Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Silence of Our Friends

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

It’s impossible for me not to think of Martin Luther King, Jr., at this time of year. I can’t help thinking that, were he alive today, he’d be as distressed about the enslavement of people now as he was in 1968, 105 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. King knew the reason de facto slavery still existed via civil and human rights abuses wasn’t so much because there weren’t laws prohibiting them; he knew full well that a law is only as good as a person’s ability to enforce it, and poor people – whatever the color of their skin, but especially those who, at that time, were systematically oppressed and had no means to pursue the “American dream” that would give them the ability to enforce their rights, e.g., with disposable income – would never be free unless someone with the ability to make the laws stick did. Hence, then president John F. Kennedy, who had appointed his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, attorney general, asked his brother to call out the National Guard not to shoot protesters, as the Guard would do a mere seven years after King's assassination at Kent State, but to protect them. And to make sure that the 13th amendment, which ended slavery only tacitly, was made more functional, he caved in to pressure to create additional anti-discrimination laws – in the form of the Civil Rights Act, passed after Kennedy's assassination – which is what the writers of the 13th amendment intended (that is to say, they knew full well if slavery were to be prevented in the future further laws would need to be passed). That's why the brief, last paragraph of the very concise amendment states: "Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

We have a nation of working-class citizens getting poorer and sicker by the generation, thanks to the work of representatives in name only who fashion public health and monetary policy only to benefit an elite few, as Barack Obama’s transfer of public wealth to allegedly failing banks proves, just as does his failed attempt to fix “health care.” It’s hard to believe that King would have seen Obama’s presidential campaign as anything other than an attempt to pander to groups of people who need to believe in the fairy tale they’ve bought into – you know the one; that all is right with America and it’s “democracy” -- because he would have found it impossible to ignore the evolution of the business party that has put into office a puppet in the guise of every president since Carter. And that’s why he was murdered – because he was perceptive, influential and uncompromising. The government knew he’d never stop condemning what is most certainly its complete metamorphosis to fascism. You know who loves slavery more than anything? No one more than a fascist.

What really galled King, though, was how little those who claimed righteous beliefs in God, Christianity and American freedom cared to change the unjust status quo. He must have thought he was truly in the presence of evil incarnate whenever he looked around at the vast majority of his fellow white clergy members, who had stood idly by as ordinary people were routinely lynched for more than 80 years after the civil war, while voting irregularities were anything but irregular, and while churches were being bombed – whenever he saw them doing nothing. It’s harder, though, to know what he would think about the complete closing of American society that we have today – about the secret prisons right here, on American soil, that surround certain political activists whose work threatens the very foundation of the fascist regime that runs our nation, or about that fascist regime – and even more difficult to know what he would have done if he had to work under the circumstances political activists must work under today. Forty-two years ago King’s biggest problem was an FBI whose technologies and strategies for socially exterminating political activists were in their infancy. Today, a Martin Luther King, Jr., would simply not be possible. There can be no doubt that that is precisely what our nation’s government intended because the same human and civil rights abuses that were used on African-Americans to keep them “in their places” are now used on all political activists, regardless of their skin color, and have been enhanced in ways by which Hitler would be awed. I don’t think King would be pleased with that type of equality, not even in a country with an African-American president. I think he would be deeply aggrieved and ashamed.

We may no longer see postcards being sold of “strange fruit,” to use the heart-breaking yet poetic metaphor immortalized by Billie Holiday to refer to the victims of lynching, but when we have political activists who’ve been subjected to political repression by the FBI and the CIA and who are then gunned down in churches on Sunday mornings by local law enforcement, and when members of alleged human rights groups remain silent about such atrocities, though they’ve been apprised of them (and have laughed in the face of this particular political activist when she observed the fact that this act, in particular, represents fascism pure and simple), we know we’re facing the same type of opposition that King faced, multiplied exponentially -- opposition that forced him to the conclusion quoted above. The worst thing about this refusal to acknowledge the beast in our midst is that it spawns a dangerous capitulation by which no one is served.

In her 1963 articles for the New York Times, which were later turned into the book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, philosopher and investigative journalist Hannah Arendt gives us the history of the extent to which Hungarian Jews, in particular, colluded with the Nazis. In, “Chapter XII: Deportations from Central Europe – Hungary and Slovakia” Arendt writes: “On the very evening of their arrival, Eichmann and his men invited the Jewish leaders to a conference, to persuade them to form a Jewish Council, through which they could issue their orders and to which they would give, in return, absolute jurisdiction over all Jews in Hungary. . . . The president of the Jewish community, Hofrat Samuel Stern, a member of [Hungary’s de facto regent, Admiral] Horthy’s Privy Council, was treated with exquisite courtesy and agreed to be head of the Jewish Council. . . . And corruption, first simulated as a trick, soon turned out to be real enough, though it did not take the form the Jews had hoped. Nowhere else did Jews spend so much money without any results whatsoever. . . . and Wislicency [of Budapest local government] brought up again the so-called Europe Plan, which he had proposed in vain in 1942 and according to which Himmler supposedly would be prepared to spare all Jews except those in Poland for a ransom of two or three million dollars. On the strength of this proposal . . . the Jews now started paying installments to Wislicency. . . . The prosecution [Eichmann’s, in Israel, after he was kidnapped from Argentina by Israel’s secret police] could not prove that Eichmann had profited financially while on the job, stressed rightly his high standard of living in Budapest . . . “ And the result of this capitulation? Not the sparing of Hungarian Jews for which the Privy Council had hoped “. . . the number of death commandos manning the gas chambers was increased from 224 to 860, so that everything was ready for killing between six thousand and twelve thousand people a day. . . . The whole operation in Hungary lasted less than two months and came to a sudden stop at the beginning of July. Thanks chiefly to the Zionists, it had been better publicized than any other phase of the Jewish catastrophe, and Horthy had been deluged with protests from neutral countries and from the Vatican. . . . Of an original population of eight hundred thousand, some hundred and sixty thousand must still have remained in the Budapest ghetto – the countryside was judenrein [expunged of Jews] – and of these, tens of thousands became victims of spontaneous pogroms.” When the so-called opposition is controlled by the fascists in power, as it is here, in America, no one is safe – because fascists are liars, as well as murderers, and your turn to be marched off to the gas chamber (well, today’s gas chamber is AIDS) will come eventually.

So today, as I think about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, and as I wish that it were the legacy he would want it to be, one that inspires others to do the work for justice and equality that he did, I hope for the impossible: I hope, since Martin can’t be raised from the dead, that his true message of justice, equality and freedom for all, finds voice in all those of you who genuinely wish to honor him, and that those of you who collude with the fascists in power here – if there be any among you who do – will stop to think about what it is you are creating with your collusion.

David Gilmore wrote this song about his wife, but if you read the words, they have an eerie poignancy today, on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. You can hear the song at the link on the left. It’s really beautiful.

"Coming Back To Life"

Where were you when I was burned and I was broken

While the days slipped by from my window, watching

Where were you when I was hurt and I was helpless

Because the things you say and the things you do surround me

While you were hanging yourself on someone else's words

Dying to believe in what you heard

I was staring straight into the shining sun

Lost in thought and lost in time

While the seeds of life and the seeds of change were planted

Outside the rain fell dark and slow

While I pondered on this dangerous but irresistible pastime

I took a heavenly ride through our silence

I knew the moment had arrived

For killing the past and coming back to life

[beautiful bridge]

I took a heavenly ride through our silence

I knew the waiting had begun

And I headed straight

into the shining sun

Which way are you heading?

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