NB Politicus

Remembering April 4, 1968

Posted in 1968, civil rights, In Memoriam, national politics, Poverty by nbpoliticus on March 31, 2018

By John McNamara

I remember exactly where I was on April 4, 1968.

That sunny and warm Thursday,  like many others in my senior year in high school, I drove to Bradlee’s Department store on the Lynnway in Lynn, Massachusetts after school to punch in for the evening shift, earning some money before entering Boston University in the fall.

News spread quickly into the evening that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was dead at the age of 39.

It didn’t take long to realize that my shift as a retail clerk would be different from all the others. The store quickly emptied out. Not a customer in sight all night. No need for Mr. Silverman, the shaken and somber store manager, to send me out on outside carriage control. The bullets in Memphis were enough to bring a normal business day to a halt in Lynn and most of the nation as big cities teetered on the brink of a violence that King sought to avoid with acts of non-violent resistance.

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New Britain’s Memorial at MLK Park.

Just five short years before I had come home from junior high on a late summer day to watch King deliver his “I Have A Dream” speech – an event that would inspire so many of us to become community and political activists.

There are many good remembrances of what King said and stood for on his national holiday and at the permanent memorial in Washington every year.

But the nation could stand to be reminded again of the day King was killed and why he was in Memphis a few years after the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts became the law of the land.

By 1968, Rev. King was widening the concerns of his movement. In Where Do We Go From Here?  King, much to the consternation of the more cautious members of his movement and the political establishment, opposed a Vietnam policy that had begun to break the nation further apart. The lunchroom sit-ins and battles over accommodations and voting rights were giving way to a broader agenda. He was planning a new march on Washington – “the Poor People’s Campaign” — when he decided to take up the cause of 1,300 Black sanitation workers in Memphis, a city of southern segregation, where the white power structure opposed the right to unionize and the Mayor vowed never to bargain in good faith in a way that would give the sanitation workers their dignity. The strike and a citywide economic boycott were a cause King knew he could not ignore.

King’s prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech on the eve of the assassination is his best known from Memphis. But two weeks earlier, on March 18th, King galvanized support for strikers by saying: “So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs…..One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive.” Following King’s assassination, the Memphis power structure gave up its intransigence – recognizing the union, awarding pay raises and instituting merit promotions.

Fifty years later Rev. King’s  work goes on and is being renewed for a new generation. Led by the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina and others a “moral direct action” campaign is mobilizing a 2018 Poor People’s Campaign  for the same principles  that led Rev. King to Memphis and his last days.

King’s campaign for striking AFSCME sanitation workers reaffirmed his greatness at the hour of his death and resonates today in the cause of social and economic justice. That’s why I’ll always remember 4/4/68 as a day frozen in time not to be forgotten.

Adapted and updated from an April 2007 post.

New Britain Election Postscript: “If Trump wins will I have to leave the country?”

Posted in civil rights, Diversity, Hate Speech, Immigration, New Britain, Presidential Politics, Racism by nbpoliticus on November 27, 2016

“If Trump wins will I have to leave the country?”

The question was asked of me by a Holmes School student when I was leaving the Masjid Al Taqwa mosque on Arch Street on a Sunday evening in August. It didn’t matter that the 5th grader has probably lived in New Britain all his life and that his parents — part of a growing Muslim American community in central CT,  vote and pay taxes.

“No,” I said without hesitation to reassure the Holmes student. “Even if Trump wins you won’t have to leave the country.”

My visit to Masjid Al Taqwa came at the invitation of  Alicia Hernandez Strong, a Weyleyan student, new officer of the Democratic Town Committee and a convert to the Muslim faith.   Evening prayer, a generous ethnic supper and a panel talk on voter registration organized by Strong were part of the evening that ended with that question from the student from Holmes, reflecting his worries and that of his  family and religious community in 2016.

Inscription at Memorial to New Britain 19th century peace activist Elihu Burritt in Franklin Square.

