“WE are fortunate in our society that a means of resistance has been built into the law and the political process – the vote. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democracy. We must use our votes, our power and our organizational abilities to create a movement for good. We must not give up this power. We must not give in. We must not give out. We must use what we have—all our talents, resources, energy, and creativity. We must do all we can to help build a better nation and a better world.” - Congressman John Lewis, 2008.
I was four when the U.S. civil rights movement started in 1956, and 13 when it ended in 1968. I was in my third year of high school in Manila. I had long been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches, but I did not realize the full significance of the civil rights movement in redeeming the soul of America. Not until I saw two exhibits, “Road to Freedom” and “Breach of Peace” at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.
I saw the exhibits one cold, dreary weekday when gray clouds blanketed Los Angeles and rains were pouring non-stop. The weather compelled you to shirk, to hide underneath the blanket. But at the urging of my daughter, Corina, I went.
I found myself perusing more than 170 photographs, taken by over 35 photographers. The images were moving: policemen hosing down citizens; a hotel owner pouring acid on the swimming pool with black folks wading in; attack dogs pursuing demonstrators kneeling on the sidewalk; a fresh pool of blood next to a man laying down on the sidewalk; police using their batons on folks in a prone position; unarmed boys and women with linked arms, guarded by rifle-armed men; buses that were firebombed with passengers locked inside; and a storm of state troopers breaking up marchers.
More images moved me to tears: linked arms of men in their coats braving the rain and snow; women holding hands with men clad in their overalls; young black faces singing with tears in their eyes, afraid yet defiant of injustice; marchers standing tall while being given a two-minute warning by state troopers, yet not cowering in fear; a woman kneeling on the sidewalk, dressed in her Sunday suit, pearl earrings, a hat and an umbrella; a poster demanding freedom, and hovering is a white police officer inside a black police van. Images of lynching or killings were not there, nor corpses, but the audio recordings of the marches were enough to move us to tears — me, along with exhibit-goers composed of young students, teachers, young professionals and older folks lingering, reading captions, listening to Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches.
Many more brutalities were documented for preservation, displaying America’s loss of its soul.
Equally moving were photographs depicting hope and a sense of idealism that America’s constitution has yet to be realized: ” life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.” America brutally reflected on those images had another side to it, an aspiration contained in the Bill of Rights that all men are equal, but deeply buried in its soul.
A short documentary depicted Rabbi Rachel Cowen speaking of the civil rights movement as ”a religion, a secular creed, a community, with values, its liturgy, its rituals, part of a larger narrative, with its high ideals that the world can improve, love would conquer, it would triumph.” Dorothy Zellner spoke of her conviction, that when you see such inhumanity, there is a moral imperative to go, ”Thou shalt not stand idly by.“
Half of the white attorneys working in the South were Jews who felt a kinship with the injustice happening to blacks. Rabbi Prinz shared a ”sense of complete identification and solidarity born of their painful experience.” This mattered to him to take a stand. Will he allow these state troopers to kill in his name?
These were the dilemmas that they faced, dilemmas that are not unlike the choices and decisions that are now to be made by U.S. Congress.
Will we stand by as America loses its soul today?
Will we allow the 45th U.S. President Donald Trump, as described by former FBI Director James Comey, to continue in his presidency?
As recounted by the New York Times’ editorial board in a piece entitled “Mr. Comey and All the President’s Lies” on Thursday, June 8:
“In sworn testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mr. Comey, the former F.B.I. director made clear that he had no confidence in the president’s integrity. Why? “The nature of the person,” he said. Confronted with the low presidential character for the first time in his career, Mr. Comey began writing meticulous notes of every conversation with Mr. Trump. “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” he said.
Mr. Comey said he was stunned during one Oval Office meeting by Mr. Trump’s request — which he very reasonably understood as an order — to drop the F.B.I. the investigation into Michael Flynn. Mr. Flynn had been forced to resign as national security adviser the day before, after lying about his contacts with Russia. And Russia, Mr. Comey usefully reminded the senators, had gone to unprecedented lengths to disrupt the 2016 presidential election, using “overwhelming” technological firepower.
