The Story of Freedom Summer


I have been working on this particular blog for a long time now. I have taken long breaks in the process of completing it. I am trying to be as thorough as possible in the background information I am providing, and the source of my information is a documentary video that is not short. I am taking this effort primarily so that I can feel good about what I am doing, even if not many people end up reading the blog itself.

I also gave some additional thought to the reason why I wanted to put a blog on this subject out there. My first thought was that Freedom Summer was a topic that any American knowledgeable about American History would be aware of, even if they did not know all the details. But then I realized that this was probably not the case. First of all, history is not a strong suit for most of us in the general public. We also forget easily, especially if it is a topic that one would not be particularly proud of talking about. Also, since this happened well before the youth among us were born, I suspect that many of them may not even be aware of what happened. I would point them to this video because it is good to be aware of the soul of the country that you call your own.

So, even if it is only a few people who read this, and further follow up, I want to do my little part in providing the opportunity to learn something about this particular episode in American history. Some might even find the circumstances of what was happening in 1964 unbelievable in the context of our lives today. Others may not be that surprised considering the nonsense that is going on in our country today. For those who already know about this part of our history, here is an opportunity to actually delve into the details.

What I am providing here is a link to a PBS episode in the series American Experience. I am able to watch this episode through my browser on my computer. I am hoping that readers will have the ability to view this video in this simple manner even if they cannot find a way to view it through some more traditional means on their television sets.

This episode of American Experience is simply called Freedom Summer. I hope that this link works for everybody.

As I mentioned before, this episode takes you back to the year 1964. This was before the Voting Rights Act was passed. This was the time of the Civil Rights movement, when Jim Crow laws were still being used to subjugate Blacks. The problems were especially bad in the south, and Mississippi might have been considered among the worst of these states. Less than 7% of Blacks there were registered to vote at that time. (In comparison, the numbers ranged between 50 to 60% in other southern states.) The suppression of the black vote was a deliberate effort to ensure that the Whites would not lose their positions of power in localities with majority Black populations. The Whites managed to do this by coming up with a literacy test that the Blacks had to pass in order to be registered to vote, a test that was deliberately rigged to be unfair. The test included questions that most people would not know the answers to – including interpretation of sections of the state constitution. Registrars controlled the process of registration, including the taking of the test. The about 800 White registrars had total power over the process. The process of registration was made even more difficult – even including direct intimidation while taking the voting test, and also public posting of names of those who had taken the test in the newspapers so that they would face a backlash in their businesses and from their employers.

As an aside, when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed (shortly after Freedom Summer and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), there was a section, called Section 5, that addressed the voting suppression efforts of the South, in that it required seven states, states with histories of voter suppression, to get pre-clearance from the federal authorities before making any changes to voting rules. This was to ensure that the changes would not discriminate against protected minorities. This regulation was, unfortunately, undone by the Supreme Court in 2013. Unfortunately, voter suppression efforts exist even today, and seem to be getting worse with each election cycle.

The Students Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was a group of Black students who were trying to register Black people to vote. Seeing that they were not making much progress on their own, they decided to get help from outside Mississippi by opening up the state to the rest of the country. They called it the Mississippi Summer Project. They invited young people from all over the country to volunteer to teach in Freedom Schools all over the state during the summer. These volunteers would be embedded in the different black communities, stay in their homes while they were there, and would live just like they did. They would learn what their lives were like. They would teach subjects like Black Literature, Black culture Black History, etc.., topics that were not taught in the regular schools. They would implement community center programs that involved the older people. They would be active in voter registration.

It was mostly White kids, both male and female, who signed up for Freedom Summer. They signed up from all over the country. The SNCC conducted an orientation program in Oxford, Ohio, for the potential volunteers. The kids who wanted to volunteer might have been idealists at heart, but they had no clue what they were getting themselves into. They had no idea about the life circumstances of the Black people of Mississippi. They had no idea about their problems. Even the idea of getting directions from the Black SNCC leaders during the orientation program was something they had to get used to. But, they learnt, and they rose to the occasion. Freedom Summer worked, and if you see the video, you can see some of these folks talk today about the experiences of their youth. This would have been a life-changing experience for them. It was an experience that turned many of them into heroes.

At that time, the White people of Mississippi actually thought that they were a superior race. Maybe some of them still do. The pure hate that you see in some people’s eyes in the video is shocking. (Let me assure you that we are all capable of such hate.) When the Whites learnt about Freedom Summer happening, they were concerned, and even prepared militarily for what might happen. They knew the details of what was being planned. There were police cars waiting in some cases when buses carrying the volunteers crossed the border into Mississippi.