Inscription at Memorial to New Britain 19th century peace activist Elihu Burritt in Franklin Square. (Todesignllc.com)

Over and over again the Republican presidential nominee, amplified by an easily manipulated media,  spread an unfiltered message of exclusion and fear and “change” to make America great again. Campaign rhetoric  devoid of policy and ideas was mainly against people of the Muslim faith and  millions of others without a path to citizenship whenever Donald Trump took the stage.

In the aftermath of the election and Trump’s “win” concerns are escalating. In some places real acts of hate and violence are directed at  those who were the targets of Trump’s dog whistle rants.  His appointments, including Steve Bannon, the wife-beating publisher of  the ultra right and xenophobic Breitbart News, have done little to allay the concern.

Trump’s appeals to fear and exclusion wrapped in an empty economic populism, however, are producing counter measures.  Mayors, police chiefs, civic and religious  leaders, in their words and official actions, are pushing back against the campaign xenophobia that should make a President, even a vulgar demagogue of a President,  think twice about policies that sanction intolerance and bigotry and are a refutation of what Ellis Island was all about.

The mob portion of Trump’s support and maybe even Trump himself, emboldened by the election, will continue to fan hate and division. But there are millions of Trump voters, bothered by flaws in Hillary Clinton’s establishment candidacy or swayed by the fake news vitriol against her–who will want no part of  the hate and incivility that fueled the Trump candidacy.  In New Britain and elsewhere too many of their co-workers and the parents of children they see at the school where their kids go are on Trump’s hit list.

Post-election it’s up to me and you to tell that Muslim American Holmes School boy, or the Mexican “dreamer” student at CCSU seeking a fair path to citizenship or a refugee who got here from a strife-torn land:

No. You don’t have to leave the country because of your religion or where you are from no matter who the President is.  Your city is the “city for all people” and your neighbors won’t let that happen.

John McNamara

 

 

 

 

Remembering 4/4/1968: 48 Years Ago On Monday

Posted in 1968, civil rights, labor by nbpoliticus on April 3, 2016

By John McNamara

So far the campaign of 2016 — thanks mainly to Donald Trump and his cohorts in the GOP field –is a disturbing reminder that any progress achieved on civil and voting rights made over the last 60 years is threatened.  The Supreme Court’s recent ruling weakening provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 and various moves to make it harder to vote in states and localities are real and present threats to that progress.  The campaign is also bringing home the importance of a strong labor movement if  income inequality is to be reversed.

This reality was not lost on members and friends of the Mary McLoud Bethune Club on Saturday April 2nd. They gathered in the rain for a 48th Anniversary Celebration on the anniversary of  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in Memphis. And it will never be lost on those of us of a certain age who won’t forget why King went to Memphis.

Originally posted in April 2007

I remember exactly where I was on April 4, 1968. Thirty nine years ago today the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis.

That week day, like many others in my senior year at Lynn English High School, I drove to Bradlee’s Department store on the Lynnway in Lynn, Massachusetts to punch in for the evening shift,  earning some money before entering Boston University in the fall.

The news spread quickly that Thursday evening that King was dead.

It didn’t take long to realize that my shift as a retail clerk would be different from all the others. The store quickly emptied out. Not a customer in sight all night. No need for Mr. Silverman, the shaken and somber store manager, to send me out on “outside carriage control”.

The bullets in Memphis were enough to bring a normal business day to a halt in Lynn and most of the nation. Just five short years before I had come home from junior high on a late summer day to watch King deliver his “I Have A Dream” speech – an event that would inspire so many of us to become active in politics and protest.

New Britain's Alton Brooks at the city's MLK Park with members and friends of the Mary McCloud Bethune Club on April 2nd. (Photo courtesy of Brian Riley)

New Britain’s Alton Brooks at the city’s MLK Park with members and friends of the Mary McLoud Bethune Club on April 2nd. (Photo courtesy of Brian Riley)

There are many good remembrances of what King said and stood for on his national holiday in January every year, but not so much is ever said on this anniversary of the day he died.

It’s worth remembering on April 4th and throughout the year why King was in Memphis on a day I don’t forget.

By 1968, Rev. King was widening the concerns of his movement.

