Thursday Reads: Civil Rights Struggle, Syria Intervention, NYPD Spying, Boston Bombing, and “League of Denial”Posted: August 29, 2013
I’ve got so much news for you this morning, I don’t know if I’ll have room in a reasonable-length post, so I’ll get right to it. I’ll begin with some stories on yesterday’s 50th anniversary of the March On Washington.
PBS had an amazing interview with Rep John Lewis in which he recounted his memories of that day in 1963 and the speech he gave as a youthful leader in the Civil Rights Movement: ‘I Felt That We Had to Be Tough’: John Lewis Remembers the March on Washington. I hope you’ll read the whole thing, but here’s a brief excerpt:
REP. JOHN LEWIS, D-Ga.: On that day, I was blessed.
I felt like I had been tracked down by some force or some spirit. I will never forget when A. Philip Randolph said, “I now present to you young John Lewis, the national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.”
And I went to the podium. I looked to my right. I saw many, many young people, staffers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, volunteers. Then I looked to my left. I saw all these young people up in the trees, trying to get a better view of the podium.
Then I looked straight ahead. And I saw so many people with their feet in the water trying to cool off. And then I said to myself, this is it, and I went for it.
On meeting with President Kennedy before the March, and how the podium and the crowd came to be so diverse:
He [JFK] didn’t like the idea of a March on Washington.
When we met with him, A. Philip Randolph spoke up in his baritone voice we met with the president. And he said, “Mr. President, the black masses are restless. And we are going to march on Washington.”
And you could tell by the movement of President Kennedy — he started moving and twisting in his chair. And he said, in effect, that if you bring all these people to Washington, won’t it be violence and chaos and disorder?
Mr. Randolph responded and said, “Mr. President, there’s been orderly, peaceful, nonviolent protests.”
And President Kennedy said, in so many words, I think we are going to have problems. So we left that meeting with President Kennedy. We came out on the lawn at the White House and spoke to the media and said, we had a meaningful and productive meeting with the president of the United States. And we told him we’re going to March on Washington.
And a few days later, July 2, 1963, the six of us met in New York City at the old Roosevelt Hotel. And in that meeting, we made a decision to invite four major white religious and labor leaders to join us in issuing the call for the March on Washington.
NPR had a wonderful story yesterday about the history of the Civil Rights Movement’s signature song: The Inspiring Force Of ‘We Shall Overcome’.
It is not a marching song. It is not necessarily defiant. It is a promise: “We shall overcome someday. Deep in my heart, I do believe.”
It has been a civil rights song for 50 years now, heard not just in the U.S. but in North Korea, in Beirut, in Tiananmen Square, in South Africa’s Soweto Township. But “We Shall Overcome” began as a folk song, a work song. Slaves in the fields would sing, ‘I’ll be all right someday.’ It became known in the churches. A Methodist minister, Charles Albert Tindley, published a version in 1901: “I’ll Overcome Someday.”
The first political use came in 1945 in Charleston, S.C. There was a strike against the American Tobacco Co. The workers wanted a raise; they were making 45 cents an hour. They marched and sang together on the picket line, “We will overcome, and we will win our rights someday.”
There’s much more about how the song was passed from group to group and changed over time. Please give it a listen–it’s only about 8 minutes long, but really fascinating.
Not a single Republican appeared at yesterday’s commemoration of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. George W. Bush and his father George H.W. Bush couldn’t come because of health issues, but John Boehner and Eric Cantor are presumably in good health, but they refused offers to make speeches at the event, according to Roll Call.
That wasn’t a wise choice, said Julian Bond, a renowned civil rights activist, in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday afternoon.
“What’s really telling, I think, is the podium behind me, just count at the end of the day how many Republicans will be there,” Bond told news anchor Alex Wagner. “They asked senior President Bush to come, he was ill. They asked junior Bush, he said he had to stay with his father.
“They asked a long list of Republicans to come,” Bond continued, “and to a man and woman they said ‘no.’ And that they would turn their backs on this event was telling of them, and the fact that they seem to want to get black votes, they’re not gonna get ‘em this way.” [….]
Cantor’s decision to turn down the invitation to speak is especially striking given his stated commitment to passing a rewrite of the Voting Rights Act in the 113th Congress, and the many opportunities he has taken over the past several weeks to publicly reflect on the experience of traveling with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to Selma, Ala.
Sadly, Dr. King’s dream of peace has not made much progress in the past 50 years. And now the U.S. and its allies are considering another military intervention–in Syria.
Fortunately, the UK is now hesitating. NYT: Britain to Wait on Weapons Report Ahead of Syria Strikes.
Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, who runs a coalition government, is facing political difficulties from legislators mindful of the experience in Iraq, when assurances from Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction proved inaccurate and a false pretext for war.
Mr. Cameron bowed on Wednesday to pressure from the opposition Labour Party and to some within his own coalition who want to allow United Nations weapons inspectors a chance to report their findings and for the United Nations Security Council to make one more effort to give a more solid legal backing to military action against Damascus.
At BBC News, Nick Robinson explains why Cameron “buckled.”