At this point, I will stop talking about what happened in 1964, except to mention the names of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney. They were volunteers who went into Mississippi ahead of the rest of the group because of a church burning incident in Philadelphia, Mississippi. They disappeared. James was the only Black person among the three. You have to watch the show to find out what happened to them. The other volunteers still followed James, Michael and Andrew into Mississippi in spite of not knowing what had happened to them – and fearing the worst. Consider how brave their actions were. There were over 700 volunteers who participated.

When thinking about the volunteers of Freedom Summer, I was reminded of the experiences of Peace Corps volunteers who go off to other countries to serve. The bonds that they form, and their experiences in foreign lands, stay with them for life. These kids learn true empathy for other people. These kind of impacts must be much more intense for the youth of Freedom Summer – even if they did not actually leave the country.

There is a lot of interesting stuff in the presentation. You will, in all likelihood, also learn a lot of new things. The documentary (obviously based on real life) is much more engaging, moving, and powerful than any fictional movie that you will find out there today. I am thankful that the voices of some of the older folks who experienced those days have been saved for all time in this film. Listen particularly to the voice of Fannie Lou Hamer (towards the end of the documentary). Watch how Lyndon B. Johnson and the Democratic Party, with their corrupt politics, screwed the Blacks of Mississippi. Listen to the moving last words of the documentary. We should not forget.

Once again, this is the link to the video.
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer/

Our Little Bubbles

I listened to a very interesting podcast episode recently. It was from a series called The Seen and The Unseen with Amit Varma. The particular episode was called Caste, Gender, Karnatik Music. The subject matter of the particular episode was actually broader than the title makes it sound. The whole episode made me think about various things, some even unrelated to the subject of the interview. The person being interviewed was a remarkable person – a thinker who was self-aware to an extreme. He was able to express this self-awareness in very clear manner.

One of the things I ended up thinking about is how most of us tend to get stuck in our own bubbles in various ways, and even in multiple contexts. This is nearly always counterproductive to our own growth, our true understanding of the world, and our own broad-mindedness. One aspect of the bubble is our inability to properly understand things from beyond our own circumstances, background, and perspectives, and to understand where other people are coming from. I am not sure if this is only about empathy. It is about smugness of those of us who are fortunate in our circumstances, and this can be true even when we think we are doing the right thing for other people who we may think of as less fortunate than us. It is about complacency. It is about a determination of fairness in society. It is about the ability for societies to exist and thrive from everybody’s perspective.

I am not sure that it is easy for us to break out of our bubbles, but I am sure that I would better off if I could break out of mine more effectively. Once you become complacent, you are lost.

Where Have All the Hippies Gone

The motivation to write this particular blog arose after I saw a particular episode of the PBS series American Experience. This one was titled Woodstock – Three Days That Defined A Generation. (The show is now also available on Netflix.) The movie was remarkable!

For some reason or the other, even though I did not live in the United States at that time, I have been drawn to the US of the 60s and the 70s. Part of it was the music. I do not know if others of my generation who lived in India at that time remember this, but we used to be easily able to get comic books from the US in India during those days. I used to read any that I could get my hands on. Many of these comic books would include pages where they advertised certain music clubs in the US that you could join to get the few albums for almost no cost. Even though we were not able to join these clubs, I used to read about the music. I could even listen to some of this music on shortwave radio.

Anyway, it was not until the 1980s that I was able listen to more of this music, and to even obtain the complete official live recording of the music of Woodstock. We still have the VHS tape of this recording in our basement. I will be honest in admitting I did not really completely understand the spirit of those times since I did not live in the country, but, as I said before, I was still drawn to it. Maybe it reflected something that I felt in my inner self.

Which brings me to today. The movie from PBS which I saw last week tells the entire story of the Woodstock concert. It is not a music video. It is a remarkable documentary. First of all, the event itself would be considered a complete disaster from the point of view of the staging of any kind of event. Almost everything that could go wrong in the organization of the event went wrong. Our sense of organizational structure these days would not allow a concert like this to happen in the United States today. The organizers of Woodstock completely miscalculated. They did not have enough time to set up for the concert, and the crowds that came were many more than they anticipated. They did not set up enough resources for the concert-goers, including food and sanitation. The place was a disaster zone by the end of the four-day event.