In Where Do We Go From Here? King opposed a Vietnam policy that had begun to break the nation further apart. The lunchroom sit-ins and battles over accommodations and voting rights were giving way to a broader agenda. He was planning a new march on Washington – “the Poor People’s Campaign” — when he decided to take up the cause of 1,300 Black sanitation workers in Memphis, a city of southern segregation, where the white power structure opposed the right to unionize and the Mayor vowed never to bargain in good faith in a way that would give the sanitation workers their dignity. The strike and a citywide economic boycott were a cause King knew he could not ignore.

King’s prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech on the eve of the assassination is his best known from Memphis. But two weeks earlier, on March 18th, King galvanized support for strikers by saying:

“So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs…..One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive.” Following King’s assassination, the Memphis power structure gave up its intransigence – recognizing the union, awarding pay raises and instituting merit promotions.

King’s campaign for striking sanitation workers reaffirmed his greatness at the hour of his death and resonates today in the cause of social and economic justice. That is worth remembering most from the day he died.

Updated from April 2007  http://nbpoliticus.blogspot.com/2007/04/39-years-ago-today.html

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City Hall Watch: Rep. Sanchez Condemns Charter Change Eliminating City Council Districts

Posted in City Charter, city government, city politics and government, civil rights by nbpoliticus on February 10, 2016

 

 

By John McNamara

The Common Council is set to create a Charter Commission at its February 10th meeting to consider sweeping changes in municipal government at the behest of Republican Mayor Erin Stewart.

The Stewart administration, taking advantage of a Republican Council majority, seeks to eliminate neighborhood representation on the city council in favor of an all at large system that would replace the current 15-member council composed of two members from five council districts (wards) and five at large members.

Proponents of the ward system, who fought a long battle to gain neighborhood representation on the Council, maintain that the current make up of the Council provides geographic and racial diversity in the legislative body in a city that is increasingly diverse.

Rep. Bobby Sanchez

Rep. Bobby Sanchez

Council districts give residents accessible voices on the Council for every area of the city, not just the west side whose upper income residents dominated city councils under the at large system to the exclusion of other parts of the city and the city’s growing Latino and African-American citizenry.  Republicans, led by Registrar of Voters Peter Gostin, have sought a return to the at large system in which five members of the minority party are guaranteed seats whether or not they receive a majority or plurality of votes.

State Rep. Bobby Sanchez (D-25) is taking strong exception to Mayor Stewart’s move to end ward councillors and opposes the call for charter change to eliminate neighborhood representation on the Council. At the same time Sanchez linked the charter proposal to a plan drafted by Republican Registrar Gostin to eliminate polling places in his district.

“I’m very disturbed but not surprised that Republicans would try to suppress the vote by their attempts to close polling places and now, in particular, by opening the charter to eliminate the ward system. In the past, the at large system did not reflect the diversity of our city. With the ward system not only do we have a more diverse council, we also have city wide representation. It is my hope that the people of New Britain will see the injustice and make their voices heard in the coming days and months.”

The Republican Stewart’s agenda for the Charter Commission, in addition to re-establishing an all at large council system, includes other recommendations:

  • eliminating the election of the Tax Collector and Town and City Clerk by popular vote in favor of appointment by political patronage.
  • Increasing the mayoral term from two to four years [ironically the 2015 Democratic Mayoral Candidate John McNamara was the only candidate to support this idea last year]
  • A compensation plan for “non-union” appointed and elected officials including the Mayor and the aforementioned patronage jobs of tax collector and town and city clerk as well as the Registrars of Voters.  The provision for raising the salary of Registrars of Voters raises a potential and immediate conflict of interest since one of Stewart’s Republican picks for the commission is none other than Peter Gostin.
  • the creation of a quasi governmental “Golf Authority” to run Stanley Golf Course removing direct control by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

In addition to Republican Registrar of Voters Gostin, a leading advocate for restricting voter access and closing polling places since his election as the GOP’s chief election official, Republican picks for the Charter panel include Catherine Cheney and Efrain Rosado. Democrats proposed for the charter commission include Attorneys Adrian Baron, Michael Carrier and Mary Pokorski ( a municipal employee whose job security undoubtedly depends on agreeing with Team Stewart).

