by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
The Post. What a fantastic movie on so many levels!
I saw it recently with my family and, except for someone who kept falling asleep and snoring behind us, we really enjoyed this truly inspiring movie. The actual events surrounding the Pentagon Papers and the Vietnam conflicts here at home all flooded back to mind (yes, I am that old). But the movie brought in more detail and information than I ever knew. It filled the theater with suspense despite knowing the ultimate outcome. It reminded me again of just how vulnerable our First Amendment rights are, and how easy it is for an administration of government to take them away.
The U.S. Constitution doesn’t actually grant us our rights, it is just a slip of paper. Rather, it challenges us to physically inhabit those rights for ourselves. It lays the framework for an active civic process. Each generation must secure their rights anew under our Constitutional framework.
It was twice said in the movie that the right to publish the news is secured by publishing it, not by arguing about it. Our rights can wither in debate but can only strengthen when exercised. That is a lesson we must pass along to every generation.
Two present day examples of this principle come to mind. NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem is an actual exercise of our First Amendment rights, while the ensuing debate did little to strengthen our right to protest. A second example comes from a local news story of a lawyer who was stopped in her car by a police officer. The officer asked her if she knew why he had stopped her. She said she refused to answer the question, but otherwise cooperated and gave him her documents. The officer was so upset that she wouldn’t answer his question that he arrested her for not following a “legal” command. As he put her in the back of his police car he read her that familiar Miranda warning, which says in part, “You have a right to remain silent…” She remained under arrest for hours before being released. She later won a modest settlement in a suit brought against the Department for her unlawful arrest. The story generated a lot of debate while her actions helped secure our actual rights.
But back to the movie. I also came away with a profound appreciation for the incredible heroine depicted so well by Meryl Streep.
Katharine Graham was a socialite and heiress to the Washington Post, which was a local newspaper at that time. Her father founded the paper and left her husband in charge. Then her husband died suddenly leaving all of this crushing responsibility for the newspaper on her.
Ms. Graham was ill prepared for her role as publisher in most aspects. But she had an incredibly noble character and somehow managed to summon enormous strength to do the right thing under threats of disaster. She was a woman alone in a man’s world, yet she rose to meet the challenges. Her courage saved the Post and helped save the First Amendment for a generation to come. Her decision to publish the stolen, top secret Pentagon Papers exposed decades of government lies about Vietnam and helped bring that war to an end. The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the freedom of the press in publishing that information set the stage for journalism’s victory in holding the Nixon administration accountable to the rule of law following the Watergate break in.
Contrast that with how the government is acting in the Edward Snowden matter today, for example, consider the public good Snowden has done in exposing illegal, unconstitutional government activities. His decision to selectively reveal classified information to the press has lead to strong government reforms designed to protect our privacy rights, yet he is considered a criminal, just as Daniel Ellsberg was a generation ago.
At a time when our current President openly lies to us, disparages the free press, calls it “fake news” and encourages citizens to distrust not only legitimate journalism but many trusted government institutions, this story about Publisher Katharine Graham, her Editor-in-Chief, Ben Bradley and the Washington Post is a timely tale of caution and inspiration for us all.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
I liked this humorous bit (below) because it highlights the fact that racism is used to maintain the growing income and wealth gap enjoyed by the wealthy. If poor whites and poor minorities joined in common cause it would spell trouble for wealthy elite. They would be forced to share more of their wealth.
Dr. ML King came to understand this before he was murdered. He was never a greater threat to the established order than when he began his work to unite the races in a fight against poverty and the wealthy elite who structure societies to favor themselves.
There is only one source of social power in human society, and that is the power of coordinated actions. Whether you are building a house, a business, a movement or a government, it is the coordinated actions of people that get things done.
The converse is true when powerful interests want to block the competing interests of others. They block others by disrupting the ability to organize. They disrupt the ability of others to coordinate their actions. They diminish us by subversion, by creating or exploiting divisions among us, by creating distractions or confusion, by disparaging or arresting our protest leaders, by isolating us, by restricting our access to resources or by force of arms if necessary.
Forming social divisions is part of our human nature, but so is forming alliances and overcoming differences for mutual benefit. If the ability to work together was not greater than our tendency to “take care of our own,” we would still be a society of hunter gatherers, if not an already extinct species. Powerful people use their power to stay in power. They thwart our attempts to organize, to unionize, to communicate, to affiliate, to overcome our differences and even to vote in this republic.
And now a new layer has been added. Hostile foreign powers have infiltrated our government at the highest levels. They are using their military to conduct mass media propaganda attacks against us, attacks designed to disunite us as a nation. Their goal is to establish a global kleptocracy with unlimited powers to extract our wealth and control our behavior.
Against these coordinated attacks on America and our power of self-determination we must come together, unite in common cause and overcome the differences between us that they magnifying and exploit. It’s time to unite against all odds and move in unison against the forces that are pulling us apart.
Here, on Martin Luther King Day, are a few quotes and his last address before being assassinated.
“God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.”
“A second evil which plagues the modern world is that of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, it projects its nagging, prehensile tentacles in lands and villages all over the world. Almost two-thirds of the peoples of the world go to bed hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed, and shabbily clad. Many of them have no houses or beds to sleep in. Their only beds are the sidewalks of the cities and the dusty roads of the villages. Most of these poverty-stricken children of God have never seen a physician or a dentist.”
“The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’”
Most people think about Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech today, but I want to leave this topic with another of his speeches: ” The last major speech Dr. King delivered, four days before his assassination, was on poverty at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Poverty
The full text of Dr. King´s sermon entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” containing the quotes below can be read here:
“There is another thing closely related to racism that I would like to mention as another challenge. We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. Two-thirds of the people of the world go to bed hungry tonight. They are ill-housed; they are ill-nourished; they are shabbily clad. I’ve seen it in Latin America; I’ve seen it in Africa; I’ve seen this poverty in Asia.
