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writing for godot

Which Side Are You On? If only there was a sign.

Written by Paul Delanoe   
Tuesday, 28 July 2020 03:35

By Paul Boaventura-Delanoe


Which side are you on?

We are constantly reminded that America is divided, not just one issue but many: black/white, blue/red, health/economy, masks/natural selection, prosperity/carnage, criminal justice reform/law and order, peaceful protests/ authoritarian oppression, good trouble/police brutality, love/hate.

As citizens and voters, we are tasked with cutting through the partisan rhetoric, polarizing imagery, and false paradigms to try to find the kernel of truth to guide us to a better future. So, which side are you on? Abraham Lincoln once said: “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.”

While God is always be right, humans tend to make mistakes. How can we cut through the lies and find truth? If only there was a sign.

A friend occasionally reminds me that coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous. The signs may not always seem obvious but that is not the case now; today, the signs flash like bright neon.

We have watched the caisson carry John Lewis over the bridge in Selma, and this time the Alabama state troopers were waiting to honor Congressman Lewis. Fifty-five years ago, the whole world watched in horror as state troopers beat the peaceful protesters. Compare those images from Bloody Sunday to the protests in Portland, where little green men – the secret police – gas and beat peaceful protesters as they form a wall of Moms, Dads, Vets and other assorted citizens.

Compare Trump’s demands of law and order with segregationist screeds. In 1963, then Alabama Governor George Wallace promised to protect ''Anglo-Saxon people'' from ''communistic amalgamation'' with blacks. In 2020, Trump (in a tweet straight out of 1963 Alabama) promised to protect suburban housewives from destruction of their neighborhoods. Suburban housewives? You mean like the Wall of Moms in Portland? The only thing shocking about the Trump tweet was that he didn’t finish it with Wallace’s legacy: ''Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.'' There is no substantive difference between 2020 Trump and 1963 Wallace.

With time it is easy to see how hateful and wrong those segregationists were. It is true that one is not the same at the end as one is at the beginning. In his later years, George Wallace offered up some form of repentance for his segregationist hatred; make of it what you will.  There has been great progress in Civil Rights since the 1960s but there is still a long road ahead.

Look back at the photos and video from the March on Montgomery and notice the white Alabamians that lined the route, taunting and cursing the marchers, cheering the brutality of the state troopers – their hatred, captured on film, is sickening to this day.  Our history is full of disgusting images – the old grainy photos of families picnicking in the town square for a lynching; the old signs saying, “Whites Only” or “Coloreds Only”. Over the years, many of the signs of segregation and hatred have changed but many have stayed the same. You won’t see a sign in Selma reading, “Colored dining in back” but you can still see the sign that proclaims, “Edmund Pettus Bridge”.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge is named after a Confederate general, US Senator and former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama – in other words, the bridge is named in honor of a terrorist, treasonous, racist, loser. It is time to change the name to the John Lewis Bridge. That bridge is hallowed ground, an actual monument to the strength of nonviolent resistance, to the power of hope over despair, love over hate.

Just get a welder up there on the bridge, cut out one name and replace it. Leave the weld joints visible on the new name plaque – reveal the jagged edges and make sure everybody knows that there was something there before, but not anymore.  Make a plaque out of the old scrap of iron and find a new place to hang that name – perhaps there is an old alley or a land fill around Selma that could be converted into a Garden of Losers where we can dump all those statues of the Confederate losers – so some southerners can remember their heritage.

In addition to the Pettus scrap iron plaque, the Garden of Losers could feature monuments to southern myths of white supremacy. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found 780 monuments dedicated to the Confederacy located in 23 states; then there are thousands, maybe millions, of incidental reminders of institutionalized racism.

I know what you’re thinking. Selma is a small town and it just isn’t big enough to hold all that hateful memorabilia. Also, Selma was the site of a great civil rights victory – the city should be cleared of all symbols of hatred – just as you would not fly a Nazi flag in a synagogue or permit symbols of devil worship in a holy temple.

Perhaps a better site for the Garden of Losers would be in southwest Georgia, in a little rural town called Andersonville, site of the notorious Andersonville Prison. This is the place that more accurately reflects the heritage of the Old South. In 1864, Andersonville was the fifth most populous city in the confederacy, but that was largely due to the 45,000 Union soldiers held as prisoners of war; more than 14,000 of those POWs would die from disease, starvation, and abuse in that hellhole. Yea, that seems like a good place to remember Southern Heritage.

Or maybe we should just tear down those old confederate statues and melt them into ploughshares. I can’t say which would be the best way to go. If only there was a sign to point us in the right direction.

I look back on those old photos of racist southerners spewing their hate in the general direction of John Lewis as he marched toward Montgomery, or the hatred directed toward the Freedom Riders, or any of the other warriors in the battle for Civil Rights - it is easy to see who was on the right side of history.  In 55 years, our children or grandchildren will look at the pictures of the Black Lives Matter protests; they will see the pictures from Portland, from Lafayette Square and many other pictures yet to be recorded and it will be easy for them to see who was on the right side of history.

Of course, we don’t have to wait 55 years. Mahatma Gandhi already told us how this will play out, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always.”

Which side are you on?

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