(I wrote this for the Urban News in August 2020.)
In 1971, long before the Sugar Hill Gang made rap popular with “Rapper’s Delight,” there was a poet, philosopher, and jazz artist named Gil Scott-Heron who spoke more than he sang. With a jazzy beat in the background, he stated:
The revolution will not be televised
The revolution will not be brought to you
By Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon blowing a bugle
And leading a charge by John Mitchell, General Abrams, and Spiro Agnew
To eat hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary
The revolution will not be televised
The point of the song was that the revolution was going to be live. Everyone was going to have to participate.dd
After the death of George Floyd, protests rang out throughout our country. Portland, Oregon was no different. The protests started in late May and continued into June. While the rest of the country was settling down, Portland continued to protest. The protesters identified Kendra James, Erin Campbell, Patrick Kimmons, and Quanice Hayes as Black residents who had been killed at the hands of the Portland police over the past several years.
In July, some of the protests turned violent. At about the same time, Donald Trump decided to send in federal troops. It is unclear from the reporting whether there was any consultation with the mayor of Portland or the governor of Oregon. The pretense that Trump used to send in federal troops was to protect “federal buildings.”
These federal troops were wearing no identifiable emblems. For the people of Portland, the stakes were now ramped up. Instead of a couple of hundred protesters, thousands were showing up. The troops—including some from the border patrol with no training in domestic policing—began shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. Arrests were made, sometimes without reason or probable cause. Cellphone footage of protesters being stuffed into unmarked cars began to circulate on social media. In late July, the governor announced that she had reached an agreement with the White House to withdraw these troops from Oregon.
I’m not sure what was accomplished. I’m not sure why we needed federal troops in an American city. I’m not sure if the whole ordeal was constitutional. I find it sad that Donald Trump’s first instinct is to use force and not to negotiate, or even talk, with protesters.
Congressman John Lewis died of pancreatic cancer on July 17, 2020. Although many textbooks do not point out the work that John Lewis did during the civil rights movement, he was there, and he was a major player. He was, in fact, considered one of the “big six” leaders of the movement, and the last to die.
The famous Freedom Rides that started in 1961 were an extremely simple concept. Thirteen people (seven Whites and six Blacks) were going to ride a bus from Washington, DC, to New Orleans. The whole purpose of this ride was to pressure the federal government into enforcing the 1960 Supreme Court decision (Boynton v. Virginia) that held that segregated interstate bus travel was unconstitutional.
The bus encountered angry mobs. The Freedom Riders were arrested. They were beaten. They were jailed. John Lewis was one of the original 13 riders. He was there.
A couple of years later, John Lewis became the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was among the leaders of the marches from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. He was severely beaten while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge—beaten by cops with batons, blackjacks, you name it. Again, John Lewis was there, and once again he risked his life for his country—for us.
In 1963 John Lewis spoke at the March on Washington in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. At 23, he was the youngest speaker on the dais. Once again, he was there, and he was an inspiration to the half-million people gathered on the Mall.
John Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986, representing metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia. In that role, over the next 35 years, he became known as “the conscience of the House.” He called on his fellow representatives, and his fellow citizens, from the most humble to the most exalted, to seek justice, and do the right thing. Whenever he spoke, whomever he encountered, whatever the issue at hand, no matter the anger, frustration, or rancor in the air, he spoke with love, and with joy, and with hope. For he loved his fellow human beings, and believed in his heart that they, too, were capable of that same love.
From my standpoint, John Lewis was a great humanitarian. He fought against injustice everywhere. He worked for equality, and put his life on the line for democracy. He lived as we all should live, making “good trouble” for a cause greater than ourselves. We can take a page from John Lewis’ book. He seemed to always be on the right side of history, and he was always there when and where we needed him to be.
The virus is still here. It is nearly everywhere. Texas, Arizona, California, and Florida have an explosion of Covid-19 cases. We need a national plan to combat this coronavirus. We need frequent, mandatory testing of every American. We must isolate and quarantine all of those Americans who are infected. This is the only way that we are going to be able to sing in church or shout at a football game. This is the only way to get our lives back.
