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“A Sunday Has Come, A Sunday Has Gone”: How Will We Remember The Birmingham Church Bombing?

When Emily Raboteau, daughter of famous historian Al Raboteau, traveled with a group of undergraduate students to Birmingham, Alabama, she met Chris McNair, a man haunted by the past. McNair is the father of Denise, who died at the tender age of 11, fifty years ago on September 15, 1963—one of four girls killed by the bomb that rocked the foundations of the city’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

Only three weeks after the March on Washington, when Martin Luther King Jr. had shared his dream of a future where young white boys and black boys, white girls and black girls, would hold hands, Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson were denied that future.

In her remarkable Searching for Zion, published earlier this year, Raboteau describes McNair’s shrine to his daughter’s memory: “a pair of black patent leather shoes and matching purse, a charm bracelet, a tiny two-inch child’s Bible, a blue floral handkerchief, and the jagged piece of concrete removed from her skull.” When one of the students asked if Mr. McNair had forgiven the white supremacists who took his daughter’s life, his answer was righteous rage.

God, McNair said, “would destroy Alabama by wiping it clean with His hand.”

In the realm of our public memories of the civil rights movement, could anything be more un-King-like? Wasn’t the civil rights movement about reconciliation and hope? Wasn’t it called the March on Washington for Jesus and Forgiveness? (Nope, it was for “Jobs and Freedom.”)

Three weeks ago, we were celebrating the March on Washington; we were watching and listening to King as we do each January on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday created in the conservative era of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. This year was precious, for it marked the fiftieth anniversary and we commemorated the day with another march, televised like the one in 1963. But on this occasion we discussed and judged it in Twitter feeds, Facebook accounts, and on a host of 24 hour news programs.

How do we balance King’s dream with McNair’s nightmare in our supposedly post-racial and now-digital age? We still live in a country of freedom dreams and violent nightmares.

The nation has a black president and the outpouring of joy in 2008 was hard to quantify, but young black men are still murdered and imprisoned in epic numbers. We have rising integration in schools and businesses, but Christian churches lag behind tremendously—and often fuel the fires of other racial conflicts and controversies.

And as we go, the digital and media realms allow for increased chatter about all of it, leaving some of us to wonder if the democratic cacophony actually encourages hate.

After that church bombing a half century ago, Americans seemed to have more questions than answers. With the tools of their time they spoke into the sadness. King went to Birmingham and eulogized three of the deceased girls. He told the mourners that the girls “did not die in vain” and the crowd responded “Yeah!” He told them that “God still has a way of wringing good out of evil” and the people said “Oh yes.” But there would be no Lazarus moment—Mary and Martha would still have to mourn.

When Reinhold Niebuhr addressed the bombing, he sighed that “we have to admit first of all that we have miserably failed to give the Christian message a real content.” The white churches, Niebuhr intoned, “have failed.” Anne Moody, the young civil rights activist, made a striking declaration: if God was white, she was done with him. But if when she got to heaven she found out that God was black, she would “try my best to kill you.”

In 1964 folk singer Joan Baez lamented the limits of song in Richard Fariña’s “Birmingham Sunday“:

A Sunday has come,
A Sunday has gone,
And I can’t do much more
than to sing you a song.

How will future generations remember our time? Fifty years from now, my guess is that most Americans will once again remember the March on Washington with pride. Those who hear about the Birmingham church bombing will experience a sense of sadness. “Birmingham Sunday” will still be available on Youtube (or whatever new technology there is) and Sixteenth Street Baptist Church will still host memorials. The March will loom larger, but Birmingham will still haunt the nation.

What great sermons, theological statements, social activist spiritual ruminations, or musical interventions will be recalled of our trials and tribulations? Will there be a song to lament Trayvon Martin that will move us fifty years from now? Will there be a preacher who stands amid the crisis and prophetically reveals a way from despair to hope? And in what media will it be recalled: cinematically? musically? can web pages hold these kinds of memories?

I hope we can remember Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson not simply for dying, but also for living. They played, they giggled, they went to school and church. We may not have videotape of them leading a march or Facebook accounts where they had posted pictures, yet they can still be present in our collective imaginations as more than the tragedy of collateral damage. When we consider making a better America, perhaps we can make it for young boys and girls who are very much like them.


By: Edward J. Blum, Religion Dispatches, September 10, 2013

September 12, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Marinating In The Swamp”: Tea Party Republican’s Government Shutdown Crisis Proceeding On Schedule

What with all the attention being paid to Syria, most people have forgotten that we’re just three weeks away from a government shutdown unless Congress passes a continuing resolution (CR), which is the (relatively) quick-and-easy way of keeping the government operating at current funding levels without writing a whole new budget. As you may remember, Tea Party Republicans in the House would like to use the threat of a government shutdown to force a defunding of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, while the Republican leadership, conservatives to a person, realizes that this is spectacularly stupid. If they hold up the CR with a defunding demand, Barack Obama will say no, the government will shut down, Republicans will get every ounce of the blame, and it’ll be a complete disaster for the GOP. Eventually they’ll give in and pass a CR, but only after having caused a crisis and eroding their brand even further, and by the way not actually defunding Obamacare.

