Good Trouble, Fighting the Good Fight, and Finding Hope

I was watching A Late Night Show with Stephen Colbert when the breaking news coverage came out on the night of July 17, 2020, on the passing of Congressman John Lewis. It’s sad, but at least we celebrate him, the last surviving speaker of the March on Washington of 1963. John Lewis, a student of non-violent protest, taught us the meaning of “good trouble” and fighting the good fight, giving his own blood in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, for the right to vote and civil rights. He was the “conscience of Congress” because he was about moral principles and equal justice.

I personally don’t like using the word “hero” because I think it’s an over-used word and I don’t think people know what it means anymore for quite awhile now. But, John Lewis always struck me as one of the few moral heroes, in a world where I question if “morality” is meaningful.

You could probably disagree with Lewis (a lot of people have, even on his own side), but he stuck with non-violence, compassion, and equity so much and for so long. I wonder if we will ever have more moral leaders like him.

See here for the NPR obituary on John Lewis. Gothamist had a good collection of links in its post regarding Lewis. The NY Times’s obituary by Katharine Q. Seelye, published July 17, 2020, updated July 21, 2020, was quite in depth.

Worth reading the NY Times editorial, “John Lewis Risked His Life for Justice,” published July 17, 2020, to remember what Lewis did and the legacy that’s left behind. The NY Times’ editorial reminds us that the US Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act, and Lewis urged Congress to restore it to protect the right to vote; he had said that voting is the most important non-violent tool.

As the editorial also notes:

“The passing of John Lewis deprives the United States of its foremost warrior in a battle for racial justice that stretches back into the 19th century and the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments. Americans — and particularly his colleagues in Congress — can best honor his memory by picking up where he left off.”

Political commentator Mark Shields observed, toward the end of the PBS NewHour segment on July 24, 2020:

“Well, one of the absolutely disarming qualities of Congressman Lewis was, whenever you ran into him, he would just grab you by the hand and said: ‘Hello, my brother. How are you?’ And I don’t know. Being called ‘your brother’ by John Lewis was sort of special, and no matter how many times it happened. [….] He was an incredible gentleman. He was an incredible leader, an incredible example. He left America so much better than he found it. And people talk about changing the name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge to John Lewis Bridge, which is fine. What they ought to do is pass a Voting Rights Act, after the court decision in 2013, which naively thought this problem was over. We have seen the systematic denial of the right to vote, whether it’s cutting polling places, cutting hours, purging of lists, I.D.s, voter I.D.s. And that would be the testimony and memorial to John Lewis that would be appropriate, is a Voting Rights Act, a real Voting Rights Act.”

I have no real opinion on the naming of the bridge, but I do think we need to strengthen the Voting Rights Act.

I remembered being moved when Lewis staged the sit-in in Congress to demand gun control in 2016; he was always so hopeful in the face of seriously hard issues.

Some years ago, when Lewis’s graphic memoir (I can’t quite call it a “graphic novel” because it isn’t really a novel) “March” (Vol. 1) came out and he was in New York City for the book tour, I went to hear him speak. Lewis was just amazing, talking about how he defended his aide for reading a mere comic book, because even comic books had been a tool for the Civil Rights Movement; and then his aide talked him into writing together what became the March trilogy, as a way for future generations to understand what Lewis did.

In this interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, July 20, 2020, Lewis’s aide and co-writer, Andrew Aydin, best retold how he and John Lewis came to write “March”: specifically, others teased him for wanting to attend Comic Con after a campaign, and Lewis defended Aydin, by saying how a comic book did influence the Civil Rights Movement, which got Aydin thinking that a comic book about Lewis would be a way to communicate to young people today.

I still have to get Volume 3 of “March.” There are also lots of videos to watch and great stuff to read to recognize and appreciate Lewis’s legacy.

Fellow triscriber YC shared on Facebook this link, so I’m sharing it here on triscribe: Smithsonian scholars on the legacy of John Lewis. What a fascinating read. You can also do a search on triscribe and find more posts where I had shared links about Lewis.

So, on this day, July 26, 2020, it’s the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This morning, the body of US Rep. John Lewis made his final crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. See here for the NPR report and here for the NY Times coverage. I was really moved to see the ceremony on television.

Lewis’s body will lie at the Alabama State Capitol tonight, and on Monday, July 27, 2020, his body will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., for those who wish to pay their respects in a socially distanced manner, after an invitation-only ceremony.

Thank you, John Lewis, for what you did, and may we reach the better, more equal world that you fought for us. We still have long ways to go before we have a truly equitable American society and let’s keep trying to get there.

(cross-posted on sswslitinmotion.tumblr.com)

Independence Day 2020

Happy Independence Day 2020. Or, if you can’t be “happy,” just reflect and observe.

We have a pandemic, and our country sucks at getting out of it. We squandered a lockdown to get things under control and prep up testing, tracing, and any other means of mitigation. The only thing that is predictable is fear and unpredictability, and they are what they are.

I’m just hoping that New York and New Jersey can try harder to keep things okay and not like it is in the rest of the country. But, I heard that Connecticut is doing very well with the Covid numbers. So, maybe it isn’t all crap in the tri-state area? I don’t know. Who knows?

