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Est. April 5, 2002
September 13, 2018 - Issue 755

Heroes and Protesters

"I’m used to Americans patting themselves on the back
whenever the nation is fighting the 'enemy,' and, having
come through the 'Cold War' era, I know America alway
has an 'enemy' or two. And the 'enemies' in turn, and there
are too many to list here, are not to be congratulated as
people fighting for their lives under a dictatorship
or fighting their own civil war."

...Negroes who spoke the truth abroad in the years of the Abolitionist struggle were bitterly denounced by the Big White Folks back home, and the U.S. newspapers called Frederick Douglass a ‘glib-tongued scoundrel’ and said he was ‘running out against the institutions and people of America’ when he traveled around Europe arousing antislavery sentiment.

Paul Robeson, Here I Stand

Two black marines, George Daniels and William Harvey, were given long prison sentences (Daniels, six years, Harvey, ten years, both later reduced) for talking to other black marines against the war.

At the time of the Scottsboro Boys Incident, [Countee] Cullen wrote a bitter poem noting that white poets had used their pens to protest in other cases of injustice, but now that blacks were involved, most whites were silent.

Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

A bust of Sojourner Truth (Isabella) is on display at the Capitol in Washington D.C. “Emancipated” in 1827, Isabella becomes a leading abolitionist. She has to look over her shoulders, not that she lived in fear. Nonetheless, Isabella risked annoying the leading pro-slavery and anti-suffrage male power brokers in the North.

Harriet Jacobs (pen name, Linda Brent) lives seven years in a “garret” at her grandmother’s home. She shares this space, not more than “nine feet long and seven wide” and “three feet high” with “rates and mice.” Hiding from her “owner,” in order to save her children from enslavement, Harriet’s grandmother allows the two children to play close enough to the garret so Harriet can hear their voices.

Yet I would have chosen this rather than my lot as a slave.”

The day comes when she is finally on her way North. Her sacrifice pays off: Jacobs is able to start a new life as no one’s property—along with her two children.

Among many black Americans, the two women write narratives depicted what it meant to be black in the US. It’s became something of a tradition. Some women grab hold of their children and jump—never landing on these shores conquered by European settlers. Some threw their fist in the air while others such as Vivian Malone and James Hood decide to attend the University of Alabama—in 1963. Others just take a knee.

It’s always going on—this tradition!

On the other hand, writers such as William Gilmore Simms, Joel Chandler Harris, Thomas Nelson Page and others, worked hard to represent a defense for the South and its way of life. I imagine the rising of Confederate flags over their writing desks. The creators of American greatness are verbal too in support of a war that commences not long after the ink on their drafted articles, essays, and short stories dries.

That tradition continues, too.

I watched and listened carefully as Senator John McCain’s funeral procession moved from the Capitol to the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. It was spectacle. McCain meant for it to be such. He had a message to send to the current president of the US. McCain, the war hero, so dubbed by the majority of media and public opinion since his five-year imprisonment at the infamous Hanoi Hilton in North “communist” Vietnam, fashioned a protest against “Trumpism.”

I have no idea how Fox News handled the funeral. A little more than forty years ago, I put in time as a reporter watching and listening to the totally absurd for the “assignment.” So I clicked between CNN and MSNBC online. I refuse to invest in a television and struggle with a cable company trying to up the cost of viewing, what, is it over 200 channels now?

The two cable news networks both were mostly favorable to McCain and wanted to make sure the viewer recognized the deceased's invisible hand. McCain didn’t invite the current president or Palin (and how is this one so different from the one’s invited?), but he wanted Bush Jr. and Obama to speak, praising him, McCain, for his service to country and flag. He’s scripted this narrative to focus on his sacrifice as prisoner of war, a man who could have come home as the son of a respected Navy admiral, but opted to stay on and suffer. It’s the US narrative for posterity! See that, Mr. President? McCain still narrating from the coffin there at the cathedral.

And is that Henry Kissinger, I see, McCain?

I don’t recall either of the cable news anchors reminding their audience about the Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State during the Nixon era, who is responsible for the suffering and death of so many thousands of people in Latin America.

And there’s Bill Clinton too. How many black and brown and Indigenous Americans did he help put away behind bars for minor offenses?

Guests of honor. Great Americans. None of this mean-spirited and cruel “Trumpism.” None of this insulting of the brave. Let’s be the great nation that we are already! And who needs to be told in this day, with all the history of war atrocities on the ledger that these former presidents are war criminals too. Who needs to be shown more photos and footage of mangled arms and legs of bloodied children in some foreign land. Whenever these men picked up a pen and their signature materialized on the proverbial dotted line, we, citizens of this nation, agreed to exchange millions of US dollars for plane loads of smart bombs and drones. And the mega-corporate war industry obliged us by working out a schedule of production and deployment with the military to stage “shock and awe” spectacles as profitable ventures. And “Trumpism” depends on your proximity to the noose or police bullet.

But I, the Maverick, protest!

What exactly?

