Monday, January 21, 2008
What Would Dr. King Say?
Recently, there was a “tempest in a teapot” between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama over Dr. Martin Luther King’s role and contributions in the civil rights movement. Hilary said, “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a President to get it done.” Her husband Bill views Barack Obama as a gadfly, and an interloper. The upstart Obama has unexpectedly become a major stumbling block to Hilary’s coronation. Bill told talk show host Charlie Rose that his irritation with Obama has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with the fact that his wife has paid her dues. Obama has not. He is just a young pretty face. He must wait his turn, as Bill himself did back in 1988. Bill also said the the American people must vote for “the best agent for change”, not merely a “symbol for change… symbol is not as important as substance.” These were fighting words to say the least; and very surprising coming from the “first (former) black president” and his wife, the “first black (former) first lady??).
Many African Americans were troubled, and some even offended, by the apparently patronizing, insensitive and condescending tone of the Clintons’ tag team verbal onslaught against Obama. Was Hilary underrating Dr. King’s long and arduous struggle for equality and justice by giving President Johnson the ultimate credit for the success of the civil rights movement? Was she implying that it took a white president and a white Congress to bring long overdue legal equality to African Americans, and that Dr. King was merely leading the black cheering section? Was Hilary implicitly equating herself with Johnson as the “second great emancipator”, and offering herself as the “third great emancipator”, while Obama like Dr. King plays a stage role as a young dreamer? Do the Clintons really believe that African American leaders including Dr. King and Obama are merely “symbolic” leaders to be manipulated as puppets by liberal white leaders?
Perhaps the brouhaha is just overblown election year political rhetoric. Perhaps not. But there is enough historic precedent to be concerned about the Clintons’ jarring message to Obama. Dr. King was also told to “wait”. He was just rushing things too much. It’s not just time. He must “wait”, just a little longer. That was the reason he issued his monumental “Letter From Birmingham Jail” back in 1963 to tell his critics that he can no longer wait. Dr. King explained:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.”
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights…. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim;… when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society…. when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”, then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. (Italics added.)
Had Dr. King “waited” for someone to bring freedom and civil rights to him, he might still be waiting. For Bill and Hilary, and whoever else offers a promise of freedom. Thank God Almighty, he did not. Were he alive today, he would have probably said, “I hope, Hilary and Bill, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”
Martin Luther King as One of the Greatest Human Rights Leaders of the 20th Century
Dr. King is often referred to as a “great black civil rights leader.” But he was really much, much more than that. He was one of the greatest human rights leaders of the 20th Century. A civil rights leader is concerned with the restoration of legal rights to those who are deprived of it. It is true Dr. King sought restoration of civil rights to African Americans who had endured for too long the dehumanizing effects of segregation and discrimination in America. He wanted laws to insure that African Americans were treated fairly and justly, and accorded equal opportunity in American society. But he NEVER asked for special rights or privileges for black people. He never asked for preferential treatment for them. He just wanted African Americans to have the same rights that other Americans enjoyed. Nothing more. Nothing less. And he keenly understood the limitation of the law. He said, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.” He wanted the law to make sure African Americans were not lynched, discriminated or segregated because of their race and skin color. He wanted African Americans to have what any other ordinary American was guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. Nothing more, and nothing less.
Dr. King was concerned with more than remedial civil rights legislation. He understood that civil rights laws in and of themselves were hollow unless they were fortified with human rights that included guarantees of basic economic security to every citizen. He knew the problem of poverty and economic security was not a unique problem to African Americans. The majority of the people in his time who were under the poverty line were white, not black. He saw the income inequality in the richest country in the world not through racial or ethnic lenses, but through the lens of structural reform of an uncompassionate economic system that created huge disparities between the rich and the poor. He said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
Until his last day, Dr. King was a drum major for poor people. He led the Poor People’s Campaign and traveled the country with people of all races engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience. He called for an investment in people by creating government employment programs to rebuild America’s cities and schools and communities. He criticized Congress for appropriating “military funds with alacrity and generosity,” but providing “poverty funds with miserliness.”
