press article. Rather than try to disentangle the subtext at work, the report conveniently sets the  SC President of the NAACP and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans at odds. But is it just me, or does it sound as if the two are having different conversations?

“Here Senator Ford is talking about the importance of race relations by forcing recognition of people who did everything they could to destroy another race — particularly those that look like I do,” [Lonnie] Randolph said. “You can’t make dishonor honorable. It’s impossible.”

Ron Dorgay, a Sons of Confederate Veterans member from Elgin, said race relations have moved far from hatred but he hopes Ford’s bill brings more understanding of the state’s past.

“Even in school systems, they don’t teach the correct history,” Dorgay said.

Read closely and perhaps you’ll agree that Randolph and Dorgay’s views aren’t necessarily incompatible. However, Senator Ford’s bill doesn’t begin to address either of their concerns in a meaningful way. I agree with the NAACP leader that “you can’t make dishonor honorable.” I also know, as a teacher, that the complexities of the state’s history are rarely given the attention deserved. But only someone who is satisfied with the SparkNotes version of race relations in the South can argue that we will “bring people together” by using Confederate Memorial Day as a state-sanctioned counterbalance to the American Civil Rights Movement.

Recently Senator Ford has received a lot of press for pushing bills to outlaw profanity and saggy pants in order to “attract spirited discussion.” But like the Confederate battle flag, he is merely a symbol of a particular approach to problem-solving that seems embarrassingly antiquated in the Obama Era. Shouting matches over memorials and flags – and the desperate band-aid solutions they generate –  are not a substitute for the difficult work of understanding our shared past. Furthermore as an Orangeburg, SC paper points out, while this mandate may comfort lawmakers, it actually shifts the burden to state residents to “choose” which day to stay at home and watch television learn about South Carolina’s racial history.

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Share Your Election Day Story

He represents the nation as it is, and as it
aspires to be. – LA Times

"Aspiration" by Aaron Douglas (1936)

"Aspiration" by Aaron Douglas (1936)

We volunteered for Obama’s Campaign for Change this weekend! Frieda made calls to Virginia voters from her living room, while I canvassed and worked with a phonebank in North Carolina. My partner was an elderly black woman named Ethel who has been going door-to-door for Obama since the summer primary. She was sweet, funny, and fantastically persistent. Afterward, I moved to the phones and met a retired black man who told me he voted for Bush in the last election (“…for religious reasons”). But he was disgusted with the Republican party, and impressed enough with Barack to make calls on his behalf. My contribution seemed small compared to the work of these volunteers, but I feel proud to have been involved. And it’s not too late for you to participate too…

Tell Us About Your Election Experience…

We’d love to hear about what this election means to you. What was your experience at the polls? What kind of volunteer work did you do? Leave your comments, observations, and positive affirmations in our comments section. And have you checked out our election day music mix?

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“Can I Kick It?”: TBoH Election Playlist

On election day, stay strong, stay confident, and keep the positive vibes going with TBoH’s Obama Election Day 2008 Mix! Our playlist features uplifting songs that reflect the spirit of Senator Obama’s historic campaign.

A Tribe Called Quest opens the call to action (“Yes You Can!”), while tracks by Digable Planets, Eric B. & Rakim, and Jay-Z describe Obama’s level-headed coolness and intellect. “Magic”, “Omid (Hope)”, “Come Alive”, “Say”, “No More Drama” and “Love’s in Need” remind us of the unity and courage of the Campaign for Change.

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One day I’ll tell my daughter about this morning, when we walked hand in hand out of the voter registration office and she asked: Where’s the boat? Are we going to get on the boat?

No, baby girl, we’re going to vote. And we just did. We voted. For Barack Obama for President of the United States.

For two hours we waited in the early voting line. Although the sun was bright, it was windy and cold in the shade outside. My daughter ate pretzels and juice, chatted until she fell asleep on my shoulder, then curled up in her stroller as we inched toward the voting booth.

I had expected tears and celebration from the folks waiting in the long line. Or a “fist bump” maybe? Instead, it was quiet smiles and friendly nods from the other black voters (and white ones too). Some wore their Obama buttons until they came within sight of the poll workers. Waiting behind me were a middle-aged library clerk and a college student who was voting in the presidential election for the first time. In front, I noticed quite a few black veterans and soldiers in uniform, executives on their cell phones, and lots of elderly women – including the one who stopped to peer up and down the waiting line and laughing, raised her hands to say, “blessings to you, blessings to all of you!”

What mattered most to me, though, was that I held my daughter’s hand and together we cast a ballot for Obama. And she smacked that blinking VOTE button at the top of the touch screen not just for me, but for her great grandmothers who stand with us in spirit. It doesn’t matter that we live in a ridiculously red state (South Carolina). Today I felt proud, grateful, and oddly enough – relieved. No matter what happens, we did it, baby girl. We got on the boat.

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