Celebrating Women’s History with Grace Lee Boggs: “These Are the Times to Grow Our Souls”

Grace Lee Boggs was a tireless activist for feminism, Black Power, civil rights, environmental justice, and workers’ rights. A recipient of many human rights and lifetime achievement awards, including a place in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, Boggs remained a crusader for social justice right up to her 100th year.

In her 2012 book The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, written with Scott Kurashige, Boggs drew from seven decades of activist experience to redefine “revolution” for our times. During the presidential election, co-author Kurashige edited together the following excerpts from the chapter “These Are the Times to Grow Our Souls” to share how Boggs continues to motivate us. This post originally appeared on the Grace Lee Boggs Facebook page, and we turn to this excerpt during Women’s National History Month as a reminder of the life and work of an extraordinary activist whose revolutionary legacy continues to inspire fundamental change today.


These are the times that try our souls. Each of us needs to undergo a tremendous philosophical and spiritual transformation. Despite the powers and principals that are bent on objectifying and commodifying us and all our human relationships, the interlocking crises of our time require that we exercise the power within us to make principled choices in our ongoing daily and political lives—choices that will eventually although not inevitably (since there are no guarantees) make a difference.

How are we going to bring about these transformations? Politics as usual—debate and argument, even voting—are no longer sufficient. Our system of representative democracy, created by a great revolution, must now itself become the target of revolutionary change. For too many years counting, vast numbers of people stopped going to the polls, either because they did not care what happened to the country or the world or because they did not believe that voting would make a difference on the profound and interconnected issues that really matter. Now, with a surge of new political interest having give rise to the Obama presidency, we need to inject new meaning into the concept of the “will of the people.”

The will of too many Americans has been to pursue private happiness and take as little responsibility as possible for governing our country. As a result, we have left the job of governing to our elected representatives, even though we know that they serve corporate interests and therefore make decisions that threaten our biosphere and widen the gulf between the rich and poor both in our country and throughout the world. In other words, even though it is readily apparent that our lifestyle choices and the decisions of our representatives are increasing social injustice and endangering our planet, too many of us have wanted to continue going our merry and not-so-merry ways, periodically voting politicians in and out of office but leaving the responsibility for policy decisions to them. Our will has been to act like consumers, not like responsible citizens.

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A Free Press Is Our Greatest Ally

by Lucas A. Powe Jr., author of The Fourth Estate and the Constitution: Freedom of the Press in America

Two hundred fifty years ago William Blackstone wrote “the liberty of the press is indeed essential to the nature of a free state” and that observation holds true today. A vigorous free press is an essential component of any functioning democracy. Yet President Donald Trump has called much of the national press “the enemy of the American people.” That’s the language Joseph Stalin used for his purges. If what is reported is not to his liking, Trump proclaims it “fake news.” These latest statements come after he stated, while campaigning, that libel laws should be loosened so that public figures like himself could sue the press with an expectation of winning large verdicts. Yet the Framers put protection of the press in the Constitution for a reason. They knew that power is addictive and that checks on it are necessary.

Trump, like presidents before him, bridles about what he deems unfair coverage and the problems that unauthorized leakers cause any administration. His predecessor Barack Obama set an unenviable standard by initiating more prosecutions for leaks than all post-World War II administrations combined. Yet leakers serve a valuable function of getting information into circulation and debate. They must remain anonymous because otherwise they would face retaliation and the public would be the worse off for it.

A free press periodically reminds us of its necessity. Without the courage of the Washington Post, Richard Nixon’s efforts to subvert the Constitution might never have come to light. And the dangers of a docile press were all too evident in the build-up to the Iraq War where Bush Administration statements were taken at face value rather than subjected to the scrutiny that a decision to go to war should demand. Thus John F. Kennedy was able to prevent publication of leaks about the Bay of Pigs operation only to realize that if the New York Times had printed what it knew, the ill-planned and ill-fated invasion would never have occurred.