Dr. King also understood that the “edifice which produces beggars” also produced untold misery and violence throughout the world. In 1967, Dr. King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” It was a great moral indictment against leaders of a nation that had committed large numbers of its youth and vast resources to wreak havoc on other societies. He said America was “on the wrong side of a world revolution”, and questioned why America had created an “alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America,” and why it was helping suppress revolutions “of the shirtless and barefoot people” from Vietnam to Africa to Latin America. He saw great injustice in the actions of “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.”
Dr. King’s Message
Dr. King’s greatness as a leader comes not from his work to get civil rights legislation passed to eliminate lynchings, segregation and discrimination. Rather his universal appeal comes from his message of Love regardless of race, religion, gender or nationality. For this reason, it is important to remember that when we celebrate Martin Luther King Day on the third Monday of January, we are not celebrating a “black” holiday or a “black civil rights leader”. We are celebrating the timeless message of one of the greatest defenders of human rights in the 20th Century.
Like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King was profoundly concerned about the human race, not just the black or brown race. He loved humanity as children of God, not as races, nationalities, ethnicities or gender types. His cause was freedom, justice and equality in America, in Africa, in Vietnam or anywhere else in the world because he deeply understood that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He set out to change America and the world by changing hearts and minds through love, compassion, understanding and knowledge.
Dr. King’s message was that it is possible to change the world without the use of violence. As a Christian minister, he believed in the Christian idea of love. He combined this idea with Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha (truth force, love force). The result was a method of nonviolence that could be an effective tool in the struggle for freedom, equality and human rights in America, or anywhere else. Dr. King initially thought the whole idea of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience was somewhat impractical and counterintuitive. He realized its potential when he used it in the Montgomery bus boycott and successfully desegregated that city’s public transportation system in 1956.
Dr. King learned an essential lesson from the Montgomery boycott experience: Nonviolence and non-cooperation in repressive systems could be important tools of social change. His basic ideas on the use of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience were simple. He categorically rejected violence as a method of change. He cautioned, “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding. It seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.”
Dr. King was interested in building and constructing a just society, and in redemption; he was not interested in poking out the eyes of evil doers and piling up the body count of blind people in the community. For this reason, his teachings and message are easily understood. He taught nonviolence is actually a way of life for courageous people, that is, for people who have the courage of their convictions and have a commitment to truth and justice. Practitioners of nonviolent resistance are not interested in vanquishing their enemies; they are interested in converting them to the cause of righteousness. It is necessary to separate those who do evil from the evil they do. They are victims of evil themselves; they need salvation, not destruction. Suffering transforms and instructs the individual. Though suffering it is possible to convert the enemy. One must accept suffering, but never inflict it. Nonviolence avoids hate and upholds love; and one must never sink to the level of the hater. Love is a weapon not only to resist injustice but also restore community. The nonviolent resister always believes the universe and God are on the side of justice. In the end, justice and truth will always prevail. This is the sum and substance of Dr. King’s message.
Dr. King and His Dream of Human Rights
Dr. King’s dream was fundamentally a dream for human rights anchored in the very body and soul of the American credo of freedom, justice and equality so eloquently stated in the Declaration of Independence. In 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., Dr. King proclaimed his Dream to the world. He said:
“[E]ven though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, … little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope….”
An Impossible Dream?: Carving Out a Stone of Hope From a Mountain of Despair
Nearly 150 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and 44 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Dr. King’s dream of human rights still remains unfulfilled. Far too many African Americans are trapped and stranded on the “mountain of despair”, poverty and prison. Young African Americans suffer the brunt of that despair. The statistics are shocking, but not unfamiliar.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that there are approximately 5 million black men in America between the ages of 20 and 39. But the fate of these young people in American society is bleak. A young black man today has a greater chance of being shot or victimized by violence than going to college. The incarceration rate among black males is mind boggling. Nearly one out of four black males is either in state prison, county jail, on parole, probation or is being sought by law enforcement authorities. Nearly 16 percent of black men between the ages of 20-30 who are not college students are in some form of custodial supervision. Nearly 60 percent of black male high school dropouts in the 20-39 age range have done prison or jail time. African Americans are seven times more likely to go to prison or jail than whites; and the incarceration rate for young black males has continued to rise for the past two decades. There does not seem to be an end to the exodus of young black men to correctional institutions. Even sociologists have invented a new theory to explain the “internal migration” of young urban black males from their communities to prison. The sad truth is that the United States now imprisons more people than any other country in the world; and a disproportionate percentage of these inmates are black men.
