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The Julian Bond event was a huge success. Here is his speech, reprinted for your perusal.
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Equality New Mexico
April 14, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Julian Bond
This event is presented by Sante Fe's Human Rights Alliance with sponsorship by Temple Beth Shalom. Co-hosts include the local NAACP Branch, the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum, and Equality New Mexico.
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I fell like I'm in the midst of the coalition of conscience!
We have a long and honorable tradition of social justice in this country. It still sends forth the message that when we act together, we can overcome.
President Harry Truman warned us years ago of the challenges we all face today. He said, "Men make history and not the other way around. In periods in which there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better."
Already, our democracy is healthier now than it was last year.
On Election Day we affirmed the words of Theodore Roosevelt, who said in 1918:
"To announce there must be no criticism of the President, or to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, it is morally treasonous to the American public."
And the words of Ohio Senator Robert Taft, who said two weeks after Pearl Harbor was attacked:
"I believe there can be no doubt that criticism in times of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government."
What happened on Election Day last November was not an election - it was an intervention!
President Bush saw his presidency repudiated, from the natural disaster of Katrina - to which he did not respond - to the disaster in Iraq which he created.
There is no better way to examine the state of race in Bush's America than to examine Katrina and the lessons it has to teach us.
Imagine a major hurricane hits New Orleans. Within hours the President of the United States is on Air Force One headed for the stricken city. Upon landing in the no-electricity darkness, with a flashlight held to his face, he announces, "This is the President of the United States and I'm here to help you!"
The year was 1965. The President, Lyndon Johnson.
Forty years later a more devastating hurricane strikes New Orleans. Neither the President nor any other federal official is there to help. The city would sustain lasting damage - and so would the President.
Unlike the revolution, Katrina was televised, and what viewers saw was a deluge of degradation and despair. Tens of thousands of people, mostly black, many elderly and infirm - pleading from rooftops, herded into and around the city's Convention Center and Superdome without food or water, left to rot in the hot sun along the interstate.
New Orleans was 63 percent black, half of whom lived below the poverty level. More than one in three black households - and nearly three in five poor black households - lacked a vehicle. Among white households, only 15 percent were without a car.
So thousands would be stranded, and they would be overwhelmingly black and poor. That was horrendous enough. Even worse was that it would take five days before meaningful help would arrive.
We would expect the story of Katrina to be suffused with race. The word "America", after all, unscrambled spells "I am race". That could well be the tagline for Katrina. That is certainly what Americans saw on their television sets. Some would say, with no apology to Clarence Thomas, that we witnessed a modern-day lynching.
Of course, Katrina did not occur in a vacuum. The Gulf War was not removed from the Gulf Coast. Katrina served to underscore how the war in Iraq has weakened, rather than strengthened, our defenses, including our levees.
The problem isn't that we cannot prosecute a war in the Persian Gulf and protect our citizens on the Gulf Coast at home. The problem is that we cannot do either one.
They used September 11th as an excuse to wage war in Iraq. They used the hurricane to wash away decent pay for workers and for minority- and women-owned businesses. They are turning the recovery over to the same no-bid corporate looters who are profiting from the disaster of Iraq.
They boasted that they wanted to make the government so small it would drown in a bathtub - and in New Orleans, it did.
This is the first lesson that emerges from Katrina - it teaches us the consequences of anti-government government, under which government's role in protecting its people is limited or destroyed and government is used exclusively to wage war and protect and defend corporate interests.
One of the other lessons, all of which are interconnected, is the highlighting of
the racial and class divide in this country. Although New Orleans was unique in many ways - music, cuisine, culture - its race and class issues were the norm and not the exception.
And finally, Katrina resulted in a loss of moral authority for the United States, at home and abroad. Americans were not the only ones who watched Katrina's disaster unfold on television. The images were seen around the world. If we at home felt revulsion and shame, imagine what our enemies abroad thought - or even our friends. It is reminiscent of the role segregation played in international politics.
In 1946, Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote:
"The existence of discrimination against minority groups in this country has an adverse effect on our relations with other countries. ... Frequently we find it next to impossible to formulate a satisfactory answer to our critics in other countries."
