Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Simone Manuel, John Carlos Story

Simone Manuel just became the first Black swimmer from the United States to win a gold medal in the Olympics.  Tommie Smith and John Carlos won the gold and bronze medals in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.  They are both known for raising black-gloved fists while the Starr Spangled Banner played at their victory ceremony.  What does John Carlos have in common with Simone Manuel?

John Carlos

John Carlos wrote an autobiography with Dave Zirin titled: The John Carlos Story.  In his autobiography Carlos wrote that his first serious interest in athletics was swimming.  He had dreams of competing in the Olympics in swimming events.  He won the 200 meter New York City freestyle championship.  He also spoke to coaches who said that if he worked hard he clearly had the potential to make an Olympic team.

John Carlos’ father Earl ran a shoe repair shop in Harlem, New York.  He noticed his son’s interest in swimming and did the research to find out what it would take in order to train to make an Olympic team.  These are the words John Carlos used to describe the talk he had with his father.

“Finally this sixty-two-year-old man took his twelve-year-old son by the shoulders and said to me, ‘John, your not going to be able to go to the Olympics for swimming.  It’s not about the fact that you’re the best.  I know you’re the best.  But you need to listen to me, and I will say it again: there is nowhere you can train.  And you have to train to go to the Olympics.  So where would you train?’”

John Carlos wasn’t satisfied with this answer and asked the question: “Why not Daddy?”  His father answered: “The color of your skin.”

“What do you mean the color of my skin?” John asked.  His father answered, “Well this is why they haven’t had any black swimmers up until this point to represent America, because they don’t allow the blacks to join the private clubs.  And you have to be involved in a club that’s connected to the Olympic people to train.”

In order to fully appreciate who John Carlos was and see the connection with Simone Manuel we need to look at his life story.

Growing up in Harlem Carlos understood that there were many people who didn’t have enough food to eat.  There was a rail yard in the area that was a warehouse for food.  John and his friends became modern day Robin Hoods.  They stole food from the rail yard, and they had the ability to run fast so the police wouldn’t catch them.  Then, they distributed the food to those who lived in hunger.

Some people might argue that this was against the law.  Well, in the United States of America institutionalized discrimination is a fact of life.  Corporations derive huge profits by paying Black people less than their Caucasian counterparts.  This is all legal, but in a rational world this discrimination would be considered a crime.  So, by breaking the law and giving hungry people food, John Carlos and his friends were, in a way, correcting a grave injustice.

In Harlem, John Carlos became friends with Malcolm X.  He remembered that Malcolm walked very fast to his many meetings.  Being the athlete he was, Carlos was able to keep up with Malcolm.  In those walks Carlos asked Malcolm many questions.  Malcolm’s answers gave Carlos a deeper understanding of discrimination, as well as a sense of pride in who he was.

John Carlos had the disease of dyslexia.  He was only able to overcome this disease when he was older in life.  This is the reason why he didn’t do well in his academic studies.  This is why he went to a college in East Texas instead of a school considered to be more prestigious.  In East Texas he was exposed to the vicious apartheid-like Jim Crow system.

Before the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games, Mexican students protested the fact that resources were being used for the Olympics, while poverty and a lack of educational opportunities existed for the people of that nation. 

The Mexican government decided to respond to these demonstrations with brutal repression.  The armed forces of Mexico murdered hundreds if not thousands of demonstrators.  It was in this atmosphere that the Mexico City Olympic games began.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos were the ones who protested the inhumanity of those times by raising their gloved fists in the air as they received medals for winning their event.  Their protest showed the world the other side to the history of Black people in the United States.  Their attire symbolized the lynchings, the humiliating jobs, and the poverty Black people endured.  However, their protest also demonstrated how defiance was the characteristic that gave Black people their humanity.

We might also consider what was happening in the United States in the year 1968.  The Civil Rights Movement effectively forced the government to outlaw Jim Crow segregation.  They did this with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and 1965. 

However, doing away with Jim Crow didn’t change the institutionalized discrimination that Black people experienced all over this country.  Police brutality as well as the assassination of Martin Luther King sparked rebellions in cities all throughout the nation.

Faced with these open rebellions, the people who have power in this country began to understand that they needed to do something.  So, affirmative action programs gave many Black people opportunities they never had before.  The protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos need to be seen in this context.

Simone Manuel

What does all of this have to do with Simone Manuel?

Simone Manuel was raised in the relatively affluent Sugar Land area of Houston, Texas.  Houston happens to be located in the eastern part of the state.  She is now attending Stanford University.  People who are impressed with the educational system in this country consider Stanford to be one of the elite universities.

After winner her Gold medal, this is what Simone Manuel had to say:

“It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality.”

“This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on.  My color comes with the territory.”

“It is something I’ve struggled with a lot.  Coming into the race I tried to take weight of the black community off my shoulders.  It’s something I carry with me.”

“The title black swimmer suggests that I am not supposed to win golds or break records, but that’s not true because I train hard and want to win like everyone else.”

“This medal is not just for me.  It is for some of the African Americans who came before me.  This medal is for the people who come behind me and get into the sport and hopefully find love and drive to get to this point.”

So, when we look at the lives of John Carlos and Simone Manuel we see some of the changes that have emerged over the years.  We also see that the problem of institutionalized discrimination continues to be a fact in this country and around the world.

We might recall that the Mexican government ordered the military to murder hundreds of demonstrators before the 1968 Olympics.  In Brazil, the police have murdered thousands of people and the vast majority are Black.

We also might recall the words of Malcolm X who said: “Either we will all be free or no one will be free.”

Malcolm also spoke about the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington where many people sang the words, “We shall overcome.”  Malcolm argued that when people go to Washington and sing these words, this is a clear sign that the government has failed.

Today there is a movement called, Black Lives Matter.  Saying that “Black lives matter” is a clear statement that there is no real democracy in this country.

As the standard of living continues to deteriorate in this country and around the world, people will create a new movement that demands fundamental change.  When we look at the lives of Simone Manuel and John Carlos, I believe we can say that this is exactly where we are heading.            


Friday, August 12, 2016

We are the Workers of the World

We are the ones who produce everything we need.
I’m talking about food, clothing,
transportation, communication,
health care, education, and even music.

We are the garment workers of Bangladesh.
We’re the Chinese workers who make cell phones.
We’re the Korean autoworkers.
We’re the Vietnamese workers who make running shoes.

We’re the Mexican farmworkers.
In fact, we’re the farm workers of every nation.
We’re also the construction workers of every nation.
We transport goods and people all over the world.

We go deep into the ground,
mining coal in dirty and dangerous conditions,
so some of the people of the world
can have light and live in comfort.

Yes, this is who we are,
and we have a long history.
A history made up of struggles,
so we might be treated with the dignity we deserve.

Spartacus led a rebellion of slaves
against the Roman Empire.
Toussaint L’Overture led a slave revolution
against the Spanish, British, and French.

The native people from all over the world
fought against those who invaded their homeland,
and continue to struggle
so they might live in with dignity in their native land.

The thirteen colonies freed themselves
from British colonization.
Then, the Union Army freed the
United States from a government of slave owners.

Governments demanded that we murder each other
so the affluent would continue to dominate the world.
Then, workers organized in unions,
and waged strikes against those who profit from our labor.

Black workers organized
so they might have citizenship rights
in the nation claiming to have
liberty and justice for all.

Women struggled for decades
just so they might have the right to vote.
They also joined in the struggle to prevent
their children from becoming slaves in factories.

The people of Cuba had a revolution.
They now have a government
that makes human needs the priority.
Today, Cubans have the right to education and health care.

But the owners of corporations
are indifferent to all of this.
They have one and only one priority.
This is their drive to maximize profits on investments.

So corporations and investment companies
spent massive amounts of money
to build factories in nations
where workers are paid two dollars per day.

They may have eliminated hundreds of millions of jobs,
while politicians talk about creating jobs.
The new jobs usually have lower wages
and fewer benefits than the jobs that left the country.

Workers living in nations
where they exist on the knife edge of survival,
risk life and limb for a chance
to work in a nation where they can make a living.

These workers have the worst jobs that few people want.
They have no protection and can be deported at any time.
Corporations depend on these workers,
while they build walls to keep them out.

Then, there is that idea that every worker
thinks about at one or another time in our lives.
This is the idea that things might be better.
Yes, we have the capability to make this a better world.

We produce enormous amounts of wealth
that can be used to eliminate poverty,
end all wars, and work in harmony with the environment.
Yes, we have the potential to stop the destruction of this planet.

We can use sophisticated technology
to make work easier and more rewarding.
Yes, we can expose the myth
that this is impossible.

There are those who argue that the idea
of a workers government is dead.
Half of the world’s population lives on two dollars per day.
They say this is the best we can do.

They tend to forget that the history of the world
has been made up of one continuous struggle
to make life better for the people who live on the planet.
That struggle is continuing.

So for all those who have their doubts,
I have these words.
We are the workers of the world

and we will be heard.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Captain Fantastic

Director, writer of the story and screenplay – Matt Ross

Starring – Viggo Mortensen

The other day I viewed a quite unusual film.  The film is Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic.  While I don’t feel that this is an outstanding film, I believe it is worth seeing.

The film is about parents who decide to raise their six children isolated from society in an Oregon forest.  In this environment the children learn to become self sufficient, physically strong, and competent in conversing in several languages.  They become avid readers and learn to analyze the ideas of the arts and sciences.  Also, the father of the children pushes them to think for themselves and develop their own perspectives.  Along these lines, they all become competent musicians and enjoy those times when they sing, dance, and perform their music.

We never meet the mother, and she dies early in the film.  The family then travels to New Mexico for her funeral.  Here is where we see the inevitable conflict between this family and the everyday world we all know.  Ultimately the father learns that there was a central flaw in how he raised his children.  They had no social skills that would allow them to live in the world.

From the opening scenes of the film there are some parts that are difficult to watch.  Clearly, I was uncomfortable watching certain scenes.  These scenes portrayed the rigorous and unconventional way the father instilled in his children a sense of self-sufficiency.

In thinking about these scenes, we might also think about the environment many children are exposed to in this country.  Today millions of children do not have a place to live or enough food to eat.  Many children suffer from treatable illnesses or injuries because they don’t have sufficient medical insurance.  Then, there is the huge number of children who experience sexual abuse.  A common problem many children face is sheer boredom, that can lead to Attention Deficit Disorder, that can lead to drug addiction.

The utopian socialists

The idea of setting up a communal society away from the mainstream is not new.  The utopian socialists Robert Owen and Charles Fourier both were critical of the world they lived in.  Radicals actually set up communities that attempted to be self sufficient as well as fair to all inhabitants.  All this happened in the 19th century.

In their lives Robert Owen was the first to argue for an eight-hour day for working people.  Charles Fourier invented the term of feminism and argued that women should have the same rights as men.  He was also critical of the idea of civilization as it was used in his day.  All these ideas emerged in the 19th century.

Clearly all these experiments in utopian socialist communities ended in failure.  However, the ideas promoted by Owen, Fourier and others live on to this day.   

The psychologist Erik Erikson

In considering the ideas expressed in the film Captain Fantastic we might also consider the works of the child psychologist Erik Erikson.  Erikson studied the Lakota and Yurok Indians in this country and learned how they raised their children.  We might consider that the indigenous people of this country needed to live their lives with a total dependence on the natural environment.  This wasn’t easy, so the methods used in raising children were extremely important. 

Erikson used his knowledge of the indigenous peoples to develop his theories for raising children.  He argued that if children do not establish feelings of trust, they will be mistrustful.  If children do not develop a feeling of autonomy, they will feel shame.  If children aren’t given the opportunity to take initiatives, they will develop a sense of guilt.  If children aren’t allowed to be industrious, they will develop feelings of inferiority.  If children are raised in a way where they are trustful and industrious, Erikson believed that they would become competent.

Erikson also believed that parents need to set an example their children can admire.  This is how he explained it:

“Healthy children will not fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death.”
The film Captain Fantastic clearly is not an instruction manual of how to raise children.  As the film points out, there were clear problems with the way these children were raised.  However, the film also shows how children can become extremely competent if they are raised in a totally different environment.  The film accomplishes this while portraying a compelling story.

These are some of the reasons why I feel Captain Fantastic is well worth seeing.