Economically, African Americans as a group earn less today than they did fifteen years ago. The jobless rate among black men has remained the highest among all groups in the U.S., and continues to increase. In 2000, approximately 65 percent of black male high school dropouts had no jobs; by 2004, that number had increased to 72 percent. Young African Americans with no criminal records do not seem to do much better in the job market. They have as much chance of getting employed as a white job seeker fresh out of jail. Such is the sad, sad story of young African American males; and it is widely documented in all of the major studies done at Harvard, Princeton and Columbia over the past 2 years.
But there is a human side that some of us see in the trenches. There are real faces behind these statistics. We know them as clients in the state and federal prisons, and county jails. We do our best to defend them in the courtrooms and hearing rooms while they are chained like dangerous wild animals. We listen in muted anger as they are dehumanized and referred to as “bodies”. We are told, “There is one body waiting for you to talk.” Every day we read the same stories written on the faces of these young black men in invisible ink. It is a story of gangs, drugs, poverty and violence. It is a familiar and numbing story. But we have heard it all before. And the criminal justice system has a well-oiled revolving door that spits out young African Americans like widgets in a factory assembly line. From incarceration to parole and probation, and back to incarceration. It is the same story every time.
We also see them, just a very few of them, in the college classrooms. Often we see them for a fleeting moment. A few days, and they are not around anymore. And we wonder. But rarely do we wonder if they had fallen ill or gotten into an accident. No, we worry, and often are resigned to the fact that perhaps they got arrested. It is very sad. Every year, we hope there will be more young African American men in our classes because tens of thousands of them graduate from the high schools all over the State of California; and every year we are disappointed. They don’t come.
In 2006, in Los Angeles County alone 10,487 African American students graduated from high school. Only 210 (2%) were admitted at UCLA! In the same year, the University of California (UC) System admitted 55,242 students. Only 1880 (3.4%) were African American. In 2006, in the California State University System (CSU), there were only 20,000 African American students out of more than 400,000, representing only 6% of the student population system wide. But the admissions percentages are terribly misleading. Among those African Americans admitted, a little over 50 percent actually graduate within 6 years. Among those admitted and graduating, a significant percentage of them are African American women. Imagine: What are the odds of having an African American student in a given course on a UC or CSU campus? An African American male?
MLK’s Human Rights Legacy: Barack Obama Can Lead the People From the Mountain of Despair to the Valley of Hope!
Senator Obama seems ready to pick up Dr. King’s mantle. He uses language that unifies America, not divide it. He appeals to principles of justice, freedom and equality, not to whites or blacks or other races. He declared, “There is no black America. There is no White America. Only the United States of America.” That is in the same spirit of Dr. King’s dream, “a dream deeply rooted in the American dream ‘that all men are created equal.’” It is the same aspiration.
Obama’s message is resonating with people of all races, as did Dr. King’s. Whites, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and others are coming out to vote for him in record numbers. He is revitalizing American democracy, and awakening a new spirit of political participation and involvement among the young. He has struck a chord in the American imagination and spirit. He sounds just like Dr. King when he says, “I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m talking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.” He talks about finding our way out of the wilderness. “That is how Dr. King led this country through the wilderness. He did it with words — words that he spoke not just to the children of slaves, but the children of slave owners. Words that inspired not just black but also white, not just the Gentile but also the Jew, not just the Southerner but also the Northerner.”
Whether Barack Obama becomes president is an important fact. His candidacy and the public support he has generated to date marks a historic milestone in American history. But to many of us, whether he can carry the mantle of Dr. King is equally important. Can he pick up where Dr. King left off? Many of Dr. King’s people are stranded on a mountain of despair. They need someone to lead them out of the wilderness to the valley of hope? Can Obama become the moral conscience and compass for America? He can, if he chooses to become Dr. King’s messenger!
