Thursday, April 28, 2016

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Monday, February 29, 2016

Three Reasons to Worry About President Trump

Professor Helmut Norpoth of Stonybrook University says Donald Trump has a 97% chance of being the next president. That's if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, which all the major US media have declared an unstoppable outcome. If Bernie Sanders should pull out an upstart victory (a result predicted by a Reuters poll that went unreported in the mainstream US press)? Norpoth says Trump's odds go up to 99%.

Most of my friends say it can't happen. I'm not sure why. Seems that they have an irrational belief in the rationality of the US electorate, or at least of the US political class. Neither, in my opinion, is well founded.

Professor Norpoth has, according to himself (and Fortune magazine), accurately predicted the outcome of every election since 1912, with the technical exception of 2000, when his statistical model predicted a Gore victory. 

But of course, we know what's wrong with that exception.

There's a school of thought that says this election is so wacky that a statistical model based on past primary results is irrelevant. That might be true, it might not. But let's just assume Mr. Norpoth is right and Trump is the next president, which is by no means a long shot. How worried should I be about what that means?

A. Very worried – make an exit plan (Denmark, anyone?).
B. Not worried – they're all the same.
C. Impossible to tell because no one knows what Trump really stands for.

I pick A, but not because both of the other rationales are not accurate. Here's what we know.

1. Unlike Rubio and Cruz, Trump is not a right-wing ideologue. He's pro-choice (, in favor of some form of universal health care, and might even secretly be pro-gay. Well Mitt Romney was pro-choice too, until he was running for president, and was the architect of one of the most successful universal health coverage examples we have. What people like that have said in the past doesn't really matter once they start running for president.

2. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend. Yes, Trump opposes free trade agreements, but not because they give too much power to multinational corporations or because they're going to be bad for international labor. He doesn't want to see smaller countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America have the opportunity to develop with democracy and without displacement. Trump says he doesn't want people dying on the street. Well Gavin Newsom, former mayor who brought “care-not-cash” to San Francisco, didn't want people dying on the street either, he wanted to move them somewhere else to die. No one wants people dying on the street. Trump says his great new plan to make sure everyone has health care “is not single-payer” and won't cost any money. Which means he has no plan. Just because Trump talks about “a few people on Wall Street” who are not paying enough taxes, I can't ignore the fact that apparently, 20% of his avowed supporters think slavery should not have ended. Or that he didn't want to refuse the endorsement of former KKK leader David Duke without doing research because "I know nothing about white supremacists."

3.  No one keeps their campaign promises, or even intends to. Remember, “On Day 1, I will shut down Guantanamo”? Remember, “I can end the ban on gay soldiers with the stroke of a pen”? Contrary to claims by Trump and Romney, the president doesn't get to eliminate Obamacare or abortion rights. There is this little thing called Congress and this slightly bigger thing called the Supreme Court.

Campaigning is by definition lying. Hillary Clinton was mercilessly hazed a couple weeks ago for saying she “tries not to” lie. Any ten-year-old, said Stephen Colbert, with a live 10-year-old to prove his point, knows that when asked, “Have you ever lied?” the only answer is, “No, never.” By the same token, voters don't want to hear, “I will attempt to get this or that bill through Congress, although I realize the odds are against my being able to accomplish it.” Maybe back in Calvin Coolidge's day or something, but in the age of television and Twitter? No way. You're supposed to promise the moon with a wink. Trump is great at that because it's how he's made his fortune. Or several, some of which he also lost, but we're not supposed to talk about that or even notice it.

Trump will not be building any walls on the Mexican border, with or without Mexico's money. He will not be deporting 11 million immigrants or even banning Muslims, although that he might manage because honestly, it has not been very easy for Muslims to get visas for a long time now. He won't be creating great jobs for US workers, forcing China to stop devaluing its currency or making America great again.

So all those angry white guys (and gals, sad to say) who are voting for him in droves are gonna be mad. Even if he were doing what he said he would do, they'd be mad because even if someone really tries to fulfill their promises, changing social policy takes a long time. Economies do not turn around at the stroke of a pen. If Trump (or Sanders) did all the wonderful things he says he is going to do, it would probably take a couple or more years before people who have been out of work for a long time started getting hired. And what is Trump going to fall back on to keep that formidable anger and sense of betrayal from landing on him?