But a remarkable thing also happened during those days of Woodstock. Hundreds of thousands of young people gathered in an open field, under very, very, crowded, and appalling and dangerous conditions, to listen to music, to get high, and to basically have a good time. During the almost four days, they slept where ever they could. They managed in spite of the lack of toilets. They took to skinny dipping in the local pond to clean themselves and have some fun in the process. When a dangerous thunderstorm passed through they sheltered in place, and then they started playing in the mud like little kids. And they managed to have their fun in spite of the chaos and the terrible conditions around them. They did not riot. They behaved as a giant human family – taking care of each other, and managing with whatever they had. The kids were completely peaceful in spite of the worst that others were expecting of them.

There are too many things worth noting about the concert. (If you are interested, it is worth watching the movie to get a better insight.) The organizers had to make it a free concert because people arrived well before the fences around the field had been set up. An activist commune from California called the Hog Farm provided “security”, and whatever organization and community service that was needed – even feeding the people after the concessions ran out of food, and also taking care of the people who had overdosed on drugs. The members of the Hog Farm were hippies who did all of this for the benefit of the community just because they wanted to, and not because of any monetary incentive. The community of Bethel, NY, where the concert took place, was a deeply conservative one. They were generally Republican folks who supported the war in Vietnam, something that the young people were against. They did not want the concert in their backyard, and opposed Max Yasgur, the farmer who provided his land for the purpose. In spite of their opposition, the locals banded together to provide food for the kids when the situation grew desperate on the concert grounds. The military even flew in doctors and medical supplies to take care of the kids. (The Huey choppers that flew in for this purpose were similar to those being used in the Vietnam war at that time.) The musicians had to be flown in to the concert grounds in helicopters because the roads were all blocked. Each group that was performing had their own unique story line and attitude that they brought with them to the stage. It was a remarkable set of circumstances.

And I should probably say something about the music itself. The organizers tried to keep the music going all 24 hours of the day, hoping to keep the kids entertained and in a good mood. They did not want trouble to break out. The music was of the times – starting with folk music on the first day, and moving on to more mainstream pop music and rock and roll. There was a general anti-establishment theme to a lot of the music. The kids were rebelling against the voice of authority, they were against the Vietnam war. Richie Havens was the first performer. He improvised the song Freedom on the spot at the end of his set. The organizers had him performing well beyond his initially allotted time because the next band was not ready. Santana apparently took the excitement in the crowd to a higher level on the second day with Soul Sacrifice (listen to the mother of all drum solos in this rendition!). Sly and Family Stone took the crowd higher with their final rendition of I want to take you Higher in what was apparently one of the most energizing sets of the concert. Who would have thought that Funk would work well in the middle of a series of rock and roll music sets? On the last morning, after many of the concertgoers had already left for home, Jimi Hendrix woke up the remaining crowd with the now classic rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. The sounds and the violence of the Vietnam war (“The bombs bursting in air!”) come alive in the song through his guitar. It was electrifying! If you do a search on the “Best Performances at Woodstock”, you will find a few articles that tell you a little more about some of the songs that were performed at the concert. Here is one such article. There were apparently a few duds at the concert, including the Grateful Dead. They were too stoned for their own good.

After seeing the movie, I decided that I wanted to find out more about Max Yasgur, the farmer who had provided his land for the concert. I found a great video – a talk given by Max’s son Sam Yasgur to a legal group. The video is supposed to be about the First Amendment and free speech. I found the entire video interesting, but you can skip directly to the 40th minute of the video to go directly to the part where Sam starts talking more about the circumstances of Woodstock, and about Max himself. Sam Yasgur is an amazing speaker, and quite entertaining. And Max Yasgur was a remarkable human being. (I hope that this video does not get removed by Youtube!)

I did a little more of searching on the Internet regarding Woodstock. This is a video of an interview given to the The Guardian more recently by one of the organizers of the original concert. You can find interviews with a few people who were at Woodstock, including this video. There were attempts to have concerts at the original location (or close to it) for the 40th and 50 anniversaries. I do not think they were very successful. I am sure there were a few people who went back for these concerts to try to relive some of the days of their youth. There is apparently an art center near the original site of the concert.

Although, I was not here in the US during the time of Woodstock, I somewhat identify with the sense of idealism of the kids. They were the hippies, the flower children. They were questioning the ways of their society. They were not into materialism. They were looking a simpler way to live. They wanted a peaceful way of life. They were against the war that was going on. I get the impression that at least a few of the young people of the 1960s and 70s remained true to their original spirit as they went on through life. I am guessing that there must be others who went on to become conservative Republicans. I wish we could feel and see more of a positive impact of these youth of the 60s and 70s in the culture of the current times, but it is difficult to influence the world in the major way when your life is based simply on peace, love, and understanding.

