Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons.
By this author
With all due respect to the venerable American art museum in Manhattan, its reopening in May will only be the second most significant Whitney museum opening in the United States in recent months.
First place honors go to the Whitney Plantation, the first US museum "dedicated to telling the story of slavery", and powerfully profiled in this terrific New York Times Magazine article by novelist and journalist David Amsden.
Read the article for more on how New Orleans native John Cummings came to buy the 262-year old plantation, the quirk of industrial history that led to Cummings knowing "more about my plantation than anyone else around here — maybe more than any plantation in America outside of Monticello", the planned memorial to the 1811 German Coast Uprising (America's largest slave revolt), the critical role played by Senegalese historian Ibrahima Seck in creating the museum, and what happened when black and white branches of the Haydel family reunited at their old family homestead. I want to slip off to the side with some thoughts about what this means for white folks today.
As the new year gets underway, it appears US Rep. Steve Scalise's role as Majority Whip for House Republicans remains secure despite the revelation that he addressed a convention of white supremacists in 2002. Here's some of what we know:
- During his second term as a Louisiana state representative, Scalise spoke to the European-American Unity & Rights Organization (EURO) at the Landmark Best Western hotel in Metairie, LA on the weekend of May 17-18, 2002.
- Founded by former KKK Grand Wizard (and Louisiana state representative, and losing candidate for governor in 1991) David Duke, EURO is a racist and anti-Semitic hate group that currently exists primarily as a vehicle for Duke's self-promotion.
- According to Duke (who was not at the EURO conference), Scalise was invited by Howie Farrell and Kenny Knight, two of Duke's longtime aides.
- Longtime Louisiana political columnist James Gill observes in his New Year's Day column, "To accept an invitation from Howie Farrell and Kenny Knight, then act surprised they were fronting for David Duke, is like turning up at a rally with Goebbels and Goering and wondering how come there are swastikas all over the place."
- In an interview this week with the New Orleans Times-Picayune Rep. Scalise said he detests "any kind of hate group" and said of EURO, "When you look at the kind of things they stand for, I detest these kinds of views. As a Catholic, I think some of the things they profess target people like me. At lot of their views run contradictory to the way I run my life."
- On the other hand, as conservative activist/commentator (and Louisiana native) Erick Erickson noted: "By 2002, everybody knew Duke was still the man he had claimed not to be. EVERYBODY. How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance? Trent Lott was driven from the field in 2001 for something less than this."
- Despite all this, after Scalise on Tuesday acknowledged his speech at the EURO conference as "a mistake I regret", his House Republican colleagues quickly issued strong statements of support, in part (it seems) because Scalise is good at his job.
Among the thought-provoking comments in the lively discussion thread prompted by Kaitlin Campbell's superb post, "Thoughts on New York Protests and the NYPD", is one from Jim McCrea (12/27, 6:33 pm) raising questions about the responsibilities of nonviolent protestors (and especially, protest organizers and leaders) when confronted by violence initiated by "self-styled anarchists" marching with them.
This has been a serious and recurring problem at Oakland protests in recent weeks, according to McCrea, and I suspect it was an issue elsewhere too, even before the killings of Officers Liu and Ramos in New York and the shooting of Shaneka Thompson in Maryland by Ismaaiyl Brinsley.
Elsewhere in the blogosphere URI historian Erik Loomis has a brief, powerful reflection on "Violence and Nonviolence" in which he concludes, "It’s just hard to see what violence is going to accomplish within the American context. Even if violent resistance can be morally defended, tactically it can’t be defended."
Loomis is answering a theoretical/ideological question, but doesn't answer the practical question Jim McCrea raised: what are leaders, organizers and participants in public protest to do when others begin destroying property or attacking people?
One effective answer is clear instructions from leaders/organizers to participants (and the general public, the police and the media) about how to act when confronted by violence from within the march or protest.
For example, a couple of years ago Mexican students in the "Yo Soy 132" movement put out a list of clear, disciplined guidelines for isolating and eliminating violence from a march they were organizing:
Pentatonix is the hottest a capella group in American pop music. They've got the biggest selling 2014 Christmas album; and it opens with "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". It is---and is not---your grandmother's "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", thereby hinting at both the timelessness of Christ's birth and the ways in which each generation can (and does, and must) make the celebration come alive anew.
Building from Pops Staples' incantatory, heavy-reverb electric guitar lines, and raised up by the tight vocal harmonies of his children, this slowed-down version of "No Room At The Inn" from The Staple Singers is about as deeply rooted in the eschatological and prophetic traditions as any Advent song.
"(T)he biggest single under-discussed aspect of contemporary national politics is the consistent disparity in turnout patterns between presidential and non-presidential elections, which at the moment happen to align almost perfectly with party preferences."
If anyone's taking nominations in the category of "Best 2014 Election Analysis", I nominate Ed Kilgore's Nov. 9 post, "Turnout Disparities and the Democratic Dilemma for 2014", on the Washington Monthly's invaluable Political Animal blog.
What's so good about Kilgore's piece? Well, for one, it's from Nov. 9, 2012. That means it was written during the euphoric afterglow (for partisan Democrats) of President Obama's convincing re-election. Second---and this may be the most important reason---it remains resolutely focused on the fundamental interplay of how US voters actually behave and how the US electoral system is structured:
Let's try an experiment. Rather than dive right into a national overview of what happened at the polls, I'd be interested to see what dotCommonweal readers and contributors found most interesting about the returns from elections in their own states and localities.
(When Sen. George Mitchell receives Commonweal's Catholic in the Public Square Award later this month, there will be little---and perhaps no---mention of his work on the Iran-contra committee and his July 13, 1987 statement to Col. Oliver North. (There's no mention of it in the lengthy biographical entries about Mitchell on Wikipedia and the Academy of Achievement.) And that is probably as it should be. Mitchell's more recent work as an international peacemaker, and particularly his work in Northern Ireland, will rightly take center stage. All the more reason then, to remember it here.)
It was the summer of 1987 and the Iran-contra hearings were in full swing. As Congress came back from its Independence Day recess the man in the middle of the scandal, NSC aide Lt. Col. Oliver North, began his testimony...and a folk hero was born.
With his erect bearing, immaculate uniform, beribboned chest, and puppy-dog eyes, North embodied an American patriotic ideal. A man of action who loves his country and will do what it takes to get the job done. A man alternately bewildered at and defiant of those who would besmirch the honor of his good name.
Meanwhile the Congressional investigators looked like...members of Congress. Mostly older, graying, paunchy, suited men who sounded like...well, members of Congress, speaking the orotund dialect peculiar to that body.
To the evident delight of some Republicans (e.g., Rep. Richard Cheney of Wyoming) on the 26 man (yes, all men) combined House and Senate select committees, North's reputation soared overnight as he cleverly exploited the committee's own rules to make soaring speeches in defense of himself and of the secret and illegal policies he had carried out---selling arms (despite an arms embargo) to Iran for the release of American hostages (thus providing a further incentive for kidnappers) and secretly funneling the funds raised to the contras in Nicaragua (despite the Boland Amendment). "I didn't think it was wrong; I thought it was a neat idea," said North. Most Americans watching the televised hearings cheered him on.
It was different on radio.
In most of the United States, today is Columbus Day. Recognition of the holiday is intimately tied with the Catholic presence in the United States, from initial observances by Italian immigrants and their descendants in the second half of the 19th century, to its first federal recognition in 1937.