Charles Blow visits Selma: In this morning’s column, Charles Blow takes a fairly standard approach to the weekend’s events in Selma.
Right at the start of his column, he “imagines the horror of that distant day.” He then imagines the work which remains to be done by “the activists of the moment,” though he can't seem to say what it is.
This represents a fairly standard approach. In our view, it’s problematic:
BLOW (3/9/15): As our van in the presidential motorcade reached the crest of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., and began the descent toward the thousands of waiting faces and waving arms of those who had come to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” the gravity of that place seized me, pushing out the breath and rousing the wonder.We think that approach is problematic. This is why we say that:
The mind imagines the horror of that distant day: the scrum of bodies and the cloud of gas, the coughing and trampling, the screaming and wailing, the batons colliding with bones, the opening of flesh, the running down of blood.
In that moment I understood what was necessary in President Obama’s address: to balance celebration and solemnity, to honor the heroes of the past but also to motivate the activists of the moment, to acknowledge how much work had been done but to remind the nation that that work was not complete.
As we watched the weekend’s events, we became even more dissatisfied with the culture of “anniversary-ism” which has marked the past few years.
From JFK’s death on through Bloody Sunday, it seems that we just keep remembering events of fifty years ago. Endless Civil War anniversaries have also been mixed in.
In the case of events from the civil rights movement, many of these remembered events featured very clear-cut goals pursued by morally brilliant leaders.
Again and again, we bathe ourselves in the greatness of those leaders. In this way, we hide from our own lack of clear goals, from our lack of leadership and clear direction.
In the case of the Selma remembrance, we were struck by the focus on the bloodshed and the horror of the initial march, as opposed to the triumphs which happened days, weeks and months later.
Why did we memorialize Bloody Sunday rather than the successful march which took place two weeks later? We almost seem to love blood more than success.
Is it because the remembrance of the blood lets us focus on the sins of The Others? For some of us, hating The Others is one of the transcendent joys.
(Last night, we saw CNN airing an especially ghoulish special about the crucifixion of Christ. We found ourselves asking the same question. Why do we humans seem to love blood so much?)
Finally, we reach the question about our current goals, which are mainly observed in the breech.
The Occupy movement came and went without defining long-term, sustaining goals. The Ferguson movement seems to be headed down the same road.
Yesterday, the Selma participants thrashed about, looking for a goal on which to focus. “We must fight our fights anew,” Blow heroically says in his column.
That said, the search for goals hasn’t been going real well.
When we liberals are at our least perceptive, we sometimes say that “Selma is now.” We say we need to keep on marching to re-secure our voting rights.
On balance, we oppose those “Voter ID” laws too. But uh-oh:
In 2012, the black turn-out rate, nationwide, was higher than the white turn-out rate. We seem unable to notice the areas in which we’ve made giant progress.
As the Blows were thrashing about, wearing the clothes of past giants and searching for new goals, the New York Times ran a maddening front-page report about events in Missouri and elsewhere.
Has the city of Ferguson preyed on black citizens through its policing practices? We can’t say with perfect certainty. But the New York Times says that other communities are doing the same, or worse:
ROBERTSON (3/8/15): While statistics alone are not clear-cut proof of discrimination, there are cities around St. Louis with far greater racial disparities in traffic stops than Ferguson, and cities with court systems that appear even more predatory than the Justice Department says Ferguson’s is. According to a report from Better Together, a nonprofit group, Ferguson does not even rank among the top 20 municipalities in St. Louis County in the percentage of its budget drawn from court fines and fees. The small city of Edmundson, five miles away, brings in nearly $600 a year in court fines for every resident, more than six times the amount in Ferguson.Let’s face it. American civil rights organizations stopped performing long ago. Meanwhile, people like Blow have spent the past several years thumping the tub about police and non-police shootings.
Antonio Morgan, the owner of a car repair business, has spent months in various St. Louis County jails, paid thousands of dollars and been shocked by a Taser, mostly because of traffic violations. “People are actually getting mad that everybody thinks it’s Ferguson, Ferguson, Ferguson,” Mr. Morgan, 29, said. “They pull over a lot of black people, yeah, but they’re not the worst, I’ll tell you that. It’s worse ones than that.”
Not only do nearby cities work in the same ways as Ferguson, but they work with the same people. Ronald J. Brockmeyer, the municipal court judge in Ferguson whom the Justice Department report singled out for ticket-fixing, is a judge in another city and a prosecutor in three more.
Ms. Gupta said civil rights prosecutors were seeking information to help small cities and towns that may have problems but are unlikely to attract attention in Washington. But she also made clear that it was incumbent on local governments to make changes themselves, because “the Justice Department can’t be everywhere.”
Invented facts have played key roles in those crusades. (Other people can see this.) As people like Blow get us all wound up and drive their wedges everywhere else, citizens are apparently being widely victimized in these other ways.
We the liberals need to learn how to see ourselves more clearly. In our view, we aren’t real smart and we aren’t very honest.
We aren’t real good at playing with others. Our “leaders” are often a mess.
We don’t seem to know how to build an agenda. Most strikingly, we don’t know how to speak to people whose votes and sympathies we will need in the end.
We bathe in the blood of our (genuine) heroes. What makes us humans seem to love the blood of martyrs so much?