The world has changed a lot since the days of Woodstock. It seems to have become tougher, and life has become more regulated and seemingly more systematized. Society is less inclined to allow you to take risks. But, I would like to believe that the young people today are still idealistic, although it must be more difficult than ever to confront The Man in today’s world. Life ought to be about looking out for your brothers and sisters. I wonder how many people think that way today. For heaven’s sake, we cannot even come together in our country to confront the corona virus!

An event like Woodstock would not be allowed to happen today – even if there were enough interest. There would be too many rules. There are new causes for the day, but it is a different crowd – a less mellow one than before, I think.

The Second Space

Regular readers of my blogs will understand what I am referring to in the subject line of this particular one. My previous blog was about how we had spent the morning doing our usual Sunday outdoor activities in the park. These activities tend to free up the mind, and to remind you that there exists another world independent of us human beings out there, a world that can continue to exist without our meddling. You tend to forget your worldly concerns while you are out there in the park.

We had a completely different agenda and experience on Sunday afternoon. We attended a rally and march organized by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The march was in the Kentlands, a neighborhood community close to us in Gaithersburg. The Kentlands are actually within walking distance, but I was already tired from the morning’s activities. I was in two minds about going. We also had very little time to rest before departing for the rally. We finally ended up driving to a parking lot at a shopping center close to the site of the rally, and walking the rest of the way.

This was the scene early on, as people were gathering. You can see that it was relaxed atmosphere. The crowd was diverse in every sense of the word.

The place began to fill up by the time the event began in earnest and people began to speak. This speech was by Will Jawando, a Councilmember for Montgomery County.

It was crowded by the time we started marching – after the speeches – but it was possible to practice physical distancing. People were generally good about wearing masks.

The march itself was a laid-back affair.

We did a loop within the Kentlands, probably not more than a mile. We were led in the chants by a person at the front of the march. People were quite relaxed. At one point, there was a person who seemed to disapprove of the subject of the march who stood on the side where the people were walking insisting that “Blue Lives Matter”. Luckily, nobody engaged with him. But it was a good moment for me to actually think about how I should respond if somebody said something like this to me. The response would start with, “Yes, all lives matter, but…”.

We marched past the front of Lowe’s, the big-box hardware store in our neighborhood, and noticed that it was all boarded up, to the point that the massive doors in and out of the building were completely covered up. If you did not know any better, you would not have known that there were doors there. This is an indication of the thought process of the people running the store. They were scared, even though the people marching past were a bunch of suburbanites – all ages, genders, and races. And it was in the middle of the day! It felt like ignorance to me at that point. But, having said that, I have to admit that I myself had also been somewhat ignorant about what to expect at the march earlier on. None of the other stores were boarded up. In fact, some of the employees at Chipotle, a restaurant that we marched past, came out of the store to offer people drinks. A notable moment in the middle of the march was when we all stopped for a minute and knelt on the road while the names of the people who had been killed by police action in recent years was announced over the megaphone.

The march ended back where we started. There were a few more speeches made before the rally came to an end. Throughout the event, the organizers handed out snacks and water to people who needed it. Thankfully, the weather was nice the whole time. Of particular note was the fact that the organizers were all young people. Bravo!

There was a light atmosphere to the whole event. There were police cars parked around the venue of the speeches, but at a distance, beyond the crowds, and they had their flashing lights on. The Gaithersburg city police who were standing around the place where the march started – the place where the speeches were given – were in casual-looking uniforms, wearing biking helmets and shorts. They had their bikes with them. They were also unarmed. They did not look menacing as in some other cases that we had witnessed on TV. They also looked relaxed. The Montgomery County Police who were along the route of the march looked professional and serious. They generally kept a distance from the marchers. I wonder how they all felt about the speeches that were being given, speeches that addressed the impact of the bad behavior of their brethren. The head of the police for Gaithersburg chose the opportunity to speak in solidarity with the marchers.