The job of presidents is to attempt to leave the country in better shape than they found it. Every presidency has an end, but the key democratic institutions remain in place and should be strengthened. That always includes a free and unafraid press because, as the Supreme Court has stated, we have a “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” Rather than being an enemy of the people, a free press is our greatest ally. As I wrote in The Fourth Estate and the Constitution: “the press is an autonomous functioning watchdog on government, publicizing abuses, and, one hopes, arousing the citizenry.”


Lucas A. Powe, Jr., holds the Anne Green Regents Chair at The University of Texas, where he teaches at the School of Law and the Department of Government. A leading historian of the Supreme Court, Professor Powe clerked for Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas before joining the Texas faculty in 1971. His latest book is The Supreme Court and The American Elite, 1789-2008 (2009). Previously , reflecting a split career as a historian and a First Amendment scholar, especially of the electronic media, his three award-winning books were American Broadcasting and the First Amendment (California 1987), The Fourth Estate and the Constitution (California 1991), and The Warren Court and American Politics (Harvard 2000). Powe was also a principal commentator on the 2007 four-part PBS series “The Supreme Court.” He has also been a visiting professor at Berkeley, Connecticut, and Georgetown.


After ‘Cronkite Moment,’ Johnson doubled down on Viet policy

by W. Joseph Campbell, author of Getting It Wrong: Debunking the Greatest Myths in American Journalism

9780520291294One of the most cherished stories in American journalism is also a tenacious media-driven myth — a tall tale claiming great achievement for the media.

This cherished story/media myth is commonly known as the “Cronkite Moment” of 1968, when CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite supposedly exposed the bankruptcy of the Vietnam War. Forty-nine years ago next week, Cronkite declared in an editorial comment at the end of a special TV report that the U.S. military was “mired in stalemate” in Vietnam and that negotiations might offer a way out.

As I discuss in Getting It Wrong, an expanded second edition of which was published not long ago, the “Cronkite Moment” had few of the effects that are often, and extravagantly, attached to it.

Notable among those effects was that President Lyndon B. Johnson watched the program and, upon hearing Cronkite’s dire assessment, understood his war policy was a shambles. It was like an epiphany for the president.

But we know that’s not true: Johnson did not see the Cronkite program when it aired on February 27, 1968. He was in Austin, Texas, at that time, at a birthday party for a long-time political ally, Governor John Connally. It is not clear whether, or when, Johnson saw the program on videotape at some later date.

In any case, Cronkite said nothing about the war that hadn’t been said by leading journalists many times before. By February 1968, “stalemate” was a decidedly unoriginal way to characterize the Vietnam War.

The second edition of Getting It Wrong, which includes three new chapters and new material elsewhere, presents further evidence underscoring that the “Cronkite Moment” is a media myth.

This material elaborates on Johnson’s conduct in the immediate aftermath of Cronkite’s special report — the days and weeks when Cronkite’s assessment should have exerted greatest impact.

But instead of recognizing that Cronkite had shown him the light, Johnson doubled down. He mounted an aggressive defense of his war policy, demonstrating by his forcefulness that he had not taken the anchorman’s message to heart.

Three days after Cronkite’s program aired, Johnson vowed that America would “not cut and run” from Vietnam. “We’re not going to be Quislings,” the president said. “And we’re not going to be appeasers.”

Johnson spoke with similar energy in mid-March 1968, telling a meeting of business leaders in Washington, D.C.:

“We must meet our commitments in the world and in Vietnam. We shall and we are going to win. … I don’t want a man in here to go back home thinking otherwise — we are going to win.”

Two days after that, the president traveled to Minneapolis to speak at the National Farmers Union convention. He took the occasion to urge “a total national effort to win the war” in Vietnam, and slapped the lectern for emphasis. “We love nothing more than peace,” Johnson declared, “but we hate nothing worse than surrender and cowardice.”

He disparaged war critics as ready and inclined to “tuck our tail and violate our commitments.”

A day later, Johnson insisted in a talk at the State Department: “We have set our course” in Vietnam. “And we will prevail.”

Thus at a time when Cronkite’s views should been most keenly felt, the president remained tenaciously hawkish.