Of course, in the alternative press, the narrative was different. I read two articles in Counterpunch and both referred to McCain, rightly so, as a warmonger. “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” McCain. Mike Malloy asked how anyone could consider McCain a hero when it’s on his 23rd mission as a Navy pilot, dropping bombs over Vietnamese citizens, that he is shot down. How could anyone call such a person a hero?

I didn’t require Malloy’s question or the op-ed writers’ arguments about McCain’s consistent pro-war stance to know McCain. I saw him.

As I’ve said in an earlier piece, I could have been drafted in 1972 for the Vietnam War, except I was born a female. My father wasn’t a veteran, but one uncle was drafted for the Korean War and served. Another joined the Air Force and served for 23 years. A younger brother enlisted in the mid-1980s. When I visited Washington D.C. the first time in 2002, I went to walk along the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall not to acknowledge “heroes,” but to feel human about the lose of so many lives. Here and in Vietnam. All the horrors, the displacement of human beings, animals—the senseless destruction of Earth. On the second visit, I traveled to march with thousands to the Pentagon in protest of the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’ve known men my age and older who are made to feel ashamed that they weren’t drafted. Didn’t volunteer to put on some uniform and hold some kind of weapon or sit in some tank or plane. Instead, they protested the Vietnam War just as the former Secretary of State John Kerry did when he returned home from Vietnam. But unlike Kerry, eyeing the political power, they didn’t agree to a new definition of “war” that becomes intervention, assistance, training of foreign law enforcement and military personnel so it’s no wonder the news out of Yemen, for instance, looks and sounds no different than the war in Vietnam or in Iraq.

In the meantime, “peaceniks” becomes a derogatory term, used to refer to the anti-American, the unpatriotic. Desiring and working hard to attain all the wealth in the world has become an admirable goal for most Americans of whatever political, social, religious, or ethnic affiliation. I haven’t heard a “war hero” protest the police shootings of black Americans. These “heroes” have been as silent as the countless Confederate statues of deceased generals and colonials. “War heroes!” America, at its worse, identifies with the white, male, and wealthy rather than with those who are the consistent target of American external and internal aggression. That America wants nothing to do with peace is evident in the daily body count of Americans in Puerto Rico or Chicago or on Pine Ridge and in Yemen or Afghanistan or Mexico. Anyone opposed to the order imposed by the Market isn’t really an American. Are they?

Crisscross the aisles at the Capitol! Unify! To do what?

From that podium in Akron, Ohio, from that garret, from wherever we have found ourselves in the US, we know it’s not that virulent brand in the Oval Office. If we just get rid of him! Removing “Schoolteacher,” who beats males and allows for the rape of women for a return to the “good ole days” when the “nicer” slaveholder allow his enslaved males to go here and there but refuses to see them as free human beings, is to fixate on a system dependent on the inhumane treatment of the majority. Some of us have seen this before.

But then, maybe that’s the point! Such systems of mean-spiritedness just doesn’t go away on their own.

No, I’m used to Americans patting themselves on the back whenever the nation is fighting the “enemy,” and, having come through the “Cold War” era, I know America always has an “enemy” or two. And the “enemies” in turn, and there are too many to list here, are not to be congratulated as people fighting for their lives under a dictatorship or fighting their own civil war. No Americans love to object to anyone threatening (even across the global!) their “freedoms.” So they “protest”--with plenty of gun powder!

No I can’t get pass the Senator McCain sitting on the panel honoring the war criminal Henry Kissinger when protesters rose up from the audience. They interrupted this spectacle to try and remind these senators about the true work of Kissinger. His “greatest” rests on the dead women and children, for the most part. Innocent human beings trying to go about their lives—entitled to live without the intervention and assistance to a dictatorship. And the Maverick looked these protesters in the eye and called the “scum.”

Get out of here, you low-life scum.”

He didn’t stop there. McCain, an American hero, called his fellow citizens protest of a warmonger “disgraceful behavior.” He, Senator McCain, said to the protesters’ face that this man, Henry Kissinger, “served his country with the greatest distinction.” (Come across the aisle, huh?). McCain saw nothing wrong in what happened in Chile under Pinochet. Kissinger, I, the Maverick, “apologize profusely.” In 2015!

Denounce a certain form of protest.

But I, McCain, protest before the world and stage this spectacle for all to learn well how to hold on to political, social, cultural, and above all, economic hegemony. Self-interest rather than self-reflection. From the White House to Main Street. Any Main street in any American town or city. Tax cuts and jobs are all that matters. A collective indifference to omit and to marginalize those who might protest. In the end, there is no “good-people-on-both-sides” moment here. On the side of the humane, there’s only one side making sense. Otherwise, there’s nothing sane here or anything remotely forgivable.

I’ll remember George Daniels and William Harvey, black Vietnam veteran protesters—who served time—for protesting against the war. I’ll recognize how Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police shootings of black Americans and the lack of accountability for murder is writing a new narrative, one that is a courageous gesture because it says to the world that we understand what it means to be black American but that we are not going to be tolerant of being abused and demoralized. It’s a new narrative. Activist/climbers, Takiyah Thompson and Therese Patrica Okoumou know it. They and so many others now have learning. Heroic black Americans, following in a long and deep tradition of black resistance. Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.




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David A. Love, JD
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Peter Gamble

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