I have to say that while I enjoyed the new experience, I feel that I was not completely drawn into its spirit. I say this because I was not particularly moved by the experience. I did not learn too much either. I did not get worked up and emotional. I did not get much useful information or motivation to engage further. Perhaps, we should have at least been carrying a a couple of banners ourselves, but we were nervous because this was our first time taking part in a rally. Being wimpy comes easily to some of us. I suppose one has to also consider the overall objective of a peaceful demonstration. In our case, I think it was an expression of solidarity of overall purpose. Other people, especially those who are most directly impacted by the injustices, have more in their hearts. They are crying out to be heard.

I will end with a few more pictures.

Days of Introspection and Reckoning

It is a time of introspection for me, a time for me to once again confront the possible limitations of my own humanity. This time, my internal conversation is about my latent biases.

I think that those of us who happen to be privileged in some way or the other cannot help but have our own biases. Regardless of whether our parents tried to inculcate the right set of values in us, regardless of whether we were taught that all human beings are the same regardless of our race or background, or creed, people can end up feeling not just different, but maybe even superior. I am probably guilty of that even if my first reaction is to try to deny it.

At this time, my thinking is mainly focused on racism against blacks in America. I want to spend some time thinking about my learning process in this regard. As a young person growing up in India, I was not very knowledgeable about the experience of the African American people. I knew about slavery, and I had read Roots by Alex Haley as a youngster before I came to the United States. I also knew about the civil war and events associated with it. That was probably the extent of my exposure. I remember seeing movies from the USIS that talked about America, but the plight of the former slaves was not one of the topics that was touched upon. Lets admit it, the USIS was mainly peddling in propaganda that only presented the country in a positive light.

Before I came to the United States, I did not know much about the Civil Rights movement. I did not know anything about Jim Crow, or the events of the South in those days, in places like Birmingham, Durham, Selma, etc… I had not heard of the Freedom Riders. My real education on this topic started when I came here in 1980 for my higher studies. I would like to believe that I did not have any inherent biases against people of other races that I interacted with when I arrived as a graduate student. I encountered people from all over the world in the university, and we were all going through the same experiences in the same set of circumstances. But I am not sure now if I am remembering things correctly.

My regular trips from the university where I studied to New York City opened up my eyes a little bit to the black inner-city experience of that time. It was not a very happy introduction. You have to first remember that those times were, in general, especially bad for NYC as a whole. The city was still recovering from near-bankruptcy in the 1970s, and the infrastructure was in real bad shape. Times Square was still a red-light district. There were a lot of homeless people in the city, and they seemed to be mainly black. There were people hanging out in street corners who seemed to be looking for trouble. You had to be careful wherever you went because the city could be a dangerous place. There was graffiti and rubbish everywhere. The place was dirty. I remember being attacked by a bunch of kids one evening on a street near Columbia University. I remember the smelly and graffiti-covered subway cars that I traveled on. Often, there were homeless people sleeping on the cars. But I was young, and I found NYC to be a fascinating place. I used to love to travel on the subway system. I tried to experience every subway line there was, and every destination. I even bought a book about the subway (I think I still have it), and also resolved to cover all of the many lines of the subway system within a 24 hour period. Thank goodness I never attempted that in real life. On a different occasion, I remember being stopped by a plainclothes agent of the law (I was not sure he was an official policeman) for inspection at the Pelham Bay Park station, a terminus, because there had been some incident at some previous station on the line. The person wanted to make sure I was not involved in a crime. He let me go after a few minutes. I loved to wander around Central Park. New York City was my backyard, and I really experienced a lot of what it had to offer to a young person living on a shoestring budget.

One of the things you noticed about New York City was that there are a lot of people who were not well off who actually lived there. This was in spite of the fact that the place was very expensive. In my mind, the white man would commute every weekday morning to the downtown area from his suburban home – for his high paying job some big financial company, in one of the massive skyscrapers that dominated downtown. He would arrive in the morning for his work, and then disappear back to his comfortable suburb as soon as he was done in the evening. Such people were actually scared of the real city, and did not seem to want to have anything to do with it. The downtown areas used to become empty shells in the evening, abandoned by the better-off. The other rich who could afford it would live in the expensive apartment buildings around Central Park. The rest of the people who lived in the city were spread out over the five boroughs, depending on the levels of income, and depending on whether they were able to find a rent-stabilized apartment in a reasonably good neighborhood. Many people lived in high-rise apartment complexes in NYC. The poorer you were, the further away you were from downtown. Some of the apartment complexes in the outer boroughs of NYC looked like remains from a battle-zone. Many seemed to have been abandoned. In some cases, all that was left was what looked like a shell. Some of the buildings had fences around them to prevent them from being using for nefarious activities, like drug dealing. Most of the people who seemed to hang around these spaces seemed to be black. And you could ask yourself why things turned out that way for the blacks who occupied these spaces, and you could reach different conclusions based on your biases, and based on how much real studying you bothered to do about the history of the black people in the USA. That was the way it was in the 1980s for me.