Dr. King Would Have Wholeheartedly Supported Ethiopian Human Rights
Dr. King would have supported H.R. 2003 wholeheartedly. We know this from the fact that he opposed racist violence in Alabama and Mississippi that caused the deaths of hundreds of innocent protesters and imprisonment of thousands more; and from his unflinching opposition to apartheid in South Africa, dictatorships in Latin America and Africa, and in his outrage wherever “injustice threatened justice.” We can still hear the echoes of Dr. King’s words from nearly a half century ago. Back then he spoke out against U.S. support of tyrannical and dictatorial regimes that trampled on human rights in Latin America, Asia and Africa. If he were alive today, he would asked President Bush why America is on the “wrong side” of the struggle for human rights in Ethiopia? Why has America created an “alliance” with a corrupt and dictatorial regime in Ethiopia that tramples on the basic human rights of its citizens? Why is America helping to suppress the freedom aspirations “of the shirtless and barefoot people” of Ethiopia? Why is it that “America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world is not leading the human rights revolution in the world?”
But he would have had a few words for us too. He would have reminded us our obligations: “Every man (and woman) of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his (her) convictions, but we must all protest.” Yes, we must protest against human rights violations. And against tyranny and dictatorships. We must have our voices heard in support of the rule of law, freedom, justice, human rights and democracy. And he would have also taught us the truth about the consequences of our inaction and indifference: “If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”
So today we wish Dr. King a happy birthday! Today we celebrate his message and teachings. Today we recommit ourselves to the cause of truth, justice, freedom, human rights and democracy. Today we join Dr. King in reciting one of his favorite poems written by James Russell Lowell:
Truth forever on the scaffold.
Wrong forever on the throne.
With that scaffold sways the future.
Behind the dim unknown stands God
Within the shadow keeping watch above his own.
Long Live the King! Long Live the Dream! Long Live H. R. 2003!
Monday, January 07, 2008
H.R. Here, H.R. There, H.R. Everywhere in Ethiopia!The truth is finally out! The H.R. in H.R. 2003 stands for Human Rights! H.R. has become the special code for the Ethiopian people whenever they want to talk about the rule of law and due process and freedom of expression and association. It has become their special lingo to talk about the need for an independent press and an independent judiciary and for clean elections and the rest of it. And human rights were the rage in Ethiopia in the third quarter of 2007. From the barstools of the Sheraton and Hilton hotels to the tattered wooden benches of the tej, tella and katikalla bets, the talk was H.R. Farmers, day laborers and even listros (shoeshiners) wistfully talked about H.R. "This H.R. We need her! If only we had HeR…" they'd pine away.
From the universities to the school yard, it was all about H.R. The mantra of the Grant Run was H.R. "We want H.R. Pass H.R. now!", the multitudes chanted in unison as they pounded the pavement. Sinecured politicians and bureaucrats, and sycophants lined up to condemn H.R. On regime-controlled radio, television and in the "newspapers", it was H.R. H.R. H.R. H.R.!!!! The Ethiopian Diaspora basked in the sunlight of H.R., fresh from a unanimous House vote. In the United States, the epicenter of the H.R. phenomenon, and in Canada, Europe and Australia, and in the Middle East and Africa, they sang the H.R. song. Just like Harry Belafonte sang his freedom song: "If I had a hammer". If we had H.R., we too would hammer for justice, and ring the bell of freedom all over the land. Ah! If we only had H.R…
Let's Thank Our Adversaries!Passage of H.R. 2003 in the U.S. House of Representatives in October, 2007 "rocked their world". They could not believe they would be thumped so decisively so well protected by the Armey of D.L.A. Piper. They frothed at the mouth. They recoiled in cold sweat. They cried foul. But all to no avail. H.R. had captivated the imagination of all Ethiopians. It was embedded deep in their psyche. H.R. had become the symbol of hope for millions who have been forced to endure hopelessness. The very acronym, H.R., had a magical quality of deliverance to it. It was empowering, and inspiring. Every time Ethiopians uttered the H.R. acronym, it was at once an act of defiance and of civil disobedience; and also a muted cry for help, an S.O.S. to America and the world for dignity, for democracy and for the rule of law.
