Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What kind of America is this?

Guest blogger - Joe Volk, Executive Secretary

After the evening news, we family and friends ate hot soup to take the Inauguration Day chill off our bones at the end of a long cold day outside. Like a couple million others, we had been hours in the below freezing weather to be with the throngs of people who gathered on our "nation's front porch," the mall. Our feelings, thoughts, recollections, and conversation though had been warmed up by the Inauguration Day's events.

Joe Volk and guest Susie Whitehouse at the Lincoln Memorial for the inauguration.
Early that morning, Beth and I had led her cousin Susie Whitehouse and Tom Figlio from our apartment to Arlington Cemetery where it meets Fort Meyer. Susie and Tom had come down from New Jersey to celebrate President Obama's victory with us. We crawled over the old stone wall and walked through the cemetery, where so many fallen soldiers, sailors, and fliers lie. I did not think they would disagree with my "War Is Not the Answer" button on my coat. Further on our way to the Inauguration, as we walked across Memorial Bridge to meet friends from the UK at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I was lost in my own thoughts - as too often I am, Beth tells me.

My recollections settled on a time 40 years ago in a barracks room of a black sergeant at Fort Carson, CO. Our cavalry unit had been sent to Chicago for riot control. The six or seven of us, all black but I, had been left behind. It was 1968; we soldiers watched on his TV the news of the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, anger and grief embracing swirling in our hearts. "What kind of America is this?!" I had asked myself. Years later by the time President Bush invaded Iraq and authorized torture, I wondered how could America lose its voice for all the ideals it is supposed to stand for?!

As we left the Memorial Bridge and made our way to the Lincoln Memorial, my question of 40 years ago got a long awaited answer. Now in 2008, I could see that America can change and be healed by coalitions of conscience that work together to mend a broken world. If we let hope unite us in action toward our better selves and put fear in its place, we can reach up to the ideals of America. When Aretha began to sing "My Country Tis of Thee," I thought America has found its voice again.

That morning as we walked the Memorial Bridge, Beth stopped to take a photo of the icy surface of the Potomac River. It was a chaos of frozen, then broken, then refrozen pieces of ice - quite forbidding. I thought that the river looks like a metaphor for our troubled world. Then we walked eastward into the sun and blue sky with some lovely clouds. I recalled an email from Europe that I received the day after the election from Brenda Bailey. She said, "Congratulations, America! A new day is dawning."

Events have emerged from the nonviolent freedom struggle for justice, equality, and human dignity and led up to the 2008 Presidential election victory of Barack Obama. His election now gives meaning to that civil rights struggle. Going forward from Obama's election, the events emerging from it and over the next forty years will define his presidency and give it meaning. What we do now will make all the difference. We stand at a decisive and opportune moment. Perhaps a new day is dawning. We will all have to work hard in new coalitions of conscience to make it so.


Blogger David said...

Dear Joe,
I shall think of you and Beth, Susie Whitehouse and Tom Figlio as emissaries for so many of us who were present with you in spirit at the Lincoln Memorial.
Let us hope that, among those in the coalition of conscience, will be those who are conscientiously opposed to paying for war, and are working to establish that right in law by legislative change, specifically by enacting Peace Tax Fund legislation. We are hoping that in this new Congress (and with support from this Administration)there will be many more Representatives who will join John Lewis, as he works to reintroduce the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill in Congress. I have been in touch with Michaeleen Crowell, his Legislative Director, and she confirms his plans to do this, as soon as there is a "critical mass" of co-sponsors. We are trying to help this process, in the Rochester, NY area, and in New York Yearly Meeting.
With all best wishes, for this new era,
(David Bassett)

8:56 PM  

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