If you’ve never heard Nina Simone’s version of George Harrison’s song “Isn’t it a Pity,” I can’t think of a more fitting day to do so. While Harrison wrote the song about the pain caused by broken relationships, Simone takes it to a whole new level. Small changes in the lyrics and the way she uses her incredibly heart-breaking voice to wring out every emotive nuance turns the song into something much larger than what it had been before. It’s about when societies break down, when our humanity tears apart, when we forget about who we are or could be, when we fail to see all the beauty around us, including inside us.
Joe Taysom wrote the following in Far OutMagazine about how Simone transformed Harrison’s song:
“[Simone’s] voice is one of the most incredible sounds that has ever graced the earth so when you mix it with George Harrison’s mercurial songwriting then you’ve got an emphatic mix and her cover of the former Beatles guitarist’s track ‘Isn’t It A Pity’ is a true delight. . . . . [Her]11-minute cover feels more like theatre than it does music as her voice takes the listener on a rollercoaster of emotions where she makes every word that came from Harrison’s pen years previously come to life. It was this ability to express another’s emotion which elevated Simone to legendary status and it shines on this effort.”
The song meshes so well with Martin Luther King’s messages of love:
“At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.”
“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
Simone’s version is long, 11 minutes, but I hope you will listen all the way to the end. I think you’ll be glad you did.
Like so many Americans, I’ve been struggling these past twelve days to wrap my mind around what happened on January 6: The attempt by the President of the United States to overthrow the government by inciting his followers to assault the Capitol and force Congress to overturn a free and fair election in which President-Elect Biden won by a landslide.
It was such a shocking thing to watch live, in real time, on TV. The horror of it still has not faded as we learn more and more about how it came about and who was there. As we learn what they planned to do to Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi. As we wait to see if further threats of insurrection will follow.
While the House immediately impeached Donald Trump for the second time, this time for inciting insurrection, we are waiting to see if the Senate will convict him, ensuring he will never be able to run for public office again.
And we are waiting to see if the majority of Republicans in Congress, who are now calling for unity and healing, will admit that Biden won the election fairly, as all the countless court cases, recounts, and investigations have proven. For there can be no unity or healing if nearly 80 percent of Republicans, as a new poll tells us, believe the Big Lie that the election was stolen from Trump.
But we citizens cannot wait for others to do the right thing. We cannot wait for a new administration to heal our nation. It’s not just the alt-right media that is promulgating the Big Lie. It’s not just government that’s divided. It’s WE, THE PEOPLE. And we must do what we can to dismantle the Big Lie and bridge the Big Divides that are threatening to destroy our country.
I have some ideas about that. But first let’s hear what Martin Luther King, Jr. has to say on his celebratory day.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“Tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
“Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.”
First, MLK reminds us, we cannot be silent. We have to speak out to our neighbors and family members, our local newspapers and political pundits, our state and national representatives. Wherever we hear the Big Lie about the stolen election being repeated, we must counter it with facts as relentlessly as they promulgate the lie. And we must do so not as adversaries, not with outrage or scorn, but as concerned citizens with facts and reason. Patiently, steadily, calmly. Over and over and over again.
Second, we must not wait. We must see this as the “fierce urgency of now.” We must do so with “vigorous and positive action.” We can’t wait until after the Inauguration, after the Senate trial, after the investigations and hearings to speak out, to dismantle the Big Lie. Those who erroneously believe the election was stolen are taking up arms against America NOW. Each of us individually cannot stop the collective action, but we can individually, one-on-one, each in our own way, by whatever means open to us, help to dispel the Big Lie and bridge the Big Divides wherever we encounter them, and especially in our own families, neighborhoods, and communities.
Third, we can join with others to do so. Bridging the Big Divides between Red and Blue, Black and White, the immigrant and native born, the privileged and disenfranchised, the wealthy and those struggling to pay the rent is long, hard work. Endless, it seems. And endlessly needed. We cannot shirk it, or wait for others to do it for us. But we need not do it alone.
Fortunately, there are lots of organizations working to address these disparities, reaching across the divides, working to find common ground. We can find these groups and support them locally or nationally, with our donations or as volunteers. We can support these causes on our media pages and blogs, as poets and artists, each in our own way, doing what we can.
There’s one cause I would like to take up. I’m not sure where or how, but I will be researching this, and I think it is essential for not only dismantling the Big Lies but bridging the Big Divides. And that is trying to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was honest, equitable, and balanced. It was introduced in 1949 and abolished in 1987 by President Reagan.
It was after the policy was abolished that all the hate-filled talk-radio shows began to indoctrinate their audiences with all sorts of Big Lies. It’s when unprincipled media organizations like Fox News, and now NewsMax and others became the propaganda arms of political parties. It’s when “alternative” “facts” began to compete with true facts.
We can’t build common ground if we can’t agree upon a common set of facts based on the truth. We can’t debate the issues, we can’t develop persuasive arguments, we can’t change hearts and minds if we are living in alternate realities.