The Truman Administration's brief in Brown v. Board of Education argued that school desegregation was in the national interest because of foreign policy concerns. The United States, the brief argued:
"is trying to prove to the people of the world, of every nationality, race and color, that a free democracy is the most civilized and most secure form of government yet devised by man."
"Racial discrimination furnishes grist for the communist propaganda mills, and it raises doubts even among friendly nations as to the intensity of our devotion to the democratic faith."
As survivors floundered and bodies floated in New Orleans' streets, neither "civilized" or "secure" described our democratic form of government. And viewers, here and around the globe, wondered: where was the government in the time of these citizens' greatest need?
Said presidential historian Robert Dallek:
"The sort of limited commitment that this president has to using federal power to ameliorate domestic problems registered powerfully in this Katrina episode. It triggered Bush's downturn."
In addition to using Katrina to demonstrate the need for government in people's lives, progressives ought to use the lessons of Katrina to recapture the race issue from the political right, to return to a time when whites say, as President Johnson did in 1965, "[t]heir cause must be our cause, too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice."
It is fitting that we meet in a synagogue because blacks and Jews represent a progressive coalition as old as the 20th century, a tradition that has humanized American politics, a relationship of intersecting agendas based on religious faith. Black and Jewish agendas intersect, in part, because these groups sadly share a history of attack.
Before the Civil War, Jews were on both sides of the growing and passionate debate over slavery. If some Jews, like Rabbi David Einhorn of Baltimore, joined with the opponents of slavery, others, like the Confederacy's Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin, endorsed and defended it.
But in 1862 General Ulysses S. Grant issued an order expelling Jews from
doing business in the portion of the South occupied by federal troops. This blatant anti-Semitism from the man who would be President, the growing instances of social and economic segregation visited upon Jews, and then the lynching of Leo Frank in Atlanta in 1913 quickened a growing consciousness that the United States might not be as secure a haven from Europe's terrors as many Jews had hoped.
A new wave of Jewish immigrants, two million strong, poor and working class, from Russia and Eastern Europe, steeped in socialism and trade union activism, had poured into the United States after 1880, overwhelming the 250,000 largely German Jewish population already here.
These new arrivals "hurled themselves into politics, union organizing, and public life." As immigration changed the population and politics of American Jews, population shifts produced changes in black America as well.
Before the dawn of the twentieth century, 90% of all blacks lived in the American South. Between 1910 and 1920, the first large wave of modern migration by Southern blacks had begun. Those ten years saw Detroit's black population increase 600%, Cleveland's by 300%, Chicago's by 150% and the black populations of New York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati double.
The Jewish press began to bring Jews a picture of the suffering of blacks. The shared experiences of the descendants of Egyptian and American slaves, of the victims of Cossacks and the victims of the Ku Klux Klan, were real and exact.
Pogroms in Russia and lynch mob action in America were the same - "the same soil, the same people," the Yiddish Forward wrote in 1917. Populist anti-Semitism and the terrifying rhetoric of growing American nativism made black-Jewish alliance inevitable and necessary, and Jewish support for black causes - for democracy's causes - absolute.
Blacks and Jews helped form the NAACP in 1909, and the Urban
League a year later. Grant's infamous General Order #11, the growing wave of anti-Semitism that erupted in Leo Frank's murder, and the institutionalization of anti-Semitism in American life pushed blacks and Jews closer together - fellow sufferers at the hands of a hostile white and gentile majority - in an alliance that would continue for more than half a century.
Despite continuing and deep seated prejudices, by the 1940s American Jews were moving upward in society, and by the 1950s, must have been rated the most successful of ethnic groups in the United States by any measure - economic attainment, academic achievement, and professional status.
It was in this period that black Americans began to make advances and quickened their demands as well. In 1954 and 1955, the United States Supreme Court declared segregated schools illegal and ordered that slow steps be taken to destroy unequal education. The Court's ruling destroyed segregation's legality, and an army of nonviolent protestors quickly arose to challenge its morality as well.
In 1955 the Montgomery bus boycott began. Montgomery was the beginning of a mass movement that destroyed segregation and permanently changed our world.
