Thursday, August 20, 2015

On The Bacon Trail Exposing Historical Myopia Part 1 of 2 By Rodolfo F. Acuña

Part 1 of 2
On The Bacon Trail
Exposing Historical Myopia
Rodolfo F. Acuña
Historical myopia causes nearsightedness, distorting one’s view of current and past events. It interferes in distinguishing details. Consequently, we don’t pay much attention to how and why the present has come about.

In general American culture discourages complex thinking. Almost everything is viewed through the prism of faith. Learning is reduced to bullet points with minimal evidence required. The historian acts like a prosecuting attorney obsessed with proving his hypothesis.

Without access to witnesses, knowledge is rarely tested by experience. The historians’ presentations are thus based largely on suppositions rather than facts. History is formed by institutional memories constructed by the state.

This is why I find the work of David Bacon so refreshing. Every time I look at his photographs or read his blogs or his books, I realize how myopic we have become, and what is wrong with the education of so-called scholars. For some time, I have admired Bacon’s photographs especially those of farmworkers. However, I did not begin to look behind the photographs until recently.

About five years ago I got involved with the struggle to save the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program as well the fight against Arizona’s xenophobia. My fight against NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) alerted me to the privatization of Arizona and I could thus see the issues clearly.

Bacon’s writings like his photographs are art for change’s sake.  He is the author of books on labor, immigration, globalization and privatization, and has published articles for TruthOut, The Nation, The American Prospect, The Progressive, and the San Francisco Chronicle, travelling frequently to Mexico, the Philippines, Europe and Iraq. Bacon is a modern day Jack London without xenophobic biases.

Bacon is a scholar, not an academician. He does not wear degrees on his chest like battle ribbons. His knowledge comes from life experiences; "Unions are schools. People learn about the realities of the world and raise their expectations of what they want their world to be like."  

I found a 2012 article in The Nation “How US Policies Fueled Mexico's Great Migration  instructive. Bacon tells the story of Roberto Ortega, a displaced Veracruzana butcher. NAFTA opened up Mexican markets to massive pork imports from US companies like Smithfield Foods. Ortega, a small-scale butcher, was wiped out as prices dropped. In 1999 he was forced to migrate to Tar Heel, North Carolina, where he worked ironically for Smithfield in the world’s largest pork slaughterhouse.

Smithfield’s Tar Heel packinghouse became Veracruz’s displaced the farmers’ number-one US destination. “Tens of thousands left Mexico, many eventually helping Smithfield’s bottom line once again by working for low wages on its US meatpacking lines.” Meanwhile, businesses in the Vera Cruz went broke.         

Under NAFTA Smithfield had access to subsidized US corn, an advantage that drove  many Mexicans out of business, as US corn “was priced 19 percent below the cost of production.”  Moreover, NAFTA allowed it to import pork in Mexico. By 2010 pork imports grew more than twenty-five times, to 811,000 tons.

As a consequence of imported pork, Mexico lost 4,000 pig farms, 120,000 jobs. Rural poverty rose from 35 percent in 1992–94 to 55 percent in 1996–98.  By 2010, 53 million Mexicans were living in poverty—half the country’s population almost all in rural areas.

Bacon strings verbal photos showing the effects of the expansion of the H2-A visa program that “allows US agricultural employers to bring in workers from Mexico and other countries, giving them temporary visas tied to employment contracts.” The pull of landless tobacco farmers from Veracruz added to the pool of migrant workers in the Carolinas.

In Mexico Smithfield and other American operations were unburdened by the environmental restrictions.  Carolina Ramirez, who heads the women’s department of the Veracruz Human Rights Commission, said that “the company can do here what it can’t do at home.” In early 2009, the first confirmed case of swine flu spread to Mexico City. By May, forty-five people were confirmed with swine flu and schools closed.

Bacon shows how NAFTA caused the Mexican Migration. He also shows how in the face of disaster Mexican workers organized against the physical repression of Smithfield and other companies as well as the complicity of the American media.

It is clear that the Union is Bacon’s leader, and the key to resistance on both sides of the border.   “We are fighting because we are being destroyed,” says Roberto Ortega. “That is the reason for the daily fight, to try to change this.”

Bacon’s book The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border is a word picture that according to Bacon, is a world hidden from our view. Again the dragons are NAFTA, poverty and repression. Bacon exposes the exploitation in places such as the Mexicali Valley, and the deplorable housing in Tijuana and other border cities. The heroes are the tireless union organizers. The link between neoliberal polices and the suffering is clear.

