Friday, January 04, 2008

Aha! Eureka! I found it -- the Key to Life! (or maybe just to the fuse box?)

Alright, that's a little excessive -- but I'm onto something huge and I know it. All it took was a power blackout which stilled all sound and movement and created a cocoon in which to fold myself and wait ... .

We're in the midst of what passes as a "major west coast storm" -- an atmospheric condition that would get little more than a yawn anywhere else. Nonetheless the creeks are rising to a threatening flood stage, all of the major bridges have been closed due to high winds, and the Interstate highways have become parking lots. No ferry or rapid transit service. What better time to prop the pillows, pull up the blankets, and meditate?

The last discussion I heard before the power failed had to do with an unfamiliar African American journalist giving an assessment of just what kinds of reactions might be expected in the black communities across the nation in light of last night's Iowa outcomes? I'd seen Stanford's Hoover Institute's resident black conservative Shelby Steele giving a generally positive reaction last night on CNN just before falling asleep. He used words like, "transformative" and "revolutionary," but reserved some enthusiasm until he could get some sense of just how much he was going to have to adjust his public statements and just how much it would cost his image to support this young genius of an unknown and ill-defined political stance... .

In my meditative technologically dis-empowered state a few minutes ago the black reaction morphed into one thought having to do with the expected and "fast-developing split" between the "old Civil Rights generation" and the one led by this newly-anointed-by-white-America, young Senator Barack Obama. The old warriors referred to his perceived lack of sensitivity by failing to show up among the demonstrators at Jena, Louisiana, during the recent dust-up over hanging nooses. "He ain't black enough!" Nonsense! What the old guard has forgotten is that there is a newly evolving and all-inclusive Vanguard. It is being formed by a generation which doesn't even use such words as "multiculturalism," and "multi-racial," because they simply assume what our generation of black and white peace and justice activists are still stretching desperately to reach for -- racial equality!

Relax, guys. We did it! We birthed and raised the reformers; with the help of Sesame Street, of course. The children and the grandchildren of the pundits and the privileged as well as those of the new racial and ethnic majorities are forging a world of their own -- and, if we behave they may let us share it. But we no longer get to call the shots because we've proven that we can't be trusted.

Here's the insight: In that quiet place behind my eyes -- in the lull-- I can see clearly that many generations are living in different dimensions -- simultaneously -- on the planet. We're in parallel universes -- and only the young and the brightest (and maybe a few sensitive and perceptive elders), can see across the dimensional divide.

I'm praying that those of my generation -- the veterans of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam Era -- don't get in their own way. There is no reason to have to make choices here. We are all needed.

The "wars" of our time never really ended. Maybe wars never do. There are those of us from the political Left and the Right, both white and black -- Americans from all political persuasions and economic levels -- who froze in place at some point along the great journey and never quite made it all the way through to the peace process. They're stuck. Either that, or they dropped out of the culture wars around race to embrace those around gender and sexual orientation. For all human beings with compassion, there is a visceral response to the ongoing aberrant behavior (like the Jena case and the awful Matthew Shepherd murder) and some of us need to back up and fill in from time to time; need to continue the mopping up that must go on until all such evil disappears into oblivion. This is where the heroes of the Sixties (Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, yes, and even poor benighted Bill Cosby) are absolutely essential to the total transformation needed to restore the American dream to its former level of respect in the world. But we must not saddle this new generation with that responsibility. They have other work to do.

The Barack and Michelle Obamas and the Russell Simpsons and the Hip Hop young must be allowed free reign to help to create the new Vanguard. This would be in the tradition of Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Carter Woodson, A.Philip Randolph, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Martin Luther King and James Farmer, Daisy Bates, Fannie Lou Hamer, Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin, and all of the others who moved the ball up the court inch-by-inch over decades to where we are now. Each had their detractors and each forged on to create the vanguard of their era.

It is my guess (looking at my own grandchildren) that the criteria for moving into the brave new world that was affirmed last night will have little reference to race. Mixed-race people of color have been with us since the country was formed and the combinations have become more and more complex as our armies have roamed the world leaving exoticism wherever they landed. Barack is more than simply another mulatto (mastiso, creole, etc.) but a brand new category -- he embodies internationality. He is not only the child of mixed race, but of the expanded world and has experienced that world close up and personal. He is truly somewhere beyond our experience, and I, for one, couldn't be more excited by his brilliance and of how he has used that life experience in forging his principles.

Here in the Bay Area multiracial couples and children are so commonplace that they no longer cause notice. When I was a teen, my very fair-skinned and natural blonde cousin had to leave the state in order to marry her brown-skinned young husband since racial intermarriage was forbidden in California and she was not believable as a "negro" to the reigning bureaucrats. In today's world -- their eldest son is married to an Indonesian woman and -- the last I heard -- they were living in Costa Rica! This is a new world, guys! Only a few nights ago I ran across a snapshot of a beautiful young cousin who was conceived and born to my African/Creole cousin and his Italian partner on the Isle of Ibiza off the coast of Spain. (Can it get more romantic than that?) Last I heard she was in Europe studying flamenco dance. She's lived all of her life on the island, except for a brief visit to my home about ten years ago. This is a new world -- and we need to help this new generation let the light in.

We may hear some quiet grumbling from our old leaders as they re-adjust, but I'm certain that among them are enough forward-looking elders to hold their contemporaries off while the vanguard of this new movement is forming and finding its path. Among those who can hear the new voices are Reps. Barbara Lee and (I suspect) Maxine Waters. It would surprise me if Eleanor Holmes Norton wouldn't be their strong supporter as will Dr. Lani Guinnere and Randolph Robinson, but I'm projecting wildly here.

Meanwhile, I'm certain that the mopping up operations (like Jena and prison reform and death penalty movements) will still go on and that those with the experience and the courage to continue that work will continue to do so. That work is also now completely multiracial with people of compassion working together with a deep commitment. I know, I've been with them at the San Quentin prison gates in protest from time to time over the years.

I'm planning to get myself as far into the movement as I can, in a supporting role, of course. I'm excited by a generation that has produced the likes of New York's Hayden Planetarium director; Astro-physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson; the incomparable Tiger Woods; NASA's Mae Jemison; that brilliant young heart surgeon whose name I promised to never forget but have; yes, and all the rest of these remarkable young people who will join with those of other races and, together, usher in a far more promising "Brave New World" where we can become what we have so long professed to be but never quite attained. They are the products of the world after Dr. King, Rosa Parks, the moon landing, and Jim Henson and the Sesame Street gang.

Relax, guys! Our generation delivered. We Progressives -- who marched and sang and demonstrated and were jailed together and apart and who changed the world in tiny increments by proving that love matters and that justice will eventually prevail. These are our children and grandchildren who brought it all together last night in a 97% white state of Iowa among ordinary extraordinary people who dared to dream in a contest where all that counted was the "...content of his character." It is upon our shoulders that they are standing.

Here's to the 239,000 Iowans who came together to help to restore the American dream by taking the risk toward change of a kind that may save us all from ourselves. But the work is only beginning -- and we will all be needed in the living of these next perilous years.

(... and, yes, the use of the color purple is intentional.)


Photo: Director Neil deGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium.

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