Misogyny and racism. Trump's not an ideologue but he is a macho, woman-hating, racist. A lot's been written and said about his “tough guy” act, and how important this aggressive form of machismo is to his appeal. (For an amusing example of this literature, check out Friday's Washington Post article, “Has Donald Trump Actually Punched Anyone?”.) We've seen how he has wielded vile sexism against Megyn Kelly (someone I don't normally feel that much sisterhood with) and Hillary Clinton and racism against Jorge Ramos and President Obama. There's the comment about how he would like to date his daughter and and the more basic one, allegedly made to a friend and quoted by New York Magazine, “You have to treat 'em [women] like shit.” There's his fat-shaming of Rosie O'Donnell and others), and the simple fact that he owns the Miss Universe pageant. The list goes on and on.

We also saw how Arnold (“Girlie-Man”) Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush utilized the swagger to distract people from what they were not doing to improve their lives. We can expect more wars, more militarized policing, more ruthless rhetoric about people who aren't making it. The divisions that gave us a weekend of stabbings and Klan rallies in California and the murder of Sudanese immigrants in Indiana will intensify, as will verbal and physical abuse of women and kids. And unfortunately, it works. When white men have nothing else to feel good about, feeling like part of the biggest, baddest, toughest team on the planet seems to appease them. And eight years of that I cannot abide.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Who Killed Fiction (and Why)?

