I’m 86 years old. I already have lost my wife, and even with the most favorable of circumstances, I don’t have much time, and certainly, not much good time, left to enjoy.
So, in the past few years, I had begun to believe in a bleak, short future.
Psychopathic Donald Trump and his immoral, bigoted, hate-mongering acolytes have gained sway.
The amoral Mitch McConnells, the Lindsey Grahams, the Marjorie Taylor Greenes have risen, not on the basis of any good works, but rather because they appeal to the basest instincts of humanity.
Fox News and the loathsome Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, Qanon, Breitbart, the many other conspiracy theorist websites, all have become so popular, that their brand of hatred threatens to win the next American elections.
Even a vicious and violent attack on Congress, attempting to overthrow the foundation of American democracy — our elections — no longer provokes outrage, at least among the millions who are committed to Trumpism.
The ongoing efforts to restrict voting rights, women’s rights, healthcare, and aid for the needy have received near-unanimous voting support from one of our two, major political parties.
Everywhere I turn, I see acrimony, malice, and prejudice replacing respect, love, and human concern.
So, just when I was ready to give up on the America of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — just when I believed that the “Shining city on a hill” of which Ronald Reagan often spoke — just when I believed my America was irretrievably lost, I came upon this article:
‘Am I willing to die for this?
’ By Nara Schoenberg Chicago Tribune, firstname.lastname@example.org
She’s white. She’s 73. And she’s on a 40-day hunger strike for slavery reparations. Rachelle Zola began the 40-day, all-liquid hunger strike to support HR 40, a House bill that would set up a commission to study reparations.
Ms. Zola had never been to Chicago. She didn’t have friends or family here. But in summer 2019, she bought a 1969 Mercury Sable with no heat and an oil leak, and drove here from Tucson, Arizona, with a single goal.
Zola wanted to live among Black and brown people. She went to the North Lawndale neighborhood on the West Side, and began attending meetings and seminars, theatrical productions, symposiums and conferences.
She accepted every invitation, telling those who were curious that she was there to listen and learn.
“Everybody was like, this white woman keeps showing up,” Zola said, laughing. But Zola, a former special education teacher who joined the Peace Corps at age 59, pressed on. Deeply moved by the stories of racism she heard in Chicago, she started sharing them on YouTube.
And then, on May 16, she took a step that was even more radical. She embarked on a hunger strike on behalf of one of the most ambitious and elusive goals of the U.S. racial justice movement: reparations — or making amends through payments or policy — to Black people for slavery.
This is the point at which the bigots, the haters, and the deniers leave the “shining city.” They try to diminish the true horror of slavery and its long-lasting effects that even today, stain our land.
Bright-eyed and energetic during a recent interview, Zola has made it to Day 32 of her all-liquid diet of water, Pedialyte and bone broth. “My question to myself was, am I willing to die for this? And it became ‘yes’ because of all of the (Black and brown) people I know,” Zola said.
“Am I willing to die for my brothers and my sisters when there’s an injustice? The answer is yes.”
Still, she said, she won’t knowingly put her health in danger, and at this point she’s doing well. Her hunger strike, which she hopes will extend to at least day 40, has received support from Dominican University in River Forest, and she’s being hosted during the day by Cosmopolitan United Church in Melrose Park, where she sits on the front lawn, ready to talk to passersby.
Zola’s specific demand is that Congress pass HR 40, a bill establishing a federal commission to hold hearings on slavery and discrimination, and to recommend remedies.
The bill was first introduced more than 30 years ago.
Zola is a bit of a mystery — sometimes even to her closest friends: She’s an intensely spiritual person who receives callings to go to out-of-the-way places and perform daunting tasks. A world traveler who makes friends — and dispenses hugs — with astonishing speed.
In Chicago, she wants to be a conduit for other people’s stories — a white person who can capture the attention and curiosity of other white people.
She bristles with outrage and hurt as she tells the story of a 17-year-old Black girl who, upon noticing the scared faces of two white passersby, thought there was something terrible behind her, perhaps a mad dog.
But when the girl turned and looked, Zola said, there was nothing, and the girl realized that she, herself, was the object of the strangers’ terror.
We digress, for a moment, to point out the “whataboutisms” and the denials that exist among those who have not personally experienced bigotry. Consider Trump appointee and former Attorney General, William Barr:
By Newshound Ellen: In Bill Barr’s America, racism is a thing of the past and if Blacks didn’t behave so badly, they wouldn’t have problems with the police.
And he cited an old quote from Jesse Jackson as “proof” that being afraid of Blacks doesn’t make you (i.e. him) a racist.
