We DID Start The Fire…

Two fires are burning in America, both fueled by ignorance, indifference, and plain old stupidity.

Curious Kids: when I swipe a matchstick how does it make fire?

In the western US, wildfires burn out of control, consuming millions of acres of forests, entire towns, killing unknown numbers of wildlife, and destroying humans. Many of our fellow Americans push aside the overwhelming evidence of climate change—the intensity of these fires and resulting firestorms are a symptom of the problem—for politics or because of a vested interest in ignoring the science.

Despite the enormous evidence of anthropogenic climate change, we have a President who ignores it all and tells people to “rake their leaves.” That such an unsophisticated, uninformed, scientifically bereft attitude exists in 21st century America is astounding.

We are returning to the Dark Ages where mystics and charlatans guided decisions absent any rational basis. They hide their actions from us by the smoke of fires of our own creation.

We ignore these signs at our own peril, for the earth is resilient. Like any sophisticated, self-sustaining system, our planet has an immune system. If we continue down this path, the earth may come to see us not as the most fantastic product of evolution, but a dangerous one. The signs are already there with glaciers disappearing, sea levels rising, temperatures climbing, and storm intensities increasing.

The planet will protect itself either with us… or from us.

We repeat the pattern of ignoring problems in hopes they will just go away in other matters, the other fire burning across this country—the fire of racism, intolerance, and violent resistance to acknowleding the inequalities in our society.

Despite the mounds of evidence of climate change and racism, we continue to ignore the signs. The only difference between these two issues is we have been ignoring racism for a much longer period, despite having documented it with our own words. Words written by well-intentioned (mostly) individuals or commissions, published with a grand ceremony, then forgotten when the attention fades,

In 1922, the Chicago Commission of Race Relations published a seven-hundred-page report entitled “The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and Race Riot.” The report documented evidence of housing and employment discrimination and brutal mistreatment at the hands of the police and the criminal justice system.

(From the report) “… investigations indicate that Negroes are more commonly arrested, subjected to police identification, and convicted than white offenders, that on similar evidence they are generally held and convicted on more serious charges, and that they are given longer sentence… These practices and tendencies are not only unfair to Negroes, but weaken the machinery of Justice and, when taken with the greater inability of Negroes to pay fines in addition to or in lieu of terms of jail, produce misleading statistics of Negro crime.” (emphasis mine)

Nothing changed.

In 1935, following riots in Harlem, another report said.

“… The sudden breach of the public order was the result of a highly emotional situation among the colored people of Harlem, due in large part to the nervous strain of years of unemployment and insecurity…it is probable that their justifiable pent-up feelings, that they were victims of gross injustice and prejudice, would sooner or later have brought about an explosion…

The blame belongs to a society that tolerates inadequate and often wretched housing, inadequate and inefficient schools and other public facilities, unemployment, unduly high rents, lack of recreational grounds, discrimination in industry and public utilities against colored people, brutality and lack of courtesy of the police.” (emphasis mine)

Nothing changed.

In 1977, Michael Lipsky and David J. Olson published a study entitled “Commission Politics: The Processing of Racial Crisis in America.” They said between 1917 and 1943, at least twenty-one commissions were appointed to investigate race riots.

Take a look at you and me,

are we too blind to see,

do we simply turn our heads

and look the other way

Well the world turns

Despite the sincerity and good intentions of theses twenty-one commissions, nothing changed. The reports were printed, distributed, read, and forgotten.

The Kerner Commission, the grandaddy of race riot reports written after the Watts Riot in LA in the 1960s, is another example. Well written and meticulously researched, it documented the conditions leading to the riot and was largely ignored.

President Lyndon Johnson, who could not understand why his Great Society initiative—Voter Rights Act, Welfare Reform, and other programs—did not solve the problem, refused to accept it.

Nothing changed.

In 1969, Elvis Presley had a hit record called In the Ghetto, written by Mac Davis. A prophetic tune then, and now.

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto
And his mama cries
’cause if there’s one thing that she don’t need
it’s another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto
People, don’t you understand
the child needs a helping hand
or he’ll grow to be an angry young man some day
Take a look at you and me,
are we too blind to see,
do we simply turn our heads
and look the other way
Well the world turns
and a hungry little boy with a runny nose
plays in the street as the cold wind blows
In the ghetto
And his hunger burns
so he starts to roam the streets at night
and he learns how to steal
and he learns how to fight
In the ghetto
Then one night in desperation
a young man breaks away
He buys a gun, steals a car,
tries to run, but he don’t get far
And his mama cries
As a crowd gathers ’round an angry young man
face down on the street with a gun in his hand
In the ghetto
As her young man dies,
on a cold and gray Chicago mornin’,
another little baby child is born
In the ghetto

 We face a turning point in America. The challenges we face– the raging inferno of wildfires amplified by climate change, and the hellish nightmare of our failure to address racism and discrimination against our fellow Americans–can be our descent into Armageddon or our rise to Enlightenment.

