The water is wide
Filled with the memories
of those lucky few
Who made it over
Over the Ohio
© Gayle Force Press 2009
A poem by Franklin Oliver
The water is wide
Filled with the memories
of those lucky few
Who made it over
Over the Ohio
© Gayle Force Press 2009
A poem by Franklin Oliver
In considering the death of Elie Wiesel, I want to recognize the contributions Wiesel made to the world. He won the Nobel Prize for Peace, wrote and taught for decades and constantly stood on the side of the oppressed.
His most enduring work is the book Night. It’s a fascinating and horrifying look into the realities of life in Nazi death camps. Part of the power of the book is that its author survived the Holocaust and was here to tell us about it.
Night is not a straight history textbook and although it is intimately connected to Wiesel’s experience, now that Wiesel is dead, that connection is certain to falter and diminish. Probably sooner rather than later.
I think the process will be this. Night has already moved from being labeled an autobiography and is now often categorized as a memoir. Eventually it will move into the realm of historical fiction. (Did everything happen exactly? Didn’t he use some quotes? How could they be accurate?) And as the living memory of the Holocaust fades altogether, Night will become considered fiction. At some time in the not distant future, it will be forgotten as factual.
I'm confident this process will happen because anti-Semitism is alive and well. The same lies, misinterpretations and stereotypes that allowed much of Europe to embrace the Shoah in the 1940s continue to exist and receive sanction by important people all over the world.
(Ask for info if you don't believe me.)
That's why it is imperative that people of good will all over the world use the occasion of Elie Wiesel's death to celebrate his life, his accomplishments, his work and his story. To celebrate the continuing existence of the people of the book. And to ALWAYS challenge those who would obscure the truth.
Elie Wiesel has dramatically improved the world with his life. Let us commit ourselves to continuing to improve the world on the occasion of his death. Make sure the ripples he sent forth are amplified.
© Gayle Force Press 2016
It’s rare that I write in direct response to someone else’s thinking but I have to make an important exception today. It’s this article in which Ben Spielberg claims that voting for Hillary Clinton would do little more than represent “the lesser-of-two-evils mentality.” Spielberg is convinced that if Bernie Sanders loses the Democratic primary, progressives should refuse to vote for Clinton in the general election in an effort “to enact fundamental change to a broken political system”. I disagree with this sentiment profoundly.
My disagreement comes mostly because I so vividly remember the 2000 Presidential election and the horrific aftermath from which we are still recovering. Yes, Vice President Al Gore was a poor campaigner. Yes, he should have let President Bill Clinton campaign for him. Yes, he should have won his home freaking state. Yes, the Supreme Court made a decision that will be to its eternal shame. (Which they knew AS they were making the Gore v. Bush ruling.) All those things are true.
It is ALSO true that lots of people voted for Ralph Nader instead of Gore in for the same reasons being suggested in this piece. In, at least, Florida and New Hampshire, the Nader vote tipped the state to Governor George W. Bush. Gore also had to spend lots of additional campaign resources to win Oregon, New Mexico and the Upper Midwest because Nader ran so strongly there.
To suggest, as Spielberg does, that there so many similarities between Clinton and the GOP that progressives shouldn't pull the lever for her is baffling. How about potential Supreme Court nominations, safeguarding LGBQT rights, crafting a reasonable immigration policy, preserving the existence of Planned Parenthood, responding to income inequality, slowing global warming, refusing to have a President who talks casually about indiscriminate bombing and avoiding the nightmare of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan running Congress unchecked? Don't progressives think those issues matter enough to choose "the lesser of two evils"?
Why, in fact, do so many on the left revile Secretary Clinton so much? Why is it that so many on the left love Bill and tolerate Hill? Is it because we've also bought into the fictional narratives Fox News has created about her? Do progressives believe the rumors and lies about her more than we want to admit? Or have Americans on the left simply accepted the same 'Who do I wanna have a beer with?' concept that many conservatives have?