I remember some years ago Mrs. King and I journeyed to that great country known as India. And I never will forget the experience. It was a marvelous experience to meet and talk with the great leaders of India, to meet and talk with and to speak to thousands and thousands of people all over that vast country. These experiences will remain dear to me as long as the cords of memory shall lengthen.
But I say to you this morning, my friends, there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes God’s children sleeping on the sidewalks at night? In Bombay more than a million people sleep on the sidewalks every night. In Calcutta more than six hundred thousand sleep on the sidewalks every night. They have no beds to sleep in; they have no houses to go in. How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of more than five hundred million people, some four hundred and eighty million make an annual income of less than ninety dollars a year. And most of them have never seen a doctor or a dentist.
As I noticed these things, something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh no!” Because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation. And I started thinking of the fact that we spend in America millions of dollars a day to store surplus food, and I said to myself, “I know where we can store that food free of charge-in the wrinkled stomachs of millions of God’s children all over the world who go to bed hungry at night.” And maybe we spend far too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.
Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. I have seen them here and there. I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia. I have just been in the process of touring many areas of our country and I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying.
I was in Marks, Mississippi, the other day, which is in Whitman County, the poorest county in the United States. I tell you, I saw hundreds of little black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear. I saw their mothers and fathers trying to carry on a little Head Start program, but they had no money. The federal government hadn’t funded them, but they were trying to carry on. They raised a little money here and there; trying to get a little food to feed the children; trying to teach them a little something.
And I saw mothers and fathers who said to me not only were they unemployed, they didn’t get any kind of income-no old-age pension, no welfare check, no anything. I said, “How do you live?” And they say, “Well, we go around, go around to the neighbors and ask them for a little something. When the berry season comes, we pick berries. When the rabbit season comes, we hunt and catch a few rabbits. And that’s about it.”
And I was in Newark and Harlem just this week. And I walked into the homes of welfare mothers. I saw them in conditions-no, not with wall-to-wall carpet, but wall-to-wall rats and roaches. I stood in an apartment and this welfare mother said to me, “The landlord will not repair this place. I’ve been here two years and he hasn’t made a single repair.” She pointed out the walls with all the ceiling falling through. She showed me the holes where the rats came in. She said night after night we have to stay awake to keep the rats and roaches from getting to the children. I said, “How much do you pay for this apartment?” She said, “a hundred and twenty-five dollars.” I looked, and I thought, and said to myself, “It isn’t worth sixty dollars.” Poor people are forced to pay more for less. Living in conditions day in and day out where the whole area is constantly drained without being replenished. It becomes a kind of domestic colony. And the tragedy is, so often these forty million people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich. Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor.
Jesus told a parable one day, and he reminded us that a man went to hell because he didn’t see the poor. His name was Dives. He was a rich man. And there was a man by the name of Lazarus who was a poor man, but not only was he poor, he was sick. Sores were all over his body, and he was so weak that he could hardly move. But he managed to get to the gate of Dives every day, wanting just to have the crumbs that would fall from his table. And Dives did nothing about it. And the parable ends saying, “Dives went to hell, and there were a fixed gulf now between Lazarus and Dives.”
There is nothing in that parable that said Dives went to hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. It is true that one day a rich young ruler came to him, and he advised him to sell all, but in that instance Jesus was prescribing individual surgery and not setting forth a universal diagnosis. And if you will look at that parable with all of its symbolism, you will remember that a conversation took place between heaven and hell, and on the other end of that long-distance call between heaven and hell was Abraham in heaven talking to Dives in hell.
Now Abraham was a very rich man. If you go back to the Old Testament, you see that he was the richest man of his day, so it was not a rich man in hell talking with a poor man in heaven; it was a little millionaire in hell talking with a multimillionaire in heaven. Dives didn’t go to hell because he was rich; Dives didn’t realize that his wealth was his opportunity. It was his opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus. Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. Dives went to hell because he maximized the minimum and minimized the maximum. Indeed, Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.
And this can happen to America, the richest nation in the world-and nothing’s wrong with that-this is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.
In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect. We are going to bring those who have come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. We are going to bring children and adults and old people, people who have never seen a doctor or a dentist in their lives.
We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, “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.” But 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.
We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.
Why do we do it this way? We do it this way because it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.
Great documents are here to tell us something should be done. We met here some years ago in the White House conference on civil rights. And we came out with the same recommendations that we will be demanding in our campaign here, but nothing has been done. The President’s commission on technology, automation and economic progress recommended these things some time ago. Nothing has been done. Even the urban coalition of mayors of most of the cities of our country and the leading businessmen have said these things should be done. Nothing has been done. The Kerner Commission came out with its report just a few days ago and then made specific recommendations. Nothing has been done.
And I submit that nothing will be done until people of goodwill put their bodies and their souls in motion. And it will be the kind of soul force brought into being as a result of this confrontation that I believe will make the difference.
Yes, it will be a Poor People’s Campaign. This is the question facing America. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. America has not met its obligations and its responsibilities to the poor.
One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we’ve done. Yes, we will be able to say we built gargantuan bridges to span the seas, we built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies. Yes, we made our submarines to penetrate oceanic depths. We brought into being many other things with our scientific and technological power.
It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, “That was not enough! But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me. And consequently, you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness. If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me.” That’s the question facing America today.
I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” The world must hear this. I pray God that America will hear this before it is too late, because today we’re fighting a war.
I am convinced that it is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement in the war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military-industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation. It has put us against the self-determination of a vast majority of the Vietnamese people, and put us in the position of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor.
It has played havoc with our domestic destinies. This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.”