The resolution to create a charter commission is sponsored by Republican caucus leaders Danny Salerno and Jaime Giantonio. It stipulates that the Commission will issue a report by June 3rd to put a charter change referendum on the November ballot.

The Common Council meeting on February 10th begins with public participation in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 27 West Main Street.

 

Remembering Rev. King and 4/4/68 at MLK Park Monument

Posted in civil rights, New Britain history by nbpoliticus on April 6, 2014

New Britain’s Mary McLeod Bethune Club (MMBC) observed the anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 5th — a memorial  event  club members have organized for most of the 46 years since the civil rights leader was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

CCSU Anthropology Professor, Dr Evelyn Harris, the featured speaker at the King Monument Memorial held at the MLK city park at the corner of Stanley Street and MLK Boulevard, told a small gathering that New Britain’s King monument was one of the first memorials of its kind in the country. Participating in the program were MMBC President Chery Niccolls, NBPD Officer Marcus Burris, Master of Ceremonies; Music Soloist Linda Vickers with Marzell Jackson laying the wreath at the monument. Ward 3 Alderwoman Shirley Black and NAACP President Ron Davis shared remarks at the monument.

Other speakers, including longtime Club President Janice Edwards, recalled that the city’s King monument was originally located at East Main and MLK Boulevard on a traffic island, a target of frequent vandalism and even visits from local KKK adherents.  The Bethune Club organized residents to stare down the Klan nonviolently when they showed up and began the effort for a better site.

Alton Brooks, a leader in the effort to establish MLK Park, with New Britain’s finest.

With leaders such as Edwards, Alton Brooks and the late former Alderwoman Connie Wilson Collins pushing city government, the little corner park for the King monument was established further up the road. Today inlaid bricks recognize donors from the community who contributed to make MLK Park possible.

Police Officer Marcus Burris and MMBC President Chery Niccolls

 Democratic District Leader Mario Santos and Board of Education member Merrill Gay participated.

Duane Hinkson with sons Dillon and Devon and MMB Club Member Janice Edwards

Tim O’Brien: A Call To Renew Rev. King’s Work For Economic Justice

Posted in civil rights, economy by nbpoliticus on January 20, 2014

 By Tim O’Brien

This weekend, our nation, state and communities celebrate and remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his accomplishments. It is a time when I have always felt inspired by his work, as a leader, and by the movement that he embodies. No Martin Luther King Day passes without me feeling emboldened and empowered to carry forward work toward building a better future.

I believe that King is our nation’s most important hero. Our nation has many great figures, well deserving of our honor, who strove and struggled to build our nation, by, of and for the people. Our nation is built on great ideals – democracy, justice, liberty and a decent life for all. But those ideals have all too often not been met in practice. For African-Americans, the experience was, instead, not just inequality, but the terror of violence and daily humiliation.  The work of King, and the movement he led, was the struggle to breathe life into our country’s great ideals. His work was nothing short of making our nation, conceived in greatness, the great nation it was meant to be. He, and so many others, took on the face of grotesque oppression and successfully pushed it back.

King, himself, probably would bristle at the idea of himself being held up in this way. He was an organizer – yes, a community organizer. In that, he knew that, while sometimes a person can symbolize and personify a movement, the real truth is always that the movement is about us all, everyday people. It is people – all the people – who create change for the better, and it is the people – all the people – whose lives are made better from that work. On Martin Luther King Day, we honor King, himself, as well as the many people who struggled and sacrificed in the Civil Rights Movement and the movements for justice and equality before and since.

But King, himself, was extraordinary. He believed so purely in creating a better world. He believed deeply in the goodness of humanity and in our potential to set aside our differences for our common good. He would sacrifice of himself, over and over again, and, when he thought he had no energy left to give, would still muster a little more energy to give away to people thirsting for inspiration and hope.