The shift in the president’s approach came not in the immediate aftermath of the “Cronkite Moment” (which was not referred to as such until many years later). It took place in meetings with an informal group of senior counselors who collectively were known as the “Wise Men.”

They included foreign policy notables such as Dean Acheson, a former secretary of state; McGeorge Bundy, a former national security adviser, and George Ball, a former under secretary of state.

The “Wise Men” had met in November 1967 and expressed near-unanimous support for Johnson’s Vietnam policy. They met again in late March 1968, and most of them expressed opposition to America’s escalating the war in Vietnam, as Johnson was then contemplating. “The theme that ran around the table was, ‘You’ve got to lower your sights,’” George Ball later recalled.

The president “was shaken by this kind of advice from people in whose judgment he necessarily had some confidence, because they’d had a lot of experience,” Ball noted.

The counsel of the Wise Men probably was the tipping point for Johnson on Vietnam. On March 31, 1968, he announced the United States would stop almost all bombing missions over North Vietnam — and that he would not seek reelection to the presidency.


wjc_pnp_large_crop2W. Joseph Campbell is a professor at American University’s School of Communication in Washington, D.C. He is the author of six books, including Getting It Wrong and 1995: The Year The Future Began.


The Presidential Recommended Reading List: UC Press Edition

Today on President’s Day, the nation commemorates the achievements of all of America’s chief executives. From the best books about American presidents to the favorite books of each of the 44 presidents, books help people gain insight on their presidents—and can help presidents gain insight on their constituents.

As many provide recommended reading lists for current President Donald Trump to learn from, we add here our list of suggested titles.

Political Economics

Immigration

Education

Law and Justice

What book would you add to the president’s recommended reading list?

 


Trump’s American Dream: You’ll Have to Be Asleep to Believe It

By Victor Tan Chen, author of Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy

While there are many reasons why Donald Trump won the election, it’s clear that the movement of the white working class away from the Democratic Party had something to do with it. Given that this demographic seems to have put Trump over the top in the Electoral College, what do we expect his administration’s policies to do for this group—and for the working class (which, importantly, is increasingly nonwhite) more broadly?

First, his proposed tax plan will dramatically increase income inequality in this country. It will be a windfall for elites—particularly the richest 0.1%, America’s corporate executives and Wall Street financiers—who already have rewritten the rules of the economic game to favor them. Meanwhile, it will punish millions of low-income and single-parent families by stripping away some of their tax deductions. (Ironically, the white working class that broke decisively for Trump has been increasingly falling into this latter camp.)

Second, labor unions—historically, a voice for ordinary workers and an engine of greater economic equality—will take a hit. The Republican Party will accelerate its nationwide push to enact state “right to work” laws—which, shockingly, now hold sway in states where unions once thrived, like Michigan. They will likely put forward a national version of “right to work.” Trump’s Supreme Court appointee will hold the decisive vote in the coming court battle over efforts to further weaken public-sector unions, whose growth in recent decades has been a rare bright spot for organized labor in this country. The person he chooses will undoubtedly side with the rest of the conservative majority to allow nonmembers to freeride—partake of the benefits won by these unions without contributing anything from their paychecks in return. As I argue in my book, labor unions were essential in creating the “moral economy” that reigned in America in the years after World War II, when workers without much in the way of education could organize, collectively bargain for high wages, and persuasively lobby for pro-worker policies—in the process, securing a degree of middle-class prosperity. Further declines in union membership and government social spending will also erode the institutional foundations of a valuable support and retraining system that today’s workers will sorely need if they are to adapt to a quickly changing economic landscape.

