“Now it is your turn to let freedom ring”

Today, as Congressman and civil rights veteran John Lewis was laid to rest at a funeral service in Atlanta, Georgia, America saw another side of this country, the opposite side of Trump’s America.

The contrasts could not have been starker, and it renewed our hope that better days are ahead.

Here is Lewis’ op-ed article in the New York Times today, written just a day or so before his death on July 17. It’s a call to action to all Americans of good will.

“Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation”

By John Lewis

“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”





Pete Seeger was — “Forever Young”

Pete Seeger, dead at 94, sings Bob Dylan’s beautiful “Forever Young.”

His full life by Jon Pareles in New York Times, and, by the way, Pete Seeger, you won, as David Corn writes in Mother Jones.

A man to be admired and missed.


A fight about a mosque in the middle of Tennessee

On my way north during my recent little journey in the South, I eventually came to Tennessee, not really the deep South, but more of a border state, on the map low but wide.

I crossed into Tennessee at Chattanooga – which inspired Glenn Miller’s old hit from 1941 “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and is now the site of a historic hotel by that name – at the southernmost end of the Appalachian Mountains. Here, mountains are high and valleys are narrow. There were no cotton plantations here and much of eastern Tennessee sympathized with the Union, while the rest of Tennessee chose the Confederacy. The result was hundreds of bloody battles in the State during the Civil War. In the 1960s, many hard-fought battles took place during the civil rights movement.

In Murfreesboro today, a university city of just over 100 000 inhabitants in the geographical center of Tennessee, there is a different civil rights struggle taking place. It is not African-Americans fighting for their rights, but Arab-Americans, who want to build a mosque in their hometown.

The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro can be found on Middle Tennessee Boulevard, almost hidden behind some shops and parking lot. The city’s 250 Muslim families have gathered here every Friday for years to pray, often using the parking lot for the overflow crowd.

Last year, the congregation purchased land in the outskirts of the city to build a proper mosque and eventually a community center. The only neighbor was a Baptist church. No problem. Local authorities said yes. Freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution, and it was nothing more to it, it seemed, especially since the Muslims had legally bought the land and there were no zoning problems.

But, conservative activists began to protest, eventually supported by conservative forces from outside of Murfreesboro. The city’s politicians were sued. In spite of support of the Muslim community from various religious groups in the city, opposition to the mosque grew, resulting in vocal protests, even destruction of construction equipment.

“It has been polarizing, creating anxiety and fear in the community,” said Abdou Kattih, who is a pharmacist and originally from Syria, when we talked at the Islamic Center. His car outside carried a sticker, “Freedom of religion, for all”. He described the Muslim community, totaling around one thousand people or one percent of the city’s its population, as deeply rooted in Murfreesboro. He, himself, has four children, all born here, and it is here we want to live, he said.

On the Center’s website, it is written:

“Let us stand together and build bridges rather than barriers, openness rather than walls. Rather than borders, let us look at distant horizons together, in the common spirit of the value and dignity of a shared personhood as citizens in this great nation.”

The Muslim community was encouraged the other day when a local court ruled in its favor, allowing for the construction to begin. But final victory is not guaranteed, at least not yet – the opponents have vowed not to give up and have threatened to appeal.