Thankfully, we have, for the most part, put to rest the question of whether Martin Luther King should be honored as a national hero. Even those who, today, know that their own opinions differ from King’s values must at least give lip service to the rightness and greatness of his work. Of course, one of the side effects of that acceptance is that political figures who do not agree with King’s real values try to re-interpret his words to fit their own political agendas, such as saying that he would have opposed Affirmative Action, even when it is obvious that King would not have agreed with them. Other politicians try to appear to agree with King by lauding, post-fact, his leadership in winning reforms that are not controversial anymore, such such as doing away with overt “separate but equal” – even while those same politicians, to this day, perpetuate things, like voter suppression, that King would have told them are clearly wrongheaded. While it is easy to criticize defeated injustices, real courage is in challenging current injustices.

I think it is very important to point out, in this time of honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., that this kind of benign-sounding lip service to the memory of King is intended to prevent a more complete recounting of King’s actual values and what he stood for from shining a not-so-flattering light on the agendas many politicians are currently pressing in the halls of government.

Part of the pure goodness of King as a leader was his compulsion to stand up for what was right, no matter what the cost to himself. That was true of his work for civil rights and, in the years leading up to his assassination, it was why he took positions against the Vietnam War, against exploitation of people in other countries and for economic justice for all Americans.

His assassination occurred during his work to organize the Poor People’s Campaign, which was meant to follow up on the important work for civil rights – even more directly challenging the systems of injustice in the country by advocating for economic justice. He asked, “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?” 1  He spoke for economic justice as an essential part of the promise of our nation – “If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.” 2 And this was not only to advance communities of color, noting that white Americans also faced economic oppression and were likewise in need of reforms.

King challenged our nation to adopt reforms to make the free market work for everyone, African-American, Latino, white – everyone. Needless to say, in doing that, he was upsetting some very, very powerfulful monied interests in our country. “We have so energetically mastered production that we now must give attention to distribution,” he wrote, and clearly laid out that this meant that, “We must create full employment or we must create incomes…” 3

The Poor People’s Campaign in 1968 was organized to demand adoption of an Economic and Social Bill of Rights to make the promise of our nation real for everyone. The Economic and Social Bill of Rights (in a draft written in February, 1968, before King’s assassination 4) was to proclaim:

  • “The Right of every employable citizen to a decent job.” It is worth pointing out how this called for “good jobs”, not just “dead end jobs,” and was clear that it should be the responsibility of the country to ensure that this happened. The draft Economic and Social Bill of Rights proposed an ambitious federal job-creation program to make this a reality.
  • “The right of every citizen to a minimum income.” A guaranteed standard of living for people, “too young, too old or too handicapped to work.”
  • “The right of a decent house and the free choice of neighborhood.” The draft Economic and Social Bill of Rights challenged that the more affluent were benefitted when, “Federally subsidized credit built suburbs and federally supported roads to access [them],” while other public spending displaced neighborhoods where whites and people of color of more modest means lived. It pointed out that, amidst a paucity of support for affordable housing, people of modest means were left to suffer in slum housing conditions. The proposed solution was the creation of many more units of decent, affordable housing.
  • “The right to an adequate education.” Noting gross inequities in educational attainment along racial lines and that “only out-and-out racists believe that this tragedy is a consequence of inherent deficiency on the part of the child…”, the draft Economic and Social Bill of Rights proposed, “a massive effort to upgrade the education available to” both children of color and white children and to fund higher education so that all Americans could afford to attend.
  • “The right to participate in the decision making process.” The draft Economic and Social Bill of Rights placed importance on participatory democracy, “political action and voting protection.”
  • “The right to the full benefit of modern science in health care.” Noting the inhuman differences in health and mortality based upon income, the draft Economic and Social Bill of Rights proposed extending Medicare to everyone in America.
  • This draft5 of the Economic and Social Bill of Rights was clear that greater economic equity should be considered as part of America’s great ideals and Constitutional promise: “Without these rights, neither the black and white poor, and even some who are not poor, can really possess the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. With these rights, the United States could, by the two hundredth anniversary of its Declaration of Independence, take giant steps toward redeeming the American dream.”

    The assassination of Martin Luther King took the great measure of the energy away from the Poor People’s Campaign. It still went on as planned that summer, but it ended, having not achieved the goals for which King and so many others strove. As we well know, the objectives of the campaign, expressed in the Economic and Social Bill of Rights, for the most part, have yet to be achieved. Far from it, these are all, very much, front burner issues in our current politics. In the areas where there have been advances, those advances are now under powerful attack. In other areas, especially in the area of jobs, not having in place now what King advocated then makes middle class and poor people worse off now than they would have been. And when elected officials, such as President Barack Obama and our own Governor Dannel Malloy, press for changes that advance King’s ideals, they must labor against difficult political headwinds.