At the individual level: keep your masks on, stay six feet away, and wash your hands. I really don’t trust that we keep hoping and praying that individual responsibility will save us, because individual behavior has not persuaded me on that front.

On the local and state levels: keep testing and contact tracing. Well, this presumes that a spread of Covid hasn’t made contact tracing impossible and that there are enough capacity and supplies for testing.

I wish that the federal government can provide real leadership, but… these are such trying times on so many, many issues.

Happy birthday, America. Thanks to Facebook’s On this Day/Memories feature, I get to review my past status / comments on past July 4s. I can’t quite tell what my arc is – maybe more cynical and reflective, than freely patriotic? What is patriotism? Can we grow and reason where we are and choose to proceed where we want to go?

According to Facebook: on July 4, 2017, I said, “…take a moment to reflect on the meaning of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ and don’t forget that the Constitution does say we’re ‘to form a more perfect union.’ I was listening to Brian Lehrer’s show on WNYC the other day and he made an interesting point about America’s birthday: like any birthday, acknowledge it, warts and all, and hope (and work) for better. “

So, can we reflect and learn? Do we acknowledge the warts and all, even if we can’t and should not accept them?

On July 4, 2018, I noted on Facebook this quote from James Baldwin: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

Take the criticism and use it for what it’s worth. Constructive criticism? Can this country take it?

I’ve recycled this status / comment on Facebook for two years, and maybe I’ll do it again: “As I get older, I’m more struck by the end the Declaration of Independence: ‘And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.’ The Founding Fathers were about to do something dangerous, and they knew it. But, they went ahead together, in hopes of something good and better, and as social contract theory – working together in agreement – meant something to them.”

Do we understand what social contract theory means? Do we want to work together, do we have agreement, or are libertarians right – that individualism prevails, so who cares? Is that how we sacrifice democracy and rule of law?

I’m rambling. And, I apologize to libertarians for being so glib. But, I’ve been frustrated with individualism because it seems so neglectful of others.

You’re welcome to do a search on the blog and look at our prior posts on Independence Day. (I may be recycling my ideas or concerns at this point?).

Anyway, I don’t have Disney Plus, so it’s not like I’m joining in on the fun of streaming a Hamilton watch of the original cast. As much as I’d want to see Lin-Manuel Miranda as the original A. Hamilton, triscribe – well, FC, P, and I – did see it when Javier Munoz played the role. (we saw it when he had alternated with Miranda; he later took over the role).

Munoz was arguably the sexier A. Hamilton (NY Times’ chief theater critic Ben Brantley said so way back in 2015!). 😉 But, as Miranda acknowledged recently, they did have to keep the filmed/streaming Hamilton PG-13 for audiences!

However, seriously, you don’t have to look to a Broadway musical – as good as “Hamilton the Musical” is – to learn American history. Is that musical all about how Hamilton and the rest of the Founding Fathers were heroes? Not quite. Is it great about showing their weaknesses and failures? Eh. Maybe it’s not strong on portraying women, and the great sin of slavery and race relations weren’t the real aims of “Hamilton” (a musical isn’t the way to really show the sins of slavery and racism, is it? I mean, it could be, but not really?).

But, “Hamilton” is a great musical.

It can’t hurt to pair a watching of “Hamilton” and “1776” on July 4. That way, you get a whole bunch of Founding Fathers at once (and pretend that the Founding Mothers had some part), and maybe realize that a musical could be a way to see how such humans could be so vibrant and so human.

Do remember: the Founding Fathers really were only human. I wonder what they would think about where this country is going and how we let factions get in our way, and how we could be our own destroyers.

I wonder. Can differences of opinion create creativity and pull us together? Can we be better?

On July 3, 2020, I listened to the NPR Morning Edition annual reading of the Declaration of Independence. The words of Thomas Jefferson – no easy man to figure out – express outrage against the British and the decision to build a new identity. But, Jefferson’s words were also a tool – not to explain but also foment rage to get things going against a bigger power – those darn Brits, that horrible king who was so oppressive to the governors and people in America! – and yet, did Jefferson realize how many people in the future would draw inspiration from American ideals? He, a slave owner, may not have intended for freedom to be extended to all, but his words empowered others.

If Thomas Jefferson was a hypocrite – you know, “Do as I say, not as I do, regarding freedom” – what about other American leaders? Kind of like how Woodrow Wilson was complicated, even if he wasn’t that complicated. I thought that this article by Joshua Keating over at Slate, June 30, 2020, “The Accidental Anti-Imperialist,” was a fascinating read. As Keating noted, this is what’s odd (and not odd) about Wilson: for a man who was racist even for his own times, he inspired global cooperation, advanced an American foreign policy that was activist and into intervention (maybe for good and not-good reasons), and inspired anti-imperialist and anti-colonial movements.

Like Jefferson and the slavery issue, Wilson might never have intended anyone to take up against imperialism, but it happened anyway, because he used empowering words (his 14 points included self-determination!). It’s ironic, and history is full of these complicated ironies.