How did H.R. 2003 become a symbol of hope and redemption, and an envelope for the hopes and desires of 76 million people? Well, we must give due credit to our adversaries for this singular achievement. They helped spread the gospel of human rights far and wide in Ethiopia. We could not have done it with them!
Of course, they did not intend to spread our human rights message. They were just victims of the law of unintended consequences. Their sole aim was to disparage and caricature H.R. 2003 and inflame public passions by fabricating nonsensical arguments about the bill. In fact, they pulled out all the stops to malign and distort the simple and unmistakable message of H.R. 2003. The litany of falsehoods and distortions about the bill changed and became more absurd by the day. They said H.R. 2003 will bring "slavery" and "colonialism" to Ethiopia. The people laughed. "The mighty Italian army with its tanks, planes and mustard gas could not enslave and colonize Ethiopia. Could America with a stroke of the legislative pen?"
They even resurrected the Ghost of Wuchale to support the fallacious argument that H.R. 2003 destroys Ethiopian sovereignty and usurps the legislative functions of the Ethiopian "parliament". In the Wuchale Treaty, Menelik supposedly gave Eritrea to the Italians and agreed to have the Italians prosecute Ethiopian foreign policy. But did he really? No doubt, those who now trumpet their unabashed pride in liberating Eritrea could answer that question definitively. Only "parliament" can pass human rights laws, they said. The people chuckled, "Save parliament's time. Just respect, follow and apply your constitution." But why can't they respect and follow their own constitution?
They said H.R. 2003 will undermine the current effort to build democracy in Ethiopia. They forgot they had told everyone for the last 17 years that Ethiopia was a democracy and a republic. Apparently, not. But if they are indeed building democracy now, it must be a democracy without foundation. There is no evidence of the rule of law as a cornerstone of this supposed democratic edifice. No independent press or independent judiciary as a support beam. No due process of law and no clean elections to make this vacant building a home for the people. They said H.R. 2003 is the only one of its kind stirred up by vindictive Diasporans who seek to harm Ethiopia. They seemed to be willfully ignorant of similar bills that are currently pending in Congress for North Korea, Iran and Vietnam, or others that have been recently enacted against Burma and the Sudan, among others. They tried to smear pro-democracy forces who support H.R. 2003. They threatened dire diplomatic consequences should the bill be enacted into law: "America will not have an ally in the war against terror in the Horn of Africa." Sure, everyone knows what happened to the dog that bit the hand that fed it.
For months, our adversaries worked themselves into a frenzy rolling out one lie after another in a futile attempt to discredit H.R. 2003and take the peoples' eyes off the prize. But no amount of propaganda and disinformation could convince the people that H.R. 2003 is a bad thing for them, or for Ethiopia.
The people remained spellbound by the almost magical quality of H.R. 2003, and its promise to promote the rule of law, accountability, democracy and freedom in Ethiopia.
Our adversaries did more to teach the people of Ethiopia about human rights than we ever could in the Diaspora. The more lies they told about H.R. 2003, the more people became convinced of the righteousness of H.R. 2003 and the urgent need for the defense of their human rights. Every word of condemnation and censure of H.R. 2003 became a blessing in disguise to the cause of human rights in Ethiopia. People knew what they knew. They could not speak the truth out loud because the fox is guarding the henhouse. But that does not mean the chickens do not know the truth about the treacherous fox, or that the fox has convinced them into believing that it is necessary to violate their human rights to preserve it for them. Ultimately, H.R. 2003 proved to be a small bill that gave great hope to the Ethiopian people.
But despite the massive official campaign against H.R. 2003, the people did not rise up with righteous indignation and burn the American flag in the streets of Addis or any other city. They did not burn George Bush in effigy. They did not carry placards that said "Yankee go home!". Not a single person said a critical word against H.R. 2003 during the Great Run of 2007. So we must sincerely thank our adversaries for what they have done to spread the message of human rights in Ethiopia, and encourage them to continue to malign, distort and criticize H.R. 2003.