The bottom-line poverty forces Mexicans to move to the USA, with the chickens coming home to roost.

A critique all of Bacon’s writing and photo essays is beyond the scope of this blog. The strength of David is his grasp of details and his ability to weave them into the fabric of current history. It exposes the reasons for Enrique Peña Nieto’s privatization and his crude repression of the Normalistas.

David lays it out in US-Style School Reform Goes South: “Just weeks after taking office, Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, ordered the arrest of the country’s most powerful union leader, Elba Esther Gordillo, a longtime ally. The press said PRI was cracking down on corruption. But, Bacon wanted to know the real reason for her arrest, notwithstanding the obvious fact that she was corrupt.

Progressive Mexican educators saw it as an attack on public education and the rights of teachers. They fought back, and the state tried to silence the growing opposition to U.S. style PRI proposals to standardized tests and remove the voice of the union in hiring. They were not “Waiting for Superman” and standing by while Mexican education was privatized.  Significant to the teachers was that “Superman” was first screened on the twenty-fourth-floor offices of the World Bank rather than in movie theaters.
Bacon wrote, “A network of large corporations and banks extends throughout Latin America, financed and guided in part from the United States, pushing the same formula: standardized tests, linking teachers’ jobs and pay to test results, and bending the curriculum to employers’ needs while eliminating social critique. In both countries, there was grassroots opposition—from parents and teachers. In Seattle, teachers at Garfield High refused to give the tests. In Michoacan, in central Mexico, sixteen teachers went to jail because they also refused.”
PRI accused teacher-training schools (“normal schools”) of leading opposition to charter schools. PREAL, established  by  the  Inter-American  Dialogue  in Washington,  D.C. and  the  Corporation  for  Development Research in Santiago, Chile, in 1995, set the neoliberal agenda. PREAL’s mission was building a broad and active constituency “for education reform”. Behind PREAL were powerful forces led by Ford and the World Bank. Moreover, PREAL received grants from the US Agency for International Development (USAID allegedly a CIA front).  

Normal schools throughout Mexico are battling neoliberal reforms. The election of PRI in 2012 galvanized this opposition. It was clear to PRI that the power of the Normalistas had to be broken if it was to gain popular support. It was a war for the control of Mexico’s historical memory.

Note: Part II will deal with the importance of Ayotzinapa, its history – following the Bacon Trail.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Public Education Under Attach - Urgent appeal to the leaders of Black Lives Matter --Joshua Leibner, NBCT

Joshua Liebner, a National Board Certified Teacher in Los Angeles, has been fighting the destruction of public education in Los Angeles and across the nation. He was alarmed to learn that the 1% just became sponsors of education coverage in the Los Angeles Times. He now believes it is time for the Black Lives Matter movement to ally with those who are fighting the corporate assault on public education:
This is an urgent appeal to the leaders of Black Lives Matter:
It is not that far a distance from "I can't learn" to "I can't breathe".
The objectives and consciousness raising of Black Lives Matter is inextricably linked to the education that all our kids are exposed to.
The Education Reform movement as being pushed by all the GOP candidates, but alas, is backed by many Neo-liberals in the Democratic Party including President Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
The 1% of this country funds "philanthropic" foundations that support a disastrous public education policy that offers more testing, more computerized instruction, less field trip and enrichment opportunities, larger class sizes and more scripted instruction to the children in urban school systems.
It is the complete opposite kind of education that they desire for their own children.
The Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Wassermans and The United Way are just a few of the organizations that are dedicated to making the world MORE unequal and MORE unjust with their Orwellian perversion of Civil Rights language. They seek to create more disparity, more dysfunction in our communities.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was brilliantly capable of seeing how many factors were linked to his original cause of equality and justice. In the last years of his life, King was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and a champion of the War on Poverty for all people. All these issues were part and parcel with Civil Rights and by addressing them, King was advancing his original calling to the rights and dignity of black people in America (and ultimately the world over).
King was fearless in criticizing the power structure of this country who operated under different rules than the rest of its people. Even when they were on "his side" for some issues, he never compromised in "shutting up" on all the other causes they were still guilty of "shutting down" that affected black people.
There is nothing more glaring than the type of education that leaders of the wealthy Education Reform Movement desire for their own kids in contrast to what they prescribe for everyone else's children.
I would hope for activism and a presence at Sidwell Friends where President Obama sends his kids.
I would hope for activism and a presence at the University of Chicago Lab School where Arne Duncan sends his kids.
Black Education Matters and if Eli Broad and the other plutocrats believe that Dr. King would be on their side in this struggle, it is time to mount a mighty offensive to disabuse this belief.
Consider where your kids go to school, how they are funded and their daily conditions and experiences. Imagine how different their future and opportunities would be if the priorities of the rich were the birthright of them as well.
We in the front lines of urban education are committed to social justice for all children and believe in the rights of parents, schools and communities to act in the best interest of their children. Not the Super PAC's of the 1% who have vested interests in profiting off the system that is supposed to assist our children--not fatten their own stock portfolios.
I would hope our causes can be linked in the mutual interest of our children.
We want these kids to breathe and learn and go on to change the world.
Yours in solidarity,