    Given what Martin Luther King advocated for when he was with us, it is clear that, were he alive today, he would be pressing hard for significant change. It is no wonder than many politicians of today will spend their Martin Luther King Day glossing over the full depth of what King believed in. If they acknowledged his real policy objectives, they would have to admit that they disagree with what King would have wanted them to do.

    So let us make this Martin Luther King Day one of renewing our commitment to the movement and the great and important objectives for which King gave his life. Let us not allow people who oppose justice, equality and fairness for all to dissuade us from doing what is right through their various tactics of harsh mean-spiritedness and silver-tongued distraction. King taught us that people of ill intent would try to make it difficult for people who stand-up what is right.  He also taught us that, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” 6

    We can, in our nation, our state and our communities have a better, fairer, more just, more equitable future for ourselves and generations to come – one that we can all share. Now, more than ever, we must renew the work that our great national hero, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., championed.



    1 Joe Fassler, “‘All Labor Has Dignity’: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Fight for Economic Justice”, The Atlantic, February 22, 2011
    2 Mark Engler, “Dr. Martin Luther King’s Economics: Through Jobs, Freedom”, The Nation, January 15, 2010
    3 Mark Engler, “Dr. Martin Luther King’s Economics: Through Jobs, Freedom”, The Nation, January 15, 2010
    4 “Economic and Social Bill of Rights”, King Center online document repository
    5 After King’s assassination, the Committee of 100 created the version of the Economic and Social Bill of Rights that was advocated during the Campaign, which called for
    “a meaningful job at a living wage for every employable citizen.”, “a secure and adequate income for all who cannot find jobs or for whom employment is inappropriate”, “access to land as a means to income and livelihood”, “access to capital as a means of full participation in the economic life of America” and “the right of the people to ‘play a truly significant role’ in shaping government programs design and implementation”, Amy Nathan Wright,“Unfinished Business”, (2007) pages 195–197

    6 NPR Staff“King’s Son And Friend Talk New Memorial, Media”, NPR website

    [ Tim O’Brien is the former Mayor of New Britain and State Representative from the 24th District]

    Remembering The March and Speech From the "Global Village"

    Posted in 1963, civil rights, Television by nbpoliticus on August 29, 2013

    The March for Jobs and Freedom culminating in the “Dream” speech that occurred 50 years ago today stirred the social consciences of many more than the 250,000 who were on the Washington mall that hot summer day in Washington, D.C.

    All of us who are old enough have no business remembering where we were on that Wednesday afternoon so long ago.  But we do. “The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village,” said a prophetic Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s at about the time there was a TV in virtually every living room

    I was 13 about to enter 9th grade in Lynn, MA. The television was on in our Clarendon Avenue apartment and I knew the live network coverage in black and white was connecting  me to something big and historic.  Former President Bill Clinton, praising the marchers at todays’ commemoration at the Lincoln Memorial, said he too joined the march through the medium as a 17 year old in Arkansas.

    Said Clinton:

    This march and that speech changed America. They opened minds, they melted hearts and they moved millions, including a 17-year-old boy watching alone in his home in Arkansas. (Applause.) It was an empowering moment, but also an empowered moment. As the great chronicler of those years, Taylor Branch, wrote: The movement here gained the force to open, quote, “the stubborn gates of freedom,” and out flowed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, immigration reform, Medicare, Medicaid, open housing.

    King’s speech and the march brought millions of people together in hope and possibility that August day.  And television elevated the event in the cause of social justice.

    Less than three months after the March for Jobs and Freedom  I and many others would never forget where we were 50 years later.  We spent many more hours  in front of the  black and white TVs — this time part of a global village connected in loss and sorrow over President Kennedy’s  assassination.