H.R. 2003 in the U.S. Senate and in the American Political Process
The defeat of H.R. 2003 in the Senate has been trumpeted over the past months. Regime leaders and their minions have confidently proclaimed that H.R. 2003 will not be enacted into law because it will not pass the Senate. They arrogantly declared that even if the Senate were to pass it, Bush will certainly veto it since he understands the "bill is wrong and that Ethiopia is a poor country, not a poor dog." But even if Bush were to sign the bill into law, they said "we would reject it" because "our constitution would not allow it as it represents a violation of our sovereignty, and the only people who could make laws are sitting in this parliament." They even threatened American policy makers: "Ethiopian American cooperation will stop if they seek to implement the law". They managed to enlist the huckster Jim Inhofe in the Senate to stonewall H.R. 2003. He obligingly vowed to defeat the bill. All indications are Inhofe will place a "hold" (delay floor action on the bill as much as possible) on the bill, and possibly even filibuster (a special senate procedure that requires the vote of 60 other members to bring a bill to a floor vote) it should it proceed to the Senate floor.
But we should not be discouraged by all the bluster and swagger. The forces of evil will do what they will. It is up to the forces of good to rise up and challenge them by doing good. We did good, damn good, just this past year. Who will forget the dark days of November, 2006, when Speaker Hastert snuffed the lights out of H.R. 5680? True, evil prevailed that November, but not for long. We came back in April; and on the exact anniversary of the defeat of H.R. 5680, we got H.R. 2003 passed in the House, unanimously. We persisted, therefore we prevailed! We prevailed because we learned the same lesson Winston Churchill learned when confronted by the overwhelming might of the Nazi war machine: "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." We must persist, again!
The struggle in the Senate will not be an easy one. We face many obstacles — procedural, structural and the adverse effects of partisan bickering from the campaign trail. Senate procedures make it possible for a single senator to obstruct the flow of legislation. "Holds", "filibusters", "unanimous consent" and other arcane senate procedures and traditions afford individual senators extraordinary powers to thwart speedy consideration and action on legislation. Committee hearings, legislative schedules and debates take place at the Senate's (snail's) pace. In the first half of 2008, the Senate will have a full plate. The war in Iraq will remain a contentious issue as will immigration and efforts to mitigate the predicted recessionary effects of the massive mortgage crises. The Senate itself is in a logjam with the balance of power evenly divided between 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans and 2 Independents. The run up to the November 2008 elections will have its own special effect on the Senate agenda, as both parties try to curry support from voters.
Despite the vicissitudes of election year politics and intricate legislative procedures, we can and we will prevail in the Senate. But we must redouble our efforts. There are many things going in our favor. Tectonic transformations are looming in the American political landscape. Americans want change, desperately and now. Who would have thought just a few weeks ago that a black man could sweep the Iowa caucuses in a rural state with a predominantly "white" population? But race did not matter to Iowans. Change did. Even in New Hampshire, Obama is in dead heat with Clinton. Republican Mike Huckabee, a relative unknown from one of the poorest states in America, trounced multimillionaire Mitt Romney, from one of the richest states in America, who outspent him in Iowa by more than six to one. The bottom line is that Americans are fed up with lies, liars, war mongers, and incompetents running their government and foreign policy.
There is no question that Americans are deeply concerned and are very unhappy about their country's image, role and presence in the international community. They don't want America to be the policeman of the world. They understand that the war on terrorism can not be won simply by bombing and breaking the bones of the enemies of democracy and freedom. They know it is essential to also reach the hearts and minds of those who oppose America. Americans want their troops back from Iraq, and they want an end to the reckless global military adventurism that wastes their hard earned tax dollars. They realize the best weapon to ensure American primacy in woirld affairs is a foreign policy genuinely based on promoting human rights, the rule of law, democratic institutions, independent judiciaries and independent free press isntitutions, among others. Even the republican presidential candidates are now earnestly talking about the vital need to promote human rights in the Islamic world and wherever else dictators dictate. Even the bought-and-paid-for politicians now understand that one can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Change in American foreign policy means changing the image of the "ugly American" who wants to dominate the world by brute military force. Change means a recognition of the stark fact that America can reclaim its honored role in the world by upholding its founding principles enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Americans want a foreign policy that is humane and compassionate, not one that thrives on rabid militarism and the spectre of terrorism. Therein lies our hope and inevitable ultimate victory, despite temporary setbacks, the machinations of hucksters and fat cat lobbyists. Our cause is on the same side of the cause of the American people.