Do not drink the vaccine Kool-Aid. Yes, some brilliant scientist may come up with a vaccine that is safe and effective; he/she may do it tomorrow. Let us remember that we have been waiting for a vaccine for the AIDS virus since the early 1980s. The world (mostly the US) has spent over $500 billion on AIDS research. We still do not have a vaccine for that virus. To think that we can throw money at a couple of companies or universities and have a Covid-19 vaccine in six months, or a year, is at best wishful thinking.
We need a plan before opening our schools. We need a low infection rate in the community. We need to test all teachers and school staff. All students need to be tested also.
We cannot have crowded hallways where kids are pushing, playing and trying to get to class. No cafeteria lines. We need box lunches. Classes must be broken up into much smaller groups.
Maybe we even need to pare down classes to math, science, English, and history. That’s it. No art. No music. No sports for now. (Though I yearn for the day when Civics, that is, the fundamentals of the American constitutional system of government, are taught once again.) School may need to be a combination of in-person classes and virtual learning. Everyone would need to be tested repeatedly so that schools become a Covid-free environment.
If we throw our children and teachers to the wolves (going back to school without a well-thought-out plan), we deserve the chaos that will follow. People will get sick. Some will die—and for what? Because we really want to get back to normal? The whole idea sounds foolish when you think about what we are risking.
By the way, you know that Obama saved us from Ebola, right? He spearheaded a government-led push that crushed Ebola. Obama sent thousands of Americans to West Africa. We set up hospitals and aid stations. We led the international community effort. We even helped bury the bodies of the infected dead (remember the problem with getting bodies buried in a timely manner?). We sent tons of medical PPE (personal protective equipment—masks, gowns, sterile gloves, etc.) to places that needed them. We funneled all travelers from West Africa to five major airports in the US, where the passengers were screened before entering the US. We quarantined those who may be infected before they could infect anyone else. So Ebola didn’t just vanish. We had a smart president who listened to advice from experts, and who pushed the government to implement the plan of those experts. And it worked! The system worked; the process worked; the science worked. Why? Because the Leadership of our country worked!
The reason that millions of Americans are losing their unemployment insurance is that Republicans truly believe that $600 per week is too much money. Conservative commentators are painting the picture of lazy Americans sitting at home eating Cheetos instead of looking for work. Researchers at Yale studied this problem and found that there was no correlation between the desire to work and the $600 weekly unemployment check. Yet Republicans were undaunted. They want to reduce the benefit to $200 per week.
But there is a correlation with actual living wages. If the federal government mandated a minimum wage of $15 an hour, that translates, for a 40-hour week, to $600 in pay. Maybe that’s what Republicans truly find so frightening about $600 a week.
The economy needs another stimulus package. It needs to be huge. The point of the stimulus package is not for politicians to line the pockets of their favorite donors: it is to boost the national economy. We have over a $20-trillion-dollar economy. To adequately stimulate the economy, we need a targeted package which adds up to somewhere between 10% and 15% of that figure: between $2 trillion and $3 trillion.
We need to put money in the hands of Americans who are out of work. They will spend it on rent, groceries, and necessities. They will help prop up failing businesses, even if it’s just by ordering take-out food. That’s how money circulates in the economy; that’s how the economy grows and survives; that’s how capitalism works. Not by lining the pockets of people who don’t need it, but by flowing through the hands, wallets, and purses of people who do.
Finally, we truly need to be good to each other. We need to pressure Congress to lead the Covid-19 response and the stimulus package. We cannot wait for or rely on Donald Trump.
We need to lift each other up, help each other out, demand support from those we have elected. We may not all be able to be John Lewis, but we all need to do what we can. We need to move forward, individually and together, to save our country. We need to start a people’s revolution. It won’t be televised; it will be live, brought to you by you and me.