If you think that NSA domestic spying is invasive, you should take a look at what the NYPD has been up to since 9/11. Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman of the AP have a new book out called Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America. There’s an excerpt at New York Magazine: The NYPD Division of Un-American Activities. It’s long, but a very important story. Please give it a read if you can.
Yesterday Apuzzo and Goldman published a related shocking story at AP: NYPD designates mosques as terrorism organizations.
The New York Police Department has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen “terrorism enterprise investigations” into mosques, according to interviews and confidential police documents. The TEI, as it is known, is a police tool intended to help investigate terrorist cells and the like.
Many TEIs stretch for years, allowing surveillance to continue even though the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organization with operating as a terrorism enterprise.
The documents show in detail how, in its hunt for terrorists, the NYPD investigated countless innocent New York Muslims and put information about them in secret police files. As a tactic, opening an enterprise investigation on a mosque is so potentially invasive that while the NYPD conducted at least a dozen, the FBI never did one, according to interviews with federal law enforcement officials.
Boston Magazine has published more photos from “Behind the Scenes of The Hunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.” Above is a photo of Tsarnaev exiting the boat in which he hid for hours as law enforcement searched all over Watertown for him. See more photos at the link.
In more hopeful news, one long-hospitalized survivor of the bombings was given the go-ahead to return home to California yesterday: Boston Marathon bomb survivor John Odom set to return home to Torrance (Daily Breeze News).
Nearly five months after a bomb almost took his life at the Boston Marathon, John Odom of Torrance was cleared by doctors on Wednesday to finally come home.
Odom’s wife, Karen, who has never left her husband’s side, has been chronicling her husband’s long recovery on Facebook, called it a “monumental” day.
“It’s official, John is released to go home!!!” she posted on the John Odom Support Page. “Although his recovery is nowhere near complete, there is no medical or physical reason he can’t fly home and continue his recovery in California. We are hoping to be home the end of next week, a few days shy of 5 months since we left on that now famous 4 day trip.”
“Famous” is one way to put it. The couple could have never imagined the journey they’ve been on since April 15.
Read the rest of this moving story at the link.
On October 8th and 15th, NPR’s Frontline plans to show League of Denial, “a two-part two-part investigation examining whether — as thousands of former players allege — the NFL has covered up the risks of football on the brain.” The documentary has so far been produced in partnership with ESPN, but last week the sports channel backed out of the collaboration presumably because of pressure from the NFL. From The New Republic: ESPN Quit Its Concussions Investigation With ‘Frontline’ Under Curious Circumstances.
“Frontline,” the prestigious, multiple-Emmy-winning investigative news show produced by Boston’s PBS member station, announced late Thursday afternoon that a 15-month-old partnership with ESPN in which they published a series of pieces exploring how the National Football League has (and has not) accounted for the relationship between playing football, head trauma, and brain damage, had come to an end. Dating back to last November, “Frontline” had run articles on its site featuring the work of Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, ESPN staffers (and brothers) even as these articles appeared at espn.com and as the brothers did segments for ESPN’s award-winning investigative series “Outside the Lines.” The end result—in addition to abook that the brothers are publishing in October—was to be a “Frontline” documentary, League of Denial (also the book’s title).
According to “Frontline,” the documentary will premiere this season on October 8 and 15, but, “from now on, at ESPN’s request, we will no longer use their logos and collaboration credit on these sites and on our upcoming film.” Executive producer David Fanning and deputy executive producer Raney Aronson expressed their “regret” and credited ESPN with “a productive partnership.” They added, “The film is still being edited and has not been seen by ESPN news executives, although we were on schedule to share it with them for their editorial input.”
Aronson told me late Thursday that ESPN contacted “Frontline” last Friday to request that it remove ESPN’s logo from its website, citing the technicality that it was a “trademark issue.” It wasn’t until Monday, after the latest collaboration was published on “Frontline”’s website and aired on “OTL,” that ESPN also requested that language describing collaboration not be used, and that it became clear the collaboration itself was coming to an end.
The circumstances are indeed mysterious. Perhaps it was over-cautiousness on ESPN’s part or perhaps indirect pressure from the League. If you’re interested in this important story, go read Marc Tracy’s piece at TNR.
A couple more useful links on this story:
Bill Littlefield at NPR’s Only a Game: ESPN And Frontline Part Ways Over ‘League Of Denial’
The authors of the book League of Denial will continue their involvement with the Frontline presentation.
I’m running out of space, so I’ll end there, and add a few more links in the comments. Now what stories are you following today? Please share your links in the thread below.
Last night Peggy Sue wrote a great post about the late Andrew Breitbart’s supposed big revelation–that in 1991 Barack Obama appeared at a demonstration in favor of extending tenure to a female African American professor. Apparently, the most horrifying part of the story was that Obama publicly hugged Professor Derrick Bell at this event.
I’ve been noticing the development of this “story” over the past couple of days, but I’ve mostly ignored it in the hopes that it would simply go away. Sadly, the right wing bloggers, with support from Fox News personalities, are still screaming about it (here is just one example). What exactly are they trying to accomplish? Do they really want to make themselves look like complete idiots?
