We cannot not lose sight of the historic milestones


We cannot not lose sight of the historic milestones

Ben Jealous

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Print this page Email A Friend!

Martin Luther King Jr Day feels complicated this year.

We have new reasons to celebrate. High on that list is the election of Rev Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Rev King preached to the US Senate. Georgians had the rare opportunity to vote for two senators at the same time. They elected Warnock, a progressive prophetic, black preacher, and Jon Ossoff, a young Jewish journalist and film-maker. Seeing them campaign and celebrate together highlighted the vital partnership between black and Jewish leaders in our struggle toward equality. It reminded me of that historic photo of King holding up pictures of the martyred civil rights colleagues James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.

The people who made the Warnock and Ossoff victories possible — the dedicated organisers led by Stacey Abrams and her many colleagues and collaborators — made me think of earlier generations of voting rights activists like Fannie Lou Hamer. This was the kind of moment for which King dreamed and worked.

Yet, many of us were robbed of the chance to fully appreciate and celebrate these historic milestones. Because the day after the election, while votes in Georgia were still being counted, a mob of angry supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol.

I will not soon be able to forget the feeling in my gut at seeing a gallows and noose being erected outside the Capitol. Or the sight of the Confederate flag being paraded through the rotunda while rioters searched for members of Congress and the vice-president.

While the mob failed to get their hands on elected officials, they killed a Capitol police officer and left four other bodies in their wake.

We have just begun the truth-seeking that is necessary for accountability.

There is no justification for the Capitol being so poorly defended when far-right activists had been making their violent intentions plain for weeks. Journalists and researchers, including the Right Wing Watch team at my organisation, People For the American Way, had been documenting threats of violence and calls for civil war by people who believed Trump's lies about the election being stolen from him and his supporters.

It is impossible to ignore the difference between the light security at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 and the massive shows of force that were brought out for Black Lives Matter protests and other marches. Did high-level law enforcement and military officials dismiss the threats from Trump supporters because they would be mostly white, because they were Conservatives, because they were seen as allies of the law enforcement community? Their decisions left on-duty officers, as well as members of Congress, vulnerable. It was a fatal mistake.

Or, was it something worse? The history of lynchings and racist mob violence in this country is also a history of complicity by law enforcement officials. Sometimes police officers led the violence, as they did at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Sometimes they were conveniently absent, as they were when Freedom Riders were left open to attack by an angry mob.

We are about to have new leadership at the Justice Department. And we have congressional leaders who are motivated to get the truth about what happened at the Capitol and to hold people accountable. We, the people, have a role to play, too. We must demand that public officials not sacrifice accountability in the name of a false unity being called for by people who promoted the lies that fed rioters' anger.

And we can honor Dr King, the late John Lewis, and the other civil rights heroes we lost this year by remaining alert and ready to resist the inevitable new attacks on voting rights that will come from politicians who are unhappy with the outcome of the 2020 elections and are desperate, like Donald Trump, to hang on to power.

And, speaking of power, let's celebrate another historical milestone this week: The swearing-in of Kamala Harris, a black woman and daughter of immigrants, to serve as the vice-president of the United States. Congratulations, Madam Vice-President.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation. He has decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned non-profit executive. In 2008, he was chosen as the youngest-ever president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He is a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and he has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaper-login




1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

comments powered by Disqus



Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon