In the documentary film Freedom Riders, which I watched yesterday, there are frequent interviews with John Patterson who was the governor of Alabama at the time of the Freedom Rides. He was a segregationist, and his refusal to provide protection for the Freedom Riders allowed them to be beaten severely by white mobs. The interviews are curious. He comes off as intelligent and he speaks frankly and unapologetically about the time. He is never put on the spot by the interviewer. One comes away from the film curious about his current views. (He was in his late 80s when the film was made.) I looked him up and it turns out that he renounced his segregationist views a long time ago. (I wonder why he wasn’t given the opportunity to say so.) He insists, and of course he’s right, that in those days being in favor of integration in a place like Alabama was political suicide. Even more interesting, in 2008 he endorsed Obama for president. The Freedom Riders were not supported initially by the Civil Rights establishment—including Martin Luther King. It was thought they were pushing things too far, too fast. In the end they won. I think their pacifist stand had a lot to do with it. They were young, and many people thought them hopelessly naive. But they had courage, good hearts, a good sense of humor, and smart tactics. When Mississippi tried to intimidate the Freedom Riders by locking them up in the notoriously severe Parchman Prison rather than in a relatively easy city jail, the Freedom Riders said, “Okay, let’s fill the prison with so many of us that putting us in prison becomes a huge hassle for the state of Mississippi.” And they did it. They sent hundreds of volunteers—black, white, men, and women—down to break the segregation laws, and Mississippi was overwhelmed by it all. The Freedom Riders are true heroes, not the fakes who get passed off as heroes nowadays.
Archive for November, 2012
I recently received an email from someone in Canada who wanted to know why I had supported Obama’s reelection. He is angry with Obama and cited, specifically, Obama’s use of drones and his caving in to the Wall Street bankers. My answer to him was, yes, well…better him than the horror that was Romney. After watching a documentary on the Freedom Riders of the early 1960s, I’m reminded of another reason, a reason that I was well aware of in 2008, but less so this time around. Namely: It is so good for this country to have as president someone who is not lily-white—and who was re-elected to boot. That’s a fundamental and forever change, I think. And that’s good enough for me.
Like a lot of people, I think, I feel more relieved than celebratory after the election. Basically, we’re back at square one, except that the Republicans are pretty much in a situation where they have to abandon their tactics of confrontation and obstruction. They failed in their bid to destroy Obama, to make him a one-term president. I don’t think most people want another four years of their intransigence. The one aspect of the election that cheers me is the very real possibility that the Republican strategy of depending on the angry white male voter has finally reached a dead end. This is a common theme in all the commentary I’ve been reading. It all began back in 1968 with Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” a transparently, if not openly, racist approach. They’ve been tweaking it ever since. But it may finally be dead, dead, dead. Thank God! (Demographically speaking, I am a white male, a taxpaying, home-owning WASP. But I’m not angry.)
In the last two or three weeks I’ve been distracted by the election. Now I can get back to work in earnest. I haven’t done any final-draft level writing in ten years. It feels good to be back in the saddle. I’m satisfied with how it’s going.
An addendum a few hours after posting: No one knows really knows which way the wind will blow, but the Republicans are actually talking intransigence. For them it’s apparently got to be either victory or self-immolation.