If you want to feel really good about your community, publish a book.
That's what I learned last year. I thought releasing my first novel, after such a long process, would make me feel good about myself. But instead, it made me feel good about other people. I have been so gratified and amazed by how eager people are to help me, how much they want to see me succeed. I do believe that is in part because I wrote a good book, and because people see it as useful to social justice movements, specifically to justice for Palestine. But many people reached out before they'd ever read the book, and that includes people I never thought liked me, people I've had ambivalent political relationships with over the years, and even some people who don't agree with my politics on Palestine. Coworkers bought multiple copies to give to their families and friends for Christmas presents, while some of my good friends had private book signings (Tory bought more books than we sold at the Modern Times reading). Local bookstores have promoted it and let me know when there were problems in the supply chain.
I've also gotten some wonderful nuanced feedback from writers I respect, which will help me as I delve into Book 2 of the Rania & Chloe Palestine mystery series (pleased to have editor Elana Dykewomon back on board for Murder Under the Fig Tree). I've gotten used to talking about my writing process, how art differs from life, and had opportunities to reflect deeply on the events in my life that led to embarking on this project. I even remembered what I was working on before I went to Palestine, and made a commitment to get back to it before too long.
One of the less encouraging things I've learned is that fiction is out of favor in US culture right now. I've been surprised by the number of people who have told me, “Oh, I don't read fiction.” I'm not sure how I missed knowing this, since as early as 2004, commentators were reporting that “Although fiction still sells in great quantities … the attention of publishers and booksellers has moved elsewhere. Everyone in publishing agrees it is getting harder to sell a new novel, even by a distinguished name, in this country; book buyers seem interested only in non-fiction.” “The top 10 non-fiction books on the bestseller list always outsell the top 10 fiction books, save an occasional mega-seller,” wrote Anthony Chatfield in 2007.
Blogger Scott Esposito suggests that this trend reflects a desire for instant gratification: nonfiction offers the appearance that we've made an immediate gain in terms of useful knowledge. Another reason nonfiction might work better for people in this overscheduled information age is that it's easier to pick up and put down, or read parts of, requiring less commitment than a novel. Who, after all, really read Thomas Pickety's bestseller on capitalism from start to finish? I really liked Patrick Cockburn's The Rise of the Islamic State, but it didn't exactly make me miss any bus stops because I had to find out how it ended.
At the same time, alarm bells have been sounded by those worried about gaps in our kids' education – the same ones unwilling to address the elephant in the room, poverty. Researchers claim that high numbers of graduating students “may be able to compute a math problem or analyze a short story but they can't read a complex non-fiction text.” To remedy this perceived weakness, the Common Core Standards “calls for a shift in the balance of fiction to nonfiction as children advance through school. According to the CCSS guidelines, by the end of 4th grade, students’ reading should be half fiction and half informational. By the end of 12th grade, the balance should be 30 percent fiction, 70 percent nonfiction across all subject areas.”
I seriously question whether students can in fact analyze a short story if they can't “read a complex text.” The key words “analyze” and “complex” are not defined, at least not in any of the metareports I looked at; I didn't see the original data, which is attributed to the creators of the ACT college readiness exam. If by “analyze,” we mean anything beyond describing what happened (which is not analysis, but reporting), analyzing a work of fiction should require more complex thinking than reading even the most difficult nonfiction work because the information in a remotely well-written nonfiction text should be communicated directly, while the themes and lessons of fiction must be intuited or derived by careful attention to the symbolism of events and characters. A more likely explanation of the disparity between students' ability to analyze fictional versus nonfictional texts, if it exists, might be that the fiction they are reading is chosen, by themselves or their teachers, for its relevance to their lives, while the nonfiction is simply presented as information they need to know.
I remember when I was in graduate school complaining to my teacher, the always brilliant Michael Rogin, that I couldn't remember dates and characters in history.
Can you remember the plots of novels?” he asked.
Sure,” I replied. (The same might not be said today, when I can easily read half a mystery before realizing I've read it before. But that might have more to do with the books than my failing memory.)
That's because you attach symbolic significance to the events in the story. If you can do the same with historical events, you'll remember them too.” It was good analysis, good advice and it helped me become a better nonfiction reader. It might well work for students who are having the same trouble today. More to the point, if the “complex texts” are about things they think they need to know about, they will probably figure out a way to understand them.
The solution may well be worse than the problem. A series of studies that came out a few years ago found that reading literary fiction increased readers' empathy. One study used “a variety of Theory of Mind techniques to measure how accurately the participants could identify emotions in others. Scores were consistently higher for those who had read literary fiction than for those with popular fiction or non-fiction texts.” Of course, once again, key words like “literary” and “popular” fiction are not defined. Examples of the literary works included books by Don DeLillo, Charles Dickens and Louise Erdrich, while popular fiction included Gillian Flynn and Danielle Steele. One hypothesis about the difference was that the characters in the popular works were not as well defined. I might offer some other hypotheses regarding Gillian Flynn (a friend and I just watched “Gone Girl” on TV) – such as that her characters are so unpleasant, one would not really want to get inside their emotional worlds. And yet, as I have previously mentioned, Flynn is often included among genre writers who have “crossed over” (a review of her book, Sharp Objects, says, “this is more literary novel than simple mystery”).
I haven't seen studies proving this, but I don't need any to know that fiction also helps us stretch our imaginations. Reading fiction is essential to the creation of revolutionaries, because if you can't imagine something that doesn't exist, you cannot help to create it. Is that perhaps a reason why these education reformers are so determined to limit the time that kids spend exercising their imaginations? Or is it simply that their own imaginations are so starved, at this point, that they can't remember the joy of being transported into another place, another time or another person's reality?
I went to see 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens" the other night. I enjoyed it, especially the 3D effects. But there was a lot less to the story than in the 1970s episodes, which is not saying that much. There's almost no character development; it's two hours of nonstop battle scenes. The best mainstream movies I saw last year, “Spotlight” and “Trumbo,” along with some I didn't care for like “Bridge of Spies,” were barely fictionalized versions of true stories. Among the 12 top grossing films of 2015, nine were installments in multi-film franchises, two were based on old television shows, one was based on an alleged true story and one was a remake. Only two, “Inside Out” and “The Martian,” were original fictional narratives.
Those of us who write fiction might need to start fighting for its place in our culture, for the sake of the culture as well as ourselves.
Murder Under the Bridge has gotten some excellent reviews.
I've also done quite a few interviews on radio and even one on TV. If you're interested, you can find some of them on my website.
I will be reading in Washington, DC on January 16 (Politics & Prose, 1:00 pm), Richmond, VA on January 19 (Fountain Books, 6:30 pm) and Portland, Oregon on January 22 (Another Read Through, 7:00 pm). More information.  If you're in one of those cities and can't make the reading but have time to get together, please email me.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Fear Culture and the Misappropriation of Safe Space

Three weeks ago, the New York Times ran a pretty nasty op-ed by a woman named Judith Shulevitz, ridiculing efforts by college students to make their campuses “safe” or “safer”.  Ms Shulevitz focused on efforts to shield students from the traumatic impact of racist, sexist, Islamophobic or homophobic speech and suggested that students were “infantilizing” themselves by trying to wrap themselves in security blankets.  Because her tone was so unnecessarily belittling, the article drew pushback from students and educators, along with predictable plaudits and reposts by right-wing blogs like The Daily Caller and  Unfortunately, amidst all the name-calling, her legitimate point – or at least the legitimate point she might have made – got lost.