I’m not sure where I personally am on the issue of pulling down statuary and memorials or names of institutions of racist, imperialist figures, when so much of history is full of the likes of Jefferson and Wilson. Do we then have to figure out who are the forgotten”better” heroes of history and celebrate them? Maybe we should!

But, what if they turn out to suck too for anything awful that they did? (and face it, they probably were terrible parents/spouses/neighbors/etc. or even sexist/homophobic/bigots of some kind/etc.).

The bottom line is that we’re all hypocrites. I like to think that we should not “celebrate” figures; we should learn and realize nuance (somehow). There are moral questions and it shouldn’t be that easy to say we’ll just ignore the bad things a person did or forget the good that a person did. (This observation applies to understanding history: we can’t ignore the good or the bad and the ugly that a country like ours did).

Some things to think about anyway. The American experiment continues, 244 years later. Let’s keep trying to do and be better. Happy Independence Day, indeed.

On the Last Day of APA Heritage Month 2020

Here at triscribe.com, APA Heritage Month is really every day. As usual, life distracted me, but honestly, I never imagined that 2020 would bring in a global pandemic, an economic depression, and racial injustice all at once in less than six months.

Racial injustice is, unfortunately, a perpetual problem and fear of others keeps going on. Asian Americans get wrongful blame during the pandemic – as if they’re (still) the source of disease since the 19th century and (still) have to be told to “go home.” (when home is supposed to be America, thanks). Police brutality is especially infuriating to me because I feel as if there’s a willfulness in continuing unnecessary police violence toward African-Americans – in conflict with training, policy, law, and morality, so far as could be apparent to me.

The same problems continue to happen; it’s “normal.” (see here from NPR regarding former President Barack Obama’s thoughts on the maddening normalcy of racism). I wonder, as usual, about where’s the cultural shift for greater morality, rationality, consideration, compassion, and empathy? I look for basic decency and I wonder I’ve lowered my expectations too much.

Anyway, on the waning hours of APA Heritage Month, some stuff to consider:

With the pandemic ongoing, see here for “AAPI Frontline” from NBC Asian America for the voices of AAPIs on the front lines to deal with the coronavirus that has caused so much pain.

PBS presented the documentary series “Asian Americans,” which can still be accessible for streamed viewing (and even easier if you have PBS Passport, so support your local PBS). I still have to watch properly the 4th hour part, but overall appreciated the stories told with an activist frame. The writer in me would have liked a little more editing and closure to the narratives, but I fully realize that documentaries are never easy.

With Daniel Dae Kim and Tamlyn Tomita as alternating narrators, it was fascinating to watch the stories of Filipino farm workers fighting for unionization, or how Tereza Lee was one of the first DREAMers, and to be reminded of the consequences of 9/11 on South Asians.

The World War II segment of the documentary series was really moving to me, to see the complicated stories of the Japanese American families and what it means to be American, when the American country has subjected you to discrimination and tests loyalty in a very one-sided and unfair way.

The story of Susan Ahn Cuddy was also illuminating. She was the first Asian-American woman in the US Navy during World War II, training men to shoot. I had realized that I heard about her story over at NPR’s Story Corp segment awhile back, but I had no idea that she was the sister of actor Philip Ahn. Really fascinating stuff.

Check out the NY Times’ interview with Daniel Dae Kim (who recovered from Covid-19), from earlier in May 2020, about the “Asian-Americans” documentary and how timely it is.

I also thought that this Smithsonian Magazine overview of “Asian-Americans” – “Watch 150 Years of Asian American History Unfold in This New Documentary” by Nora McGreevy – was interesting, as it included links to other articles about coverage of the documentary series.

Also, check out NPR’s Alisa Chang’s interview of Renee Tajima-Pena, the series producer (from May 28, 2020). Tajima-Pena brings up the iportant question of how do we move forward together, and her hope that the documentary series helps us see what has happened to figure out the future. (h/t Center for Asian American Media (CAAM)’s Facebook page post, May 30, 2020).

Even though a lot of in-person APA Heritage Month events were cancelled, a lot did go online. For instance, yesterday, some of us triscribers and friends viewed some of Flushing Town Hall‘s “Crazy Talented Asians & Friends: Live Comedy & Animation Shorts” via Facebook Live. Always great to see what a rich range of short animations from talented Asians and Asian Americans.

On a non-APA Heritage Month note, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken have become the first two American astronauts to have made it back to space from American soil, for the first time in nearly a decade, via SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, as they launched on May 30, 2020, from Florida and docked with the International Space Station on May 31, 2020 (links to NPR reports).

SpaceX-NASA effort could lead the way to cheaper and sustainable spaceflight. I’m still not sure how I feel about private entities doing this (money is good and bad). But, it’s exciting to realize that Americans are back in space without hitching a ride with the Russians, as discussed in “SpaceX’s Crewed Launch Restores America’s Status Among an Elite Group of Spacefaring Nations” by Jeffrey Kluger, Time Magazine, May 30, 2020, which worthy reading.

Always great to find some hope in a crazy world.