Please, don’t sleep on voting

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If you can’t stomach the thought of voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, think about  James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. Or cast your vote with Viola Liuzzo in mind.

It would be easy to become jaded by the  insanity of this election cycle and decide to sit this one out. You  may be a young person who doesn’t see anything in these candidates’ messages which speaks directly to you.  Or you may view the major party candidates as so  disingenuous  you’re considering casting a protest vote for a third-party candidate.

I submit to you that neither is a viable option. Every election is an opportunity to make your voice heard. Voters in Cobb County did so recently when they sent Commission Chairman Tim Lee packing, in part because of his lack of transparency regarding the Atlanta Braves stadium deal.

And every election is a chance to exercise a hard-earned right. James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were attempting to register African-American voters in Mississippi when they were beaten and shot to death by the Ku Klux Klan.  Schwerner and Goodman were young men in their 20s who came from up North to help register black voters during Freedom Summer in 1964.  Chaney, a native Mississippian, had grown weary of conditions in his state, where he and other African-Americans  were relegated to second class citizenship.

A year later, near Selma, Alabama Viola Gregg Liuzzo was murdered by Klan members who saw her driving a black man from Montgomery to Selma. Liuzzo and her companion, Leroy Moton, were Southern Christian Leadership Conference volunteers helping to register black voters, who were routinely threatened and intimidated at the polls. Moton survived the attack by pretending to be dead. Luizzo, a wife and mother from Detroit, was shot in the face just shy of her 40th birthday.

Whenever I think about not voting, I remember something Rev. C.T. Vivian, a longtime civil rights activist now in his 90s, told me about why he and other protestors believed so deeply in what they were doing:  “We did it to fulfill our humanity.”

When you think about it, that’s not so different from today’s freedom fighters, who have taken to the streets to protest the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner to name a few. Voting in local elections ensures that the people who believe the same as we do lobby to improve police training and hire more officers who are sensitive to the needs and concerns of the communities they serve.

We are facing the most important presidential election in our nation’s history. Not voting on Nov. 8th shouldn’t be an option.

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Viola Liuzzo

 

 

 

 

When your heritage represents our pain

This imagine of kids playing  together in 1950s Detroit should help us remember that we are one.

This iconic photograph of children playing in Detroit should remind us all that we are one. The flag that divides us should not fly on public property.

First a painful truth: the Confederate flag flies all around the South. I’ve seen it in Jackson, Miss. and in Selma, Birmingham and Montgomery, where black people — and the white people who helped them — were beaten and murdered for trying to fulfill their humanity and gain equal protection under the law.

Here in Georgia we see the flag on porches, at places of business and on the license plate of a car that seems to be following you way too closely.

Now the debate about the flag is focused on South Carolina, where a 21-year-old man pictured with the Confederate flag killed nine people in a Charleston church two weeks ago and admitted he did so because he hated African-Americans. The pastor of that church, Clementa Pinckney, was among those slaughtered. He served in the South Carolina state legislature, the very body that will take up the flag issue next week.
The Civil War may have ended 150 years ago, but this battle over the Confederate Flag rages on. For me, the flag represents oppression and hatred. I get a sick feeling in my stomach whenever i encounter it. My mind goes back to a time when black people were killed just for being black.

Earlier this week I asked Rev. C.T. Vivian about the Confederate flag and the burning of black churches throughout the South in recent weeks. Vivian, who turns 90 this month, fought for voting rights in Selma. As a young pastor and divinity student in Nashville, he took part in the Nashville Student Movement and the Freedom Rides in the early 1960s. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Vivian with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“The flag is representing the death, the murder and the misuse of black life before and after slavery. That’s why they talk about heritage,” said Vivian. “Well I would not want to be a part of heritage that talks about hate as a basic part of my lifestyle. They have to understand the hanging and the killing and the beating of black people by Christians and the Klan was a basic part of a good deal of what the white church did in the south. Racism was a part of the lives of the Southern Baptists.”