Thus it is no coincidence that two years ago we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act. And this year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
And this year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of a case aptly called Loving vs. Virginia, a case that struck down anti-miscegenation laws and allowed my wife and me to marry in the state that declares "Virginia is for lovers."
We look back on the years between Montgomery in 1955 and the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 with some pride.
Martin Luther King's first national address was at a 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage at the Lincoln Memorial.
In 1963 alone, the year that King - fresh from the battlefields of Birmingham - told the nation of his dream at the March on Washington, there were more than 10,000 anti-racist demonstrations.
The result was the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act - the most sweeping civil rights legislation before or since and our democracy's finest hour.
King was the most famous and well known of the modern movement's personalities, but it was a people's movement. It produced leaders of its own; but it relied not on the noted but the nameless, not on the famous but the faceless. It didn't wait for commands from afar to begin a campaign against injustice. It saw wrong and acted against it; it saw evil and brought it down.
Those were the days when women and men of all backgrounds worked together in the cause of civil rights.
Those were the days when good music was popular and popular music was good. Those were the days when the President picked the Supreme Court and not the other way around.
Those were the days when we had a war on poverty, not a war on the poor. Those were the days when patriotism was a reason for open-eyed disobedience, not an excuse for blind allegiance.
Those were the days when the news media really was "fair and balanced" and not just stenographers for the powerful.
We must not forget that Martin Luther King stood before and with thousands, the people who made the mighty movement what it was.
From Jamestown's slave pens to Montgomery's boycotted busses, these ordinary men and women labored in obscurity, and from Montgomery forward they provided the foot soldiers of the freedom army.
They walked in dignity, rather than ride in shame. They faced bombs in Birmingham and mobs in Mississippi. They sat down at lunch counters so others could stand up. They marched - and they organized.
Martin Luther King didn't march from Selma to Montgomery by himself. He didn't speak to an empty field at the March on Washington. There were thousands marching with him and before him, and thousands more who did the dirty work that preceded the triumphal march.
The successful strategies of the modern movement for civil rights were litigation, organization, mobilization and coalition, all aimed at creating a national constituency for civil rights.
That's why when I am asked, "Are Gay Rights Civil Rights?" my answer is always, "Of course they are."
"Civil rights" are positive legal prerogatives - the right to equal treatment before the law. These are rights shared by all - there is no one in the United States who does not - or should not - share in these rights.
Gay and lesbian rights are not "special rights" in any way. It isn't "special" to be free from discrimination - it is an ordinary, universal entitlement of citizenship. The right not to be discriminated against is a common-place claim we all expect to enjoy under our laws and our founding document, the Constitution. That many had to struggle to gain these rights makes them precious - it does not make them special, and it does not reserve them only for me or restrict them from others.
When others gain these rights, my rights are not reduced in any way. Luckily, "civil rights" are a win/win game; the more civil rights are won by others, the stronger the army defending my rights becomes. My rights are not diluted when my neighbor enjoys protection from the law - he or she becomes my ally in defending the rights we all share.
For some, comparisons between the African-American civil rights movement and the movement for gay and lesbian rights seem to diminish the long black historical struggle with all its suffering, sacrifices and endless toil. However, people of color ought to be flattered that our movement has provided so much inspiration for others, that it has been so widely imitated, and that our tactics, methods, heroines and heroes, even our songs, have been appropriated by or served as models for others.
No parallel between movements for rights is exact. African-Americans are the only Americans who were enslaved for more than two centuries, and people of color carry the badge of who we are on our faces. But we are far from the only people suffering discrimination - sadly, so do many others. They deserve the law's protections and civil rights, too.
Sexual disposition parallels race - I was born black and had no choice. I couldn't and wouldn't change it if I could. Like race, our sexuality isn't a preference - it is immutable, unchangeable, and the Constitution protects us all against prejudices and discrimination based on immutable differences.
Many gays and lesbians, along with Jews, worked side by side with me in the '60s civil rights movement. Am I to now tell them "thanks" for risking life and limb helping me win my rights - but they are excluded because of a condition of their birth? That they cannot share now in the victories they helped to win? That having accepted and embraced them as partners in a common struggle, I can now turn my back on them and deny them the rights they helped me win, that I enjoy because of them?
