Water Man Spouts

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Making change

{1} "First, our people have to become registered voters. But they should not become involved actively in politics until we have gotten a much better understanding than we now have of the gains to be made from politics in this country. We go into politics in a sort of gullible way, an emotional way, whereas politics, especially in this country, is cold-blooded and heartless. We have to be given a better understanding of the science of politics as well as becoming registered voters." – Malcolm X; Harvard Law School Forum; December 16, 1964.

Three Americans who had a great influence on my thinking were Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. They all recognized that in order for this country to function as a Constitutional democracy, every citizen had to have the opportunity to participate in the process. All three advocated voter registration, education in civics, and grass roots participation.

Malcolm became politically active after leaving the Nation of Islam. He met and was influenced by some of the revolutionary figures from around the globe. He never went so far as to commit his support to any national party. But he was closely associated with democrats like Charles Rangel, Percy Sutton, and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell. And he worked on grass roots campaigns with leaders such as Rev. Milton Galamison.

{2} "There are millions of Americans living in hidden places, whose faces and names we never know. But I have seen children starving in Mississippi, idling their lives away in the ghetto, living without hope or future amid the despair on Indian reservations, with no jobs and little hope. I have seen proud men in the hills of Appalachia, who wish only to work in dignity – but the mines are closed, and the jobs are gone, and no one, neither industry or labor or government, has cared enough to help. Those conditions will change, those children will live, only if we dissent. So I dissent, and I know you do, too." – Robert F. Kennedy; University of California at Berkley; October 22, 1966.

For a lot of people my age, Robert Kennedy’s 1968 campaign for the presidency represents the promise of a "better way" for America. Few people have the ability to reach so many people on the level that RFK did. But one of the things that I remember the most about Senator Kennedy was his close friendship with labor leader Cesar Chavez.

Back in those days, Chavez said something that struck me as important. I do not have the exact quote, as it was some four decades ago. But when he was asked about how he organized people, he said that he would talk to the first person he met, then to the next person, and then the next one. And that is the essence of grass roots organizing.

{3} "The Negro vote at present is only partially realized strength. It can still be doubled in the South. In the North even where Negroes are registered in equal proportion to whites, they do not vote in the same proportions. Assailed by a sense of futility, Negroes resist participating in empty ritual. However, when the Negro citizen learns that united and organized pressure can achieve measurable results, he will make his influence felt. Out of this conscious act, the political power of the aroused minority will be enhanced and consolidated. ….

" We must utilize the community action groups and training centers now proliferating in some slum areas to create not merely an electorate, but a conscious, alert and informed people who know their direction and whose collective wisdom and vitality commands respect." – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Black Power Defined; 1967

There are many times when I wish Malcolm, Robert, and Martin were with us today. It can be something as simply as thinking that I’d like to see Malcolm debate some of the "journalists" on Fox, such as Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly. I would want to hear Robert address the US Senate on their responsibilities in regard to opposing the Bush war in Iraq. And I’d like to hear Martin encourage those of us at the grass roots to be conscious of the fact that we have the ability to organize, and to institute change in America.

We have a year to register voters, to engage in public education, and to organize local voting blocks. If each of us registered but one voter per month, that would increase our power twelve fold. If we registered one person per week, we increase our power 52 times. We have the ability to create positive changes in this country.


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