--Joshua Leibner, NBCT

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

End Citizens United - help us keep growing.

We hit a HUGE milestone: 1 million supporters. RT to help us keep growing. ADD YOUR NAME:

Get The Crooks Out Of Public Education - Voices Against Privatizing Public Education Press Conference Yesterday

A small group of billionaires has decided to change public education in Los Angeles. They want half the students in the districts enrolled in privately managed charter schools. This is an astonishing development. Who elected them to privatize large sectors of public education? This is a test of our democracy. Have the 1% gained control of our democratic institutions, to reshape as they wish?
Two important meetings are coming up soon. Please try to attend the "Get the Crooks Out of Public Education" press conference on August 17:
Repeal Charters Meeting And Action In CA
8/16 LA Organizing Meeting Of Repeal Charter Schools Laws In CA
Sunday August 16, 2015 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Coco's Bakery Restaurant (meeting room) ( Please purchase food)
18521 Devonshire Street
Northridge, CA 91324
Please Register If You Will Be Attending-For Information and registration contact (415)867-0628
8/17Press Conference/Speak Out At Broad Foundation
Stop Destroying Public Education-Repeal California School Charter Laws
Get The Crooks Out Of Public Education
Broad Foundation
2121 Avenue of The Stars, Los Angeles
Monday August 17, 2015 12:00 noon
The Broad Foundation has just announced that it wants to double the number of public funded privately run charters in Los Angeles. This foundation has played a central role in pushing charters and privatization in the US and it has trained people like former LAUSD Superintendent Deasy who have been involved in systemic corruption. This "foundation" has placed not only management in public schools throughout the country but also has placed pro-charter and privatization supporters on public boards and agencies throughout the country. There is a sordid record of financial conflicts of interests and the concerted effort by Broad, Gates Foundation, Bechtel Foundation, Walton/Walmart, KIPP GAP, Pearson Inc, and a myriad of other profiteers to transform our public education system into a profit making scam operation that not only steals from the public but ends up re-segregating education in Los Angeles and the United States.
This press conference speak out will have teachers and supporters of public education speak out about specific violation of the education code, systemic corruption and the need not only to support the repeal of charters in California but for investigation and prosecution of the criminals involved in the massive privatization scam now going on in California and nationally.
This press conference is sponsored by
Voices Against Privatizing Public Education
Roberta Eidman

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

the Latino daily TUESDAY August 11, 2015 The percentage of Latino and black students who attend a school where minorities make up at least half of all students.

Fifty-three and a half million K-12 children will return to school this month.
TUESDAY August 11, 2015

Good morning   !
Here’s what you need to know to get your day started.
Tuesday’s numbers (about education and the irrelevance of the word “minority”)
53.5 million – The number of K – 12 students that will be returning to school this month.
129,200 – The number of K – 12 schools across the country, including private and charter schools.
50 – The percentage of children less than 5 years of age who are minorities.
17 – The percentage of people more than 85 years of age who are minorities.
17.1 – The percentage of white students who attend a school where minorities make up at least half of all students.
75+ - The percentage of Latino and black students who attend a school where minorities make up at least half of all students.
56.8 – The percentage of Latino students in the schools attended by “average” Latino students.*
72.3 - The percentage of white students in the schools attended by “average” white students.*
32 – The Latino dropout percentage in 2000.
14 – The Latino dropout percentage in 2013.
Source: Pew Research Center
*I’m not entirely sure what is meant by an “average” student, white or Latino.

