By Terry Donnelly
Let’s take a stroll–a stroll back 50 years and try to learn something from history about our current political situation. Today, we have a president that isn’t discharging his sworn duties to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” (note the founders did not favor the Oxford comma). Like a lot of the Constitution, that clause is lacking in specificity and open to interpretation. Personally, I think totally ignoring the advice of, and publicly abasing the entire national security network while standing in a foreign country, speaking with the country that is a threat to our national security, is sufficient evidence of shirking the solemn pledge–others may balk. To muddy the waters even further if we go back a few words in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, where the Oath of Office appears, we read that the president has to “preserve, protect and defend” “to the best of my Ability “(note the Germanic capital A on the noun “Ability”–quaint). If the manner in which Mr. Trump is handling our national defense and national security is indeed to the best of his ability–and there is strong evidence that he may not be capable of doing any better–impeachment, the remedy for not living up to the presidential oath, is off the table. But, never fear, since the 1992 ratification, we have recourse in the 25th Amendment. The president can be removed from office by the Vice President and either a majority of the Cabinet or Congress due to his inability to execute the job.
Whether it’s impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment, it won’t happen as a natural course of events. We the people need to act. And, when it happens, it likely won’t be with drum rolls and trumpet blares. The end of Richard Nixon’s presidency came with a quiet, unannounced White House meeting with a few Republican leaders who clearly heard the people and told Nixon, to his face, without media or fanfare, he had to go. The next day, Nixon announced his resignation.
Now, let’s take that stroll and cover the historical evidence for getting this done.
The first lesson is about saving your sanity and soothing your jangled nerves. It comes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of us want to react in anger. Many of us are finding our personal lives interrupted due to roiled nerves and constant angst. Dr. King, in Atlanta, Georgia in 1965, told a group of about 900 Freedom Workers poised to embark on an edgy month of service to the civil rights cause, to relax. He told us that having God on our side should be soothing and stabilizing. I personally translated “God” into “Right and Just” so it would work for me. He went on to explain that there was an urgency to our duty to undo prejudice, but we should go about our tasks with serenity and confidence. He assured us that we would ultimately win the day. Lastly, he told us not to hate. He stopped short of calling for love to be in our hearts, but we understood that resolve and dedication would calm our souls and lead to achieving our goals much better than hate.
Here’s how that speech links to today–take your life back, ditch the Alka-Seltzer and the Xanax, and enjoy your days, especially the protest actions you may take to find a remedy. Be loud, be assertive, participate often, but don’t give in to aggression and hate. Be assured nonviolent protest is a righteous activity.
Next lesson: not only does public activity work, it is the only way. Dr. King and his crew advocated peaceful demonstrations. We did that. The mid-1960s are rife with civil rights marches, sit-ins, picket lines, and affirmative actions. Protest marches work. In fact, the Viet Nam war was protested out of existence. It just could not go on with the unity of the people so strongly against it. Marches, protest signs, speaking out in public, telephone/letter writing campaigns, earnest discussions to keep everyone involved, and voter registration/get out to vote activities: all by us–the people–no matter what the size of your town or the distance you can march, will prevail. There is history to prove it works.
Who listens? Believe it or not, Congress. Ultimately their job is to listen, but it takes more than a casual comment at a cocktail party to get their attention. We need to go back to MLK and LBJ for the proof. In 1964 LBJ had just gotten the Civil Rights Act passed through Congress and enacted into law. He had to use all of his guile and political skills to get President Kennedy’s agenda finished. To be honest, JFK may not have had the political skills that LBJ exerted on members of Congress to get the bill passed, but LBJ did it. The Civil Rights Bill was a great success, but still lacking in voting regulations. LBJ got the bill passed without the voting language because it was the only way. He then introduced the 1965 Voting Rights bill to complete the elimination of Jim Crow laws and open the voting booths to every citizen. LBJ knew that he couldn’t use political pressure, he just did that and spent all his capital. So, he enlisted MLK and told him that if he wanted the bill passed, he had to get the country behind it. Pure politics had gotten the 1964 act passed, but it would have to be the people’s voices to get the final block in place.
MLK went into action. His network organized mostly white and mostly northern college students to come into the Southern states, ostensibly to get new black voters registered and teach civics classes so that the new voters could be effective. What wasn’t so clear was MLK’s underlying intent. He wanted those kids there to draw the attention of national media. If those students were in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and even northern Florida, the media would follow and people who had no idea what was happening on the other side of the country would see the activity on the nightly news. The Freedom Workers understood we were being used as a lightning rod for the media and that was fine. We weren’t excited to make headlines like Andy Goodman, Micky Schwerner, and James Chaney who were the Freedom Workers killed by Klan members in 1964 for engaging in the same actions, but we were willing to go out as a group; attract media attention; in turn, inform the public; and ultimately get everyone to raise their voices in unison to force Congressional action. It worked. On Augusts 6, 1965 the Voting Rights Act was signed into law. Freedom Workers had worked themselves into obsolescence.
Today, we find ourselves in need of Freedom Workers II. We don’t have to leave home to act. But, we need confidence that our protests will work. History that includes Civil Rights activity is proof that nonviolent, peaceful, confidence will prevail. We don’t have to let nerves make our hair fall out to get this done. Slow and steady wins the race.
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