If you consider yourself a progressive and decide to vote for Jill Stein because that’s the right choice for you, go for it. Of course, that’s your right and privilege. But please, don't let it be because you pretend to think there's not much difference between a world led by Hillary Clinton as opposed to one led by Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.
We went down that devastating road in 2000. If we do it again in 2016, shame on us. Shame on us, all.
This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Booker T.
“No race can prosper until it learns that there is as much
dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.”
-Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington is a complicated and towering figure in
the history of Black America. Although Washington was born a slave, he died as
the most prominent Black person in America. In the interim, he created a
previously unmatched legacy of accomplishment.
Washington is most closely associated with Tuskegee
Institute, the school he led from its inception until his death. Tuskegee is
located in the deep southern state of Alabama and continues to exist as an Historically
Black College (HBCU). Founded in the Jim Crow era, Tuskegee specialized in
skilled labor training (a fact that eventually drew the ire of people like WEB
DuBois who wanted Blacks to explore the liberal arts) in an attempt to make
Blacks more economically valuable. The school eventually became one of America’s
pre-eminent Black colleges. Washington himself was a graduate of Hampton
Institute, another HBCU, where he was trained as a teacher. Washington’s career
served as a model for many Blacks as he transitioned from poverty to Tuskegee.
The most significant public moment of Washington’s career
was 1895’s Atlanta Address. In this speech, Washington seemed to accept Jim Crow
segregation policies and restrictions on voting as long as Blacks were granted
a measure of economic and educational opportunity. Washington was challenged by
DuBois and others who wanted to press for increased social justice but
Washington seemed convinced that Black safety was in constant jeopardy as seen
by the dramatic rise of the Ku Klux Klan and increase in lynchings after
Although Washington is frequently viewed as too accommodating
to White supremacists there is a strong line of argument that suggests his
public statements were an attempt to minimize the White fear of social change. It is now known that Washington spent years secretly
raising and funneling money toward legal challenges of the Jim Crow regime.
Washington became generally perceived as the leader of Black
America after his Atlanta speech and became connected with important leaders in
business and politics. Many of these relationships helped lead to the
foundation and perpetuation of schools for Black children throughout the
country. Eventually, there were more than 5 000 schools funded through Washington’s
network of donors. Tuskegee also received incredible financial gifts and
attention. Tuskegee’s successes led to a visit from President William McKinley.
After his 1901 autobiography Up From Slavery, Washington
became even more widely known. One of the fruits of this success was an
invitation to dinner from the new President, Theodore Roosevelt. Washington was
the first Black to be so honored. Roosevelt invoked the wrath of White America
by hosting Washington in the White House and both men received intense
criticism for this interaction.
The legacy of Booker T. Washington continues to be a
challenging one, filled with interpretive possibilities. If nothing else, it is
clear that Washington created an important institution and attempted to create
the best possible future conditions for his race and for his country.
Today I am grateful for Booker T. Washington. You should be
This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Malcolm X
"I don't favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everybody would like to reach his objectives peacefully. But I'm also a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are black people."
– Malcolm X
Malcolm X is a critically underappreciated and tragically
misunderstood figure in American history. Often, he’s still tarred with the
kind of labels J. Edgar Hoover used to describe him. What many people fail to
recognize is that Malcolm X worked relentlessly to improve life for Black
people in America. That was his focus.
Malcolm used his role as a minister in the Nation of Islam
to preach a message of Black love and self-reliance that was truly radical in
the early 1960s. While many Blacks viewed their relationships to Whites as being
permanently imbalanced, Malcolm began convincing us that no one else held the
key to our destiny as a people. Publicly decrying America as inherently,
institutionally racist was a revolutionary step. The Black Power movement,
Black Liberation Theology and Afrocentric theory owe Malcolm the deepest of
Many are now convinced that Malcolm X was an advocate of
violence because of the dichotomous relationship presumed between he and Martin
Luther King Jr. The two men had many important differences but their
similarities were much deeper and more profound.* While he rejected King’s
stance on passive resistance, Malcolm never suggested that violence was a
solution to turmoil, only that every person has the right to self-defense. The
image of a Black man encouraging his followers to stand against violence was
terrifying to a population accustomed to seeing Blacks as willing victims of
Sadly, none of us were able to see the ultimate evolution of
Malcolm X. He was assassinated soon after his hajj to Mecca during which he
discovered that Whites of good will existed in large numbers and could be
important allies in his fight against American racism. The shift from Malcolm X
to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was on the verge of changing the world once again.
