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A Voice in the Wilderness

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. -- William O. Douglas

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I am somebody and Yes, I can - The value of Education - What Obama Means for Me - Family Ties

Back in the mid-eighties, when I was in college and my son Matthew, was just a baby. I recall a difficult fight my fellow students and me had with the Young Republicans. They were trying to disband us and silence our collective voices.

This was the time of Ronald Reagan and Michael J. Fox's popularity was at an all time high as he echoed the selfish, political economic perspectives of young Reaganites in the sit-com, "Family Ties." It was the time when waving the flag and ignoring social justice first came into vogue. The Civil Rights Movement was giving way to the
eighties when greedy themes of individualism slammed the door on any discussion regarding Human Rights.

Our battle at The University of New Mexico was at a fevered pitch because the "Students for a Better and Balanced Education (SBBE)' was nothing more than a shadow organization whose sole reason for existence was to cut funding for all minority student groups. Ironically, SBBE was led by a fellow Latino who felt that if he could walk their talk, he could escape the color of his skin. I despised him because he was what we called a 'Tio taco' - nothing more than a person of color who shared a Latino surname but spoke our oppressors agenda thereby giving their specious, cowboyed-up, smoke-screen of
self-reliance an undeserved credence. We battled it out on the campus and through the Daily Lobo campus news paper.

We won, but it was only through screaming long and loud.
Moreover, we won because we were able to reveal who the very small but well organized cadre of social misfits (numbering eighteen people) really was. After their defeat, I wrote a final editorial - which I never submitted because it frightened me too much and besides - I didn't want to confirm what those bastards already seemed to know. I wrote about the underlying racism prevalent not only at UNM but in America as a whole. I lamented what I really believed at the time; that I would never see a minority become president in my life. I ended my letter to the editor by stating that the victory was hollow because in the end, the land of the free is not so free and equality was merely an illusion; I knew I would never see my son or daughter have the opportunity to be viable runners for the presidency principally because of their ethnicity. I was disappointed but it seemed a reality in my mind. While we won that small battle, I felt like we were losing the war. The noble Civil Rights Movement had been usurped by flag-waving, money-hoarding patriots.

As a Chicano - I know it is not a word that is in vogue anymore but, that is how I define myself - I grew up at the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement so my heroes were people like Dr, King, Fredrick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. DuBois and
the Kennedys.

I came to know about Malcom X and Stokely Carmichael who was famous for introducing terms like "institutional racism" and "Black Power." Carmichael advocacy for equality through 'whatever means necessary.' His words were as incisive as they were impatient, "If we go to the bargaining table and nobody wants to talk, then it is time to knock the mother-f**king legs out of under that table" (I’m paraphrasing here so, this is not an exact quote). This statement remains particularly relevant because it reveals the extent to which people with no voice become violent when they are disaffected and disenfranchised.

It echoes familiar themes of the violence like the variety unleashed in South Africa during Apartheid. It is what happened in Northern Ireland and whether we want to admit it or not, it is what's happening in the Middle-east today. It has become the mantra for Palestinians and the battle cry of the Jihadists. It is the bitter fruit of injustice advocated by people when there is no hope for the future. President Jimmy Carter recently wrote about it. Like it or not, Carmichael had a point; faced with the specter of violent civil unrest, societies are apt to change more quickly when considering the dangerous chaotic alternative.

But my father told me there is another way and that way takes time.
In retrospect I realize he and Mama were right; the way to end disenfranchisement is through education. In short, education means money and money means having a voice - remember, America protects money. Money is the great equalizer. When you have money, you don't have to beg for your rights, you can hold your head up and demand to be heard.

My parents may have lacked formal education but it didn't stop them from having wisdom and foresight.

If you are a student of History, you know that our founding fathers created this country as a means of serving their economic interests. Review of the Constitution reveals what our founding fathers worked to secure the most; wealth. America is really a country whose Constitution has built-in protections guaranteed to real minority, property owners and people of wealth. Despite what we would like to believe about the lofty ideals we were taught regarding the birth of this nation, the real 'minority' in America are her prosperous citizens. I have often heard it said that three percent of the population controls 97% of this country's wealth. In short, you didn't get the whole history lesson. Whether people want to talk about it or not, there is still an underlying prejudice that is alive and well in America today and it is fueled by the haves versus the haves not.

America remains the land of opportunity where people have arrived with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and have made something of themselves but there is another America as well - the land of opportunity is also a land where institutionalized racism exists and some people are more equal than others. But the Civil rights movement proved to be one of the greatest events in American History because it took up the cause abandoned shortly after where the Civil War left off. It provided people with a real opportunity to be treated as equal at least in the eyes of the law. And now, the next wave in that part of American history is revealing itself. People of color are enjoying the fruits of prosperity enough to have a legitimately recognized voice in the electoral process. They are making money and they are finding their voice.

Minorities of all colors and stripes including women have to be demonstrably twice as good in order to considered equal in accomplishment.
Yes my father's wisdom is spot-on. Today, in unprecedented numbers, people of color have entered the upper social and economic strata and the result is they are a force to be reckoned with. They are no longer ignored and cannot be relied upon to vote en masse and, while they now tend to vote according to their socio-economic class, the vast majority have not forgotten where they came from. They are unafraid to vote their conscience and they are aware that social justice is a noble cause to be pursued while still revering the American flag and all that it stands for. There is a fresh new ring to, "Liberty and justice for all" these days.

We can never forget the oppression all people of color have faced in this country. That said, we cannot bask in it because it will lead to an inertia which can only impede future advancement.

I know I sound like some beret-wearing relic of the past but it turns out that there is a ring of truth to it.

I think it is high time the glass ceiling is shattered. Now we have Blacks, Latinos and Women slowly making inroads to every level of business and government and we have a very intelligent black man who can lead this country. He comes from modest means and his humble childhood will serve him well because is the quintessential American.

I see what is happening today and I am simply stunned that miracles do happen. The incredible news I keep hearing is that college-educated people are solidly part of his base - AMEN for education for knowledge is power reflects the foresight of our fathers whose abilities were left inutile simply because they lacked education.

We have moved beyond where they were and now we have an ability to put someone like us in the White House. It has been a long haul and women like
Shirley Chisolm made the first inroads to Congress. Our colleges and universities now have professors more representative of the American population so our kids can look to them and echo the words of Jesse Jackson, "I am somebody." The theme of self empowerment has evolved into an understanding that there is strength in numbers and today, our children can look to Obama and say, "Yes we can."

Watching this primary progress gives me a measure of hope because the two front runners for the Democratic nomination are a black man and a Woman! Maybe my editorial penned so long ago was a bit premature after all. I love this country and I am equally as humbled by its greatness, its ability to change, its ability to endure despite the destructiveness of the avaricious few.

Well, we are family and the ties that bind us are Humanity and social justice.

In retrospect, I am glad I never submitted that editorial and I am glad that I held that thought private because it appears the time has come. Obama's run inspires me because it reassures me that one day it really will be possible that my son or my son-in-law or even my grandson and granddaughter just might be president one day because in the end, as Dr. King's dream will come to fruition; they will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.


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