On the other hand, Trump’s efforts to shame companies into keeping jobs in America could bear fruit. One of the problems that American workers face is that norms among business leaders have changed, so that not only is extravagant executive compensation no longer seen as unseemly, but downsizing, outsourcing, and offshoring have become standard operating procedures. The presidential bully pulpit can be a potent weapon—as abrupt changes in norms about gay marriage following Obama’s about-face on this issue showed. In a similar vein, it is conceivable that Trump’s in-your-face approach to foreign affairs will give the administration some leverage in future negotiations over global trade deals. All this said, I am generally pessimistic about Trump’s ability to win back many of the good manufacturing jobs that have been lost to trade—mainly because automation has eliminated even more of those jobs. Technological change, and not foreign competition, seems to be the chief threat moving forward, with even middle-class jobs for well-educated workers likely to be automated away in the years ahead. But any comprehensive strategy to deal with the potentially massive net loss of jobs—such as enacting a universal basic income—will get no traction in a Republican-controlled Congress. Likewise, America’s trading partners now hold a stronger hand than they did when deals like NAFTA were brokered. Within this changing world order, trade wars are not likely to turn out well for the US economy.

In my book, I argue that a crucial reason that unemployed Canadian workers do not fare as poorly as their American counterparts is the single-payer healthcare system up north—which means that an unexpected trip to the hospital, for instance, won’t saddle them with a hefty bill. (Surviving without a job often amounts to having the luck to avoid these sudden income shocks—and health insurance, by definition, insures against those shocks.) With Trump in the presidency, I’m less sanguine than many commentators are that Obamacare can survive in any substantial form. Without the need to overturn a presidential veto, Republican lawmakers can pursue a variety of strategies to either roll back its various measures or indirectly starve them of funding. Of course, some Republicans are having cold feet at the moment about taking away the insurance of millions of Americans. But gerrymandered congressional districts mean that many of them won’t pay much of a political price for their votes, and in any case the ideological extremism of today’s Republican Party is such that fear of being primaried from the right will likely outweigh fear of any general-election backlash.

The conclusion of my book makes the case for a politics of grace—a push, led by social movements, to move society away from the unrelenting and unforgiving culture of success and status-seeking that now prevails, and that debases the self-worth of the working class above all. Unfortunately, the Trump administration will likely advance the exact opposite set of values: a politics of vengeance and domination. Short-fused, mercurial, and unable to control his fury over the tiniest slights, Trump seems driven more by a desire to settle scores with those who oppose him than any core ideological commitments. In his pronouncements from the bully pulpit, he has made it clear that he is about America “winning”—as he personally, through his attainment of extravagant wealth and fame, believes he has done. But the pursuit of a Trumpian American dream of materialism and self-interest will take us even farther from the civic-minded ideals of the early republic. As rising inequality stamps out opportunities for rags-to-riches stories of success, and the Trump administration’s promises to working people prove to be worthless, that narrow dream of national greatness may, in fact, take on another, darker meaning: as George Carlin put it, “It’s called the American dream ’cause you have to be asleep to believe it.”


Victor Tan Chen is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University and the founding editor of In the Fray magazine. He is the coauthor, with Katherine S. Newman, of The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America.


The Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program

Last October marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, when, in 1966, college students Bobby Seale and Huey Newton vowed to prevent police brutality against black communities. In the face of intense repression, the Party flourished, becoming the center of a revolutionary movement with offices in sixty-eight U.S. cities and powerful allies around the world.

Today, the Party’s fight against police brutality continues to inspire activists and organizers, who look to develop new ways of organizing as tools and methods change and current events shift. In the new preface to Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, authors Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr. place the Black Panther Party in today’s political landscape, especially as it relates to Black Lives Matter. They write:

Like the Black Panther Party, #BlackLivesMatter and other contemporary activists have coupled confrontational tactics with community organizing and sought to challenge racism by mobilizing against police brutality. And again, today antiracist activists face repression including state surveillance, arrests, and coordinated public vilification. As in the 1960s, the forces of racial retrenchment are eager to move on without disturbing the basic arrangements of white privilege. . . . Indeed, each generation must make its own history, under new conditions, in new ways. Rather than emulating the specifics, we believe that developing effective antiracist practices today requires emulating the general political dynamic common to both the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panther Party.

Included in the book is The Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program. First publicized in the the second issue of the organization’s newspaper, Black Panther, on May 15, 1967, the platform and program, titled “What We Want Now! What We Believe,” was a set of guidelines written by Newton and Seale that emphasized the Party’s ideals and commitment to advancing a revolution that addressed the needs of the black community. It appeared in every succeeding issue of the newspaper.