    Access For All: New Britain Will Celebrate 23rd Anniversary of ADA Wednesday, July 24th

    Posted in civil rights, disabilities by nbpoliticus on July 22, 2013
    New Britain will observe the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — on Wednesday, July 24th,  with a “Walk and Roll” event around Walnut Hill Park beginning a 5:30 p.m.
    The City, under the auspices of Mayor O’Brien and the Commission on Persons with Disabilities, is sponsoring the event that will include ice cream sundaes, tee-shirts and music at the band shell.
    Persons who rely on wheel chairs and scooters to get around will participate to celebrate the  civil rights law that “prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities  in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.”
    http://www.cfgnb.org 
    The ADA became law in July 1990 with adoption of legislation sponsored by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin.   In 2010, on the 20th anniversary of the ADA, Harkin said:
    “The Americans with Disabilities Act — signed into law on July 26, 1990 — has been described as the Emancipation Proclamation for people with disabilities. It sets four goals for people with disabilities: equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency.  But at its heart, the ADA is simple. In the words of one activist, this landmark law is about securing for people with disabilities the most fundamental of rights: “the right to live in the world.” It ensures they can go places and do things that other Americans take for granted.  I will always remember a young Iowan named Danette Crawford. In 1990, she was just 14. She used a wheelchair and lived with great pain. But she campaigned hard for the ADA. When I told her that the ADA would mean better educational opportunities and prevent workplace discrimination, Danette said: “Those things are very important. But, you know, what I really want to do is just be able to go out and buy a pair of shoes like anybody else.”
    The ADA will be an enduring part of Senator Harkin’s legacy. He will not be seeking re-election in 2014.

    New Superintendent Search Missed Key, Controversial Information on Kelt Cooper

    Posted in civil rights, public education by nbpoliticus on March 2, 2012

    Kelt Cooper, the choice of the Board of Education (BOE) to lead New Britain schools, rose to the top of the finalist list based on a good educational resume, accomplishments with English Language Learners  and extensive experience in diverse districts in Arizona and Texas.

    The winnowing process concluded after two days of interviews by advisory committees and the BOE.  In a divided vote that stood at 5 to 5 during a tense meeting,  Cooper finally got the nod 6 to 4  and may be the schools’ chief  come  July 1 subject to contract negotiations and a critically important site visit to the Texas district of Del Rio where he is superintendent now.

    On Wednesday and the day of the decision, however, the process received a disturbing jolt of information about Mr. Cooper that did not turn up during the vetting process.

    I found out about it from a retired New Britain music teacher and passionate advocate for education who posted on her Facebook page a disturbing story from the Texas Observer after what must have been a cursory search on the web.  

    The balanced and thoroughly researched story, written by Melissa Del Bosque,  covers Superintendent Cooper’s  controversial actions to expel students who allegedly were crossing over the Del Rio International Toll Bridge from Ciudad Acuna. The word allegedly is important here because Cooper turned out to be wrong about most of the children nabbed at the border by school employees who passed out warnings.  All but a few were  legally entitled to an education in his district. Nothing like using a sledge hammer to kill a fly to obstruct the civil rights of immigrant children.

    From the Observer story:

    All but 20 of the approximately 200 students issued warnings on Sept. 9 eventually returned to Del Rio schools. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid assisted at least 15 families who didn’t meet the new residency requirements imposed by Cooper. Some missed school for up to four weeks. But the crackdown, and Cooper’s blunt comments to the press about his actions, dredged up lingering racial division in Del Rio, where Mexican Americans have fought for equal education rights for more than century.
    Mexican Americans in Del Rio say that whatever the legalities, Cooper’s actions had a chilling effect that could hinder their efforts to enroll more children in school. “It’s not in our interest to keep children who are U.S. citizens from getting a proper education,” says Alpha Hernandez, another attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. “Every year some children don’t get registered. I’ve seen children 7- or 8- years-old that have never attended school. We are already suffering from high unemployment and low educational achievement.”
    Cooper sees the issue as clear-cut. It was never a question of immigration status, he says, but of residency. “If 200 children crossing at 6:30 on a Wednesday morning is not cause enough to be suspicious, then I don’t know what is,” he says. “No, I guess they all have sick aunts because that’s what a lot of them said.