I honestly can’t figure out what awful crime either Obama or Bell is supposed to have committed, according to the Breitbartians, and frankly I just don’t want to submit myself to the horrors of reading their blogs. Based on a quick perusal of the some of the links on Memeorandum, I think they’ve taken to the fainting couch because more than 20 years ago, now President Obama supported racial and gender diversity at Harvard–something that Harvard desperately needed in 1991, and probably still needs today.
When these hate spasms periodically break out of the right wing blogs and into the corporate media, it’s hard for me to muster more than a heavy sigh. Like Peggy Sue, I’m obviously no great fan of Barack Obama and I didn’t vote for him in 2008. But my complaints about him aren’t that he supported racial and gender diversity at one time. When I hear about such incidents in Obama’s past, I can only wonder why he doesn’t seem to really support such issues as president. I wonder why professors like Derrick Bell and Charles Ogletree had so little positive influence on Obama that today he supports policies that remove rather than advance civil liberties in this country.
And if Breitbart was such a great muckraker, why didn’t he know that the footage of Obama speaking in favor of campus diversity and hugging Derrick Bell, far from being hidden by the Obama campaign, had been shown on PBS’ Frontline in 2008?
And what about the Heritage Foundation’s “discovery” that Derrick Bell visited the White House twice? Jake Tapper explains that little bit of stupidity:
The conservative Heritage Foundation shows some pluck by searching for the late law school professor Derrick A. Bell in the White House visitor’s logs, and finds that “Visitor logs show that Derrick A. Bell visited the White House twice since President Obama took office. The logs show two visits by an individual of that name on January 29 and 31, 2010.”
OK, so what happened? Did he have lunch with the President?
There are two problems with the Heritage post. One: it excludes some details from the visitors’ logs. There are 28 columns on the publicly released records, the Heritage blog lists seven. The data they omit includes a description of what the visit was for: in this case, for both visits: TOURS. A White House tour – not MEETING or APPOINTMENT. Another data point: TOTAL PEOPLE. This is a reference to how many people were present for the tour, meeting or appointment – in this case 304 people and 282 people.
But Bell surely could have taken a tour or two and then met with President Obama, right? Sure, it’s possible – and I asked the White House about it. The answer from a White House official: this was not the same Derrick A. Bell. He had a different birthday than the late law professor, whose birthday was November 6, 1930.
Another heavy sigh….
Eric Wemple of the WaPo decided to check with Bell’s widow to see if he’d ever met with President Obama. Here’s what she had to say:
Reached at her New York home this afternoon, Janet Bell was fully informed of the Breitbartian publicity. “I think there is no there there,” she said. “And I think that it’s pathetic and desperate on their part that they would think that this was such a bombshell. It’s typical in one sense: It’s the radical right wing making a mountain out of a molehill with distortion and misinformation.”
She watched the Breitbart editors promoting their “scoop” on Fox News’s “Hannity.” “I saw Sean Hannity — he had to twist himself up in so many pretzels to try to justify the dramatic nature of this footage.”
Yeah, but the late professor and Obama were buds, right? “They had very little contact” after Obama left Harvard Law School. “He never had contact with the president as president” — at least as far as Janet Bell can recall.
Personally, I’d think a lot more of President Obama if he had invited Professor Bell to the White House for lunch! Sorry to speak negatively of the recently departed, but Breitbart was an idiot and and his staff are just as idiotic as their former boss. All this fuss over a non-story!
The real problem is the motivation behind the hyping of this non-story. It’s beginning to look like we may be in for a long bout of out-front racism in the upcoming general election campaign–and that’s on top of the war on women that seems unlikely to end anytime soon. At the American Prospect, Paul Waldman is also fed up:
From the beginning of Breitbart’s enterprise, race-baiting was a key element of his attack on Barack Obama, one that continues even after his death. And he always had plenty of company, from Glenn Beck saying Obama “has a deep-seated hatred of white people,” to Rush Limbaugh’s repeated insistence to his white listeners that Obama was motivated by racial hatred in everything he did. “Obama’s entire economic program is reparations,” Limbaugh proclaimed. “The days of [minorities] not having any power are over, and they are angry,” he said. “And they want to use their power as a means of retribution. That’s what Obama’s about, gang.” When in 2009 he found a story about a white kid getting beaten up by a black kid on a school bus, Limbaugh said, “In Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, ‘Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on.'” And yes, he did that last part in an exaggerated “black” accent.
The message is always the same: Obama and the blacks are mad, and they’re coming for you. Yet people like the Breitbart folks and Limbaugh have two problems. First, they’re running out of material. There aren’t any more shocking revelations to be had. The best they can do is try to make mountains of racial resentment out of the most innocuous molehills, like the fact that Obama supported Derrick Bell’s effort to diversify the faculty when he was a law student. And second, by now anyone who can be convinced that Obama is a secret Black Panther never thought otherwise. The guy has been president for three years. Americans are pretty familiar with him. He hasn’t actually started herding white people into concentration camps, and it’s an awfully tough sell to tell people that he might any day now.
It’s a tough sell to rational people, but the right wingers are eating it up. It’s not going to be pleasant–and we’ll also have to deal with either Mitt Romney’s or Rick Santorum’s war on poor people.