Life Every Voice and Sing

(Note:  This article has some html code buried in it that I cannot find and cannot correct. So it’s come out in a goofy white on black format I never intended.)

I’m not convinced that the nation is more divided than at any time since the Civil War.  The divisions have always been there, less visible, and without the ability to disrupt and destroy as they do now.  They’ve always been there, but we lived through forty years under a thin veneer of national unity.  It’s been been stripped away, exposing what was always there.  Consider that the Great Depression brought many in the middle class closer to unity with the poor, that WWII brought everyone closer to unity of national purpose, and that the post war years gave us the illusion of unity under the banner of a generic white middle class ethos and standard of living.  
It’s was shaken violently by the confluence of the civil rights movement with Vietnam protests battering against demands for patriotic loyalty – meaning that blacks should behave and not expect too much too soon, while everyone else should behave and leave war against commies to their betters, even at the cost of young lives.
True though all of it may be, the strident voices of knee jerk reactionaries, klan backed racists, anarchists, rabid leftists, and an entire menu of assorted loonies, were limited to a few mentions in the national press, and an occasional five second spot on the evening news.  Certainly they were reported on, but they were given few chances to speak for themselves before a national audience.  Some were elected to high office, but they had to compete and compromise with more level headed conservatives and liberals through whom national decisions lurched, however slowly, in wiser directions.  Even the Dixiecrat walkout of 1948, and McCarthy’s anti-communist extremism, couldn’t turn the ship of state too far in their directions.  Almost no one remembers the perennial candidacy of Norman Thomas.
The point is, the divisions we now experience were always present, sometimes disruptive in powerful ways, but never overwhelming the body politic, always, somehow, on the fringe.  Two things have changed the political landscape.  The democratization of communications, and the unleashing of unlimited campaign financing.  The advent of twenty-four hour cable news multiplied the exposure of five second fringe voice soundbites, making them appear as authoritative as the most seasoned, well informed voice.  Right wing talk radio gave them a broadcast platform to reach millions, and its most prominent on-air personalities delighted in fomenting discord with whatever crock of conspiratorial rumor they felt like using, truth be damned.  Their listeners loved it, ate it up, took it as gospel.  Internet platforms like Facebook and Twitter gave each their own opportunity to develop followers from wherever the internet could reach.   Now they could leave their fringe clothing behind, put on the vestments of “the voice of the people,” and say whatever they liked with no concern for veracity, or the harm it might cause.
In the meantime, Citizens United din’t simply legalize old fashioned bribery and graft, it opened the doors to an unlimited flow of money into campaigns: not so much in support of candidates but as blunt weapons to intimidate, and beat candidates into submission.  There’s little difference between NRA campaign spending and gangster protection rackets.  If the NRA isn’t your powder horn of choice, then pick any other large industrial interest or mega-billionaire consortium.   They all say the same thing: “Nice little job you’ve got there in D.C., be a shame if anything happened to it.”  Yes, we all know unions and public interest groups could do the same.  They could, but they don’t have the money, and they’re loathe to take on the gangster persona.  It’s just not their style. 
If that wasn’t enough, we’v been distracted by outrage over standing, sitting, or kneeling for the national anthem prior to athletic games.  It’s all about patriotic respect, we’re told.  For some, patriotism demands standing to honor veterans, the flag itself, and the ideals of American democracy.  For others, patriotism means kneeling to illuminate the ideals yet unrealized, constitutional rights denied to many, and blatant racism that remains acceptable in (white?) society.  No disrespect intended.  Between the two sides reigns acrimony abetted by ears deaf to each other’s voices, and by a president who seems to take pleasure in fomenting discord for the sake of what?  His own malevolent reasons? 
In the midst of it all, nature has assaulted us with all her fury, leaving destruction, injury and death from which recovery may take decades.  And we have added to it by enduring yet one more slaughter of innocents through mass murder by gunfire.  After which we are told that it’s not the time to talk about regulating gun ownership  – nor will it ever be.
In 1928, James Weldon Johnson wrote a poem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  Set to music by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, it’s often called the black national anthem, or the civil rights anthem.  Sometimes sound in predominantly white churches on Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday, it’s otherwise unfamiliar to many Americans.  The opening verse soars with inspiring hope, but it’s the third verse that may speak more clearly to us, given the events of these recent days.  It’s precisely now that Johnson’s words needed to remind us of who we are called to be.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by thy might, led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.
Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand.

True to our God, true to our native land.

2 thoughts on “Life Every Voice and Sing”

  1. You can remove the HTML code by pasting your copy into Notepad (or any similar text editor), and then copying the text in Notepad and pasting it back into WordPress. The text editor will strip out any nefarious HTML code.

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