As Dr. Vivian noted, the flag is deeply engrained in Southern culture.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the flag outside of my workplace. It was 1989 and I’d moved from St. Petersburg, Fla. to take a reporting job in Atlanta. When I walked into the newsroom, I asked why the Confederate flag was flying outside my new workplace. It’s part of the Georgia state flag, a colleague said.

And here I thought I was moving to “the city too busy to hate.” The black Mecca. The cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. Welcome to Georgia, where every other neighborhood has “Plantation” in its name and there is an entire museum dedicated to revisionist history.

It would be years before the Confederate emblem was removed from Georgia’s state flag. It was a bruising battle that ultimately came down to economics and image.  In the South, you see, one of the justifications for slavery is that it was an economic institution.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery often speaks about how Southern culture and ideals come into play with current day issues, such as the need to appoint more black judges in Georgia.  Much of the resistance stems from the refusal of some state legislators to let go of the past, he contends.

“They are still fighting the Civil War,” said Lowery, who in 2009 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in civil and human rights.

So display the Confederate flag if you choose. But do so with the knowledge of the hurt and pain it brings to many Americans who helped build this country.

But it should no longer be displayed on public property.

Let’s honor the nine men and women who died at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Take down that flag.

Rev. C.T. Vivian…what a way to start the day!

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When it comes to brilliance and boldness, Rev. C.T. Vivian has few peers. I could listen to the man drop knowledge all day long. And I love the way he refers to everyone as “my brother” and “my sister.”

Thursday, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Rev. Vivian chatting it up with Ryan Cameron and the rest of the V-103 morning crew. Rev. Vivian was one of the key figures in the Nashville Student Movement, the 1961 Freedom Rides and many other protests in the 1960s. He was holding court on the radio as only he can. Someone asked him about the use of the N-word, and I liked what he had to say. People will stop using it when we when are completely free, he said. By his estimation, we’re about half way there. The journey, he said, is about fulfilling our humanity; a phrase I’ve heard him use before.

I wish there was a way to expose every young person to Rev. Vivian. I’ve got to believe they’d be inspired by his passion and motivated by the fact that at 89 years young he is still going hard. His current job is national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of the nation’s oldest Civil Rights organizations. He and Dr. Bernard LaFayette, the SCLC’s chairman of the board, worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 60s to desegregate public facilities and to push for major civil rights legislation. Later, they held voter registration campaigns in some of the most segregated cities in the south.

Last month, I spent a few hours with Rev. Vivian and Dr. LaFayette at Morehouse College in a training session on nonviolent social change. It was a Friday night and only a few student leaders at the Atlanta University Center decided to show up. What a missed opportunity! Whenever I’m around Rev. Vivian, I like to be quiet and listen. Each time we talk, I learn something new. At this gathering, he talked about how Malcolm X was sent to meet with Ku Klux Klan members. Nation of Islam leaders wanted the Klan’s help in obtaining land to create a separate nation for black Muslims. Both groups believed in the separation of the races but why in the world would any black organization or religious group want to join forces with the Klan, a group whose members terrorized and murdered black folks?

Rev. Vivian is living, breathing history. Next month, the longtime Atlanta resident will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor a president can bestow. Rev. Vivian — who punctuates every other sentence with “Right?” — told us President Barack Obama is well read when it comes to the strategies and tactics used during the Civil Rights Movement. Obama asked Vivian how they were able to succeed with the non violent protests. The key, said Rev. Vivian, is believing in something so passionately you are willing to die for it.

Back in 1965, in Selma, Ala. Rev. Vivian was punched in the face by the town’s sheriff when he tried to register black voters. But a bloody face didn’t stop the him from continuing to challenge the sheriff.

When a celebration was being planned in Jackson, Miss. in 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, Rev. Vivian told me he planned to boycott the event because of then-Gov. Haley Barbour’s racial politics. Furthermore, he said, he didn’t want to be used by Mississippi officials intent on showing how far they’d come since the days they jailed hundreds of Freedom Riders in a state prison for “Breach of the Peace.”

I’m sure Rev. Vivian will have a few choice words for the Washington crowd when he receives the Presidential Medal next month. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.