So House Majority Leader Eric Cantor came up with something resembling a solution. The way it would work is that the House would pass two versions of the CR, one that defunds Obamacare and one that doesn’t. They would then send them to the Senate, which would presumably pass only the one that doesn’t defund Obamacare, which Obama would then sign. As Politico describes it, “The arrangement allows all sides to express themselves, but it surrenders the shutdown leverage that some conservatives hunger for.” And not surprisingly, Tea Partiers both inside and outside Congress don’t like it. Take, for instance, high-profile bloviator Erick Erickson of Red State and CNN. Here’s how his reaction starts:

Eric Cantor is always looking for new and imaginative ways to screw conservatives.

Let me stop you right there. Really? Does Erickson really believe that Eric Cantor, he of the 96 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union and equally near-perfect ratings from every other conservative organization, the guy who dreams of challenging John Boehner from the right—he’s “always looking for new and imaginative ways to screw conservatives”?

The rest of Erickson’s analysis of the situation isn’t particularly wrong in its facts, but this is what happens when you’ve spent a long time marinating in the fever swamp. A disagreement over tactics is immediately interpreted as an ideological betrayal. If asked, Cantor would say that he wants to repeal Obamacare as much as anybody, but he knows that shutting down the government next month is not only not going to accomplish that, it will impede everything else conservatives want to do. And he’d be telling the truth. But some people just can’t hear it.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 10, 2013

September 12, 2013 Posted by | Government Shut Down, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Grand Case Against Obamacare”: The Republican Old, Stale, Non-Compeling, Non-Argument

You’d think with the resources he commands as de facto leader of the conservative movement at the Heritage Foundation, rightwing warhorse Jim DeMint would be able to come up with a fresh and compelling argument for why he wants to shut down the federal government and maybe risk a global economic meltdown in order to stop the implementation of a health reform law based largely on a blueprint first devised by his own think tank. But DeMint’s latest ukase on the subject for the Fox News site is as tired as an uninsured diabetic in South Carolina working two shifts at minimum wage.

I won’t quote DeMint directly, but his five big reasons for killing Obamacare are the usual woofers: it may force people in the individual market to change insurance policies (for better ones, with premium subsidies available for those of modest means); it may cause some consumers to choose between the policies and providers they want (just like private insurance policies today); the Medicaid expansion is a fraud because Medicaid’s worse than no insurance at all (tell that to the many millions receiving Medicaid now); Obamacare will slash and maybe kill Medicare (the usual confusion of cost reductions and provider cuts with benefit cuts); and of course, the whole thing will blow up budget deficits (not what the nonpartisan CBO says at all).

But what’s most remarkable is that DeMint doesn’t even mention the tens of millions of people with preexisting conditions who will obtain health insurance they just cannot get right now, and also cannot get under any GOP alternative (though DeMint doesn’t bother to mention any) known to mankind, at least since the GOP abandoned Stuart Butler’s plan hatched at Heritage.

I don’t know why DeMint and his wordsmiths even bother with such “persuasion” efforts, particularly for Fox News readers. Anyone buying his premises has already bought the conclusion.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington MOnthly Politica Animal, September 10, 2013

September 12, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Working”: The Ultimate Reason To Support Resolution Authorizing Use of Military Force To Stop Chemical Weapons In Syria

The ultimate reason to support the Congressional resolution to authorize the use of military force to stop chemical weapons use in Syria is clear: it’s working.

Over a year ago, the U.S. proposed that Syria turn over its chemical weapons for destruction by the international community and join the chemical weapons treaty that bans their possession or use. Syria refused, and Russia refused to demand that it do so.

Today they have both said yes. There is only one reason. They hope to stop the use of military force that President Obama has proposed to degrade their ability to deliver these weapons — and make the regime pay a price for the indiscriminate slaughter of 1,400 adults and children using chemical weapons containing poison sarin gas.

Many of my fellow Progressives — who like me were strong opponents of the Iraq War — support President Obama’s request for Congressional authorization to use force to sanction chemical weapons use in Syria and deter its future use. They include Congressman Keith Ellison, the Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; former anti-war presidential candidate Howard Dean, progressive columnists E.J. Dionne and Gene Robinson; and of course former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But for those who do not want to see the use of military force in Syria, the best thing they can do to assure that the military action is not needed is to support the Congressional resolution authorizing the president to use military force if necessary. That is the absolute best way to make certain the Syrian regime actually gives up its chemical weapons once and for all — and that there is no need for the U.S. to take military action to force Assad to comply.

As the President argued last night, we need to make certain that the Russians and Syrians are absolutely convinced that if they do not make good on their new promise to turn over Syrian chemical weapons, military action will ensue — it’s that simple.

Three additional arguments have been used over the last few days that need to be addressed:

1). Some have argued that it is never justified to use force to counter malicious use of violence.