Malcolm rejected much of the delusional race theory of the
Nation of Islam and preached about the possibilities of Black people. He
refused to focus on being a victim and demanded his adherents decide to live
their lives fully and well.
Today, on the anniversary of his assassination, I am particularly grateful for Malcolm X. You should be too.
*- Hopefully I’ll be encouraged to write more on the
This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Harriet Tubman
"Every great dream begins
with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the
patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."
— Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman spent several years of her life as one of the most
wanted people in America. Her exploits as a conductor on the Underground
Railroad were legendary even during her lifetime. She is reported to have made
more than a dozen successful return trips to the South after her own escape
from slavery. Ultimately, Tubman was reported to have led more than 300 slaves
to freedom in the North. Her reputation
was so substantial that at one point there was a $40 000 reward for her capture.
The reputation that Tubman garnered helped convince slaves
throughout the country that there were more possibilities for escape than had
been previously foreseen. Many escaped slaves reported that they were inspired
to escape since they only needed to leave the South once while Tubman did it
time after time. Clearly, Harriet Tubman was not just the most famous conductor
of the Underground Railroad. She was also a symbol for possibility.
Tubman’s contributions extend beyond those for which she is
most noted. She was an important speaker
and public figure in the national abolition movement and had important
relationships with Frederick Douglass and John Brown, both of whom expressed
their highest admiration for Tubman. Tubman even helped Brown recruit men to
help in his ill-fated attack on Harpers Ferry.
During the Civil War, Tubman
held many roles including as a spy and military adjutant, thoroughly
disregarding the notion of gendered boundaries in the process. This Moses for her people worked tirelessly
to free enslaved individuals and an enslaved people.
Today I am grateful for Harriet Tubman. You should be too.
This Black History Month I’m Grateful for John Lewis
“Registering to vote is an act of commitment to the American
ideal. It is patriotic. The Federal Government must decide whether it wants to
let Southern Negroes register. It must make that choice this summer, or make us
all witnesses to the lynching of democracy.”
John Lewis was a young college student when he got his start
as an activist in the Nashville Student Movement. Lewis was often viewed as the
prodigy of the movement as he was the youngest of the “Big Six” leaders of the
Civil Rights Movement by a full decade.
As a co-founder and an early chair of the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis first became a national figure during the
Freedom Rides of 1961. It was during this endeavor to desegregate public
facilities in the South that Lewis was beaten so badly many feared his death
was imminent. While continuing his leadership of SNCC, Lewis was one of the speakers
at the legendary 1963 March on Washington.
SNCC worked throughout the South to
develop Freedom Schools that trained nonviolent activists. They also organized 1964’s Freedom
Summer efforts at registering potential Black voters. Lewis was also one of the
leaders of the Selma, Alabama march now referred to as “Bloody Sunday” because
of the brutal beating Lewis and many other nonviolent protestors received at
the hands (and clubs) of the Alabama State Police.
As the sixties came to an end, Lewis became deeply involved
in electoral politics. Initially, he became a prominent advisor for Robert F.
Kennedy’s Presidential campaign in 1968. For the last quarter century, Lewis
has served his country as a member of Congress from Georgia. He is widely perceived
as the most important living link to the Civil Rights Movement. Lewis continues
to fight for human rights to this day.
Today I am grateful for John Lewis. You should be too.
This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Olaudah Equiano
“But is not the slave trade entirely a war with the heart of man? And
surely that which is begun by breaking down the barriers of virtue involves in
its continuance destruction to every principle, and buries all sentiments in
- Olaudah Equiano
Equiano was a native Nigerian who was sold into slavery as a
child. His autobiography, The Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, is
often considered the founding document of the genre of slave narrative. Slaves
like Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass followed in Equiano’s footsteps by
sharing their own stories.