The original Ten Point Program read:

What We Want Now! What We Believe

To those poor souls who don’t know Black history, the beliefs and desires of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense may seem unreasonable. To Black people, the ten points covered are absolutely essential to survival. We have listened to the riot producing words “these things take time” for 400 years. The Black Panther Party knows what Black people want and need. Black unity and self defense will make these demands a reality.

What We Want

  1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black community.
  2. We want full employment for our people.
  3. We want an end to the robbery by the White man of our Black community.
  4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter [of] human beings.
  5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
  6. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
  7. We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people.
  8. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county, and city prisons and jails.
  9. We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black communities. As defined by the constitution of the United States.
  10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

What We Believe

  1. We believe that Black people will not be free until we are able to determine our destiny.
  2. We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the White American business men will not give full employment, then the means of production should be taken from the business men and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.
  3. We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules was promised 100 years ago as retribution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities: the Germans are now aiding the Jews in Israel for the genocide of the Jewish people. The Germans murdered 6,000,000 Jews. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of over 50,000,000 Black people; therefore, we feel that this is a modest demand that we make.
  4. We believe that if the White landlords will not give decent housing to our Black community, then the housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that our community, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for its people.
  5. We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.
  6. We believe that Black people should not be forced to fight in the military service to defend a racist government that does not protect us. We will not fight and kill other people of color in the world who, like Black people, are being victimized by the White racist government of America. We will protect ourselves from the force and violence of the racist police and the racist military, by whatever means necessary.
  7. We believe we can end police brutality in our Black community by organizing Black self defense groups that are dedicated to defending our Black community from racist police oppression and brutality. The Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States gives us a right to bear arms. We therefore believe that all Black people should arm themselves for self defense.
  8. We believe that all Black people should be released from the many jails and prisons because they have not received a fair and impartial trial.
  9. We believe that the courts should follow the United States Constitution so that Black people will receive fair trials. The 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives a man a right to be tried by his peer group. A peer is a person from a similar economic, social, religious, geographical, environmental, historical and racial background. To do this the court will be forced to select a jury from the Black community from which the Black defendant came. We have been, and are being tried by all White juries that have no understanding of the “average reasoning man” of the Black community.
  10. When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

Above the Ten Point Program, under the headline “Minister of Defense,” the Black Panther carried a photo of Huey that served to announce to the world that the vanguard of Black Power had arrived.

Learn more about the history and politics of the Black Panther Party and Black against Empire here.


What Happens to Undocumented Children & Families in the Trump Era

By Susan J. Terrio, author of Whose Child Am I?: Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in U.S. Immigration Custody

U.S. Border Patrol apprehension of migrants, Rio Grande Valley Sector near McAllen, Texas. Photo by Michelle Frankfurter.
U.S. Border Patrol apprehend migrants near McAllen, Texas. Photo by Michelle Frankfurter.

Academics, advocates and legal scholars here and abroad expressed alarm at the campaign rhetoric of then presidential candidate Donald Trump, who promised to build a wall on our southern border to keep out “illegals,” to ban Muslims and to create a federal registry to track them, to end humanitarian protections for undocumented youths brought to this country as children, and to round-up and deport 1.9 million unauthorized immigrants. Now in office, Trump is delivering on those promises with a rash of executive orders fueled by his own vision of the nation and a false sense of urgency regarding the threats posed by foreign workers, criminal aliens, and Muslim terrorists.

I wrote Whose Child Am I? to emphasize the dangers of creating two parallel but separate federal systems to manage the increasing numbers of unaccompanied, undocumented Central American and Mexican children who were apprehended by U.S. immigration authorities after fleeing violence at home: preemptive detention in closed facilities and monitored programs and placement in deportation proceedings in immigration courts. I also noted the conflict of interest created when one branch of the government assigns itself as a child’s legal guardian while another branch prosecutes that same child for violating immigration law. Undocumented children currently have no right to funded legal representation in court and are subject to arbitrary placement and release decisions while in custody. The limited rights and humanitarian safeguards they enjoy in federal detention are offset by due process violations, detention with no set endpoint, limited access to pro bono attorneys, and the fear of deportation after release.

