American Curios: Three Anniversaries

By David Brooks on August 31, 2021

2005-displaced workers from Hurricane Katrina, photo: Bill Hackwell

“The fierce urgency of now. This is not the time to engage in the luxury of calm or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make good on the promises of democracy,” declared the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the culmination of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

Just 58 years later, last Saturday thousands marched to that same spot and in some 40 cities across the country, with veterans of the great racial justice movement led by King – which evolved to incorporate the struggle against the economic injustice of capitalism and imperial militarism – embraced by new generations, echoing his words and moral commitment.

The central and united demand of the mosaic of this mobilization was something that is nothing short of astonishing within the very country that never ceases to proclaim itself the “beacon of democracy” in the world: the full right to vote.

The Rev. William Barber, who with others resurrected the Poor People’s Campaign – King’s last initiative before he was assassinated – commented at the anniversary events that “every American should be concerned…it may already be a civil oligarchy and not a democracy, and the next step is an autocracy.” Leading marches, demonstrations and civil disobedience actions across the country to defend voting rights in the face of nearly 400 Republican initiatives to suppress voting, especially for minorities and the poor, in 48 states (at least 18 states have already implemented laws to that end), Barber noted that the same marches, demonstrations and civil disobedience actions are being held across the country to defend the right to vote. Barber pointed out that the same forces that are suppressing the vote, “are suppressing living wages, universal health care, immigrant rights…it’s all linked.”

At the same time, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the proclamation of the “war on terror” is about to be marked. As Howard Zinn warned at the time, the term is absurd, since “all war is terrorism”. Moreover, the seemingly eternal declaration of war was also a declaration of war against civil liberties and human rights within this country and wherever in the world Washington wished to operate by conducting arbitrary mass detentions, launching new systems of mass spying on citizens, disappearances, torture, and concentration camps (Guantanamo), assassinations and more – all supposedly prohibited by law. And the fear used to justify it all.

A hundred years later, everyone is witnessing the disastrous end of the U.S. war adventure in Afghanistan, the first front of that war on “terror”. A joke about it is circulatin: “if you ever feel useless, remember that it took 20 years, billions of dollars and four US presidents to replace the Taliban with the Taliban”.

At the same time, in yet another stark reminder of the emergency of climate change, mega-hurricane Ida is battering the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina exactly 16 years ago this Sunday.

Unlike Katrina, Ida is now arriving in a territory besieged by Covid-19. In New Orleans, hospitals could not evacuate patients to other parts of the region because there is no room, reports AP. If the storm forces people to take shelter in massive centers like last time, public health experts predict a nightmare of contagions. As always, the most severe consequences of climate change, like the pandemic, are suffered by the poorest and most vulnerable.

Three anniversaries mark the U.S. juncture. It is as if the ghosts of the past have come together to send a clear and direct message to the present: attacks on democratic rights, wars and climate change are putting everyone’s future in jeopardy.

Those who have always rescued this country from below need more than ever the solidarity of progressive forces around the world to act in the face of this “fierce urgency of now”.

Source: La Jornada, translation Resumen Latinoamericano