Quote of the day
"The federal government is woefully lacking in representation of Hispanics. … So much of the reason why we don't have strong Hispanic representation at the CIA is because they just don't know it's a possibility."
-Carmen Middleton, CIA Deputy Executive Director, the agency's fourth highest ranking official and highest ranking Latina. The agency is looking to increase the representation of Latinos in its ranks. According to NBC News, she accompanied Director John Brennan who spoke at the Association of Latino Professionals for America’s (ALPFA) annual conference.

4 immigration headlines that weave an interesting story
One paragraph that explains American’s changing attitudes toward immigration
The U.S. public demonstrates no clear preference on what U.S. immigration levels should be. On this contentious issue, 40% say levels should remain where they are, but only slightly fewer (34%) advocate a decrease in the stream of immigrants. One-quarter of the country prefers an increase in immigration levels, the sole response of the three to see a general increase in support over the past 15 years.
Source: Gallup's Minority Rights and Relations survey

Border Patrol invests in media ads to dissuade undocumented immigration
According to a report in Latin Times the U.S. Border Patrol has bought print and broadcast advertisements in Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras to let residents of those countries know that there will be no amnesty if they travel without proper documentation to the U.S.
This is not the first time ads like these are broadcast in Mexico and Central America, it’s just the latest batch of commercials with the intent of lessening the flow of immigrants.
The ads are narrated by a stern female voice that says, among other things, “If you try to cross the border without documents, you will be prioritized for deportation. Anyone who tells you differently is tricking you. Please don’t believe them.”

Meanwhile at the U.S. Southern border …
The McAllen Monitor reports that “A recent immigrant influx and changes in immigration policy could be to blame for the unprecedented influx of overnight stays last month at a local relief center.”
Unprecedented, in this case, means three-times as many overnight stays at the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley immigrant relief center.
From the Monitor: A total of 762 migrants spent the night at the center in July, 29 percent more than at the peak of last year’s surge, according to the latest data from CCRGV.
People in the valley are starting to talk about the increase as a new “surge.”
Border Patrol agents say the increase was expected and that their plan is to keep an eye on the situation so as to not be caught “off-guard.”

And Jerry Brown is making aliens disappear, on paper
He did it with the stroke of a pen on a bill authored by state Sen.Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia).
The Los Angeles Times reports that the term “alien” will be removed from California’s labor code because it is seen as a disparaging term. Mendoza says the word ban is needed in the same way that many newspapers have stopped using the term “illegal alien.”
Kevin R. Johnson, dean of Public Interest Law and professor of Chicana/Chicano Studies at UC Davis, says “the concern is that the use of the word ‘alien’ would dehumanize the people affected” and lead to “lack of protections under the law.”
On another note, the Times reports that “Brown also signed into law legislation allowing noncitizens in high school to serve as election poll workers and protecting the rights of immigrant minors in civil lawsuits.”
Let’s make it a great Tuesday gente!
¡Échenle ganas!
[Photo by US Department of Education/Flickr]

Saturday, August 8, 2015

your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed.

The view of a nun, Sister Joan Chittister, “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. If you don’t want tax money to go there, it’s not pro-life…”

“panem et circenses” - Inequality of Sports - The Grand Illusion By Rodolfo F.Acuña

“panem et circenses”
Inequality of Sports
The Grand Illusion
Rodolfo F.Acuña

Michael Harrington in The Other America (1962) wrote “Beauty can be a mask for ugliness,” referring to rural poverty in Appalachia where the beauty of the landscape hid the poverty. According to Harrington, “America has the best-dressed poverty in the world,” allowing poor whites to go unnoticed and giving the illusion of equality

Most Americans rarely notice the ugliness –and are reluctant to peek behind the landscape. Nor are they bothered by the facts, too preoccupied to notice social gaps.

The camouflaging of the ugliness is not an American invention and does not happen by accident.  “Panem et circenses” (“Bread and circuses") have been used by the oligarchy since Roman times; it is “a superficial means of appeasement” that diverts and distracts attention from the ugliness.

Attention is regularly diverted from wars of aggression by “wagging the dog.” It is used to win the votes of the poor and distract them from the ugliness of a billionaire like Donald Trumps who casts himself as “Joe Six-Pack” who like working class Americans is fed up with the “elites.”