I was part of some of the first feminist organizations to introduce the idea of creating “safe space.”  It seemed like a good idea at the time (the early to mid-1980s), a way of enabling that the most oppressed among us – women of color, working class women, immigrants, lesbians ‑ would be able to express themselves without being attacked or shut down.  We used tools like active listening, guidelines like “Use I statements,” (“I feel attacked,” rather than “You’re attacking me”), and caucusing with others who experienced similar oppressions.  None of this, however, was intended to shield us from hearing oppressive things, it was a way to deal with them when they happened, which they inevitably did.  In fact, the reason we wanted to make a safe space was so that we could tackle the thorniest issues within our groups – racism, homophobia, sexual trauma, fat oppression.  This was particularly important in a group like San Francisco Women Against Rape, where so many of us were survivors of violence.  We understood that without a process for examining and trying to address power imbalances and harmful dynamics, they would be swept under the rug but not go away and eventually women would leave the group.

By the late nineties, feminists had recognized that “safe space” was impossible and started talking about “safer” spaces.  Ten years later, that concept had evolved again, into “working space.”  Another veteran of SFWAR, who now teaches at a women’s college back east, said she tells her students, “This is not a safe space, it’s a learning space, and learning isn't safe.”  Nonetheless, the principles, that we ought to take care of each other, that accepting conflict doesn’t mean it’s open season to lash out in oppressive ways, remain valid and important.

Feminist and queer theorists of color have pointed out that the whole idea of “safety” is culturally laden.  Assuming, for instance, as the Michigan Women’sMusic Festival does, that women feel safer among people who share our natal genitalia presumes a primacy and community of gender that many women do not feel.  When I was in college, we white feminists could not understand why Black feminists wanted men to participate in a Take Back The Night march.  Only years later did it occur to me why being among hundreds of white women chanting about rape might have felt scary to Black women (yes, I was really dumb).

When we all have such different requirements for safety, the idea of making policy – whether it’s for a school, a city or a country – based on people’s individual perception of danger risks doing the very opposite of what the feminist movement was aiming for when we introduced the concept of safer space.  The claim that Jewish students feel“unsafe” has been repeatedly used to shut down campus activism criticizing Israel.  The feeling by police officers that their lives were in danger was the alleged basis for the killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Akai Gurley, Yuvette Henderson and hundreds of others in the last year.  Binyamin Netanyahu’s, and by extension the Israeli public’s, feeling that their security is threatened gives us a drumbeat of dire predictions if the US does not declare war on Iran – a drumbeat inexplicably given enormous space in the US media.

My brother-in-law and I were talking a couple weeks ago about buffer zones, or no-protest zones, around abortion clinics.  He said that women find it upsetting to be harassed on their way into a clinic.  I said yes, and I expect delegates to the World Trade Organization found it upsetting to be yelled at by protesters at the Seattle ministerial.  But I and 20,000 of my friends felt we had the right to do it.  There’s a large Catholic church on the corner near my house.  If I happen to walk by there during Sunday mass, I usually see two people standing in front of the church with signs about misogyny and child abuse.  (One of the two is Pat Maginnis, who was prosecuted for handing out illegal information about abortion in the 1960s - check out her great websitie.).  I’m sure the people who go to the church find it upsetting to see them there.  I wish people would not think it was their business to tell women what to do with their bodies, but making laws outlawing certain opinions in certain locations is, in my opinion, much more dangerous.

The concept that the personal is political and emotion is as important in politics as rationality has been an extraordinary contributions of the feminist movement.  But it was meant as a starting point, not a way to block out ideas that make us uncomfortable.  Since each of us is made uncomfortable by different things, if we banned everything that made anyone feel unsafe, what would we have left to discuss?

Ultimately, what we feel must give way to a sober assessment of what actual danger exists or doesn’t exist.  And college campuses are a good place to learn to do that assessing.  Being controlled by our fear opens the door to untrammeled authoritarianism, a danger that currently - in my sober assessment - is all too real.  That’s what Judith Shulevitz should have pointed out.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Five Alternatives to “Thank You For Your Service”

I cringe every time I hear the words.  That’s okay, though, because so do the people they are directed to.
I’m talking about “Thank you for your service,” the nifty catchphrase that’s supposed to make sure Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – or War on Terror veterans, if you will – never feel the sting of rejection that Vietnam Veterans did.