Terrio Whose Child Am IAs my book was going to press in 2014, migratory flows of unaccompanied children and undocumented families from Central America exploded. We witnessed desperate migrants running to, not away from, Border Patrol agents. The U.S. has treated this violence-driven refugee crisis as if it were an economic migration problem. The Obama administration responded to the arrival of unprecedented numbers of undocumented children and families with enhanced enforcement and heightened deterrence policies designed to prevent their entry and to remove them rapidly. These included expedited processing that stripped them of basic constitutional protections and exposed them to abuse, the outsourcing of the violent interdiction, detention and deportation of Central Americans to Mexico and Guatemala, and the rapid expansion of detention facilities in the U.S. for both unaccompanied minors and families with children. Despite these policies, in 2016, a record number of unaccompanied minors crossed the border and were detained-77,674.

The large-scale detention and deportation regime can only be expected to continue as Trump’s recent executive orders call for a border wall, robust collaboration between local and federal authorities to round up and deport undocumented immigrants, sanctions against sanctuary cities, and tougher procedures for admitting refugees. We would do well to remember the terrible costs of vicious nativism and anti-immigrant rhetoric in our history. We need to use verifiable facts to expose the Trump administration’s exaggerated threats that justify increasingly restrictive policies and muscular border control.

 


Susan TerrioSusan J. Terrio is is Professor of Anthropology at Georgetown University. In addition to Whose Child Am I?, she is also the author of Judging Mohammed: Juvenile Delinquency, Immigration, and Exclusion at the Paris Palace of Justice. 


PBS documentary signals anew the pivotal character of 1995

by W. Joseph Campbell, author of 1995: The Year the Future Began

PBS is set to air on Tuesday an “American Experience” documentary about the deadliest spasm of home-grown terrorism in U.S. history, the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.

The program revisits a crime staggering in its cruelty. The bomber, a 27-year-old Army veteran of the Gulf War named Timothy McVeigh, parked a rental truck packed with explosives outside the Murrah federal building on the morning of April 19, 1995. He said he intended to punish the federal government for episodes like the fiery disaster two years before at the Branch Davidian compound in Texas, site of a prolonged standoff with the FBI.

field-of-empty-chairs
The “field of empty chairs” outdoor memorial that occupies the site of the bombing.

On the Murrah building’s second floor, commanding a view of the street where McVeigh parked the truck, was a day-care center. Among the 168 people killed in the attack were 19 children, the youngest of whom was three-months-old.

McVeigh was executed for his crimes and his principal co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, was sentenced to life in prison.

The forthcoming documentary offers more than reexamination of a wanton terrorist attack: Its airing reminds us of the enduring significance of a watershed year — the subject of 1995: The Year the Future Began, my 2015 book with University of California Press.

It is not difficult to encounter these days telling evidence of the pivotal character of 1995. The ugly 2016 presidential campaign was made uglier by Donald Trump’s periodic references to Bill Clinton’s dalliance with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Clinton’s clandestine affair, which nearly cost him his presidency, began in November 1995 during a partial shutdown of the federal government which, itself, became a source of lasting, bipartisan enmity in national politics.

Popular fascination still percolates about the 1995 O. J. Simpson double-murder trial — as suggested by two critically acclaimed cable series that aired last year on FX and ESPN. The programs, respectively, reenacted the case and revisited Simpson’s celebrated football career and subsequent misdeeds.

The programs were much-watched, suggesting that something in the national consciousness remains unresolved about the Simpson case. Although Simpson was acquitted of viciously killing his former wife and her friend, most Americans now believe he was guilty of the crimes.

An potent measure of lasting importance of any year lies in whether or how long its major events resonate. Clearly, the watershed moments of 1995 reverberate still.