We now live in Montgomery County in Maryland. It is a diverse community overall, and we would like to believe that we are enlightened, but I wonder. In spite of all its affluence, there are pockets of poverty, and places where people need help. People who are well off do not generally wander to these places. I have tried to tell myself that I am one of the enlightened people who understands where people come from, but how can I be so sure. I try to keep up with all aspects of American History these days, not just from the perspective of the White Man, so that I know what I am talking about. I have educated myself about the time of Jim Crow. I have educated myself about the Civil Rights Movement. I learned about the experiences of people of those times who spoke up, people like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. I have listened to the speeches of MLK. We have watched shows like 13th, and When They See Us by younger film makers like Ava DuVernay. I learned about the workings of police forces all over the country. I learned about the Southern Democrats, and about the Freedom Riders, Birmingham, Selma. I learned about Rosa Parks, and discrimination, and lynching. I learned about the biases and the racism in the system. The white people actually thought they were superior human beings in those days, and, even though they may not admit it, many probably still have a few subconscious biases about this even to today.

And we now arrive at this moment in the history of this country, and the horrible incidents of today. I tell others that in order to understand the situation properly and achieve empathy, you have to study the history that brought us to this point. But now I am not convinced that even this is sufficient. Something more basic has to change. So I continue to try to educate myself about myself even more. Teresa and I watched the videos of Jane Elliot. We realize that there are insidious ways in which we can develop our biases, and it is not just about color. It is not simply a matter of empathy. It is not just a matter of knowing the true story. There is something more basic within oneself that is not good that is just waiting to come out. I realize that I have developed my own biases without really thinking about it. I really need to act with more thought and purpose in each and every moment going forward.

Today, we listen to the many, many, voices, some of them young, providing perspectives on the lives of the black people, especially in the inner cities. Social and news media are, thankfully, providing the outlets for people to speak. And I have hope. There is a significant push back from the black community every time some kind of police-on-black atrocity takes place, and it has become more and more effective. The voices are being heard, and they are voices that speak with a clarity of vision. They speak with reason. And I become a little hopeful that the push back will trigger some real change.

The first major backlash I remember from police on black violence in recent times was after the beating of Rodney King in 1991. The only reason why people knew about the incident was because somebody had made a video recording of it. Similar backlash, and accompanying violence, happened big time most recently in Ferguson, MO, when Michael Brown was murdered by a cop. Many other incidents have happened in the time between Rodney King and Michael Brown. The police officer got off without any punishment in Ferguson, just as has happened countless times in the past every time blacks have been killed by cops. Unfortunately, the focus of the press and others in these situations in the past seemed to be on the violent aftermaths. So, it is a legitimate question to wonder if things could go in a different direction this time.

I do think it is possible! One of the differences is that the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis was so blatant that it is not just the blacks in the community who are outraged and are actively responding. And the response to the murder is happening not just in Minneapolis. It is happening not just in the USA. It is happening everywhere! The press has picked up on the important narrative of racism, injustice, and police violence. The white people in the country are actually joining the marches in large numbers. And the youth of all backgrounds are involved. And it is also multi-generational. And the police have responded in many places with their entire arsenal of military-grade hardware and shown their true colors by using these against the citizens. And every single thing that happens out there is being video-recorded. Every mindless violent act of an out-of-control police officer gets shown to the whole world. I think every reasonable person who sees the official violence has to be angry. And , for a change, social and television media has been very good at amplifying the positive messages coming from the protestors. I hope for something concrete to happen before the momentum fades away.

But a reactive response to the moment is not sufficient. We need fundamental change in our mindset as a society. A band-aid simply will not cut it. It is going to take much more hard work by every single one of us to get a better understanding of our our biases and our racism, and to effect real change. It is not easy.

I want to conclude with a few links that caught my attention.

This is a interview on CNN.
https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/06/10/cornel-west-george-floyd-cooper-ac360-vpx.cnn

Here is a blog about the murals that are coming up in Minneapolis in the aftermath of the shooting.
The George Floyd Murals of Minneapolis: A Demand for Justice, Hope and a Better Humanity

There are moments of humanity in the middle of the violence. Here is a nice story.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/06/breonna-taylor-protesters-protected-lone-lmpd-officer/3166914001/

We shall overcome.