The horror of January 6, 2021, will be with us forever, just as the horror of 9/11, and the horror of this Covid pandemic. And sometimes it seems that so many “horrors” are piling up that we just want to turn away from the chaos, turn off the TV, retreat into some private and soothing oasis. And sometimes, to save our sanity, to refresh our souls, that’s just what we need to do. But not now. Or at least, not for long. Because our Nation needs us to speak out, to do our part in dismantling the Big Lie, bridging the Big Divides, so we can HEAL.
Martin Luther King, Jr, once again, puts it so eloquently, this “fierce urgency of now,” and leaves us with a final aspiration of hope.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”
Celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King days before Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the Unites States could not seem more incongruous, nor be more timely. And needed.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, he had begun to turn his attention away from the civil rights movement to what he considered to be an even more compelling problem: economic injustice.
“For we know now that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”
He had discovered that the major divisive force in America was not color, but class. The rich and powerful, whether black or white, shared the same interest in keeping the races segregated, exploiting the poor and powerless, and maintaining the status quo.
He believed the unequal distribution of wealth was tearing America apart and threatening to make it a two-class society. He wanted to help build the kind of America that would not tolerate poverty within its borders, that would not allow one class to exploit another, that would not allow the powerful to abuse the powerless.
He called for “a revolution in values” that placed “democratic principles and justice above privilege.” Fighting for this change would not be easy. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
“We will be greatly misled if we feel that the problem will work itself out. Structures of evil do not crumble by passive waiting,” he warned. “The battering rams of justice” are needed.
Shortly before his death he began organizing for another march on Washington, this time for economic equality. He fought for an “economic bill of rights” that guaranteed full employment and a livable wage, affordable housing and a “massive public works programs (to build) decent housing, schools, hospitals, mass transit, parks and recreation centers.”
“Freed from the smothering prison of poverty, people could chart their own path and fully realize their human potential.”
At King’s death, nearly 50 years ago, the minimum wage in today’s dollars would be $9.54. Now it is only $7.25. That’s a loss of nearly three dollars per hour for today’s workers.
The gap between the rich and the poor is far greater now than it was then. The two-class society King feared and warned us against is already here. And people in the mostly white rust belt who had been suffering steep economic decline because of jobs being shipped overseas, decided they had had enough. Decided that career politicians had failed them. Decided that what they needed was a “strong man” to save them.
Why do the hard work of organizing, of mobilizing workers to strike and march, of flooding into the offices of their congress to demand change, of creating white papers on policy-change and registering voters? Why do that when they had a demagogue who promised, “I will fix it, I will bring jobs back, I alone will do this.”
They trusted him to do hard work for them. A man who said the minimum wage was already too high. Who did not support tuition-free colleges. Who’s idea of stirring the economy was to give even more tax cuts to the wealthiest one percent. And whose “jobs bill” appears to be giving even more subsidies (corporate welfare) to big business to “fix” our broken infrastructure. It’s just another form of “trickle-down,” voodoo economics.
The few jobs Trump has saved so far by giving kickbacks to corporations to keep their factories in the US is a small pittance in comparison to the number of jobs President Obama saved in his stimulus packet and in the auto industry bail-out at the beginning of his term.
But so far these Trump supporters seem pleased. And well they should. What they want is THEIR jobs back. And they believe that Trump will keep trying to do that.
Unfortunately, Trump isn’t interested in economic equality across the board. He isn’t interested in tearing apart the political policies and economic structures that create and sustain a two-class society, that allows the rich to grow richer and the poor poorer as one class exploits another. Economic justice isn’t on his radar or even part of his vocabulary.
And for many Trump supporters that’s just fine.
But the rest of us, hopefully we are waking up. A divided America cannot stand. Economic just across the board is sorely needed, in all corners of our nation. In the rural outback and inner cities, the factories and fast food kitchens. It’s needed for home care workers and preschool teachers, for farm workers and grocery clerks, for all who work full-time jobs for half-time wages, for all who see good jobs disappear without the training programs to support those who lose them.
What we need, as King said, is “a revolution in values” that places “democratic principles and justice above privilege.”
We need an economic system based on love. That’s what transforms the heart and mind and motivates real lasting change.
King said: “Power without love is reckless and abusive. Love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against justice . . . It is the collusion of immoral power with powerless immorality that constitutes the major crisis of our times.”
That kind of love and economic equality lifts all boats, for, as King said, we are all “interrelated.”
“The agony of the poor impoverishes the rich. The betterment of the poor enriches the rich. We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever affects one affects all indirectly.”
This is Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy to us, and his challenge: To end poverty and economic injustice by wedding power with love.
“In the final analysis, love is not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual.
When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems.
Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”
In the age of Trump, this kind of love is needed more than ever.
The highest common denominator for all spiritual practices and religious teachings, as I’ve come to understand, is Love. That is, Love with a capital L, meaning that which transcends a personal or ego-based sense of love. Love that embraces all and everything. Love that is the ground, or source, of all being.
“Perfect Love casts out fear” is from the Bible, but it is one of those highest teachings and practices found across cultural and religious divides.
If these teachings cannot be made practical in our ordinary, flawed, imperfect lives, they are of no use to us. But as a mother who has struggled with an almost debilitating sense of fear at times, an understanding of what this verse means has saved me many times.