“This is about America,” Mr. Comey kept saying. Russia “tried to shape the way we think, we vote, we act — that is a big deal,” he added. “They’re coming after America. … They want to undermine our credibility in the face of the world.”
The Russia investigation, he said, is “an effort to protect our country from a new threat that quite honestly will not go away anytime soon.”
There is an aspect to public servants like Mr. Comey that Mr. Trump and his administration seem unable to comprehend, to their peril — a dedication to their roles that places service above any president’s glory.”
Loyalty to the U.S. Constitution over party ideologies
When I was part of a panel on clean elections at an EDSA-I commemoration forum in 2010, I spoke of three traits of good citizenship: loyalty, teamwork and social responsibility.
The FBI director was sworn into office on Sept. 4, 2013, while the 45th U.S. President took his oath on Jan. 20, 2017. Both swore to uphold the U.S. Constitution, and in addition, the FBI director swore: “to protect and to defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.” They swore to be loyal to the U.S. Constitution!
Barely four months into office, the president fired Comey on May 9. During this four-month period, the FBI and other intelligence agencies were pursuing their investigations on the interference of Russian hackers in the Nov. 2016 presidential election.
In the same period, General Michael Flynn tendered his resignation as national security advisor on Feb. 13, as he “inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador,” according to his resignation letter of the same date.
On June 8, ABC News reported, “Flynn first came under investigation for his ties to Russia during the campaign when he was Donald Trump’s senior foreign policy adviser and a strident supporter. Flynn failed to report that he had secretly met with the Russian ambassador, even lying to vice-president elect Michael Pence about discussing lifting sanctions with the ambassador at that meeting. Pence then unknowingly repeated the lie to the public. That discussion was at the heart of President Trump’s request to the then-FBI director to drop the investigation, according to the advance copy of Comey’s testimony.”
The report continued: “The probe, which has already ensnared several current and former associates of President Donald Trump, has expanded to look at a questionable paid appearance Flynn made in Russia and side work Flynn was doing in the midst of the 2016 campaign through his consulting firm, the Flynn Intel Group. The firm belatedly filed papers with the Justice Department to disclose work he did that could have benefitted the Turkish government. Flynn also accepted $45,000 to attend a dinner in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his firm received $500,000 from a Dutch company with ties to Turkey.”
The question for members of the House and Senate now is, “Will you respect the U.S. Constitution and find that obstruction of justice was committed by this 45th U.S. President when he asked Comey, ‘Can you let this go?’”
Comey was fired as FBI director ostensibly because the agency was in chaos and he could no longer provide leadership. Yet, he is the same FBI director who served under the prior 44th U.S. President for three and half years? If true, three and a half years of chaos and lack of leadership would have been too long to remain unaccountable for, unless that chaotic leadership was a pretext to stop the investigation on Flynn?
Teamwork and social responsibility
The question now to those who represent us in the House and Senate, to those with Democratic and Republican affiliations – would you set aside your party ties and seek the truth and allow the American public the courtesy of your public representation?
Would you do the teamwork needed to get credible evidence and give us the courtesy of not just deep throat bystanders of the Nixon era, but to give us the courtesy of knowing what are the hidden skeletons in the 45th president’s closet?
More than ever, we need to show that as America — when a powerful institution, like the White House, is short and lacking in truth, honesty and the highest levels of ethics — those other institutions, like legislative, like judicial, like the states and the local cities will rise to represent the best of America and its soul.
As our congresspersons, senators and some judges who were elected to represent our public interests as “the collective American people,” we challenge you to restore our standing in America. It is the shining city upon the hill that has momentarily lapsed into its dark corroded, rusty self, reminiscent of the yesteryears of Civil Rights movement, because of the 45th U.S. president’s lies, now numbering over 492+ as one reputable newspaper has cataloged.
Let not your sworn oaths of legislative offices be a fake allegiance to our U.S. Constitution!
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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.