Powerless, the masses become part of a Roman mob. Meanwhile, Bread and Circuses hide detestable corruption. Bread and circuses dull compassion. Imperial expansion and domestic policing are justified. Violent military interventions are clothed by humanitarian terms, such as "compassion."

As the illusions of “one man one vote” and equality before the law are eroded, the ‘bread and circuses” are becoming more necessary. Sports are part of “panem et circenses”. Even when so few plebians are admitted to the coliseum; the masses watch the games on TV under the illusion that they are equal. But even this delusion is being threatened by exorbitant cable costs.   

Soccer is the latest rage. Latinas/os are rabid fans. However, the irony is that most Latinas/os are weeded out by an exclusive club system that costs $3000 a year per child. Want good coaching? A college scholarship? You go through the club system; just like tennis soccer is become a rich person’s sport. The poor are left to rule rundown public parks (that some want to privatize).

Last year, Francisco Goldman wrote an article about the delusions of the World Cup titled “Fooling Mexican Fans. He wrote that Mexico was on “the verge of monumental decisions” and that upon awakening the fans would “realize that the country’s energy reserves have been cheaply sold off or whatever else, don’t bother protesting because this is a chronicle foretold.” Goldman cited SinEmbargo that pointed out that Mexican politicos were debating and passing laws “that could open Pemex, the nationalized oil company, to foreign investment, the Mexican Congress scheduled legislative sessions from June 10 to 23, dates precisely coinciding with you know what. Final passage might be pushed back, but it originally looked like it was supposed to happen on Monday, when Mexico plays Croatia to decide which country advances to the elimination rounds.”

According to Goldman, in 1998 the Mexican Congress passed a $67 billion rescue of Mexican banks on December 12, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the start of the Christmas holiday season.

Goldman underscored that there is “nothing wrong with talking about soccer teams as long as the discussion did not encourage a national amnesia” or hide how greedy Mexican capitalists use the opiate of the World Cup.

Contradictions abound. Latinos root for the American team, although none are part of the national teams. Teresa Noyola, a Mexican American All American soccer player from Stanford University, was advised to go back and play for Mexico, the reason given she was too short.   

The “panem et circenses” reared its ugly head during the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Tensions built as Mexico defeated Costa Rica 1-0 in the quarter-finals. The refereeing was atrocious. Mexico won after a controversial foul call beyond the 120th minute.
The Mexican and Panamanian teams met in Gold Cup semi-final match in Houston.  A rough and heated encounter was climaxed by a shoving match where joined. No doubt horrific refereeing that was, as one commentator put it, “una vergüenza,” contributed to the mayhem.

After this point, it really did not matter who won the finals. The encounter had done irreparable harm to Latin American unity.

Who was to blame? Certainly not the players. Nationalism drove them to want to win. The fans, well they were like the Roman mob, pointing thumbs down.  

Looking behind the landscape, I could not directly blame the mother countries’ corruption; all of them are equally corrupt. As for the U.S., it is the puppet master, benefiting from the lack of unity in the Americas.

It came down to the organizers wanting Mexico to win because it is a larger market. Mexico is a nation of 120 million with another 35 million in the U.S. The scenario is similar to the National Basketball Association wanting the Lakers in the finals. People do not matter, paying customers and viewers do.

The Bread and Circuses get out of hand such as in 1969 when a war broke out between El Salvador and Honduras. The war broke out during a best of three World Cup qualifiers.
The first game held in Tegucigalpa ended in a 1-0 win for Honduras - where fights broke out. From that point, everything went south. In San Salvador, the Honduran team endured a sleepless night before the game -- rotten eggs, dead rats and stinking rags all tossed through the broken windows of their hotel.  The determining match was in Mexico.
On June 27, Honduras broke off diplomatic relations with El Salvador that won 3-2. By July 14, El Salvador invaded Honduras.
Approximately 1,000 to 2,000 people lost their lives and 100,000 more became refugees. On the surface, the cause was the soccer game, but tensions ran much deeper. Immigration, broken agreements, and a Honduran agrarian reform law that took land away from some of the Salvadorans all played a part.  
The tension of 1-0 overtime Honduran win contributed to Salvadorans feeling cheated and their national honor threatened. Before the second game, three Salvadorans were killed in downtown San Salvador. The Salvadoran government blamed the acts of violence on “communist and subversive elements.”
The rhetoric during the Gold Cup was also out of control. It hurt relations between Latinos who are struggling to coexist. I have heard Latin American friends complain about having so many Mexicans on Spanish language television. With tongue in cheek, I suggest that each Latin American group should have its own television station, with its own telenovelas, news and commentators. We could then have 21 stations as mediocre as Univision and Televisa that would show their own telenovelas and sponsor their own Srta. Colita contests.   
Personally, I feel like Antonio Díaz Soto Gama who in 1914 caused “El incidente de la bandera” at la Convención Revolucionaria in Aguas Calientes when he protested the Plan of Ayala. As he mounted the stage, he crumbled flag and threw it to the floor and roared “This flag symbolized the triumph of clerical [church] reaction” in 1821. In other words, the flag is part of the “panem et circenses” that masks the ugliness that todos estamos jodidos (we’re all screwed).