I wonder how many Black people who have been needlessly stopped by the police Barr has actually talked to. I’m going to guess none.
Meanwhile, get ready for your jaw to drop as Barr pointed to racist behavior by Blacks to justify racist behavior by whites. It was part of a lengthy interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN today.
Barr: “Racism usually means, you know, that I believe that because of your race, you’re a lesser human being than me and I think there are people in the United States that feel that way. but I don’t think it is as common as people suggest.
“And I think we have safeguards to ensure that it doesn’t really have an effect on someone’s future.“
BLITZER: “There’s no doubt there’s been a lot of progress. but do you think Black people are treated differently by law enforcement than white people?”
BARR: “I think there are some situations where statistics would suggest that they are treated differently. but I don’t think that that’s necessarily racism.
“Didn’t Jesse Jackson say that when he looks behind him and he sees a group of young black males walking behind him, he’s more scared than when he sees a group of white youths walking behind him? Does that make him a racist?”
Here we have Trump’s Attorney General, the man who occupied America’s highest Justice Department position, claiming that being “treated differently” because of your skin color is not racism (What is it, then?)
And that racism “doesn’t really have an effect on someone’s future.”
And racism “isn’t common” and “there’s been progress,” (so why worry about it?) and even Jesse Jackson is afraid of black men, but that isn’t racist. (Except if it isn’t racist, what was he afraid of?)
“Whataboutisms” and denials — in short, “Racism is rare, and I’m not a racist, but even blacks are racist, so being treated “differently” is OK.”
It’s the garbled excuses similar to, “I never did it and I won’t do it again.”,
Zola also recalled the story of a Black man who attended a parent-teacher conference for his son, then in sixth grade. The teacher acknowledged that the man’s son was doing his work and performing well, but still, there was a concern.
The son was rude, the teacher said, asking pointed questions in class. The man noted that his son was just doing what kids are supposed to do in a learning environment. A white boy would have been praised for such curiosity and initiative, he said.
And then there were the injustices closer at hand. On a crystal-clear morning Monday, Zola was joined at a table in front of Cosmopolitan United Church, as she often is, by her friend Mazell Sykes, 71, of Maywood.
The duo met early in Zola’s Chicago odyssey when Zola visited the North Lawndale Justice Community Court, where Sykes leads peace circles. The two women, one Black, one white — both with short hair, long bangs, eye-catching necklaces and “Rachelle for H.R. 40? T-shirts — chatted easily and laughed at each other’s jokes, but the mood shifted when a reporter asked Sykes what had brought her out in the hot sun.
She spoke about slavery in general, and about rape in particular. “The thing that would get me the most is that a white man could take a Black girl, a Black woman, and have sex with her, and she had no rights, and he could do that as often as he wanted. It was nothing,” she said.
“I just want people to just, down in their gut, imagine how that would feel, if someone did that to you. I was raped when I was a kid, so I know how it feels, but it only happened to me one time. But just think that you live in this situation, and you know this man can come and have you whenever he wants you.
“Can you just in your gut feel, how would you go on after that?”
Actually, no. The men who run America, particularly the white supremacist, bigoted conservatives of today, cannot feel in their gut what being raped feels like.
They, like Barr, claim it’s rare but also common, non-existent but even blacks do it, and things are getting better, even though they weren’t bad before, so why get upset about it?
Growing up in Mississippi, the descendent of slaves, she had to skip school three days at a time — to pick cotton, she said. “It’s not a game, it’s not a fairy tale. We lived it,” she said.
“The white man would come to my father’s house at night, and he would tell my father, tomorrow I need this whole field chopped. So that means your children aren’t going to school tomorrow.”
She and her siblings would cry, she said, and the other kids would laugh at them as they rode by in the school bus. “When we did go to school, just imagine: me missing three days of class. What can the teacher teach me? Where would she start? And then, if she gave me homework or makeup work, how was I going to do it? It was a vicious cycle, and this — this was my life in Mississippi.”
Has Mississippi changed so much, now? Has Alabama? Georgia? Louisiana?
Is an inordinate number of American blacks being shot by American police? Are police denying and covering up the killings of blacks, even when confronted with body camera footage?
What happens when there is no video to support the black victim’s version?
Zola, who grew up on Long Island, said she didn’t have a Black friend until 2015, and that while she was outraged after the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers in 1991, she didn’t go out and protest.
The point isn’t guilt, she said; that’s not what she’s about. The point is the depth of the suffering that Black people have experienced and continue to experience, and how easy it can be for white people to look the other way.