Non-violence worked in the 1960s and it can work today

Jonathan Lewis has trained some of South America’s most notorious criminals to embrace non- violence. He’s done similar work in South Africa, Nigeria, Chicago and Wisconsin, where he is training college students and faculty on handling conflicts peacefully.

It’s easy to see how college students might embrace nonviolence. They are young and generally open to change. But what about people for whom violence is a way of life? How do you get them to see the merits of changing their behavior?

Lewis, a.k.a. “Globe”, says it’s a matter of appealing to their intelligence and getting them to open their mind to a new way of responding to conflict. He is a Level 4 trainer in “Kingian” nonviolence. Named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it has used successfully to change people’s behavior throughout history.

If you saw “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, you’ll remember the Gaines family sending their son Louis to Fisk University in Nashville. While there, he learned non-violent social resistance from Dr. James Lawson, who modeled his training on the nonviolent civil disobedience practiced by India’s great leader, Mahatma Ghandi. The students used the training in sit-ins and other demonstrations.

Lewis, 36, lives in Selma, Ala. and works with students on an Alternative Spring Break program where they learn nonviolent conflict resolution tactics to take back to their respective universities. He is also working with high school students in Selma, where segregation persists and job opportunities are few.

He has founded an organization called Positive Peace Warrior Network. It’s a concept teenagers can relate to because everyone likes the idea of being a warrior. He suggests students view warriors as people who are committed, strong, honorable and courageous.

Young people, Lewis says, want to deal with current day problems like bullying and gang violence differently, but they often don’t know how. If you can train athletes and other popular students in high school to resolve conflicts differently, they can serve as peer mentors, he says.

At a college prep school in Chicago, students have been practicing “Kingian” nonviolence for several years. As a result, there has been a 90 percent reduction in school violence on the campus.

I met Lewis in Washington, D.C. the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream speech.” He and others were brought together by Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr., for a commitment ceremony.

Dr. LaFayette, 73, is a senior scholar in residence at Emory University and serves and chairman of the board for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He has worked all over the world with people who previously solved their problems with violence. In 1968, he led Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign and pledged Dr. King that he would continue his work. It is a commitment he lives daily.

On a bright, beautiful Sunday morning, we stood just outside the “Mountain of Despair”, part of the monument to Dr. King on the National Mall. Monument designers created a stone of hope cut from a mountain of despair. The design captures the spirit of our people in the 1950s and 1960s, when they struggled to break down stereotypes and long-held prejudices by demonstrating their humanity.

The weekend was a time for inspiration and action. It required us to think about ways we can recommit to the ideals of Dr. King.

Rev. C.T. Vivian of Atlanta and Dr. LaFayette were part of the Nashville Student Movement to desegregate lunch counters, movie theaters and other public facilities. The disciplined and well-trained students in Nashville prevailed, breaking the back of segregation in that city. Many of the demonstrators, including Rev. Vivian and Dr. LaFayette, joined the 1961 Freedom Rides, which tested federal laws enacted to desegregate Greyhound and Trailways buses. More than 400 students and adults of all races made the rides through the Deep South where they met with violence and imprisonment.

Watching “The Butler” I wondered if I could keep my composure if someone splashed hot coffee in my face or poured ketchup in my hair or worse. And I’ve been thinking about this: what do I believe so strongly in that I’d be willing to die for?

To learn more about the Positive Peace Warrior Network go to http://www.ppwn.org


The six principles of “Kingian” nonviolence, as taught by Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr.:

— You can’t practice nonviolence unless you have courage.

— You have to be willing to accept suffering for the sake of the cause. For instance, if you want to try to reach a goal, such as making an ‘A’ in a class, you can’t go out and party, you’ve got to sacrifice.

— Attack the forces of evil, not the person who is doing the evil. “When we did the Freedom Rides, we weren’t there to confront those people who were attacking us; we were attacking the system that allowed discrimination to take place, ” said Dr. LaFayette.

— Accept suffering without retaliation for the cause.

— Avoid violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence. “Sometimes emotional and psychological scars take longer to heal than others,” according to Dr. LaFayette.

— The universe is on the side of justice.