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Hanging on to Hope to Keep Black Men and Boys Alive - Marian Wright Edelman - Children's Defense Fund

Hanging on to Hope to Keep Black Men and Boys Alive

Email - Marian Wright Edelman Photo

Our history is for decades we humiliated people of color. For decades we excluded people of color. For decades we shamed and burdened and beat people of color. Bryan Stevenson, founder and president of the Equal Justice Initiative, and author of Just Mercy
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the world’s leading peace and justice advocates, has called Bryan Stevenson “America’s Nelson Mandela.”  He has gotten innocent men off death row, successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court multiple times, including to ban “death sentences” — capital punishment and life imprisonment without parole for offenses committed by juveniles. In June this man of great moral clarity and brilliance spoke about “How to Keep Black Boys Alive” to 2,000 college-age Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® servant leaders at CDF-Haley Farm. He focused on how we can break up the Cradle to Prison Pipeline that feeds 1 in 3 Black and 1 in 6 Latino boys born in 2001 into America’s morally indefensible and unjust mass incarceration system. Here is some of what Bryan Stevenson told our young leaders:
Bryan Stevenson_NationalTraining2015
“We’re living at a time when there is an incredible crisis that young men of color are facing. There is a challenge that is unique in our history. We’ve always had challenges but this is a different kind of challenge because it is structural, it is systemic, and it is institutional. And it presents itself in this kind of really misguided almost kind of bizarre exploitation of the word ‘justice.’  It uses that word to perpetuate an unprecedented injustice that we’ve never had to face like we’re facing today. And I’m talking about the criminal justice system.”  
Bryan put it in perspective for the young college audience. In 1972 — 300,000 people were in jails and prisons in America compared to today with 2.5 million people behind bars. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s imprisoned. And in Alabama where he lives, a person with a criminal conviction permanently loses the right to vote. Right now in Alabama, 31 percent of Black men in the state have lost the right to vote.
To dismantle this Cradle to Prison Pipeline requires, he says, Americans to change the way we talk about race and confront our history of racial inequality. “The great evil of American slavery was not forced labor; it was the narrative of racial difference that slavery created.” That narrative said: “These black people, they’re not like us. They’re not fully human. They’ve got these deficits. They’re not smart. They’re not this. They’re not that. And because of that, we’re actually doing something civil and Christian by enslaving them. And that narrative was the great evil of American slavery.”
This history of bias and discrimination manifests itself with a presumption of dangerousness and guilt that gets assigned to all Black people, he continued, “That presumption was created during slavery, nurtured during terrorism, legalized during segregation, and it’s now being implemented by mass incarceration. We need to understand that these acts of violence in Ferguson and Baltimore are a manifestation of this presumption of dangerousness and guilt. And we’ve got to free America from this burden.”
Bryan Stevenson is surrounded in Alabama by many symbols of slavery and the Old South and shared this story about visiting a new client on Alabama’s death row. As he parked, “This truck was there. And some of you all who live in the South see these things all the time. And this truck was like a shrine to the Old South. It has all of these bumper stickers on it. It had the Confederate flags everywhere. It had the gun rack. … There was a White guard standing at the prison door when I got there. And I said, ‘Hi, I’m here for a legal visit.’  And the first thing the man said to me was, ‘Well, you’re not a lawyer.’ I said, ‘Oh, yes, sir, I am.’ He said, ‘I don’t believe you’re a lawyer.’ I said, ‘I am an attorney. I’ve been to this prison before.’  He said, ‘Well, where is your bar card?’ Well, my bar card was in the car. He made me go back to the car to get my bar card. I came back. I felt insulted. I showed him my bar card. I said, ‘Look, I want to go inside now.’ And the man said, ‘All right, all right, but you’re going to have to get in the bathroom. I’m going to have to give you a strip search.’ I said, ‘No, sir, lawyers don’t get strip-searched coming into this prison.’ He said, ‘You’re coming into my prison. You’re going to get in that bathroom and get strip-searched.’” 