There are some Progressives who are truly pacifists — who feel that the use of force and violence is never justified.

I respect the convictions of those who hold pacifist views, but I do not agree with them.

When Governor Orville Faubus of Arkansas refused to allow the integration of the schools in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1954, it would have been easier for the rest of America to simply shake our collective fingers and decry racism. It would have also been more popular. Instead the federal government sent troops from the National Guard to enforce the desegregation order with the threat of force.

Sometimes the threat — or actual use — of force is necessary — especially to prevent violence.

That’s why we empower police departments with the ability to use the force of arms when necessary to prevent violent acts.

2). Some politicians worry that supporting the President’s proposal is simply too unpopular. They should remember that polls showed the public opposed the possible bombing campaign in 1999 that was aimed at protecting Kosovars from ethnic cleansing as well. A Gallup poll in February 1999 showed that 45 percent of the public opposed the proposed bombing compared with only 43 percent who supported it.

After the campaign was successful at achieving its goals, that opposition turned into public support, and the issue played very little role in the November 2000 Congressional elections.

3). Some opponents say simply, the use of poison gas in Syria is just not our problem. Let someone else worry about it, they say.

In fact, of course, nothing could be further from the truth. If the use of chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction can occur with impunity any where on our small planet, they will be used more and more frequently in military conflicts. And if they are, they pose a massive danger for human beings everywhere.

If Assad can get away with using these weapons with impunity, that will ultimately endanger us all.

But assume for a moment it were possible to isolate their use, so that it would never impact those of us thousands of miles away from the streets of suburban Damascus. Can we just ignore the suffering of those who are its victims?

There was another story about another middle eastern road – the road to Jericho – where the hero of the tale did not ignore an injured foreigner who lay suffering by the roadside. That of course was the story of the Good Samaritan – the quintessential story that is at the center of the Christian New Testament. It was the story Jesus used to explain what it meant to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Can we sit by and ignore the cries of people in foreign lands who are slaughtered in Rwanda, or ethnically cleansed in Kosovo, or gassed by the Nazis? I don’t think so. And sometimes getting involved is not always clean and sterile. Sometimes it is messy and inconvenient and difficult.

By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post Blog, September 11, 2013

September 12, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Syria | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Much Less Safe Neighborhood”: The NRA And The “Wave Of Fear” Prevails In Colorado

In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, several states took action in the hopes of preventing future gun violence. States like Delaware, New Jersey, and Connecticut each passed meaningful measures over the objections of far-right activists and the National Rifle Association.

So too did Colorado, where memories of the massacre at an Aurora movie theater were still fresh when the violence in Newtown occurred. Though the state has traditionally been resistant to gun reforms, lawmakers and Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) approved new measures in March to expand background checks and restrict high-capacity magazines — policies that even conservative Supreme Court justices have said are constitutional.

But the NRA and the right decided these efforts to reduce gun violence cannot stand, and they launched the first-ever recall elections in Colorado history. Yesterday, their gambit worked.

Two Colorado legislators who supported stricter gun control laws lost their jobs on Tuesday in an unprecedented recall election that became the center of the national debate over regulating firearms.

Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron were both defeated, the Denver Post reported, in the recall effort.

They’ll both be replaced with Republicans allied with the NRA, but this will not affect partisan control of Colorado’s state Senate, where Democrats will maintain a narrow majority.

Morse, a former police chief, was slated to leave office next year anyway, making his recall election more symbolic. Giron, first elected three years ago, has vowed to continue to find ways to serve her community.

Morse said last night, “We made Colorado safer from gun violence. If it cost me my political career, that’s a small price to pay.”

Let’s pause for a moment to ponder how remarkable it is that a respected lawmaker’s career had to end because he approved legal measures intended to prevent gun deaths.

The NRA, it’s worth noting, originally sought five recall elections against Democrats, but in the other three cases, the right-wing group failed to gather sufficient petition signatures.

But what, ultimately, was the point? If control of the state Senate was not at stake, Morse was retiring next year anyway, and the gun reforms aren’t going to be repealed anytime soon, why bother with multi-million-dollar recall elections with no precedent in state history?

The answer, of course, was that the NRA and far-right activists want to send a message to policymakers everywhere: efforts to prevent gun violence will end your career, too. Watch on YouTube

Indeed, the right has been quite explicit on this point. My colleague Laura Conaway posted this item a few weeks ago, featuring remarks from a local recall proponent.

For those who can’t watch clips online, the man in the video, Jon Caldara of the Colorado Independence Institute, argued:

“If the president of the Senate of Colorado, who did nothing except pass the laws that Bloomberg wrote, gets knocked out, there will be a shudder, a wave of fear that runs across every state legislator across the country, that says, ‘I ain’t doing that ever. That is not happening to me. I will not become a national embarrassment, I will not take on those guys.’ That’s how big this is.”

The goal of the NRA and its allies, then, was to create “a wave of fear.” Yesterday, they convinced just enough Coloradans who found this message appealing.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 11, 2013

September 12, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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