On Fire

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it.
..

Billy Joel

Meanwhile, the chaos spreads, the country burns, the flames fanned by our clueless and self-centered leader – the conman!

Pandemic!
COVID-19
Presidential incompetence
Presidential ignorance
Presidential lack of responsibility
Absence of National strategy
Absence of oversight
The blame game
China, WHO
Massive Death count, still increasing
Massive unemployment
Recession
Depression?
Corruption in government
Politics of Stimulus
Poverty
Hunger
Homelessness
Inequality
Prejudice
Social Injustice
Race History
Racial Injustice
Oppression
Broken Justice System
The 13th Amendment
White Privilege
Systemic Violence
Broken Policing system
Police Violence
Inhumanity
Death
Video recordings
Qualified Immunity
Anger
Protest
Agitation
Opportunism
Vandalism
Destruction
Violence
Chaos
Rioting
Sabotage
Crimes
Losing sight of the message!
Policing Strategies
Police training
Crowd Control Techniques
Empathy?
Humanity?
Confrontation
Tension
On The Razor’s Edge
Action and Reaction
Death
The National Guard
The military police
The military
Broken government
Chaotic leadership
Missing leadership
Divisive leadership
Cowardly leadership
Deadly leadership
Tinder for the flames
More Anger
Burn, burn, burn
From Coronavirus to race relations,
Clueless in America

vote, Vote, VOTE, VOTE!

We may not have not have started the fire, we have to try to put it out. We have to come together in Solidarity.

It was heartwarming to see pictures of police and protesters coming together in solidarity in some cities. These are signs of hope.

This morning, it was heartwarming to see a older white lady standing all by herself on the grass near the intersection of Great Seneca Highway and Kentlands Boulevard holding up a sign that said BLACK LIVES MATTER to anybody who cared to turn and look. For some reason, it brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it.

We shall overcome.

Living with Contagion

Most of us have never experienced anything like this during our lifetimes.  But one should also understand that smaller outbreaks of similar nature have been taking place all over the world even in recent times. Fortunately, those were contained. It was only a matter of time.

It has been just a few weeks since the spread of this contagion started.

Already, almost everything that we took for granted in our societal interactions and in our consumer behaviors outside of the house has had to be rethought.

Lifestyles have already changed.

National economies have already been altered.

Some people’s lives have already been shattered – even if they have not fallen ill.  People need to eat even when the economy shuts down.  It is a matter of survival for the weakest of our lot.

Some of the changes that have happened may be here for the longer term.

And the worst is yet to come…

The people who had a responsibility to anticipate and do something about the spread of this contagion early enough in the process, to try to limit the damage, failed us miserably.  They are still failing us.

I have often wondered what would happen in the world if some of the things that we took for granted go away.  How would we survive?  (What we are experiencing now is not the worst case of something like this happening.)  Ironically, being better off as a society does not necessarily mean that we are better prepared to tackle something like this.  Events like this might bring out the best in some people, but, as a group, stupidity seems to reign to a greater extent in places where people are more comfortable and well off.  When your mind becomes far removed from the basics of surviving, and the less you are interested in understanding how things really work, the more stupid one seems to behave.  Perhaps the brain hurts from the effort. A special mention needs to to be made of the President of the richest country in the world, and the behavior of some of the youth of the country.  They have no idea what a pandemic means, and how to behave responsibly in these circumstances.  And what about the people who do not seem to care for the truth, to the extent that deliberate lies and misinformation spreads, stuff that can make things worse.  And then there are the stories of complete incompetence. (I am not really that surprised about this particular case.  I have experienced similar frustration with the system in the past.)

Meanwhile, one is overwhelmed with information, information being forwarded from all over the Internet. A lot of it is from well-meaning people.  Every vendor that has my e-mail address has also sent me a message on how the contagion has impacted their business and interactions with their customers.  A lot of what one is hearing is repetitive.  How much of this can you take?  How much of it can you absorb?   Better to watch some late night comedy shows once in a while.

In the middle of all this, we cannot forget the people who are fighting this disease on the front lines.  These are the doctors, the nurses, and the other hospital staff who are taking care of the sick.  They are taking a lot of risk,  and they are putting in a lot of time already.  They are being stretched.  And their job is about to get more difficult.

It is going to get worse before things get better.   A few us may not be here at the end of it all.   All we can do is take care and try to be prepared.  And perhaps it is good to remind oneself once in a while that one does not live forever.