Not a chance.
Today, for better or for worse, gay rights are embodied in the debate over marriage.
In last fall's elections, seven states passed so-called "marriage" constitutional amendments. They joined twenty other states which already had added such amendments to their constitutions. In only one state - Arizona - have voters rejected such an amendment.
While the ostensible purpose of these amendments is to enshrine in state constitutions additional - and unneeded - prohibitions against same-sex marriage, in fact they have several different purposes - all of them are anti-marriage, all of them wrong-headed, all of them discriminatory, and all of them politically based. As one writer says:
"Conservative preachers and right-wing activists can't let go of gay marriage. They're still using its "threat" to traditional families to rally their parishioners, lest they forget to be judgmental and unwittingly slip into love and mercy."
Marriage in the United States today has a 50% failure rate. I should think we would welcome anyone who wanted to support and join this failing institution. Why are we afraid of those who want their loving relationship to have the same benefits of the law's protections as most others have had since the country was founded?
The NAACP, whose Board I chair, vigorously opposed President George W. Bush's attempt to pass a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. We also oppose state-level attempts to do the same thing.
The NAACP does not take a position for or against same-sex marriage, although I personally support the right of two people in love to enjoy the many, many legal benefits of state sanctioned marriage. But we believe it is always wrong to use a federal or state Constitution to single out one group of people for discrimination.
President Bush has said marriage is "the most fundamental institution of our civilization."
Isn't that precisely why we should support, not oppose, gay marriage?
We have amended the United States Constitution only 17 times since the adoption of the Bill of Rights. Aside from Prohibition, which was quickly acknowledged to be a mistake and repealed, we've amended the Constitution only to expand and protect people's rights, never to restrict or take them away.
Proponents of these amendments argue they are insurance against so-called "activist" judges, presumably like those on the Supreme Court whose activism interfered in the 2000 election process and crowned George W. Bush President.
The Federal Defense of Marriage Act and state laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman already stand as a bulwark against judicial activism.
As notable a conservative figure as J. Harvie Wilkinson III, Judge on the United States 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, calls the passage of these amendments in states across the country "a sad state of affairs."
Judge Wilkinson writes that the framers of our Constitution did not "envision our Constitution as a place to restrict rights or enact public policies, as the Federal Marriage Amendment does."
He notes that most state-level amendments give judges:
"the authority to interpret such ambiguous terms as 'domestic union,' 'similar to marriage', 'rights, obligations, privileges and immunities of marriage,' 'incidents of marriage' and so forth. "The irony", he writes, is that "those who wish to curb activist judges are vesting judges with unprecedented interpretative authority whose constitutional nature makes it all but impervious to change".
The real purpose of these amendments was to draw conservative voters to the polls, offering them the red meat that motivates so many Americans to cast votes.
But in a survey reported in the December 2004 issue of Facts & Trends magazine, when pastors were asked to name the number one threat to the family, 43% named divorce, 38% named negative influences in the media, 36% cited materialism. 24% said absentee fathers, families without a stay-at-home parent were listed by 18%, pornography was a reason for 17%, morality not being taught in schools was mentioned by 14%, and poverty, unemployment and a poor economy were mentioned by 13%.
Same-sex marriage did not make the list.
We know there are many who base their support of these laws and their opposition to same-sex marriage on Biblical inerrancy, on the proposition that Leviticus 18: 22 prohibits homosexuality and God's law must be obeyed. Believers ought not to force their laws on people of different faiths or people of no faith at all. Marriage is a civil right. If you don't want gay people to marry in your church, all right. But you cannot say they can't be married in City Hall because of your religious beliefs.
Religious extremists want to install a Christian caliphate in America, replacing laws debated by men with laws dictated by religion. They are cafeteria Christians, picking a Biblical injunction from column A while ignoring those from columns B through Z.
Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. Does this apply to Mexicans or Canadians or both?
Exodus 21:7 sanctions selling my daughter into slavery. I have two very pretty daughters - what would be a fair price for the pair?