Fear is at the heart of manner of darkness. “All that ails us” is some mutation of this life-crippling, joy-killing, action-paralyzing, energy-sapping, emotion. I have found myself in its grip many times. And the only way I’ve found to peel back the strangling fingers of fear is to let a more perfect sense of Love rise within me.
It is understanding that without Love, I am nothing. That love truly is the ground of my being, the source of all being. That love is what makes life worth living. And that when the time comes to depart from this life, all that will have mattered is how much we have loved; not how much we have fallen at the feet of fear. How much we have given, not how much we have taken; how much we have expressed the best in us, and sought to see the best in each other.
“Perfect Love” means to love others more perfectly. This doesn’t mean to love others in spite of their flaws or failings.
It means to love them unconditionally because we know that they are not their flaws and failings. And to know that so clearly and so fervently, that we can keep that love pure, even while doing whatever we can to help them let go of their own fears, and all the failings that go with those fears.
We are not our fears. We are not our failings. We are not our hate, or greed, or selfishness, or addiction, or anger, or violence. These are all manifestations of our fears. And the only thing worth saving or savoring in each other is what we love, and what expresses that love.
“Love your enemies” is the same as saying you have no enemies, a wise woman once said. For those who would appear as our enemies are those so overcome by their own fears that they have failed to see what they love in another. And if we hate them, we have fallen into the same trap.
Isn’t that what the great moral and inspirational figures of our age have taught us? Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela? That love conquers all, even the most insidious, unjust, hateful systems of government that would try to separate, enslave, and dehumanize us?
We are not our prejudices, we are not the cruel things we say or do, the cruel systems that we create and justify. We can’t condone these things, or ignore them. We don’t give them a pass.
But we understand that, to some degree, the most hateful and cruel among us, are us, in other circumstances. That there, but for the grace of God, go I.
That even the most loving and kind and wise among us, when governed by fear, rather than love, would be the same.
We have no enemy because we see ourselves in him, and the only way to un-make an enemy is to see his humanity, to see us in them.
That’s how Mandela was able to overcome Apartheid and lead to reconciliation.
That’s how Gandhi was able to face the oppressors and free his county.
That’s how Martin Luther King was able to peacefully resist an oppressive system and usher in the Civil Rights Act.
It’s fear for ourselves, our children, our families, our community, our country, our way of life, that leads to resentment and anger and blame and shame and discouragement or despair. That eventually leads to resignation and indifference and apathy and depression and joylessness.
And it’s learning to love ourselves and each other more perfectly that casts out those fears, and frees us from all its crippling mutations.
“Perfect Love” – a powerful antidote for all that ails us.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, peace and love, to every one of you, and all.
I used to write a labor column for the Santa Maria Times back in the late 90’s. The theme was economic justice. Our nation’s prosperity was booming then, and never had workers’ productivity been so high.
And yet while corporations’ profits were booming and CEO pay packets were skyrocketing, the average wage of workers was steadily declining. How could this be?
And if it continued, how could our nation as a whole continue to prosper? Would we become a two-class society of the rich and the poor, those who wielded power and profit, and those whose sole purpose was to serve them?
Since the 90’s this disparity between the rich and poor in America has only grown and deepened, and eventually led to the collapse of our economy in 2008. The housing crisis was caused by greedy bankers and people who desperately wanted a piece of the American dream but could no longer afford it.
The columns I wrote in the 90’s are as relevant today as they were then. Below is an excerpt from one of these columns that speaks strongly to the issues we face today. It is also a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. whose march on Washington and “I have a dream” speech celebrated its 50th anniversary last week.
I’ll post excerpts from another column later this week that examines the cause of this disparity and how to end it.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, he had begun to turn his attention away from the civil rights movement to what he considered to be an even more compelling problem, since it at once crossed the color barrier and helped to enforce it. He had discovered that the major divisive force in America was not color, but class. He had found that people who were rich and powerful, whether black or white, shared the same interest in keeping the races segregated, in keeping the poor oppressed, in maintaining the status quo.
He believed that the unequal distribution of wealth was tearing America apart and threatening to make it a two-class society. . . . . He wanted to help build the kind of America that would not tolerate poverty within its borders, that would not allow one class to exploit another, that would not allow the powerful to abuse the powerless.
“There is nothing essentially wrong with power,” he explained. “The problem is that in America power is unequally distributed.”
He said: “Power without love is reckless and abusive. Love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against justice . . . It is the collusion of immoral power with powerless immorality that constitutes the major crisis of our times.”
This is probably more true today than it was even then.
Dr. King saw that this kind of economic responsibility is not only good business, but a good investment in our future prosperity. He said: “In a sense all of this is interrelated. The agony of the poor impoverishes the rich. The betterment of the poor enriches the rich. We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever affects one affects all indirectly.”
“Ultimately, a great nation is a compassionate nation,” he wrote. ” No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for the least of these. The first step in a worldwide war against poverty is passionate commitment.”
This is Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy to us, and his challenge: To end poverty and economic injustice by wedding power with love.