    Cooper, who received lots of national media attention from his moves and kudos from anti-immigrant forces, maintains he was just trying to enforce state law about residency requirements in organizing a border patrol that randomly stopped children and their families coming over  the border.   But the vigilante-like actions resulted in threatening notices to students who, when the facts were known,  had the legal status to be enrolled in the school district.

    The New Britain Board of Education put their faith and money in the  IA-based firm of Ray & Associates.  But when crunch time came the firm’s consultant had concluded the information about Cooper’s controversial and excessive “enforcement” actions were irrelevant to New Britain’s search.

    However this search for a superintendent ends, it is clear Board of Education members were denied an important piece of information that should have been known during the screening process, not on decision day.

    What Would a 21st Century Rev. King Be Saying and Doing in 2012?

    Posted in civil rights, economy, labor by nbpoliticus on January 15, 2012

    Our national day to remember the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is an opportunity to focus and ramp up the political debate in 2012 on “saving the middle class” and addressing “income inequality” that has been, from all reports, getting worse since the early 1970s.

    Over the last year “Tea Bag” politicians, lavishly funded by unlimited corporate money, have sought to make the income gap worse, launching an unprecedented assault on the public sector and collective bargaining.

    Tune in to any Republican Presidential debate for the latest ways and means to maximize income insecurity for working and middle income Americans. Or listen to the likes of Boehner and McConnell as they trash the very moderate moves of Obama to mitigate income inequality and preserve a social contract so vital to a free society.

    So what would a 21st Century Martin Luther King be saying about all of this?

    From his splendid words and many deeds we already can surmise that he would be leading a moral charge to “occupy” every city and town on behalf of the 99%; he would be working with others to close the gap in incomes and establish a level economic playing field.

    Most certainly, Rev. King would be lending his voice to an organized labor movement that over time has been shrinking in direct correlation to the falling incomes of most Americans.

    Proof of what he would be saying now comes with remembering what he was doing during his last hours on this earth.

    4 April 2007
    I remember exactly where I was on April 4, 1968, the day the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. 
    That week day, like many others in my senior year at Lynn English High School, I drove to Bradlee’s Department store on the Lynnway in Lynn, Massachusetts to punch in for the evening shift, earning some money before entering Boston University and its College of Basic Studies in the fall of 1968.
    The news spread quickly that Thursday evening that King was dead. 
    It didn’t take long to realize that my shift as a retail clerk would be different from all the others. The store quickly emptied out. Not a customer in sight all night. No need for Mr. Silverman, the shaken and somber store manager, to send me out on outside carriage control. The bullets in Memphis were enough to bring a normal business day to a halt in Lynn and most of the nation. Just five short years before I had come home from junior high on a late summer day to watch King deliver his “I Have A Dream” speech – an event that would inspire so many to become active in politics and protest. 
    There are many good remembrances of what King said and stood for on his national holiday. But not so much is said on this anniversary of the day he died. It’s worth remembering on his January holiday, April 4th and throughout the year why King was in Memphis on a day I will never forget. 
    By 1968, Rev. King was widening the concerns of his movement. In his book Where Do We Go From Here? King opposed a Vietnam policy that had begun to break the nation further apart. The lunchroom sit-ins and battles over accommodations and voting rights were giving way to a broader agenda. He was planning a new march on Washington – “the Poor People’s Campaign” — when he decided to take up the cause of 1,300 black sanitation workers in Memphis, a city of southern segregation, where the white power structure opposed the right to unionize and the Mayor vowed never to bargain in good faith in a way that would give the sanitation workers their dignity. 
    The strike and a citywide economic boycott were a cause King knew he could not ignore.
    King’s prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech on the eve of the assassination is his best known from Memphis. But two weeks earlier, on March 18th, King galvanized support for strikers by saying: “So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs…..One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive.” 
    Following King’s assassination, the Memphis power structure gave up its intransigence – recognizing the AFSCME union, awarding pay raises and instituting merit promotions. 
    King’s campaign for striking sanitation workers reaffirmed his greatness at the hour of his death and resonates today in the cause of social and economic justice. 
    That is worth remembering most from the day he died.