Leviticus 15:19-24 forbids me from having contact with a woman while she
is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women seem to take offense. Are there any here? If so, should they be asked to leave?
My neighbors insist on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states they should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill them myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?
My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread, usually a cotton/polyester blend. He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them as it says in Leviticus 21: 10 - 16? Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws as in Leviticus 20:14?
We must not forget the powerful influence of religion - not Islam, but Christianity - in creating the image of the greedy Jew, the Christ-killer. The religious right represents more than a conservative force in our society. They are central to the contention that all things "Christian" are American and right; things non-Christian - including Jews and homosexuals - are less American and wrong.
To its credit, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the center of Conservative Judaism, recently joined Reform Jews in accepting gay rabbis.
The black church has much to answer for - for harboring ugly homophobia and for its refusal to adopt a proactive stance against HIV and AIDS.
Three years ago, Atlanta Constitution Editorial Page Editor Cynthia Tucker wrote:
"Nowhere are the front lines in the battle against gay marriage tended with more care than in conservative black churches, where ministers regularly denounce homosexuality as an abomination. It is a curious approach they would no doubt characterize as "tough love," as they pray for the gay members of their flocks to be delivered from their affliction.
The disproportionate spread of HIV among black women can be traced directly to the covert world of black men on the "down low" -- men who secretly engage in sex with other men while keeping girlfriends or wives and pointedly denying that they are gay or bisexual. That underworld, meanwhile, has its roots in black homophobia, so virulent that these men are unwilling
or unable to acknowledge their sexuality."
My late neighbor and friend, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, said in 1998:
" "Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood. This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group".
And in 2000 she added,
"We have a lot more work to do in our common struggle against bigotry and discrimination. I say "common struggle" because I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry and discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right-thinking Americans everywhere. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination."
She called gay marriage a civil rights issue, denouncing a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban it.
Rampant homophobia is not just wrong, it is dangerous to our national security. The United States military spent more than $200 million dollars to recruit and train personnel to replace the 10,000 troops discharged for being openly gay between 1993 and 2003. More than 300 language experts have been fired under "don't ask, don't tell," including 50 Arab speaking personnel whose skills were vital to the war on terror.
In 1989, a Pentagon study concluded that sexuality "is unrelated to job performance in the same way as is being left- or right-handed." Our fighting women and men, gay and straight, fight today beside troops from Australia, Britain, Italy and Spain - all countries that permit gays to serve openly.
No sooner had retired Army General John Shalikashvili called for reconsideration of "don't ask, don't tell" than his successor as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, opined that were gays to serve openly the military would be condoning "immoral acts."
Again, President Johnson's words speak to us today. He said in 1965:
"It is difficult to fight for freedom. But I also know how difficult it can be to bend long years of habit and custom to grant it. There is no room for injustice anywhere in the American mansion. But there is always room for understanding those who see the old ways crumbling. And to them today I say simply this: It must come. It is right that it should come. And when it has, you will find that a burden has been lifted from your shoulders too. It is not just a question of guilt, although there is that. It is that men cannot live with a lie and not be stained by it."
One lesson of the civil rights movement is that sometimes the simplest of ordinary acts - taking a seat on a bus or a lunch counter, registering to vote, applying for a marriage license - can have extraordinary ramifications. It can change the way we think and behave.
To General Pace and others, we say the old ways are crumbling.
It must come.
Let us leave here determined to fight on until it does.
(Julian Bond has been Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors since February 1998. He is a Distinguished Professor in the School of Government at American University in Washington, DC, and a Professor of History at the University of Virginia.)
Douglas Brinkley, The Great Deluge, at 340, Harper Collins (2006).
Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae at 6, Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).
Id. at 25.
Cynthia Tucker, "Homophobia Kills", Atlanta Constitution, June 6, 2004.
J. Harvie Wilkinson, Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the 4th District, the News & Observer, September 8, 2006.
"Will the Same-Sex Marriage Amendment Really Help the Traditional Family?" by John W. Whitehead, Weekly Commentary, October 20, 2006.
"Gerry Studds, Gay Congressman Who Served 12 Terms, is Dead", The New York Times, October 15, 2006.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Radio address (1965).