The bombing at Oklahoma City was staggering in its toll, perplexing in its heartland setting, and done without warning. Those elements contributed to a vague but enduring sense of insecurity in America, and the bombing marked the onset of unexpectedly dangerous times.

Indeed, the bombing projected consequences that have been felt long afterward, notably in the rise of preemptive security measures that became ever tighter, and ever more conspicuous, after 1995.9780520273993

Oklahoma City was a wake-up call in domestic security. As I wrote in 1995, the bombing’s lasting consequences lie “not in awakening Americans to the deadly threat of domestic terrorism, nor in exposing vulnerabilities of American life. The epiphany was not of that sort. Rather … the bombing at Oklahoma City signaled the rise of a more guarded, more suspicious, more security-inclined America, of what can be called ‘a national psychology of fear.’”

Striking evidence of a preemptive, security-first mindset emerged soon after the bombing. Before dawn on May 20, 1995, authorities set up concrete barriers to detour vehicular traffic from two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue nearest the White House in Washington, D.C. The closure was ordered unilaterally, without notice or public debate. And it was permanent.

The capital grew bunker-like after 1995. An architecture of defensiveness became plainly visible and the numerous barriers and steel gates lent a shabby and wary look to the heart of Washington. The Washington Post observed years later that the Oklahoma City bombing “ended the capital’s life as an open city.”

Oklahoma City also re-exposed a deep flaw in American news coverage of sudden and dramatic major events: A tendency to indulge in latent stereotypes and to get it badly wrong.

In the hours after the bombing, suspicions fell squarely if vaguely on Middle East terrorism, and the news media rode that angle hard. Connie Chung, an anchor on CBS, declared, for example: “This is the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil ever. A U.S. government source has told CBS News that it has Middle East terrorism written all over it.”

Shock was thus palpable when, two days after the attack, McVeigh was arrested in the bombing and brought briefly before television cameras. The suspected terrorist was no foreigner. He was not from the Middle East. He was lanky, white, and American.


photo of W. Joseph CampbellW. Joseph Campbell is a professor at American University’s School of Communication in Washington, D.C. He is the author of six books, including 1995: The Year The Future Began.


J. Edgar Hoover, Martin Luther King, and Some Timely Lessons for the FBI in the Age of Trump

by Steven Weitzman and Sylvester Johnson, editors of The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security Before and After 9/11

James B. Comey wants you to know FBI and Religionthat the FBI he directs learns from its mistakes.

In 2014, director Comey instituted an effort to do just that, a program meant to help FBI agents and analysts learn from one of the more shameful episodes in FBI history—the effort by former director J. Edgar Hoover to destroy Martin Luther King, Jr. Fueled by Hoover’s suspicion that MLK was a communist, the FBI undertook a scandalous campaign of surveillance and harassment, going so far as to send the civil rights leader an anonymous letter that seems to call on him to kill himself.

Comey’s efforts were born of a resolve not to let this kind of mistake happen again. He has spoken of how he keeps a copy of the memo authorizing the King surveillance on his desk as a reminder of “why it is vital that power. . . be constrained.” The program he initiated is meant to give FBI trainees a chance to reflect on the dangers of corruption and racism. The experience includes watching documentaries, reading about the prejudice MLK faced, and a visit to the MLK memorial in Washington D.C.

As scholars of religion, we’d like to believe that this isn’t mere public relations. As an undergraduate at William and Mary College, Comey majored in Religious Studies, writing a thesis about a theologian committed to social justice, Reinhold Niebuhr. As Arthur Schlesinger once observed, Niebuhr was a critic of national innocence, which he regarded as a self-righteous delusion that Americans used to conceal their crimes from themselves. Comey appeared to take this teaching to heart, distinguishing himself from Hoover by being willing to face up to mistakes and moral blind-spots.

But is Comey himself learning all the lessons there are to learn from Hoover’s treatment of MLK?

