Civil Rights

Behold: The Big Picture

Blogs are usually not the place for it, but for today, let us behold the bigger picture.

In the middle of the drama surrounding the Clinton concession-vigil, a profound, historic event has occurred this week, unnoticed and uncelebrated. This was the week it became clear: A political party in our country is poised to nominate an African-American candidate who has an excellent shot at becoming president of the United States.

Through the drama of the horserace, which isn't officially over, no one mentions this fact. Anything can happen; many disruptions could occur before Obama secures his party's nomination. But as long as he holds his delegate lead, it won't be handed to Clinton by the superdelegates. Barring something tragic or earth-shattering, Obama will be nominated on Aug. 28, on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.

The Voter ID Issue

What you find depends on where you look, Yogi Berra might have said if he read the United States Supreme Court’s recent opinion (4/28/08) in the Indiana voter ID case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. The 6-3 majority decided that the challengers of the law did not come forward with people who were, in fact, prejudiced against by the operation of the voter photo ID requirement — which is not an easy task, somewhat akin to proving a negative. The dissenters argued that the State of Indiana did not prove there were frauds that warranted the passage of this law, aimed, supposedly, at preventing said alleged frauds. One does not see what one does not find.

Martin Luther King Jr.

When Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis I was a college student, active in the 1968 campaign for president, protesting the Vietnam War and engaged in civil rights. The fact that 40 years have gone by since that weekend does not make those events any less fresh in my mind.

I remember the American flag and the United Nations flag at Macalester College in St. Paul being lowered to half-mast and the prayers that were said as students gathered in front of the chapel. I remember the shock that another hero could be taken from us less than five years after John Kennedy was assassinated. I remember calling home to my family in Washington, D.C., who told me that they could see the smoke and fires from the downtown riots. And I remember the footage of Robert Kennedy in Indiana as he spoke to an African-American crowd who had not yet heard the news and his quoting Aeschylus: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

Robert Kennedy Comments on the Night of Martin Luther King's Death

On April 4, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy made the following comments in Indianapolis:

Ladies and gentlemen: I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening.

Because ... I have some very sad news for all of you, and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

Let’s Have an Honest Discussion on Race

Driving in to work this morning, I was stunned that local radio host Chris Plante on Washinton, D.C.'s WMAL invited his listeners to have an open and honest discussion on race. What with all the excitement generated by Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) “seminal” speech — remarks that my friend Chris Matthews has labeled as being worthy of Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln?

In any event, an African-American caller phoned in to say that White America is to blame for most of the crime, drugs and woe that befall the black community. As incredulous as I was, another called opined that whites operate on an unequal playing field and that blacks just do the best they can under the circumstances.

As we come upon the 40th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King (April 4), I can’t believe we’ve fallen so far away from the spirit and hope of his dream here at the beginning of the 21st century. What happened to being judged by the content of one’s character rather than the color of one’s skin? What happened to the calls for self-reliance and responsibility?

Faith, Hope and Power

Barack Obama's historic speech on race is the beginning of what could become a majority coalition even more powerful than the New Deal realignment of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

What Obama can now do is take the debate on racial injustice to a powerfully transforming level that reaches across all racial and religious divisions and gives voice to the voiceless, respect to the disrespected and power to the powerless.

What was extraordinary about the Obama speech, beyond the straight talk and the truth telling, was that Obama was not merely speaking TO different constituencies but was speaking FOR different constituencies.

FISA Tears House

Peter Fenn & Frank Donatelli discuss the issues surrounding the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.


Padilla and American Injustice

On Tuesday, Jose Padilla was sentenced to 17 years and four months in federal prison for conspiring to commit terrorism — even though the judge declared that the government failed to prove he was a terrorist to start with.

Most Americans don’t care. But they should. Here’s why.

When Padilla was arrested in May 2002. John Ashcroft accused him of carrying a “dirty bomb” into the United States.

Yet, even though he was an American citizen, Padilla was charged with no crime. Instead, he was labeled an “enemy combatant” and held and tortured in a Navy brig for three and a half years without being able to see a lawyer or defend himself in a court of law.

Martin Luther King Continues to Inspire

“I have a dream where all of God’s children are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream,”   1963

Forty-five years after these words were spoken, Dr. Martin Luther King’s words continue to inspire Americans from all walks of life.  The fact that the sentiment expressed above was controversial in the early 1960s but now is so universally shared indicates how far our country has come in our quest to implement Dr. King’s noble sentiments.

Don't Miss 'American Idealist: The Story of Sargent Shriver'

Robert Sargent Shriver is a great man: a great friend, a great husband, father and patriot. His historic legacy is far-reaching; the lives he touched and made for the better are countless.

On Monday night, Jan. 21 — appropriately, Martin Luther King Day — PBS will be broadcasting a movie describing his remarkable life, "American Idealist: The Story of Sargent Shriver," written, produced and directed by Emmy award-winning Bruce Orenstein. The PBS movie is scheduled for 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. PST — but check your local listings, since times might vary.

Three values of Sargent Shriver have dominated his career: civil rights for those who suffered the gross injustice of slavery and discrimination; public service by young people to help the poor and the uneducated abroad and at home; and, together with his great and wonderful wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, providing for the physically and mentally impaired through creating the Special Olympics, where tens of thousands of impaired children and adults have found dignity and self-respect on a truly level athletic playing field.