After driving two hours to get there he made the very difficult decision to submit to the humiliating search. More hurdles and indignities followed. Finally when the guard unlocked the door the guard asked, “’Did you see that truck out there with all those bumper stickers and flags?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I saw that truck,” He said, ‘I want you to know that’s my truck.’”
Antagonized and angry, Bryan Stevenson went to meet his new Black client who had been in 29 foster homes by age 10, showed signs of bipolar disorder by age 13, symptoms of schizophrenia by age 15, used heroin by age 16, was homeless by age 17, began having psychotic episodes by age 18, and in the midst of one, stabbed someone to death by age 19 and was on death row. There was no mental illness defense in his record.
“The first thing [my client] said to me was, ’Did you bring me a chocolate milkshake?’ … And so I put my pen down and said, ‘Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t know you wanted me to bring you a chocolate milkshake. Next time I come, if they let me, I’ll bring you a chocolate milkshake.’ And this man smiled and smiled and smiled.”  Every time Bryan talked to his client after that, the only thing he wanted was a chocolate milkshake.
Months later, Bryan and his team presented a vigorous mental illness defense to a judge over three days. That same prison guard who had strip-searched him on his first visit to his client brought the defendant to the hearing and glared at Bryan in the courtroom each day. But Bryan was feeling hopeful about the outcome and weeks later returned to death row for a visit.
“I was walking to the prison and what do I see in the parking lot?  That truck. And I was feeling tired. I didn’t feel like I had the energy to deal with this guy. I said, you know, I don’t want to deal with him today. I’m just going to drive back another day. And that’s when I realized I was losing my hope.”
Refusing to give up hope, he turned around, got his bar card and walked to the guard at the door and said, ‘Hi, I'm here for a legal visit. Here’s my bar card.’ And the [guard] immediately [responded], ‘Hello, Mr. Stevenson. How are you?’ It completely threw me. I said, ‘I’m fine. I’ll go in the bathroom and get ready for your search.’  ‘Oh, Mr. Stevenson, we’re not going to do that today,’ [the guard replied]. I said, ‘Really?  Thank you. Well, I’ll go back here and sign the book.’ He said, ‘Mr. Stevenson, I saw you coming and I signed you in.’” Then the guard told Bryan, “‘You know, I came up in the foster care system too. I didn’t think anybody had it as bad as I did, but I realized that maybe your client had it worse than I did. I’m a very angry person. I’ve been angry my whole life. But I’m going to tell you something. I think what you are doing is a good thing.’ And then he looked at me and says, ‘I hope you keep fighting for justice.’”
The guard shook Bryan’s hand. “And I turned to go inside the prison and he grabbed me by the arm and said, ‘Wait, wait, wait, I’ve got to tell you something else.’ ‘What’s that?’ I asked. He replied, ‘I just want you to know I did something on the way back from the courthouse.’ I said, ‘What did you do?’ He said, ‘Well, I took an exit and I took your client to a Wendy’s and I bought him a chocolate milkshake.’”
The bottom line message of this extraordinary caring lawyer for the young leaders was: “I believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I think that if you tell a lie you’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill somebody you’re not just a killer, and that other thing you are has to be mended and responded and nurtured and loved and protected.”
Bryan Stevenson believes as I do that the same is true for America. America is much more than the worst things we have ever done as a country and we have done some very bad things including slavery and Native American genocide which we have never fully admitted and repented from. America can come closer to her dream and professed belief of freedom, justice and equality for all only by heeding Bryan Stevenson’s final lesson that day.
“We have to judge how we’re doing in America, not by looking at how we treat the rich and the popular and the famous. You have to judge how you’re doing in a country like ours not by how you treat the privileged and the rich but by how you treat the poor and the incarcerated and the condemned. That’s how you judge how we’re doing.”

Click here to share your comments and find out what others are saying.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.