If, at the break of this century, you feel like an abolitionist, who 200 years ago hissed at bloody murder, then you have but three-score years and one Civil War to go.
If, in 2004, your outrage feels like W.E.B. Du Bois in 1904, censuring American pornographies of lynch, then you have only six decades, two World Wars, exile, and death between you and The Dream.
If, today, you would share the choice fates of abolitionists and anti-lynchers who wrestled America down, then, on or about Juneteenth of the year 2063, you shall carry your story, finally, beyond the killing zone. But, Lord, don’t be foolish about the costs these journeys take.
In the moral history of America, presidents have always fed public appetite for turf, guns, and frontier contracts. In the case of Jefferson, who got re-elected in 1804, land-grabbing and Indian genocide went right along with slavery.
Teddy Roosevelt, by the time he got re-elected in 1904, had already stolen Guantanamo Bay from the Spanish and leased it to the Marines. Meanwhile on the domestic front, reported Mary Church Terrell, “Before 1904 was three months old, thirty-one negroes had been lynched.”
And how have the press helped out, as presidents helped themselves? Let’s see what Terrell says about that: “The facts are often suppressed, intentionally or unintentionally, or distorted by the press.” Because pornographers of violence love a good, bloody fight, lynching news, like war news, could be instigated, and according to Terrell, it was.
So let’s keep a few wits sharpened as we read about gunpoint executions in the City of Mosques or trash bags filled with voting records in Florida. This is not a beast we have never known before. Nor is it a power that we have not tamed.
As the slave whip of 1804 and the lynching rope of 1904 were both finally taken out of popular hands, so will the black bags of 2004 eventually be lifted from the heads of prisoners, and the terror of US foreign policy will be brought to law. But defeating the popular will that supports these technologies will require the moral equivalent of civil war.
“And in each nation,” scolded Thrasymachus in Republic Book I, “whoever rules passes the laws that are to their own advantage. After they pass these laws, they say that justice is obeying the law.” Thrasymachus was a hothead patriot, whose heirs today pound their steering wheels to the rhythms of kick-ass country music.
“Whoever fails to keep the law is punished as unjust and a lawbreaker. So that, my good man, is what I say justice is.” Although the loudmouth opinion of Thrasymachus echoes down our halls of power today, endorsed by a Texas attorney who would become Attorney General, we don’t forget how Socrates could make that man blush.
So these are old, old struggles and we’re walking in well worn shoes. We’re gonna fight these war crimes that seek to globalize the whips and ropes that we once put down, and we’re gonna resist these attorneys who never got as far as Republic Book II. And as for all this lately talk about the downright popularity of homophobic core values, please pass the earplugs. That kind of noise only keeps us from our work.
GREG MOSES writes for the Texas Civil Rights Review. Moses contributed a chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush for Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org