In our own research on the FBI and its interaction with different religious communities, we came to realize that it wasn’t only racism that shaped Hoover’s treatment of MLK; religious bias played a role as well. Hoover cast the struggle against communism as a religious struggle, identifying America with Judeo-Christian values and the Soviet Union with a godless secularism bent on the destruction of religion. This Manichean world-view, dividing the world into forces of good and evil, skewed his understanding of people on the religious left. He could not accept that it was sincere belief that may have led leaders on the religious left, leaders like MLK, to oppose war and injustice. In his eyes, such leaders were imposters or dupes, a part of a Communist effort to infiltrate American society under the cover of religion.

Acknowledging the role of religious bias in the FBI’s treatment of MLK is important because of the role that religious bias is now playing in the Federal government’s treatment of a religious minority. Within a week of his inauguration, the Trump administration has prevented Muslim non-citizens from entering the country. Although he refocused his immigration ban on Muslim-majority countries rather than Muslims in general, Trump told Christian Broadcast news that preferential treatment would be given to Christians, making religion a test for how the US would treat refugees from war-torn regions like Syria. The executive order calls to mind the government’s refusal to accept Jewish refugees during World War II on the pretext that some were Nazi spies.

Continue reading “J. Edgar Hoover, Martin Luther King, and Some Timely Lessons for the FBI in the Age of Trump”


The EPA and the Future of Flint, Michigan

ScottPruitt-EPANominee

On February 1st, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote on sending current Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s (R) nomination to the full Senate. During his hearing two weeks ago for the position of administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pruitt acknowledged his lack of familiarity with the scientific research on lead poisoning. But it should be noted that the debate still continues amongst scientists on how much is too much, or too little, to consider harmful.

Because of President Donald Trump’s recent media blackout and freeze on EPA grants, the people of Michigan are now asking if Flint will be impacted in the wake of their lead crisis.

Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, authors of Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children, have prominently discussed their concerns about lead. Markowtiz and Rosner write about what lead has meant to Flint and other communities like it:

Lead Wars[L]ead poisoning as it has been commonly portrayed does not affect all of us in society evenly but rather is particularly damaging to those who live in the older, rundown, more dilapidated neighborhoods of our fading urban centers, where lead paint is most likely to be exposed. As such, those who make the decisions about what our priorities are as a society and what risks we are willing to take with our children’s lives often feel immune from the consequences of lead. … We can believe that lead poisoning—along with other environmental childhood threats such as asthma linked to mold and cockroaches, for example—will at some future date be all but eradicated as the rebuilding of our urban infrastructure, the gentrification of older neighborhoods, and the movement of peoples out of dilapidated structures eliminates the primary source of lead poisoning: the nation’s leaded housing stock.

But the authors note that we must continue to research lead’s full impact, especially children:

But self-satisfied complacency born of the successes of the past thirty years must be tempered by the growing body of research that shows lead to be a multiheaded hydra whose dangers are constantly being revealed in new forms. Each time we believe we have one lead danger under control, we are forced to confront another set of problems that challenge our science, our epidemiology, our morality, and our sense of social justice. …

Children at risk, 1960s.
Children at risk, 1960s.

Our common-sense assumptions, long held by toxicologists as well as the general public, that the higher the level of a poison, the more damage it causes, may not always be true. New research shows that the most serious damage from lead occurs at some of the lowest levels of exposure, often in utero or in the first years of life, when the neurological structures of the brain are forming. For example, compared to children with virtually no evidence of lead in their blood, the greatest effect of lead on IQ occurs in children with blood lead levels below 5 µg/dl. As blood lead levels climb above 5 µg/dl, IQ continues to decline but at a much slower rate. Similarly, endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol A have their greatest impact on physiological structures at the lowest levels of bioaccumulation, if exposure occurs at critical moments in fetal development. This raises troubling issues for toxicology and for society, because these data imply that other toxins may also defy the traditional dogma that the “dose makes the poison” and that lowering exposures lowers the risk. Unlike toxins whose acute effects disappear with the elimination of the poison, lead’s effect on the child’s brain is immediate and often permanent.

What are your thoughts on how the EPA, along with the Center for Disease Control and other agencies, should move forward with future research on lead?

And to read Lead Wars and save 40%, use code 16W6968 at checkout on our site.