Beware the Ruse of the Adversary
Our adversaries would have you believe that the struggle for human rights in Ethiopia rises or falls with H.R. 2003. If the bill does not pass, they would like to have us believe, we have lost. The cause of human rights in Ethiopia is defeated and lost forever. We should beware the demoralizing propaganda and disinformation campaign of the adversary. We have no illusions about H.R. 2003. We believe it to be an important strategic tool in the struggle for human rights, but none of us believe it to be a cure-all for all human rights violations in Ethiopia. Anyone who has read the bill knows that the certification requirements give the president of the United States considerable discretion in determining statutory compliance. For instance, the president could refuse to apply the law if s/he felt applying it would compromise American national interest. So there are limitations to the bill even if it were enacted into law.
What we should clearly understand is the fact that H.R. 2003 is just one mile marker on the long walk to a free and democratic Ethiopia. That road neither begins nor ends in the U.S. Congress. That journey takes entirely in the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people. We have always said that we shall win the struggle for human rights by winning hearts and minds of our brothers and sisters, not by breaking their bones and hearts. And how we win hearts and minds is no secret. We tell the truth. Nothing but the truth. So help us God! Of course, we have no choice but to speak truth to power, because as Scripture teaches, the "truth shall set us free."
It is in the nature of human beings to yearn to be free; to be treated with dignity and respect; to be treated fairly and equally before the law. This yearning is the same for the filthy rich as it is for the dirt poor; the same for the young as it is for the old; for men as it is for women; for the educated and the illiterate alike. Human rights are to the human spirit of freedom as religion is to the immortal soul and bread to the mortal body. Man and woman need to be protected from political predators who derive their thrills from oppressing and persecuting the powerless. Humans need their fundamental rights protected and respected, by law. This Truth we must proclaim till Kingdom come!
The Task Ahead: Let's Pass H.R. 2003 in the Senate!H.R. 2003 now sits in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It needs to get committee action and get to the floor for a vote. It can be done, but it requires unceasing effort and unflinching commitment. We must keep doing what we have been doing, but we must do some of it differently. We must be better organized. We must do less freelancing and more concerted and coordinated grassroots action. We must intensify our efforts with individual senators from our respective states. We must educate and develop working relationships with their staffers. We must share with them the truth about human rights abuses on a regular basis. We must win the hearts and minds of our Senators with the Truth if we are to ultimately win.
Above all, we must resolve to stay with H.R. 2003 for the long haul. In the battle between good and evil, evil wins many skirmishes. But good wins in the end, always! That is the history of all dictatorships from time immemorial. They win for a time, but not for all time. Even the soulless tyrant knows he can not oppress forever. But Congress is not the only place we can plead our human rights cause. There is a much higher court than Congress to which we can appeal. It is a court called the Conscience of the American People. There we must plead our cause passionately and relentlessly. In the state legislatures. Before civic and professional organizations. In the churches, and universities and schools, and wherever else we can be heard. We must create awareness among our American friends, neighbors and coworkers. As others enlist hucksters, we must enlist the help of Average Joe American. We must make the American people our natural allies. We must tell them the truth about the massacre of 193 innocent people, and the thousands of nameless souls that have perished at the hands of a ruthless regime. And the thousands more that languish in subhuman jails today. We must speak up about those who abuse their powers and inflict great pain and suffering on their people. We must expose their evil deeds and evil ways. In all we do we must maintain unflagging fidelity to the Truth. And we must "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." Let's join hands and pass H.R. 2003 in 2008.