 

Here and There and Everywhere

Who are my people, who are my brothers and sisters?

I am back home after more than a month of travel through Peru and India.  I now have a break in the travels. I am finally in a position to start preparing for my bike ride in July.  The training has started in earnest.  Here are some pictures from the last three days of bike rides.  It is great to be back in a familiar place!

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Pennyfield Lock

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Four Mile Run in Virginia

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The turtle on the towpath

Visiting a lot of places in different parts of the world in a short period of time can be a jarring experience.  People and their circumstances are different everywhere. Life in relative isolation in suburbia in the USA is very different from life in a big city in India with the constant human interaction, which is again different from the life of a farmer or miner living on the Altiplano (high plains) of Peru.

Most “common” people in the world are busy every day dealing with their own life circumstances, basically dealing with their day-to-day needs.  I think that people try find some kind of comfort, and maybe happiness, in their own life circumstances, without necessarily trying to compare themselves to their better-off counterparts in some other part of the world.  The only kind of world they really know and understand is the one that they have experienced during their lifetime.

Many of us are products of our circumstances in life that were beyond our control – where we were born, who our parents were, our family background, our friends, the culture around us, our religion, where we ended up in due to various circumstances not entirely in our control, etc..  We have developed a sense of values and morals that came out of our upbringing and experiences.  We developed our own philosophy for living our lives based on our experiences.  Perhaps we even find ourselves comfortable in life without too much struggle.  It takes guts and determination to break out of a place that we find ourselves in “naturally”.

People in different parts of the world are going through similar adventures in their lives, but they do so in different environments primarily because of life circumstances outside their control.  I do not think there can be one formula that works for all of us when it comes to determining how we should all live our lives.  The question I have for myself is if I have the ability to be comfortable outside our own comfort zone in life? Am I able to understand what somebody else living in another part of the world is going through when I interact with that person?  Can I find a way to empathize with people whom I am unfamiliar with – people from a different land?  I think we can all learn, but perhaps it is easier to not take the trouble, and perhaps even find a way to condemn.

We may be ready to condemn people who are different from us, even when it is very likely that we would act the way they do if we happened to have been born in their shoes.  It may be best not to judge other people blindly without getting to better understand where they come from and what drives them.

Cruelty and Injustice

Some of us have enough spare time on our hands to ruminate about what goes on around us in this world, sometimes without any “education” or any formal process that forms the basis for our lines of thinking.  I know it is a waste of time, but there is something intriguing about the search.  I have enough time on my hands that I even created this blog a few weeks ago musing about what it is all about.

But sometimes, when you see what is going on around you in the real world in real time, you can be shaken out of this somewhat disconnected and disjointed state of mind, the state of mind where you feel like generally talking about things in the abstract.  There is specificity. And your mind screams – really, is this what we are capable of?  Events that can evoke that kind of a response are happening all around us all the time. There are certain aspects of human reality, and of the nature of human unkindness, that make you want to scream – what is wrong with us?  Is it our true nature to be cruel and unjust?  Does it take a truly supreme effort for us to get away from our basic instincts?  I fear that this could be the real truth.

I do believe that if I were left to my own devices I would end up revealing the true nature of the cruelty that I myself am capable of.  I can sense it in myself, feel it lurking somewhere in the background. And I know that I have even revealed this innate element of my character to people who I have interacted with all my life.  Family, friends, relatives, and even other creatures of this earth (watch that mouse that you have trapped, or the cockroach that you have squashed, die!), have experienced it. A process of learning, forgiveness, and maybe even forgetting, can perhaps help deal with this state of being, especially as you age, but the process never ends, and some memories never go away.

But does one not have to at least try to learn that because of the nature of this society that we inhabit, because of the nature of this interconnected and interdependent world that we have built up, we need to at least try rise to a different level, and we need to work to uplift everybody around us, not just ourselves, in order to survive?  Could being good also not make you feel good?

I am in this frame of mind because of a story I read in the newspaper yesterday.  This is not an isolated story. Cruelty and injustice happens everywhere and everyday. Most of these stories do not affect us directly, but I tend to have a gut reaction and respond sometimes when hearing such stories.  Here is one such reaction I had in the past.  We can try to close our eyes because something does not affect us directly, but ultimately these things say a lot about us, and what we are willing to accept.

If you are inclined to follow the link I provided but are not inclined to read the entire article, the videos will provide you a shorter synopsis of what this particular story is all about.