I guess I missed the moment when that particular murmur became de rigeur.  It must have been around the time “No worries” entered the U.S. lexicon.

But no worries; whenever and however it got started, I hereby declare it done.

Vets say they hate it because the people saying it don’t really mean it.  People don’t really want to hear about their service; they just want to thank them and move on.  I think people do mean it, but it doesn’t mean what they think it does.

Here’s what it’s supposed to mean:  Regardless of what I think of the war you fought in, I appreciate the fact that you were willing to die to keep me safe.

Seems harmless enough.  But it’s not.  Here’s why:

  • The purpose for which people fight does matter.  The troops know it and so do we.  A lot of us have participated in things we thought were a good idea which weren’t.  But we don’t get “thanked” for them.  They’re not “service.”  A service has to benefit someone.  Just thinking you were doing a good thing isn’t enough.  These kids may have signed up to keep us safe, protect democracy, bring liberation to the Iraqis, protect Afghan women from the Taliban, but they didn’t do any of that.  When we thank them for participating in a lie, we perpetuate and enlarge the lie.  That’s called doubling down on our folly.
  • The lie becomes its own raison d’etre.  On The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore the other night, a vet explained that the troops are not thinking in geopolitical or global economic terms.  The only thing they’re thinking about, he said, is protecting the guys on either side of them.  Unfortunately, that’s another way of saying, “American lives are the only thing that matter.”  That’s what got us into this mess in the first place, and it’s a problem when you’re sitting in someone else’s country with many tons of destructive equipment.
  • The actual services people perform every day are not valued.  Airline pilots don’t call out the names of teachers, nannies and nurses and thank them for their service.  We don’t say thank you to the kids who got a job at McDonalds after school to help pay their families’ rent or the ones who are watching their little siblings while their parents are at work.  We certainly don’t say it to the people organizing Black Lives Matter marches.  The message to the returning troops is that nothing else they do, no matter how much more worthwhile it may actually be than whatever they did over there (which they’re right, we really don’t want to hear about), will ever earn them the appreciation we’re giving them for participating in a grand lie.  And what it says to the young people who didn’t make that fatal mistake is that unless they’re willing to be violent, no sacrifice is worthy of our thanks.
  • The people who are busy thanking the troops love to talk about “accountability.”  Yet for the returnees, there is no accountability.  It’s true that no one wants to hear about what they did, and it’s also true that no one makes them say what they did.  Many of them did terrible things.  No, it wasn’t their idea, but again, many of us join in bad schemes that weren’t our ideas.  And for some of them, it was their idea.  If one-third of women in the military are sexually assaulted by their fellow soldiers, someone is doing all that assaulting.  Ultimately, they know what they did.  For those with a conscience, it will haunt them forever.  For those without – well, that may come to haunt us forever.

So here are some things we could say to those returning vets in the airport, instead of “Thank you for your service.”

1)      “I’m sorry you were lied to.”  Okay, it’s not poetry, and it might not make them happy.  It’s honest, and it might lead to a conversation.

2)      “What are you going to do next?”  It’s never too soon to remind them that they do have a future.

3)      “How are you?”  Simple, but to the point.  You have to want to hear the answer.

4)      “What would you like people to know about what happened there?”  I’ve actually tried that one.  It’s always interesting.

5)      “Welcome home.”

Saturday, January 10, 2015

It's Your Grandkids' Civil Rights Movement

If Oprah Winfrey were not so in love with Hollywood, she would not say something as stupid as that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has no leaders and no concrete demands.

The people who say that stuff must have their quotes sitting in a drawer to pull out every time there’s a threat of a viable movement in the present, because legitimate social movements can only exist in the past, and insofar as they can be rendered suitably photogenic for a major motion picture.  If they’re too messy (read complex), they either (1) don’t exist, (2) have to be dumbed down, or (3) are insane.