Equaino’s harrowing tale of being kidnapped as a ten year
old helped introduce White Americans to some of the worst elements of the slave
trade. Reading this young man’s story of terror (he worried that any people who
stole other people were likely cannibals!) caused some to reject Northern
participation in the African slave trade.
Equiano’s storytelling was also an early indicator of the
intellectual ability of Blacks. When it became clear that Equiano wrote his own
story, some of the rationales for African enslavement were substantially
undercut. Although his fame in England far surpassed his limited recognition in
the United States, Equiano made important impacts that continue to resonate
into modern works like Alex Haley’s Roots.
Today I am grateful for Olaudah Equiano. You should be too.
This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Zora Neale Hurston
Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not
make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the
pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
-Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston was the kind of multitalented thinker who helped
validate the name of the Harlem Renaissance. At various points in her life,
Hurston was best known for being a prominent anthropologist, highly acclaimed author
and a dedicated folklorist.
With her fictionalized books being rooted in specific
real-life experience, Hurston paved the way for contemporary writers like Alice
Walker, Jodi Picoult and Toni Morrison. Hurston’s ability to translate spoken
diction into written language helped introduce an authentic Southern Black
vernacular into traditional literary forms. The richness of Hurston’s language
seemed to move her beyond the dialect poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar and
Langston Hughes who also attempted to represent the spoken voices of the south.
Despite having once been out of print, Hurston is now
considered an artistic foremother for feminist and womanist writers, thanks to
Walker’s efforts at reclaiming Hurston’s legacy. In the past forty years,
Hurston has moved from being virtually forgotten to holding a prominent place
in the American literary canon.
Hurston’s novels are among the earliest
examples of Black women existing in the center of their own stories. Her female
characters may be buffeted by the harsh winds of racism, poverty and sexism by
their dignity remains intact.
Today, I am grateful for Zora Neale Hurston. You should be
This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Muhammad Ali
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will
accomplish nothing in life.”
I want to spend today’s blog post reflecting on a man who
transcended virtually all the expectations of his life. While a young boxing
champion, the man born Cassius Clay made the first high profile conversion to
Islam. After being brought into the Nation of Islam by Malcolm X*, the newly
christened Muhammad Ali was immediately condemned as an un-American radical. Most
in the mainstream media refused to use his chosen name for years.
to enter the Vietnam War, Ali became the most celebrated American to refuse
induction. Ali famously declared that he had no quarrel with the Vietcong.
Although Ali was offered the possibility of spending his military service as a
traveling entertainer, he continued to refuse to participate and risked jail
time for his stance. Although he was not imprisoned, he was stripped of his
championship and not allowed to work as a boxer.
For many years, Ali’s name was associated with Jane Fonda’s
as Vietnam era traitors. It took much longer for Ali’s stance to be recognized
for the act of willing sacrifice that it truly was. Ali eventually was allowed
to return to boxing where he became the first three time heavyweight champion.
More importantly, Ali used his fame and celebrity to support a wide variety of
social causes. As the most famous Muslim in the world, Ali had an extraordinary
following and level of credibility globally. Ali has been honored with the
Presidential Medal of Freedom and in the 1996 Summer Olympics, his lighting of
the Olympic Torch became one of the iconic images of the decade.
Ali’s work as an advocate for peace was generally
understated but recently, ESPN produced a documentary
detailing Ali’s role in freeing American hostages held in Iraq before the
Persian Gulf War. At this stage in his life, Ali’s physical impairments had
already manifested and he risked his health in a profound way on this trip. As
one of the most famous people in the world, Muhammad Ali could have chosen to
bask in luxury and adulation. Instead, he’s continually worked to promote peace
and justice. He’s become an icon worthy
of the label.
Today I am grateful for Muhammad Ali. You should be too.
*- check back Thursday
Here's a poem I wrote for Ali:
King of all the world
From sinner to savior to saint
And shrill to sagacious to silent
Always beautifully, willfully,
© Gayle Force