There have been times in our history when a leader emerged—often one we might least suspect of having the courage or ability—to guide and unite us in a time of need.

George Washington, a surveyor and soldier, who rose to become the epitome of a selfless statesman dedicated to the good of the country, led us through the birth of a nation.

Abraham Lincoln, a Kentucky woodsman who rose to lead us toward reunifying the country and abolishing slavery. Who knows how different we might have been if he had lived out his second term?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, once seen as weak and ineffectual, rose to lead us out of not one, but two dangerous dark times in our history, the Great Depression and World War II.

We face such a choice this November. Can Joe Biden rise to this moment in history and lead this country out of the conflagration we face? I am uncertain. But I am sure of this; Mr. Trump will not. He is not the leader we desperately need at this moment in history.

We need someone to quell the flames, not fan them.

We need someone who embraces science and reason, not disparages it,

We need someone with compassion for the challenges facing people of color, not one who openly encourages white supremacy and fear-mongering.

There is one other thing I am confident we do not need. We do not need another commission to study these problems. We need a leader who will gather the best and the brightest among us and craft solutions.

Or the song will just repeat itself all over again and the country will continue to burn until there is nothing left of America…

As her young man dies,
on a cold and gray Chicago mornin’,
another little baby child is born
In the ghetto

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An Open Letter to Presidential Candidate Joe Biden

 

Promise Me, Joe

 

 

 

 

Before America puts its fate in your hands, we need some assurances. You, more so than most candidates, including the incumbent, appreciate the enormous burdens and responsibilities facing the President of the United States. While you can tell us what you want to accomplish, anyone with any common sense understands how the realities of the world can change the best of intentions. With that in mind I’d like you to promise me some things.

 

 

Promise me, Joe.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will run a campaign focusing on the issues facing America not wallow in the infantile churlish behavior of name calling twitter wars.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will act in accordance with what is in
the best interest of the American people not what tracks with any political agenda or
platform yet always bearing in mind we are part of the world at large.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will remember we have a government comprising
three equal powers and you will treat them with the same dignity and respect
you expect for the office you seek.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will work to embrace bi-partisan
cooperation with Congress. Do not seek Congressional acquiescence seek their
input into developing policies and laws which lead America out of the morass of
the past few years.  

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will restore the dignity and respect
for the Office of the President so callously and foolishly twittered away over
the past few years.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will form policies that protect America
without losing our willingness to embrace those in need.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will never put children in cages no
matter what resources it may take to accomplish this. Of all the disasters of policy,
this is the most troubling.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will not waste time attacking the media
or your critics but focus on addressing legitimate problems the freedom of the
press uncovers and valid criticisms raised.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will not waste time talking about
making America great again but foster the things that have always made us
great.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will restore America’s standing in the
eyes of the world not threaten and challenge to promote jingoistic and
nationalist propaganda.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will foster a global approach to policy
recognizing the inherent right of all people, regardless of their race,
religion, sexual orientation, or national origin, to live in a peaceful world
with a fair opportunity to thrive.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will renew the promise of the
enlightenment where intelligent discourse arrives at solutions based on rational
in-depth analysis.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will select Supreme Court candidates not
for their willingness to promote your policies but for their fealty to the Constitution
of the United States.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will work diligently to ensure the
rights of women to control their own bodies is not usurped by selfish religious
fervor disguised as concern for others.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will wield the enormous military power
of this country to defend us, our allies, and those who cannot defend
themselves. Never to intimidate, cajole, or terrorize others.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will recapture the spirit of those
great men who have gone before you into the Office of the President and “Let
every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any
price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in
order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

 

 

Promise me, Joe, we will no longer be the nation once described by a former ally who said, “It is hard to be America’s enemy, but it is harder to be her friend.”

 

 

Promise me, Joe, it will never once again be difficult to be
America’s friend and you will lead the nation with a firm but fair hand, with a
bent toward compassion, and with willingness to ensure the continuity of the greatness
of America.

 

 

Promise me, Joe, you will remember the greatness of America comes not from our power as a nation but from the American people themselves.

 

 

Promise me, Joe. There has never been a greater time in history
when the world needs to know America is that bright, shining city on the hill.

 

 

Promise me, Joe.