“I look at myself as a case study,” she said. “How could I get to be this age and not know the harm? The quick answer is I wasn’t reading those books. I wasn’t reading ‘Just Mercy.’ I wasn’t reading ‘The New Jim Crow.’ I wasn’t reading any of it. What’s amazing now? ‘The Long Shadow’ — that documentary of 90 minutes — if that doesn’t touch your heart, I don’t know what will.”
Zola was 59, married to the love of her life and painting the walls of their rental home in Colorado when she was hit by a deep, unshakable knowledge that she was supposed to leave the country. “It was shocking for both of us,” she said of herself and her then-husband, from whom she was divorced seven years ago.
She felt she had no choice but to go; he said he’d stay — this was her path, not his.
She called the Peace Corps, and within months, the former special education teacher was in Jordan, training teachers. The experience, she said, was intense and transformative. People gave her candy, food and drinks. They watched out for her and helped her.
“I never felt such love as I felt in Jordan,” she said. In 2015, she went on a personal pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan, walking 700 miles in 67 days with a 25-pound backpack. She went to Ecuador in 2016, after a series of earthquakes hit the country, and worked in a children’s home. She also lived and worked in Mexico.
Jordan, Japan, Ecuador, Mexico, and yet she was being true to the American self-view that proclaims:
“The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
She is far more true to the America I want to love than is the former American President who told you Mexicans are rapists, and the Chinese spread myths about global warming, and the Muslims are terrorists and traitors, and immigrants (who “aren’t people; they are animals”) come from “shithole countries,” and our soldiers, who give their lives, are “suckers.”
“Things come up that she knows she can contribute to, or help, or be of service in some way, and that’s where she goes. That’s why she’s on the planet, I guess,” said her friend Diana Keck, 78, a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado.
“She’s just an extraordinary woman, and I’m pleased to say one of my best friends.”
Zola said she was hoping that, by now, the hunger strike would have gained more traction. She and Sykes got honks and waves Monday morning while sitting at the table in front of the church, but no one stopped to ask questions.
Politicians have been conspicuously absent.
Worse than absent, politicians have been America’s primary deniers and liars. Politicians, more than any other group, have been responsible for the moral decline of America.
Social media response has been uneven, with one TikTok getting 32,000 views, but many getting a few hundred or a few thousand.
Still, she presses on cheerfully, trying to get someone to help her with her TikTok skills and looking forward to a Q&A with “The Long Shadow” director Frances Causey, scheduled for Wednesday.
After the hunger strike ends, she said, she’d like to get a van and go from town to town, speaking about reparations, getting the word out. The details still need to be worked out, but — as is so often the case with Zola — the vision is clear.
“This is phase one, and I’m not going away,” she said.
So perhaps, in my doddering years, I may — may — have hope for America, for I now, thanks to Nara Schoenberg, have found a real American, a diamond amidst the coal.
She is a voice of kindness and compassion amidst the cacophony of lies and hatred, greed and intolerance, that have become the new normal in America.
I pray Rachelle Zola forever will be remembered as the true American who lifted her lamp of humanity beside America’s golden door.
I pray she, not Trump, will make a permanent difference in America.
Rodger Malcolm Mitchell Monetary Sovereignty Twitter: @rodgermitchell Search #monetarysovereignty Facebook: Rodger Malcolm Mitchell ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
THE SOLE PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT IS TO IMPROVE AND PROTECT THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE.
The most important problems in economics involve:
- Monetary Sovereignty describes money creation and destruction.
- Gap Psychology describes the common desire to distance oneself from those “below” in any socio-economic ranking, and to come nearer those “above.” The socio-economic distance is referred to as “The Gap.”
Wide Gaps negatively affect poverty, health and longevity, education, housing, law and crime, war, leadership, ownership, bigotry, supply and demand, taxation, GDP, international relations, scientific advancement, the environment, human motivation and well-being, and virtually every other issue in economics. Implementation of Monetary Sovereignty and The Ten Steps To Prosperity can grow the economy and narrow the Gaps: Ten Steps To Prosperity:
- Eliminate FICA
- Federally funded Medicare — parts A, B & D, plus long-term care — for everyone
- Social Security for all
- Free education (including post-grad) for everyone
- Salary for attending school
- Eliminate federal taxes on business
- Increase the standard income tax deduction, annually.
- Tax the very rich (the “.1%”) more, with higher progressive tax rates on all forms of income.
- Federal ownership of all banks
- Increase federal spending on the myriad initiatives that benefit America’s 99.9%
The Ten Steps will grow the economy and narrow the income/wealth/power Gap between the rich and the rest.