In the case of #BlackLivesMatter, the widespread accusations of leaderless chaos and fuzzy principles of unity are hard to comprehend, because the movement has some very visible spokespeople and a five-point program.  In contrast to the all-demands-welcome Occupy culture, #BLM has explicitly requested that everyone who wants to support their movement refer to these five demands:
  • We will seek justice for Brown’s family by petitioning for the immediate arrest of officer Darren Wilson and the dismissal of county prosecutor Robert McCullough. Groups that are part of the local Hands Up Don’t Shoot Coalition have already called for Wilson’s swift arrest, and some BLM riders also canvassed McCullough’s neighborhood as a way of raising the public’s awareness of the case.
  • We will help develop a network of organizations and advocates to form a national policy specifically aimed at redressing the systemic pattern of anti-black law enforcement violence in the US. The Justice Department’s new investigation into St Louis-area police departments is a good start, but it’s not enough. Our ride was endorsed by a few dozen local, regional and national organizations across the country – like the National Organization for Women (Now) and Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation – who, while maintaining different missions, have demonstrated unprecedented solidarity in response to anti-black police violence. We hope to encourage more organizations to endorse and participate in a network with a renewed purpose of conceptualizing policy recommendations.
  • We will also demand, through the network, that the federal government discontinue its supply of military weaponry and equipment to local law enforcement. And though Congress seems to finally be considering measures in this regard, it remains essential to monitor the demilitarization processes and the corporate sectors that financially benefit from the sale of military tools to police.
  • We will call on the office of US attorney general Eric Holder to release the names of all officers involved in killing black people within the last five years, both while on patrol and in custody, so they can be brought to justice – if they haven’t already.
  • And we will advocate for a decrease in law-enforcement spending at the local, state and federal levels and a reinvestment of that budgeted money into the black communities most devastated by poverty in order to create jobs, housing and schools. This money should be redirected to those federal departments charged with providing employment, housing and educational services.
No leaders?  Alicia Garza, Ashley Yates, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, Jameila White, Cat Brooks, Alexis Templeton, Brittany Ferrel, Zakiya Jemmott.  Maybe the reason Oprah Winfrey can’t see them is because they’re women?  Try Larry Fellows III.  Zachary Murray.  This is a leaderful movement.
BLM’s real offense is that they have embraced the slogan “This is not your grandparents’ civil rights movement.”  That ruffles a lot of feathers, because the grandparents’ civil rights movement has been cast as the gold standard of U.S. activism.  What the youth are saying may sound, to those who were part of the civil rights movement of the sixties (or want to believe or pretend they were), like a dismissal of their proudest accomplishments.  It’s not.  Millennial activists are not trying to deny the importance of what has come before; they’re just saying, “That was then, this is now, you did your part, we’re going to do ours our way.”

In the movie “Budrus,” about the Palestinian nonviolent movement, 16-year-old Iltezam Morar says, “All my life, I heard people talking about the First Intifada, the First Intifada.  This is my turn.”  Every generation of activists needs to make that break, find their own form of struggle.  In my day, it was all about affinity groups and six-hour direct action trainings.  I still think that’s a good idea, but it doesn’t fit so well with the quick click lifestyle.  Most younger activists are getting their training on the street.

The civil rights movement is a mythical yardstick for new movements.  It was never one thing.  As has been well documented in so many books and articles they would probably reach from New York to California, there were movements for Black freedom in hundreds of towns and cities in the fifties and sixties.  The “civil rights movement” included innumerable organizations, not all of whom liked each other, from the NAACP to SNCC to the Organization of Afro American Unity.  Many of the people who marched in Selma considered Ella Baker, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, Diane Nash, Bob Moses and Ivanhoe Donaldson more significant leaders than Martin Luther King, Jr.  When Freedom Riders nicknamed Dr. King “De Lawd,” it was not out of respect.
People who suggest that the Black Lives Matter activists should be doing today what Dr. King did in 1965 ignore the fact that King and others founded Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, following a year of activism around the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which itself grew out of years of similar actions that failed to capture widespread attention and thus spark a movement.  By the time King was invited to the White House, he had been in jail numerous times.  In part because of the ability to spread information about actions quickly across distance, #BLM has been able to coalesce around its messages much faster.  In 1970, activists Carol Wilson and Patricia Jackson drove across country to spread literature and news about the women’s movement.  Now you can post a picture on Tumblr and the next day see someone across the world holding up the same image.

Mainstream critics like Oprah want #BLM to hurry up and institutionalize, get an office, rein in its brilliant semi-spontaneous unpredictability in favor of choreographed nondisruptive protests, and lobby for short-term policy changes.  If I thought there was any chance that would happen, I would lay out the reasons it’s a terrible idea.  But I’m pretty sure the movement is just getting started.  Hopefully, the skeptics are just about done.